President’s Letter – TRENDS 2018

Look to qualified sales staff and installers for stellar projects

Architects and designers – have you ever experienced a project where the tile installation didn’t meet your expectations? If you have, and the issue was an installation failure or poor-quality appearance, I have good news. You can greatly reduce the chances of a repeat performance by selecting and working with qualified and certified professional installers. 

It is a fact that to be among the most successful sales professionals, extensive knowledge of the product and how it is best used is essential. Since you design beautiful buildings and assemble timeless palettes of color and texture to enhance the spaces in which we live and work, I’d like to recommend that you seek out the true sales professional – one who has achieved Certified Ceramic Tile Specialist or CCTS for short. 

The individuals who have invested in this certification – established by the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA) – have taken their role in the ceramic tile industry very seriously and have distinguished themselves among their peers. This certification requires extensive knowledge, not only of the rich history of tile, but the current methods of manufacturing the different types of tiles along with their physical and performance properties. A thorough understanding of all the applicable manufacturing and installation industry standards is also required to gain CCTS. 

The CTDA created and administers this certification to meet a critical need in our industry: the need for those selling and servicing the design and architectural community to be thoroughly knowledgeable of the different types of tile and their recommended use and proper installation. They also should understand all the industry standards that determine the quality of product and the allowable manufacturing tolerances, so they can assist you in making the best-informed choices for your projects. No one wants the unenviable experience of selecting the perfect color, size and finish tile only to see it installed and THEN learn that it does not have the proper slip resistance or abrasive resistance needed.

As an installation professional, I’m always surprised at how often I meet sales representatives who have experience in sales, but no knowledge of tile or the industry at large. This is why the CTDA created this much-needed certification. It is important that the person you rely on for advice about tile knows enough to give you professional advice about more than what colors and sizes are available in any particular series.

I strongly recommend that distributors make a commitment to train their sales and showroom personnel to prepare to take the CCTS exam. This investment in their employees will undoubtedly improve company performance and profit. The knowledge they gain from taking the test will positively impact the installer, the consumer and the industry.

I encourage the design community to insist on working with CCTS professionals and I encourage all sales professionals to invest in the Certified Ceramic Tile Specialist credentials. Visit or the shortened URL – – for details on the program and a list of companies who have CCTS professionals. 

And to pull through that quality and knowledge into your installation, visit these links to learn more about qualified tile installers: or for Certified Tile Installers, for those installers who have been certified through the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers exams in higher-level installation practices like grouts, large-format tile and substrate preparation, membranes, mortar (mud) floors, mortar (mud) walls, shower receptors and thin porcelain tile.

The NTCA’s Five Star Contractors are required to employ CTIs and exhibit other marks of excellence to receive this distinction. Locate one under the Find a Member at the NTCA website, or directly at 

Other qualified setters and contractors have successfully completed Union Journeyman Tile Apprentice Programs, received TCAA Trowel of Excellence certification, or attended IMI Contractor College. Also see Scott Conwell’s story in this issue that supports the practice of connecting and working with quality installation companies. 

I hope we all work to leave our mark on history, by creating timeless quality installations that will inspire for generations to come. 

Keep on tiling!
Martin Howard,
President NTCA
Committee Member, ANSI A108
[email protected]

President’s Letter – TRENDS 2017

Keeping up with standards

We are fortunate to be part of a dynamic and innovative industry, where change is normal with new products, methods and trends in design and installation. Here at David Allen Company, we have just completed several projects with 40 to 60 different tile types and numerous different color combinations. I don’t know of another finish trade that is so diverse and complex: gauged porcelain tile/panels in sizes up to 5’ x 10’ have been around long enough that most of us have some experience working with them. There has been a resurgence of handmade and extruded tiles with concave, convex and three-dimensional faces, just to name a few.

If you were at TISE West in January, you had the opportunity to see many new tile designs. While these tiles create beautiful projects and sometimes works of art when they are complete, they demand the highest levels of installation skills and management ability. Continuous training to keep crews updated on the specific installation requirements of 60 different products on a single project is challenging. It’s times like this that a good working knowledge of industry standards and recommendations is essential. On more than one occasion recently after installing handmade tiles, the project architect rejected portions of our installation quoting the TCNA Handbook tolerances. Knowing that the TCNA Handbook standards only apply to tiles manufactured and tested to comply with ANSI A137.1 was the key to helping educate the architect that not all tiles can be judged by the same standard and installation tolerances. Following are excerpts from the TCNA Handbook that specify where standards can be applied.

Ceramic Tile Types

“Ceramic tile suitable for TCNA Handbook installation methods are those that meet the specifications outlined in ANSI A137.1 American National Standard Specifications for Ceramic Tile. ANSI A137.1 contains performance and aesthetic criteria for the five major types of ceramic tiles: porcelain, pressed floor, mosaic, quarry and glazed wall tiles.” – 2016 TCNA Handbook, pg.2

Specialty Tile

“Specialty tiles are designed to meet special physical requirements or to have special appearances characteristics. They are not required to meet all requirements of ANSI A137.1. Consult the manufacturer’s specifications. They are sometimes manufactured to create an architectural effect toward the casual [sic].These tiles vary in size, one tile from the other. Variations in plane may be expected. Larger tiles will usually require greater variation in joint width. For each specialty tile being chosen, review installation guidelines supplied by manufacturer/distributor of specialty tiles and/or adhesive manufacturer. Specialty tiles include, but are not limited to, tiles made from nonceramic materials.” – 2016 TCNA Handbook, pg.5

Keeping up with industry standards can keep you from replacing acceptable workmanship unnecessarily. If you are unsure if the tile you have been contracted to install meets ANSI A137.1 contact the manufacturer and request a Master Grade Certificate. If they can’t provide one or state that their product is not manufactured to meet this standard, you have the answer needed. This will allow you to educate your client and establish reasonable expectations for the installation.

Education is key to working more professionally and profitably. Keep on tiling!


Martin Howard, President NTCA
Committee Member, ANSI A108
[email protected]

President’s Letter – Tech 2016

JWoelfel_headshotNew tile technology may resurrect old installation methods

Qualified installers are key to large thin porcelain tile and plank success

As many of you know, I wear two hats for the NTCA: President, and Chairman of the NTCA Technical Committee. As a tile contractor it is the technical aspect of our business that will determine the success or failure of that installation.

The NTCA is blessed with some very intelligent contractor members who are actively involved in both the NTCA Reference Manual and national industry installation standards committees. Our association was very successful at the recent TCNA Handbook meeting this past June. New inspection standards and nominal sizing criteria in regards to multi-size tile patterns will help alleviate a lot of headaches for our members. I would like to shine a light and give credit to the following members for their hard work in helping our members save time and money when it comes to all of our tile installations:

  • Methods and Standards Committee Chairman Kevin Fox
  • Education Chairman and NTCA Technical Committee member Jan Hohn
  • ANSI Chairman, TCNA Committee and NTCA Technical Committee member Chris Walker
  • ANSI Vice-Chairman, NTCA Technical Committee Vice-Chairman and TCNA Committee member Nyle Wadford
  • Technical Committee and ANSI Committee members John Cox and Martin Howard
  • Technical Committee, and Methods and Standards Committee members Joe Kerber and Martin Brookes
  • TCNA Handbook and NTCA Technical Committee members Brad Trostrud and Rich Galliani
    Technical Committee member and Apprenticeship Guru Dan Welch

These hard-working tile contractors have gone above and beyond when it comes to fighting for both union and non-union tile contractors, both NTCA members and non-members.

I want to commend all of these people for volunteering their valuable time and energy to make our industry better. We at NTCA have committed to our members that their thoughts and concerns are heard and disseminated in front of national industry installation standards committees. Please know that there are a lot of NTCA tile contractors that I failed to mention who work very hard and volunteer their time as well, and I want to say thank you to all of them too.

As you can see, there are a lot of NTCA members who give their time and effort to make sure the entire tile installation community can be more successful. If you have a chance at the next meeting, go ahead and tell them great job or nice work – it will mean a lot.

James Woelfel, President NTCA
Chairman NTCA Technical Committee

President’s Letter – TRENDS 2016

James Woelfel

New tile technology may resurrect old installation methods

Qualified installers are key to large thin porcelain tile and plank success

As many of you reading this know, it is clear that larger, linear tiles and thin porcelain tiles are here. Wood-looking plank tiles are everywhere and very popular. I have seen these plank tiles as large as 8” x 72” and they are beautiful and more realistic than ever. Thin porcelain panels are gaining steam; we are fielding at least one call per week asking about the installation of these panels.

More than ever, finding a quality, qualified contractor to install these tiles is paramount. Tile contractors need to stay up to date on the latest technologies when installing tiles this large. Knowing industry standards for substrates is the key for successful installation. The flatter the substrate the better, and knowing the latest technologies in leveling materials and mortars will help the tile installer with a successful installation.

Distributors need to direct their customers to good tile contractors. These tiles are, in my opinion, specialty installations. The issues with warpage in the plank tiles could lead to lippage issues and hollow tiles. We in the industry need to make sure these installations are successful so the market will continue to grow. I believe that distributors are key in educating their customers that the low price is not the best price.

Manufacturers of large thin porcelain tiles (LTPT) need to update their distributors and end users on the latest installation guidelines and the proper specifications of where these tiles can and cannot be used. LTPT is an exciting technology, and more square footage is being made and shipped at lower costs. These panels can be used in tile-over-tile applications that can update bathrooms, showers and other areas of homes, hotels and other residential and commercial settings.

This technology is also being used for thicker tile panels as well, meaning that slabs of 3/4” porcelain can and are being used for walls, floors and counter tops. Just think: these slabs of porcelain are stain and scratch resistant. This means that long-term maintenance costs can go down. It also means that “old” installation techniques like plastering walls and mud-set floors could be making a comeback; something old is new again.

It is a very exciting time for the ceramic tile industry with these and other new tile products. Designers have more products from which to choose. If manufacturers, distributors, designers and contractors work together, it means that installations can last longer, maintenance costs can go down and the customer wins in the end.

James Woelfel, President NTCA
[email protected]

President’s Letter – TECH 2015

JWoelfel_headshotKnowledge + experience forms the wisdom at the heart of the NTCA Reference Manual

By James Woelfel, NTCA president and Technical Committee chairperson

NTCA members are receiving this TECH issue of TileLetter packaged with the new 2015-2016 Reference Manual, a critical industry publication that supports the TCNA Handbook of Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation and ANSI standards with real-world experience to help muscle through or prevent problems encountered on the job. 

In this letter, NTCA president James Woelfel explains a bit about how the NTCA Reference Manual topics are developed and researched, resulting in a publication that benefits the entire industry.

Not yet a member and would like to benefit from using the NTCA Reference Manual? Visit the NTCA Store at and purchase one there. Or, join NTCA and receive this publication – and many other benefits – with your membership. 

– Lesley Goddin

When you look through your NTCA Reference Manual, what is the first thing that goes through your mind? Standards? Knowledge? Wow, really?

To me, the first word I think of is wisdom. Wisdom? Where do I get that idea? Simple: wisdom is knowledge combined with experience. This wisdom comes from tile contractors. The NTCA Reference Manual is edited by the NTCA Technical Committee, a committee whose majority members are tile contractors. The contractors’ experience (which I would say is over a thousand years of combined experience in the history of this committee) is the basis for the creation of this manual and also provides ideas for new documents and perfecting the documents that are already in the manual.

Let me share a couple of examples of how this works. About seven to eight years ago a tile contractor brought to the Technical Committee’s attention a problem of how epoxy grout on a couple of his kitchen jobs was getting “eaten away” out of the grout joints. He thought it was because of the “no rinse” cleaners that had been introduced to clean the kitchen floor. What in fact was happening was these cleaners were combining with the residual oils used for cooking and creating a substance that had the capabilities of breaking down epoxy grout. Over the next couple of meetings the Technical Committee developed a letter that is on page 42 of the 2014-15 NTCA Reference Manual. This letter explains that the cleaners being used to clean the floor tile and the grout must be compatible with both, with the intention of circumventing this problem in future installations.

Let’s fast forward to today. A subcommittee is hard at work right now developing a checklist of what to be aware of when installing stone tiles with various backings like resin and fiberglass. These stones have exploded in today’s marketplace, but there have been failures with the adhesion to the backing materials of some of these stone tiles. NTCA vice-president Martin Howard and Josh Levinson of Artistic Tile(a distributor of stone tile) are spearheading this extremely important endeavor.

I would be remiss if I did not recognize the hard work of the various manufacturers and suppliers on the committee, whose knowledge we depend on to help bring these issues to light. Without these members, our job in developing the NTCA Reference Manual would be infinitely more difficult.

So when you crack open your NTCA Reference Manual the next time, hopefully the first thing that comes to mind is the word wisdom.

– James Woelfel, NTCA president


President’s Letter – TRENDS 2015


Tile is the most exciting design element from my perspective, for there is nothing else that has such a powerful impact in transforming a space.

The first issue of TileLetter TRENDS as part of the TileLetter family of publications supports my belief. This year there’s just about everything designers and architects could hope for in the tile marketplace. What I’ve seen is big emphasis on geometrics like the hexagon; size and scale like thin porcelain tile; texture and pattern like we see in three-dimensional, uniquely-shaped and wood-look tile; and bling and shimmer like we find in the new metallic and glass products.

As a professional tile contractor, my job is to make sure the vision of the designer and architect come to life through a beautiful and technically-sound installation. When a client invests in a designer and/or architect they place a lot of trust in that individual’s team. Having qualified installers on the team means a designer or architect is placing their reputation in the hands of the most knowledgeable people in the industry. Hoping to cut job costs by choosing non-certified installers indicates “quality-cutting” is acceptable, but such a decision often results in problem installations.

1-presQualified installers are CTEF- and ACT-certified. That means they are experienced. They stay on top of industry standards and methods. They know setting technology is an ever-changing part of their profession. They understand the nuances of working with contemporary tile products that have new handling and setting requirements because products are manufactured differently than they were in the past. Attitude is critical, too, because it means a professional contractor is committed to customer service and getting a job done right.

A highly qualified installer is a knowledgeable resource to designers and architects because he/she can, among other things: answer questions about where specific materials can and can’t be installed; explain why certain products shouldn’t be used in a wet area or high traffic area; and present what grouting options are available such as a simple sanded grout to a single-component grout with sparkles.

2-presSo it could be said that while designers and architects predominantly focus on the trends that deal with form, qualified installers focus on staying on the trends in function. It is through mutual respect and teamwork that the trends from each area meld to bring creative design concepts to life and transform spaces with installations that stay beautiful for many years to come.


[email protected]

Learn more about highly qualified tile installers at:

3-pres 4-pres