Underlayment products support today’s tile sizes

A sound tile installation begins with a firm foundation that is level, flat and treated for crack isolation and, if necessary, waterproofing. Detailed attention to the underlying needs of the installation sets the stage for not only a desirable finished product, but one that will perform for years into the future. With the growth of large, thin gauged porcelain panels, the proper support for the tile system is a must.

Manufacturers have placed a huge amount of effort and money into developing state-of-the-art membrane prep solutions to fit most situations and ways in which contractors like to work, including membranes, lightweight foam-core units, roller-applied and uncoupling membranes.

Dennis Bordin

As Dennis Bordin, CEO, Progress Profiles noted, products nowadays provide several and different functionalities. For example, the company’s systems “can be at the same time waterproofing, uncoupling and neutralizing vapor pressure, supporting load distribution, crack isolation, drainage, drying etc., besides being designed to allow higher adhesion to the support and anchoring of the floor, and to optimize their performances.”

Arthur Mintie

“New technological advancements continue to make it harder to find membrane products that serve a single purpose,” said Arthur Mintie, Senior Technical Advisor for LATICRETE. “New products focus on including a variety of benefits to suit the overall project, for example, underlayments that can be topped with flooring materials or have the ability to be polished and used as the final flooring product.”

“Choosing the right membrane or underlayment can protect from water intrusion, damage and cracking, as well as provide sound reduction properties,” he explained. “These products can also help to present a better overall surface to adhere the finished flooring, so while they may not be the first product thought of on the jobsite, they continue to be vital to the success of installations and a focal point for manufacturers to invest in perfecting.”

Kate Shaddelee

A common need among contractors, builders, tile setters and even designers is finding a product that can save time, money and still provide 100% waterproof solutions for wet areas, noted Kate Schaddelee, Marketing Coordinator, wedi Corp. “At wedi, we provide an easy-to-use premium product that can be tiled upon same day, extensive warranty programs, along with on-site training and support.” The company is addressing customer needs with new vapor-stopping building panels and sealants, and a kit that allows a wedi shower base to be recessed into wood floor construction without cutting into floor joists.


1 ARDEX Americas

The company’s ARDEX S 1-K™ is specifically designed for use in bathrooms, showers and other wet areas prior to the installation of tile. Recommended for use over a wide range of substrates and finishes, the product’s workable consistency can be applied with a paint roller or brush, while minimizing drips and splatters. Flood testing for the waterproofing and crack isolation membrane can begin after just 12 hours. ARDEX S 1-K is also ideal for isolating minor, in-plane substrate cracking up to 1/8” (3 mm) and is available in two sizes: large 3.5 and small 0.7 gallons. ARDEX S 1-K exceeds ANSI A 118.10, ANSI A 118.12, and is IAPMO certified. ardexamericas.com

2 Bostik

Bostik’s SL-Rapid™ self-leveling underlayment is a rapid-setting, cement-based, self-leveling underlayment designed to create a smooth, flat and level surface prior to the installation of floor coverings. Its rapid-setting properties, low shrinkage and leveling properties make it an effective product for time-sensitive and demanding applications on, above, or below grade. Install thickness from 1/8” to 1”. Tile can be installed as soon as one hour after it becomes walkable; moisture-sensitive floor coverings can generally be installed four hours after it’s walkable. bostik.com

3 Custom Building Products

The company’s Crack Buster® Pro Crack Prevention Mat Underlayment is a self-bonding, fabric-reinforced asphaltic mat that is designed to provide protection in extra heavy-duty service conditions. Crack Buster Pro meets ANSI A118.12 for high performance and isolates in-plane substrate movement up to 3/8-inch. The mat is appropriate for TCNA Detail F125 full and partial treatments to address existing shrinkage cracks and help prevent crack transmission though the tile and grout. Crack Buster Pro also delivers an impact sound reduction value of 18 dB in multi-story construction. It is formulated to be easy to install and tile can be bonded immediately to expedite fast track projects. custombuildingproducts.com


Vapor Ban™ Primer ER eliminates the need for broadcasting sand into a moisture barrier or applying a primer after a moisture barrier has cured, saving installers time and money. Vapor Ban Primer ER is an ASTM F-3010-compliant, epoxy-based all-in-one moisture vapor barrier and primer, and is ready for self-leveling underlayment placement in as little as three hours. This product can be used for the installation of vinyl, rubber, VCT, carpet, wood, ceramic tile, stone and other moisture sensitive floor coverings and floor adhesives. laticrete.com


Mapesonic™ RM is a high-performance acoustic underlayment designed to reduce the passage of ambient and impact sound transmissions for ceramic tile and stone installations. Composed of dense post-consumer rubber, the product reduces sound transmission and provides crack isolation. It is recommended for multi-floor arrangements like apartments, condominiums, college dormitories, classrooms and office buildings. Mapesonic RM carries a lifetime warranty when it is used in combination with MAPEI’s tile and stone installation products. mapei.com

6 Noble Company

NobleDeck is one of the only sheet membranes approved for primary waterproofing in exterior applications over occupied spaces. NobleDeck exterior-rated sheet membrane is engineered for outdoor use providing waterproofing and high-performance crack isolation for thin-bed tile installations. Tile can be bonded directly to the NobleDeck substrate or can be used under a pedestal system. noblecompany.com

7 Progress Profiles

Prodeso® Sound Membrane is an uncoupling and soundproofing membrane, with a thickness of 2,3mm, which, used with Prodeso Sound Tape and Proecofon, guarantees a reduction of impact noise up to 17dB. The high-density polyethylene membrane is topped with a polypropylene spun-bond cover and backed with a non-woven polypropylene fabric, both thermo-welded to the polyethylene sheet to guarantee the adhesion of the membrane with the adhesive. The product allows installation and soundproofing in any indoor environment, even with problematic supports and old tiles. progressprofiles.com


The USG Durock™ Brand Liquid Waterproofing and Crack Isolation Membrane is a liquid-applied waterproofing and crack isolation membrane and vapor retarder for use in residential and commercial tile and stone applications to waterproof floors and walls in showers and other wet areas, including continuous-use steam rooms. It provides anti-fracture protection up to 1/8” (3 mm) over shrinkage and other non-structural cracks, features a perm rating of 0.38 perms at 20 mil dry thickness (per ASTM E96, Procedure E) and is fast drying. usg.com


Just released in 2019 is Vapor 85, a variant of the wedi® Building Panel and designed for installations in steam showers and steam rooms. It serves as a strong vapor retarder and exceeds the minimum requirements set by the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) for vapor retarders used in continuous steam rooms. It also offers all the benefits of the traditional wedi® Building Panel: light and strong, it comes with a fully vaporproof seam and fastener sealant system. wedicorp.com


Membrane overview

Tim P. McDonald

Tim P. McDonald, former CEO of Mer-Kote Products, Inc./Mer-Krete Systems, took a long look back at the evolution of thin-bed waterproofing over the years, from where it all began to where it is now.

Since the inception of “thin bed waterproofing,” (liquid membranes designed specifically for tile/stone application), early in the 1970s, the category has grown significantly. Early latex membranes were compounds – two-part systems – composed of powders and latex additives such as LATICRETE 301/335 or Mer-Krete 300. These were great membranes, rapid-curing, and 100% water tight; however, they had little to no elongation. Single-component liquid membranes followed, allowing for easier application. No mixing or measuring, they were easy to use in roll-on applications with fabric reinforcement.

Sheet-applied membranes direct from the factory with gauged thicknesses such as Compotite or Nobleseal were the favorites of plumbing officials, since their application was more familiar to the building inspectors who were used to seeing the age-old “hot mop” systems, or the dinosaur days of lead pans. These early sheet membranes were also not designed to have tile set directly to them.
This author can attest – as I’m sure others of this time can – changing the mindset of both the tile installer and building code officials was a monumental task. Tile contractors had yet to see the advantages (and the profit) in installing their own systems. Building officials were slow to grasp the new concept and its importance. So where are we now, and where are we going? 

Advancements in chemical technology have allowed for excellent upgrades to formulations over the last four decades. Elongation, rapid curing and increased adhesion are a few of the changes. We even see new chemical compound changes such as urethanes entering the market. Application methods, however, remain mostly unchanged even though we see less and less fabric as part of the overall installation methodology. The future seems status quo for now until new components and chemistry advance. The need for faster-drying membranes and quicker application is something the applicators would welcome overall. As we see building methods change and we move deeper into the 21st century as the saying goes, necessity will always be the mother of invention.
More to come!

Developments in heating cable, uncoupling membranes continue to advance industry

Floor warming systems have become extremely advanced in recent years. Thinner cables, wires and related elements, some paired to work with uncoupling membranes, all translate into faster installations for contractors and higher performance for customers.

The category’s most recent developments feature thermostats and controls that can be operated remotely from tablets, smart phones and computers – systems that learn the customer’s heating habits to activate the floors so a cozy atmosphere greets customers as they walk through the door. These smart controls maximize energy efficiency, as well, providing heat only as needed.

Arthur Mintie

Electric radiant floor heating is a high-end design feature that is growing in popularity in both new homes and those renovations that focus on clean, comfortable living. These systems come with many benefits such as consistent, energy-efficient warmth, noted Arthur Mintie, Senior Technical Services Advisor for LATICRETE. “Through a series of wires, electric radiant floor heating systems produce heat through thermal radiation, which is absorbed by surrounding objects that in turn help warm the entire room.

“With the electric radiant floor heating systems that are produced today, customers can significantly lower their home or business’ kilowatt usage and reduce energy costs,” he explained. “These product developments are increasingly important as the world continues to seek products that focus on their ability to contribute to green, sustainable living, and the industry continues to produce them with innovations in speed and accessibility.”

Several manufacturers have now incorporated thermal breaks into their products, which will reflect warmth from the heating elements back up into the room, and prevent cold concrete slabs from sucking the warmth and energy efficiency, back into the slab.

Julia Billen

One trend that has continued to develop in the tile radiant heating industry is the growth in popularity for installing floor-heating cable with an uncoupling membrane, noted Julia Billen, Owner and President, WarmlyYours Radiant Heating. “This combination has shown strong, sustainable sales growth for several years among both homeowners and trade professionals because it greatly decreases installation time (versus traditional embed-and-wait install methods). In fact, many installations for bathrooms – the most common room for floor heating – can be completed in a single day. 

“Another attractive quality is that these membranes provide long-lasting uncoupling and crack-isolation benefits, which can greatly extend the life of relatively fragile flooring materials like tile,” she explained. “Uncoupling membranes also allow for some variety in the space between runs of the heating cable. With more space between cables, you can decrease the wattage per square foot, lowering both operating costs and product costs, which can prove attractive to homeowners.”

Floor Warming

1 ARDEX Americas

The company’s single-source, in-floor radiant heat system, Flexbone® Heat, combines German engineering with design. The company claims it delivers customizable heat faster and more efficiently than any other electric in-floor heating system available. Flexbone Heat is a complete system that includes a 3-in-1 membrane for heating, uncoupling and waterproofing, cables, and three thermostat options. It is recommended for all types of tile, stone and other manufacturer-approved floor coverings, and comes with a 10-year complete system warranty. ardexamericas.com


Strata_Heat™ electric radiant floor heating system consists of a heat-conductive thinset additive which utilizes Thermal Diffusion Technology™ to uniformly distribute heat through the adhesive to eliminate cold spots and quickly achieve the desired floor temperature. The system also includes a high-performance floor heating wire, an uncoupling mat and a Wi-Fi enabled thermostat. Strata Heat system transfers heat quickly in order to reduce energy costs and provide customers with a totally customizable floor heating product. laticrete.com

3 Progress Profiles

The company’s Prodeso Heat Grip System is an electrical heating system for floors and coverings, designed to be a cost-effective, time- and energy-saving solution. The uncoupling and waterproofing Prodeso Heat Grip Membrane, with an 8,5 mm thickness, is adaptable to any floor or existing surface. Shaped reliefs hold the Prodeso Heat Grip Cable where desired. It works with the new Prodeso Heat Grip Thermostat, allowing a user to remotely control all settings for heat and schedule via Android or Apple apps. The Prodeso Heat Grip System is internationally patented. progressprofiles.com

4 WarmlyYours

The WarmlyYours TempZone Floor Heating Cable provides 3.7-watts of heat output per linear foot and between nine and 15-watts per square foot (depending on spacing between the runs of cable). This cable can be installed economically with fixing strips or quickly and easily with the Prodeso uncoupling membrane. The cable is designed to be embedded in thinset or self-leveling cement beneath some of the most commonly heated flooring types like tile, marble, and stone. warmlyyours.com

5 Schluter Systems

Schluter-DITRA-HEAT-TB electric floor warming system, engineered with an integrated thermal break, and is ideal for tiled floors over concrete. The thermal break directs heat up into the tile rather than down into the subfloor, resulting in tiled floors that warm up to 70% faster over concrete substrates, providing energy savings and comfort even with tiled floors that are traditionally cold when installed over concrete. DITRA-HEAT-TB ensures a thin, quick, and simple assembly by providing heating, uncoupling, and a thermal break in one single layer as well as waterproofing, vapor management, and load support to ensure a long-lasting tile installation. schluter.com

Tariffs, CVD and ADD subsidy rates impact Chinese tile imports

One of the realities of life in the U.S. right now is the imposition of tariffs on goods that are being imported from China. This politico-economic move on the part of the current administration has the declared intent of leveling the playing field when trading with China. At this writing in September, tariffs on Chinese ceramic tile (and other goods in a range of sectors) are set at 25%, and are expected to rise to 30% in October.

Tariffs on Chinese ceramic tile (and other goods in a range of sectors) are set at 25%, and are expected to rise to 30% in October

Along with these tariffs, which are basically a tax U.S. companies and consumers pay on goods purchased from China, on September 9, the U.S. Commerce Department (Commerce) found that imports of ceramic tile from the People’s Republic of China are being unfairly subsidized. Commerce assigned preliminary subsidy rates of 103.77% to Foshan Sanfi Imp & Exp Co., Ltd., 222.24% to Temgoo International Trading Limited, and 103.77% for all other Chinese tile producers and exporters. 

In early November, Commerce will issue its preliminary decision on the anti-dumping (ADD)/anti-subsidy investigation, which was opened in May after it received a petition from a coalition of eight U.S. tile producers who claimed injury. The members of Coalition for Fair Trade in Ceramic Tile consists of American Wonder Porcelain (Lebanon, Tenn.), Crossville, Inc. (Crossville, Tenn.), Dal-Tile Corporation (Dallas, Texas), Del Conca USA, Inc. (Loudon, Tenn.), Florida Tile, Inc. (Lexington, Ky.), Florim USA (Clarksville, Tenn.), Landmark Ceramics (Mount Pleasant, Tenn.), and StonePeak Ceramics (Chicago, Ill.). Commerce will make a preliminary decision around November 6, 2019, with a final determination coming on or about January 22, 2020. If this is affirmative, and the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) also determines that imports of ceramic tile from China materially injures, or threatens material injury to, the domestic industry, Commerce will issue a countervailing duty (CVD) order. If either Commerce’s or the ITC’s final determination is negative, no CVD order will be issued. The ITC is scheduled to make its final injury determination approximately 45 days after Commerce issues its final determination, if affirmative. 

What does this mean for the tile industry? In a word, upheaval. China has been a growing source of supply to the tile industry in the U.S. and many distributors are heavily invested in Chinese factories as sources of supply. Commerce revealed the volume of ceramic tile from China increased from 583.4 million sq. ft. in 2016 to 657.2 million sq. ft. in 2017 and 692.1 million sq. ft. in 2018, for a total increase of 18.6%. Subsequently, the market share for Chinese imports in the U.S. grew from 20.4% in 2016 to 21.8% in 2017 and 22.5% in 2018. The ITC reported in June that, “For purposes of these preliminary determinations, we find that the volume of subject imports, and their increase, were significant in both absolute terms and relative to consumption in the United States during the POI (period of investigation).”

Steve Vogel

With tariffs against China and the ADD/CVD penalties, it’s time for a course correction with many distributors. We talked with a few companies to get a feel for how they are approaching this situation and what it will mean for supply and pricing. 

Distributors who contributed to this story – Floor & Decor, Arley Wholesale, Conestoga Tile and Virginia Tile – had a varying ratio of product sourced from China, from only 1% at Conestoga Tile to 5%-10% at Virginia Tile, to 30% at Arley and 50% of all merchandise at Floor & Decor. So, the tariffs, the CVD and ADD decisions didn’t have much impact on Conestoga, but Steve Vogel, Conestoga Tile Executive Vice President, Hanover, Pa., said that it has caused one of its vendors – Bellavita Tile – to shutter its business. Going forward, Vogel said Conestoga will neither be sourcing or promoting Chinese tile.

Randy Hays, Account Manager, Commercial Business Team with Virginia Tile, headquartered in Livonia, Mich., also has suppliers who were affected by the current situation, but no direct business relationships with Chinese factories. “We have not adjusted our current selling strategy, though we have made decisions to discontinue a few lines that we know are sourced from China,” Hays said. “This has really been a combination of sales history and also price increases due to the tariffs increases.”

At Arley Wholesale, Inc., Scranton, Pa., Scott Levy, President, explained that, “Our suppliers have been shifting production from China to other countries. On the porcelain side it is much easier to shift production than in the past due to digital printing technology. We are finding it more difficult to shift production with our mosaics.”


Tom Taylor

Floor & Décor Holdings, Smyrna, Ga., in its Q2 2019 Earnings Call, discussed the situation with China, which Tom Taylor, Floor & Decor CEO, said has been the source for about 50% of its merchandise. He credited Floor & Decor’s flexible global supply chain of over 20 countries with the ability to begin a shift in 2018 to diversify its countries of origin, which he expects will result in a drop from 50% of materials sourced from China to 30% by the end of 2019. 

Passing on price increases

Trevor Lang, Floor & Decor Executive Vice President and CFO, said that with the 25% tariffs now in effect, prices have been modestly increased at retail for those items that have not been sourced from other countries. He said, “The implementation of higher tariffs will modestly lower our gross margin expectations as we intend to only pass along the incremental cost we incur versus making a margin on the new tariffs.”

At Virginia Tile, Hays said, “As suppliers raise our pricing, we have passed these increases on to customers (both tariff increases). At times we will wait and see what the competition is doing, before moving forward with the increases.”

Levy admitted that at Arley, prices rose “at different levels” each time there was a tariff imposed. “We absorbed what we could but ultimately, had to pass on the tariff cost to our customers, who ultimately had to pass them on to consumers.”

Seeking other sources

Going forward, like Floor & Decor, other distributors are looking to find alternative sources for imported ceramic tile. The need to switch to other countries is even more intense as duties of up to 222% due to CVD and ADD decisions loom over the industry. 

Hays said conversations he’s had with suppliers who do source from China indicate a shift away from that country, “especially since the countervailing and anti-dumping penalties have been announced.” With Cersaie coming up (at this writing), Hays said Virginia Tile will be on the hunt there for alternate supply of decorative wall tile and backsplash material. Italy will continue to be a strong supplier of floor tile to Virginia Tile. 

Arley’s Levy said, “Our manufacturers made the ultimate decision as the anti-dumping and countervailing legal proceedings made it necessary for them to move production.” He’s confident that other countries can meet the demands of Arley’s customers, as the distributor has enjoyed established relationships with Italy, Spain, Israel, Brazil – as well as China, and the USA – for decades. “We have and are always looking at all parts of the world for product. We import from countries that have a strong infrastructure in tile. We need to make sure that we can buy enough from a factory or group of factories to easily move containers and keep our inventory current and turning for our customers. There is no one ‘perfect’ source for product for our company. It doesn’t matter where it comes from as long as it is a quality product that has ‘the look’ that people want.”

The swing away from Chinese products will intensify due to the proposed anti-dumping and countervailing duties.

Looking to the future

Going forward into 2020, the swing away from Chinese products will intensify due to the proposed anti-dumping and countervailing duties expected from Commerce and the ITC. Floor & Decor’s Taylor said, “We see and have planned for a significant reduction in ceramic tiles that are sourced from China by the end of 2019 from our accelerated actions to diversify our countries of origin. Tile, wall tile and tile deco are all subject to proposed new duties, and accounted for about 34% of our sales this year, of which approximately 39% was sourced from China. We believe we can lower our China-sourced tile exposure to the low single-digit range as a percentage of total sales by the end of 2019 due to the early actions we have taken in moving sourcing to other countries.”

The tariffs were one thing, but CVD and ADD decisions make importing tile from China a whole new ball game. “The tariff has affected us and our customers as the price points for everyday items that they purchased jumped by 25% and then will go up another 5% in October,” Arley’s Levy said. “The real strategy change is from the anti-dumping and countervailing. The countervailing has gone through and U.S. Customs will be taking cash deposits of a minimum of 103.77% from all importers of any Chinese goods that come into the country. We are working hand in hand with our suppliers to minimize the disruption to our customers as we evaluate the situation. We will not be importing any new items from China.”

For Hays at Virginia Tile, the concern is with wall tile and backsplash products. “The good majority of budget-oriented decorative products are from suppliers who source this material from China,” he said. “We still have to determine if our customers will pay the potential dollar increases on these products.” Hays wondered if this situation will limit the offering of these types of decorative items. “Products like this are rarely produced in the U.S., so we will see if we can source these products from other countries.” 

Levy said, “I do not expect Chinese tile to be a major force in the USA moving forward. Manufacturers and distributors have moved production to other countries, and we do not see it coming back. There will be some production that stays in China that comes to the USA for now (primarily glass mosaics), but that will eventually move as well. The lower cost of production in other countries (if you take the tariff, anti-dumping and countervailing into account) will lead manufacturing to open new facilities in a place that will not have the restrictions.”

But Conestoga’s Vogel thought this is not likely the end of the story. “As I am told, large Chinese tile producers are setting up in other countries and the buyers are following them,” he said. “We’ll see where this goes. It’s conceivable to believe that the same problems that existed with Chinese tile will be launched from some other country. But, now that there is a precedent developed and momentum moving for the Coalition for Fair Trade in Ceramic Tile, they can take this fight to wherever they feel they need to. And they will.”

Velocity of change: Renewing ASU’s iconic Memorial Union

ASU tiled hallwayArtcraft and TEC® partner to perform herculean installation

“Velocity of change” is a premise that is disrupting the traditional concept of higher education at Arizona State University. Accelerating technology is the impetus for the change in teaching, and it’s creating new opportunities for lifelong learning.

In that same dynamic spirit of change, ASU’s Memorial Union (MU) has recently transformed into a modern and beautiful hub to meet the new ways students, faculty and guests spend their time at this central gathering space. Here, too, technology and knowledge played key roles in how a tile contractor and tile setting materials manufacturer were able to partner to perform beyond traditional expectations.

“This was a massive project that evolved into what appeared to be impossible as we learned of one challenge after another,” explained Craig Cummings, Project Manager for general contractor CORE Construction. “Initially, we thought we were dealing with a 50% timeline compression, a complex offset tile pattern, and requirements to keep the businesses and offices open during construction.” 

Knowing that only a technically adept specialty contractor would be able to meet the high expectations and challenges, CORE sought the expertise and experience of Mesa-based Artcraft Granite, Marble and Tile Company. Artcraft understood that planning, coordination, and highly efficient tile installation would be vital on the project. The MU’s banks, restaurants, offices and other services attract some 14,000 to 20,000 people to the historic building each day. So work areas on the three floors to be renovated could only be partitioned off for limited periods of time as the demo, prep work and, eventually, tile installation was being done.

But before any work would begin, the challenges mounted. Artcraft was notified that the 40,000 sq. ft. of porcelain floor tile would be delayed some seven weeks – which further compressed the already aggressive timeline down to just six weeks.

Then, what the construction team found as it removed 25,000 sq. ft. of tile and another 15,000 sq. ft. of sheet vinyl, was a multitude of flooring layers, poor transitions and an aged foundation that had seen many additions and modifications as the building’s footprint more than doubled over its 62 years. 

“The existing floors did not meet the architectural specifications of 1/8” in 10’ for flatness,” explained Artcraft President James Woelfel. “We faced a significant amount of remediation with the MU foundation as the time pressures intensified. Our employees were up for the challenge of this high profile job – and we knew TEC® installation materials would provide the advanced technology to support the hard work we were about to undertake.”

TEC installation materials provide advanced technology

Artcraft used TEC® Level Set® 200 Self-Leveling Underlayment to quickly flatten difficult surfaces. In areas where old terrazzo was being covered, TEC® Multipurpose Primer was applied prior to the Level Set 200 to improve its adhesion and bond strength. TEC® Level Set 200 smoothed and flattened all the different elevations of the rough subflooring and was walkable and ready for crack isolation just three hours after application.

TEC® Hydraflex™ Waterproofing Crack Isolation Membrane, an ANSI 118.12 membrane, was then used to prevent the new tile installation from cracking. Hydraflex dries in as little as one hour, which helped Artcraft save precious time on the project. Woelfel explained that TCNA-125 full coverage method was used on about half of the concrete substrate due to existing substrate cracking and TCNA-125A partial coverage was used for the rest of the installation with limited substrate cracking. 

 With the 2,200 sq. ft. of 2” x 12” glass tile available domestically, and the 24” x 48” porcelain wall tile already in hand, Artcraft began to demo, prep and install the varying applications in 12 sets of bathrooms, mindful that some had to be open at all times. TEC® Super Flex™ Ultra-Premium Thin Set Mortar kept the crews moving without incident as it has a patented bonding formula that is excellent with glass and provides non-slip adhesion for large-format wall tile. Then, TEC® Power Grout® Ultimate Performance Grout was applied to the joints and allowed to dry overnight. 

When the 12” x 24” and 6” x 24” mix of dark grey and black Italian porcelain arrived, Artcraft quickly rescheduled its crews for seven 10-hour workdays. Woelfel saw that the intricacies of the MU’s floor plan would create some problems for expansion joints at every intersection, change of pattern and where sunlight hit the floor. He determined that the “random” pattern had to be reworked to meet specifications. Mindful of accessibility ramps, the multiple surface levels and changes in setting direction, Artcraft provided a series of mock-ups for architectural approval to illustrate how critical expansion joints, pattern and surface breaks would be laid.

TEC Power Grout speeds access to floor traffic

Artcraft selected TEC® Ultimate Large Tile Mortar for its superior bond strength, and crews deployed to strategic areas to begin the herculean installation effort. Artcraft setters and finishers worked around the clock. As sections of the newly set tile dried, finishers began grouting the areas that had already dried. TEC® Power Grout® Ultimate Performance Grout was the ideal choice for this challenging job. The predominant factor in choosing Power Grout was its fast-setting properties. It’s ready for foot traffic in just four hours. That meant Artcraft could grout at 4:00 a.m. each day and open sections of the new floor to foot traffic by 9:00 a.m. Additionally, Power Grout’s breakthrough technology is easy to use, stain proof, guaranteed color consistent and highly resistant to shrinking or cracking – all important considerations in the highly traveled MU. “I credit Power Grout as one of the main reasons we were able to pull this off,” said Woelfel. 

To further ensure the integrity of the installation and prevent cracks, Artcraft added TEC® AccuColor 100® Silicone Caulk at the expansion joints in key locations across the varied elevations and at dissimilar planes per TCNA standards.

“It’s beautiful and we plan on this installation lasting for years to come,” said Executive Director of ASU’s Memorial Union, Michele Grab. “Despite the high level of renovation activity, we required that the building be open and accessible at all times. Artcraft respected our needs while ensuring students, faculty and guests remained safe and minimally inconvenienced by the remodel.”

“Without TEC products and technical support, we couldn’t have turned this project around,” Woelfel commented. “This was really an intense collaboration to resolve issues with technologically advanced products, technical installation knowledge and pure hard work.” 

Throughout the project, TEC Territory Manager Steve Besendorfer was on-site to support Artcraft. Additional support came from Jeff Williams, Manager at Tom Duffy, the setting materials distributor who kept extra TEC product in stock and available six days/week, specifically for the ASU project. Also, TEC’s excellent system warranty further reinforced TEC products as the right choice. 

The transformation of the ASU MU was truly a remarkable example of a motivated team coming together to achieve a nearly impossible goal. The beautiful new building is a testament to the success of their collaboration.

Hollow-sounding tiles and spot bonding

Inspections can be revealing or misleading

Delving into the deep, dark corners of the internet yields some useful intelligence – no, not the dark web, but rather the back side of NTCA-managed websites. Here, using analytics software, plugs-ins, and other virtual gadgets, it’s evident there’s considerable interest in information about hollow-sounding tile as well as the sometimes related topic of spot bonding. It’s no surprise; the contributing factors for both have been on the rise, prompting articles, white papers, and revisions to industry standards over the last several years. This article is being added to the collection to give an overview and to generate member discussion online about these not-always-black-and-white topics.

A hollow-sounding floor is probably fine

When a floor sounds hollow, it may seem as though something is amiss, but usually it’s nothing more than the natural sound transmission of the installation. Central to the question of whether there is a tile installation problem is whether the tile just sounds hollow or if there are visible issues occurring. Because of the various reasons a proper installation can have a hollow sound, language to clarify that a hollow sound alone does not indicate an installation problem was added to the TCNA Handbook in the Membrane Selection Guide. This is a clue that use of a membrane is one of the most common reasons a perfectly-good installation might sound hollow. Other reasons a good-quality installation might have a hollow sound include:

  • a less-dense substrate material, for example, wood versus concrete
  • a substrate or configuration that has open (hollow) spaces, for example, a wood-framed floor or steel-framed wall
  • an installation substrate or component with intentional voids – for example, some uncoupling membranes and hollow-core concrete slabs. 

As flooring materials go, ceramic is more of a transmitter, so hollowness will typically be more obvious, whatever the cause.

A real issue will probably be obvious

Unfortunately, sometimes a hollow sound is because of a tile problem or is worsened by a tile problem. But when this is the case there will generally be more apparent evidence such as cracked, loose, or missing grout or cracked or loose tile, for which there is no other explanation. It might be possible to remove whole or large pieces of tile – without force – to check for any easily identifiable causes or contributing causes – such as “spot bonding” – a means of adhering and leveling tiles with “spots” or blobs of mortar instead of properly troweling out mortar to arrive at a more uniform, consistent bond coat that minimizes the amount of empty space between tile and substrate. (Note: this article applies only to tile intended to be installed by a thin-bed mortar installation method, not to the spot-bonding style installation methods that are used and acceptable only on walls and only in specific, limited applications.)

Because spot bonding leaves larger voids under the tile, cracked tile over voids is a typical observation. Spot-bonded tile is also generally not as well-bonded to a substrate so loose/debonded tile could also occur. However, while workmanship may be an obvious cause of hollow sounds and tile and grout issues, it may not be the only cause. A thorough inspection is required to discern. 

To inspect or not to inspect

A 2013 TileLetter article, well before the TCNA Handbook revision was made, outlined a process of removing tiles and substrate from various areas of a hollow-sounding floor to determine whether tiles have debonded. It also addressed why and whether individual tile replacement or entire installation replacement might be needed. The subsequently-added TCNA Handbook language suggests a more conservative wait-and-see approach: no action necessary in the absence of actual issues. 

A destructive inspection will require repairs resulting from the inspection itself at the very least, and could cause new debonding or weakening of bonds. This might necessitate later repairs that would not have been needed had a destructive inspection not been performed. Furthermore, a premature destructive inspection muddies the waters with regard to the reason or responsibility for later repairs, should such be needed. Accordingly, the physician’s “first, do no harm” guideline may be advisable. The installation itself will, over time, relay its soundness and reliability.

In other words, when tile or grout issues do appear, the tile contractor should be consulted first and any governing workmanship requirements for the project should be scrutinized in order to distinguish installation concerns that don’t meet them from those that do. An inspection may be in order if working with the contractor doesn’t remedy issues, or to explore if other conditions outside the tile contractor’s control are also factors. 

Bias in assessments

When seeking an installation assessment, whether a formal (paid) inspection or a more informal opinion – such as by a manufacturer’s or distributor’s product representative – be aware of the various forms of bias that cause faulty opinions or conclusions. For example, even where spot bonding or poor mortar coverage has been identified, such may be only a contributing factor to tiles debonding. A curing compound that inhibits bonding may have been topically applied to a concrete substrate but not disclosed to the tile contractor. Or perhaps a substrate deflects (bends) beyond what even properly installed tile would endure, caused by overloading or under-designing a floor for anticipated weight/loads. The installer’s work should not be characterized as wholly to blame when there are other
contributing factors.

This is no defense for spot bonding or poor workmanship, but rather a caution about fast, easy conclusions. Too often tile contractors are the only target when things go wrong, perhaps because the installer’s work is easily observable and photographed, comparatively inexpensive to evaluate, and fairly basic to comprehend: a handy smoking gun. A more thorough assessment (e.g., structural evaluations, laboratory testing of concrete, etc.) will be significantly more expensive, more difficult to arrange because of the scarcity of people who can conduct a specialized study, and the results are often more complex even though more accurate. 

Generally, such exhaustive research will not be undertaken over some broken or missing tiles, let alone just a hollow sound. In the field of statistics, terms like missing data bias and omitted-variable bias refer to the inaccuracy of a conclusion resulting from leaving out relevant variables or information. Specifically, conclusions will overestimate the effect of the variables and information that were included. 

There’s also confirmation bias, which makes it difficult for people to interpret information objectively, particularly when something significant is at stake. It’s a cognitive phenomenon that makes it equally challenging for the tile contractor, product rep, building designer, etc., to believe negative information about their work or product.

To avoid faulty conclusions about tile installations when complete research will not be commissioned, those weighing in on installation issues can provide fairer assessments by making a point to include known biases. For example, they can list information and relevant variables that have not been factored in. This is the case for any tile-related issue being assessed but is especially relevant to hollow-sounding tile and tile with less-than-ideal mortar coverage. The ease of “sounding” a floor to find hollow sounds or photographing tiles with poor mortar coverage makes these issues popular subjects of reports that inaccurately paint the picture that only the tilework is subpar. 

Mitigating factors

In addition to more field information, what about looking into compressed schedules and decisions made in the course of construction? An NTCA bulletin (https://bit.ly/2N7G76H) makes the point that sometimes the practice of spot bonding is less about unskilled installers than it is about designs that require flat substrates and reasonable schedules that – when the time comes – aren’t provided. For example, general contractors often refuse to pay to flatten an out-of-tolerance substrate. Is it reasonable then, when substrate requirements are actively disregarded, to expect the various workmanship standards predicated on substrate flatness to be met? 

There can be many answers and approaches to such philosophical questions with no single right answer.  “What went wrong?” is a less subjective question. But the answer is only accurate when conclusion bias is specifically avoided by seeking out and including all relevant information. 

Be part of the discussion

For those searching on “hollow sounding floors” or “spot bonding,” hopefully this article provides a heightened understanding of the complexities around two topics that are often oversimplified. 

With regard to spot bonding in particular, tile contractors cannot routinely absorb costs to provide installation conditions they need and expect, based on project documents. However, the legal/contractual issues, safety considerations, and workmanship standards don’t dissolve just because proper conditions aren’t provided, including when there is abject refusal to provide them. In fact, because spot bonding introduces just as many (or more) issues than it fixes, NTCA workshops and other educational efforts focus heavily on mortar coverage requirements and the many reasons spot bonding is never recommended and is in no way condoned by NTCA. 

While industry standards and association resources can relay unambiguously various “do’s and don’ts,” they cannot so easily prescribe the best path for tile contractors confronted with perfect-world versus real-world issues. What works well for one company or project may not work at all for another. That’s why a core benefit of NTCA membership is the opportunity to dialog with and learn from other members when it comes to the many unavoidable gray areas and business decisions that must be made. NTCA members: What do you or other contractors you know do in this scenario? Or what should tile contractors do? What works and what doesn’t? Can the issue be better addressed by industry standards? Share your experiences and ideas on the “NTCA Members Only” Facebook group. 

Training and certification take center stage in the tile industry

Numbers don’t lie. The numbers tell us as leaders in the tile industry that we have a challenge we must overcome, and it is two-fold. First, we are facing a tile market poised for growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics forecasts that prospective employment of flooring installers and tile and marble installers should grow at least ten percent by 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. Technology in the tile industry, coupled with a healthy construction economy, creates opportunities to exceed these projections. This is the good news. 

Innovative manufacturing technology has created a stronger need for the development of training and certification programs.

The bad news is that currently it does not appear as if there are enough trained and qualified people working in our industry to meet this demand.

Industry leaders are aware of this dilemma. In 2016, there were approximately 58,000 tile and marble setters working in the trade, and that is expected to grow to almost 65,000 in the next several years. As workers retire or leave the trade, we must not only replace them with new ones, we must recruit thousands more if we are going to help the industry meet expectations. The entire construction industry realizes that recruiting new people into the trade is a daunting challenge, so the competition to find quality people is fierce and the winners will be the ones that act quickly and aggressively. 

Ceramic tile installation takes years to master. Experts believe that to be a craftsperson who can master most tile installations, it requires a minimum of three to four years of experience in the field, coupled with a strong training program to reinforce product knowledge and create awareness of industry standards and best practices.

Training is the second part of the challenge that our industry is facing. It is not enough to just find workers to choose the tile industry over other career choices. Instead, we must make sure these workers are being trained and certified in a professional manner, helping them to establish a strong career path and meet our industry needs.

The National Tile Contractors Association is investing time and money into helping address this challenge. We have added professional staff to develop programs that can make a big impact on training, recruitment and certification. Here is a snapshot of how we see this developing: 

NTCA University

Becky Serbin,
Training and Education Coordinator

Becky Serbin is the NTCA Training and Education Coordinator. She is overseeing the development of apprenticeship training curriculum, utilizing online learning modules available for members to train both new installers entering the trade and current installers on product knowledge and industry standards. Currently, NTCA members can use these courses to develop their own company apprenticeship programs, and they can work with federal and state Departments of Labor to have the program monitored and approved. 

In a new development, NTCA is working now to gain federal approval to be an administrator of our own apprenticeship program. This should allow the association to seek partners in educational and vocational schools, and use our members to offer supportive training and most importantly, jobsite experience to go with the curriculum. This is important because

Stephanie Samulski, Director of Technical Services

companies that only need a few apprentices to come to work for them – but who don’t have the resources to develop their own program – could work with NTCA to solve this challenge. We hope to roll out this program in 2019 to our members. 

Technical Services

NTCA has hired Stephanie Samulski, formerly with the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), as our Director of Technical Services. She will work closely with our Technical Director Mark Heinlein, Technical Trainers and Training and Education Coordinator to provide technical content, consistency and accuracy in our program development. 

Mark Heinlein, Technical Director

Training and Certification programs

NTCA Technical Trainers now offer regional hands-on training in many areas, helping installers master their skills, and preparing them for certification tests being offered by the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation. Certification is important to help instill consumer confidence in our industry’s ability to perform successful installations with today’s innovative but changing technology. Large-format, gauged porcelain tile panels and slabs are a perfect example of this. Certification and training are essential for these products because even highly skilled installers who have been in the field for years will admit this is a different type of installation than what they were trained for. 

Marketing focus on recruitment

Avia Haynes, Marketing and Communications Director

One thing we’ve realized is we need to promote and market our training and industry certification programs to our industry and to consumers, builders and general contractors who are looking to us to solve their problems. So NTCA hired Avia Haynes as Director of Marketing and Communications to help create programs to recruit workers, promote certification and training, increase participation and engagement in our programs. 

We realize that many things will need to happen for us to be successful. Recruiting young people into our industry who have the desire to learn a trade is essential. NTCA provides important tools to our members – apprenticeship programs and online learning systems such as NTCA University – to help prepare workers quickly, and to help them to become certified and highly skilled. Marketing their skills to consumers to instill confidence in our industry is the final piece to this puzzle.

NTCA prides itself on being a leader in the tile industry, and we will continue to work with manufacturers, distributors and our contractor members to help ensure our trade can meet this important challenge in the next several years.

TECH 2016 Feature: TEC Provides Solution for Renowned Medical Institute

feat-00tomplaskotaTEC® provides multiple solutions for headquarters of renowned medical institute

By Tom Plaskota, TEC® technical support manager

The Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis, Ind., is an internationally-renowned healthcare research organization – itself a model for research, efficiency and innovation – that recently benefited from those same attributes, courtesy of numerous TEC® tile installation solutions. Altogether, a total of 7,100 sq. ft. of TEC® products were used throughout various spaces for this project.

Known for developing better pathways to wellness, Regenstrief built a four-story, 80,000 sq. ft. building as the latest addition to its already impressive campus that serves as the institute’s headquarters. The new building is now home to the institute’s global research facility, with 165 staff members and a large number of allied scientists.

TEC® products were used throughout hallways, bathrooms and stairwells of the new Regenstrief Institute headquarters.

TEC® products were used throughout hallways, bathrooms and stairwells of the new Regenstrief Institute headquarters.

Regenstrief prides itself on improving the quality of care, increasing the efficiency of healthcare delivery, preventing medical errors, and enhancing patient safety. But those ideals could have been put at risk when serious issues arose with some of the new building’s floors during the early phase of construction.

As work was just underway, the contractor, Indianapolis-based Certified Floorcovering Services, Inc. – a NTCA member – discovered that more than 3,000 sq. ft. of the concrete slab in the foyer and bathroom had a high relative humidity (RH) of 96. Moisture mitigation was the only way to solve the problem on the burnished, contaminated concrete, and TEC® moisture mitigation systems were the solution.

How MVER may affect tile installations

Subsurface moisture has always been a potential Achilles’ heel of floor covering installations, but excessive moisture vapor emission rates (MVER) recently have become occasional problems with ceramic and natural stone tile installations.

Today’s tiles – not as porous as they once were – are now often bonded directly to concrete, which has been covered with a waterproof and anti-fracture membrane, making installations more convenient and successful, but less breathable. On top of that, today’s fast-paced construction timelines mean installations may take place before concrete moisture levels are completely stabilized.

 TEC® LiquiDam EZ™ is the industry’s first single-component, liquid-based moisture vapor barrier. It dries in a quick four to five hours, allowing for same day flooring installation. “TEC LiquiDam EZ easily saves 30-40% on labor,” says Brian Estes of Certified Floorcovering Services, Inc. 

TEC® LiquiDam EZ™ is the industry’s first single-component, liquid-based moisture vapor barrier. It dries in a quick four to five hours, allowing for same day flooring installation. “TEC LiquiDam EZ easily saves 30-40% on labor,” says Brian Estes of Certified Floorcovering Services, Inc.

Innovative and efficient

Certified Floorcovering Services, Inc. decided to use TEC® LiquiDam EZ™ moisture vapor barrier to moisture mitigate 3,000 sq. ft. of the floors. Another 450 sq. ft. were mitigated with the original TEC® LiquiDam™. Both formulas, which can be directly applied onto green concrete up to 100% RH and may not require shotblasting on clean, sound surfaces, helped achieve a high level of moisture control and allowed the contractors to quickly move on with the installation.

TEC LiquiDam EZ, which launched January 2016, is the industry’s first single-component, liquid-based moisture vapor barrier. It protects flooring and tile systems from damage caused by severe moisture and alkalinity, and can be hand-stirred and then directly applied. The single-component formula dries in a quick four to five hours, allowing for same-day flooring installation.

“TEC LiquiDam EZ easily saves 30-40% on labor,” said Brian Estes of Certified Floorcovering Services, Inc. “We were able to reduce our application crew by one person due to the ease of the new installation process required by this non-epoxy product.”

LiquiDam EZ impressed the contractors with its resealable packaging – a bonus when reusing product for next-day jobs. LiquiDam EZ can be resealed and stored up to six months, and eliminates waste and special handling.

After discovering that the concrete slab in the foyer and bathroom had a high relative humidity (RH) of 96, the contractor chose TEC moisture mitigation systems as the solution.

After discovering that the concrete slab in the foyer and bathroom had a high relative humidity (RH) of 96, the contractor chose TEC moisture mitigation systems as the solution.

Since the Regenstrief Institute is closely associated with the busy Indiana University School of Medicine and Health and the Hospital Corporation of Marion County, the job needed to be completed properly and in a timely fashion. When moisture problems are not addressed properly pre-installation, all sorts of potential issues may arise – particularly problematic for healthcare facilities that require sterile environments. Moisture control is one of the most crucial steps to carry out on the floor installation checklist. Yet this aspect of the process is all too often overlooked.

Other TEC tile installation solutions for the Regenstrief project

Within the new Regenstrief building, TEC quality product solutions extended well beyond moisture mitigation. Four flights of steel stairs in the Regenstrief headquarters were covered in 12”x 24” large-format tiles – a challenge since steel is a difficult-to-bond-to substrate for tile installations. TEC Multipurpose Primer created a quick fix, directly bonding the tiles to 120 large steel stairs. TEC Ultimate Large Tile Mortar was used for its non-slump and non-slip formula for heavy tile and stone applications.

Additional TEC products relied on during building construction include: TEC HydraFlex™ Waterproofing Crack Isolation Membrane, TEC PerfectFinish™ Skimcoat, and TEC Power Grout in DeLorean Gray. TEC products were used throughout the headquarters in the hallways, bathrooms, and stairwells.

Distributor Louisville Tile provided the 12” x 24” large-format tiles from Crossville, which were a sleek gray with subtle accents. Designed by Schmidt Associates of Indianapolis, construction started in October 2014 and was completed in November 2015.

feat-04The nonprofit medical research organization is dedicated to improving the quality, cost, and outcome of healthcare around the world. Regenstrief investigators work closely with nearby schools and hospitals – Indiana University’s School of Medicine, Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Hospital, the Roudebush VA Medical Center, Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health and IU Health University Hospital.

For more information about TEC, visit www.tecspecialty.com.

The TEC® brand is offered by H.B. Fuller Construction Products Inc., a leading provider of technologically advanced construction materials and solutions to the commercial, industrial and residential construction industry. Named “one of the world’s most ethical companies” by Ethisphere in 2013, and headquartered in Aurora, IL, the company’s recognized and trusted brands – TEC®, CHAPCO®, Grout Boost®, ProSpec®, Foster®, and others – are available through an extensive network of distributors and dealers, as well as home improvement retailers. For more information, visit www.hbfuller-cp.com.

Technical Feature: Gauged Porcelain Tile Panels – TECH 2016

tech-00noahchittyThe status of standards for gauged porcelain tile panels/slabs (formerly known as thin porcelain tile)

Unique partnership between tile and installation materials manufacturers, tool suppliers, and labor set the groundwork for product and installation standards for new breed of tile

By Noah Chitty, director of technical services, Crossville

tech-01It began approximately 15 years ago when an Italian equipment manufacturer by the name of System Group came up with a new way to press tile with a process they called Lamina. It worked to gain traction for the product manufactured by this process by building a factory and showing people that a new way was viable and the product it made – hopefully – could change the face of tile making forever. A little bit of this product trickled into the U.S. market, but it was not until approximately five years ago that this tile entered the domestic market in a meaningful way. Along with the product, came the hopes of revolutionizing how people think about a material that has been around for a few thousand years.

tech-02The market was already moving in the direction of larger sizes: 12”x 24” was starting to replace 12”x 12” as king of the hill; 18”x 36” was starting to pick up steam; and 24”x 48” was being dabbled with here and there. This new thing was a tile over 3’ wide and approximately 10’ long – and to make it more complicated – with a thickness of only 1/8” to 1/4”. It was for sure sort of an anomaly that no one really thought could go anywhere. For the first 18 months or so most thought it was a fad that would go away, then designers and architects started to get excited and we started to see specifications for it.

This presented a new challenge; no one knew how to install it or what the rules were. So, a few tile and thinset manufacturers started to look at traditional setting methods as a basis for developing new techniques that would be necessary to comply with existing standards of coverage, lippage, etc.


As the market pressure increased, a unique partnership started to develop between tile and installation materials manufacturers along with tool suppliers, and most importantly labor. This new organic collaboration provided a mechanism for rapid development of new materials and methods for the installation of these extremely large tiles. Sales started to rise and the awareness of the tile industry started to grow. (Photos show training sessions at Crossville with Laminam, an example of this new breed of gauged porcelain tile.)

tech-04New language starts to emerge

In an ANSI meeting about three years ago there was enough awareness that while maybe a standard was not in the immediate future, it was clear something had to be said about it. Chris Walker of NTCA Five Star Contractor David Allen Company was designated as the leader of an ad-hoc group mandated to draft a statement for inclusion into the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile. Walker and company wrote some language for what they called “reduced thickness tile” and our industry documents started for the first time to recognize these new materials.

tech-05By this time we were seeing even larger tiles, up to 5’ wide, and in some cases more than 10’ long. By now a second technology from SACMI was emerging called Continua Plus, compacting porcelain powder between two large steel rollers. System Lamina technology was continuing to innovate as well, with even larger sizes and textures pressed between its new equipment that was more than 17’ long with plates more than 5’ wide with 50,000 tons of pressure. Both technologies advanced in thickness capability as well, able to press up to 30mm. From here momentum was starting to grow; a few manufacturers started talking about drafting a product standard to protect this new market from lesser-quality materials.

The next step towards the product standard

With the advancements in technology and the growth of the market, it was becoming evident that standards would soon be necessary. So a couple of companies that believed in the future of the category decided to start some testing, and sure enough we started to see data that would serve as the outline for a product standard. At the April 2015 ANSI A108 meeting it was formally decided to move forward with the product standard, as well as form an ad-hoc group to begin work on an installation standard to be called A108.19.

tech-06To drive the product standard quickly, tile manufacturers started to formalize the criteria around the terminology, thicknesses, breaking strengths, and other physical properties required to accurately describe the characteristics and quality of this category. As of the last meeting of the TCNA Tile Technical Committee in mid-July 2016, tile manufacturers had reached a general consensus that the majority of the content in the draft of the product standard was nearing completion for submission and subsequent ballot to the full ANSI A108 committee convening in October of this year.

tech-07Part of the evolution of the standard includes a name change from “large thin porcelain tile” to “gauged porcelain tile panels/slabs. The name change to “gauged” is based on two main things: the technology now being able to produce thicker materials that one day may be encompassed by the standard (so thin no longer made sense); and second the need to use a replacement term that describes materials produced to a precise thickness that determines their physical properties and areas of use. So we picked a term used to describe exactly that, similar to how “gauged” is used to describe wire or sheet metal. For panel/slab, we just recognized that both terms were being used in the industry/market so to recognize that fact and not hinder anyone’s way to market, we decided to propose the use of the dual term.

tech-08The installation standard starts to develop

In the meantime, the ad-hoc committee for the installation standard has also been hard at work. The first step was to get together as a group and look at all of the existing information from around the industry pertaining to these materials. Once the data was analyzed, an outline was created to address all of the different concerns brought by the members of the committee. The next step was to look at the variables of piece size, embedding technique, coverage rates, lippage tolerances, qualified labor language, and other required criteria needed to complete a comprehensive standard.

Drawing on the information and data supplied by different members of the committee we have been able to complete a draft that was distributed at the A108 meeting at Coverings 2016. While there is still some work to be done, the majority of it has been completed, and all signs point to a viable draft being distributed at the same A108 meeting in October of this year, and taken to ballot soon thereafter. As the leader of this group I can say the dedication to the effort has been second to none, and I would personally like to thank all involved for participating diligently and unselfishly to better the industry in which we work. Because of this collaborative effort we are well on our way.

Methods and Standards: Recent Proposals for the Upcoming TCNA Handbook

methods-01NTCA Methods and Standards Committee makes headway on six revisions

By Kevin Fox, NTCA Methods and Standards Committee chairperson

The NTCA Methods and Standards Committee’s work over the last two years reaped great success at the TCNA Handbook meeting in Atlanta, Ga., recently. There were six proposals submitted, and with great help and guidance from the TCNA staff, all were approved. Following is a brief summary on each of them.

I believe our proudest accomplishments are new sections on design and evaluation criteria pertaining to finished installation appearance. These new sections are as follows:

  1. Under the section GROUT JOINT SIZE AND PATTERN CONSIDERATIONS, you will find two new sub-sections, “System Modularity” which clears up confusion on modular tile sizes, gives design professionals guidance on using different sizes together, and points to the simple truth that when the tile modularity is not understood, design compromises are inevitable. The second new sub-section is “Tile Layout” which gives general tile layout provisions addressing reasonable expectations and limitations that challenge most projects.
  2. Under the section USING THE TCNA HANDBOOK FOR SPECIFICATION WRITING, a new sub-section called “Design Considerations When Specifying Tile,” references the Handbook’s many sections that design professionals must familiarize themselves with that impact the selected tiles and designs. It gives a very important reference that strongly recommends industry standards, guidelines, and best practices to be followed and strongly discourages variances from them. It also recommends in-situ mock-ups to be used under the given job site conditions.
  3. Under the section FINISHED TILEWORK, is a new sub-section called “Visual Inspection of Tilework.” This will be extremely helpful for the industry. It recognizes the hand-build aspect of tile installations, references substrate requirements, lippage, allowable warpage, effects of lighting and many more factors that affect the installation visual and aesthetic appearance of the finished tilework. It also gives guidance on viewing distance and lighting when finish tilework is being inspected.
EJ171 movement joint guidelines

Another accomplishment, with substantial consultation from Crossville’s technical staff Noah Chitty and Tim Bolby, was major additions to EJ171 MOVEMENT JOINT GUIDELINES. Most notable changes are recommendations in movement joint width and depth. The additions give a chart for minimum movement joint widths (for dry interior, not exposed to sun) in relation to joint frequency and tile thermal expansion properties, along with reference to the proper ASTM guides for calculating the joint.

Another addition to this section is a new sub-section called “Wall Tile Movement Joints in Framed Wall Assemblies” (with substantial consultation with Tony Fuller of National Gypsum) which gives the design professional awareness that wall movement joints are unique and require consideration of other wall components such as sheathing, framing and backer board before the wall is constructed – and that such considerations many times cannot be retroactively added.

Members of the NTCA Methods and Standards committee, representatives from Crossville, National Gypsum MAPEI, TEC and Bostik, and the TCNA staff all assisted with the states submissions described in the article.

Members of the NTCA Methods and Standards committee, representatives from Crossville, National Gypsum MAPEI, TEC and Bostik, and the TCNA staff all assisted with the states submissions described in the article.

Lighting and tile installations

Many of us are familiar with the effects lighting has on an installation. A substantial new Lighting and Tile Installations section has been added to give importance to this issue which can lead to much heartache for all involved. The majority of the added language was taken from the NTCA Reference Manual, so for many of you this will look familiar.

Mortar and mortar coverage

There was also language added to the MORTAR AND MORTAR COVERAGE section noting 100% mortar coverage is not practical. Many specifications call for 100% mortar coverage but this cannot be consistently attained and therefore it should not be specified.

It has been well-established that mortar cure times are extended when impervious tile is installed over waterproof or crack-isolation membrane. To alert design professionals of this situation, language has been added to the SETTING MATERIAL SELECTION GUIDE. Other conditions that will also delay cure times are narrow grout joints and using high-performance grouts. Recommendations of extending turnover of the floor to traffic are given.

Membrane selection guide

Other language added pertaining to membranes is in the MEMBRANE SELECTION GUIDE. A new sub-subsection called “Considerations When Using Membranes” that not only references the above-noted extended cure times for mortars, but also the fact that the hollow sound of tile installed over membranes is normal and not indicative of loss of bond (without concomitant installation issues).

Substrate requirements

The last submission involved the continued discussion of the disparity between division 3 and division 9 floor flatness. The section on SUBSTRATE REQUIREMENTS gives many references to this. The language we submitted further clarifies this difference. One of the key points to note is when division 3 floor flatness (FF) levels are specified, the floor must be verified to assure the specified levels are attained. This may seem implied, but many times this test is not performed. Therefore it quickly becomes a source of tension for projects when it’s required to correct the floor to division 9 specifications, and the tile contractor requests to be compensated for the work. This also leads to another important addition to this section: recommendations for the design professional to incorporate a separate allowance to correct the floor flatness from division 3 to division 9 specifications.

As chairman of the Methods and Standards Committee, I want to thank its members, the gentlemen from Crossville and National Gypsum mentioned above, representatives from MAPEI, TEC and Bostik, and the TCNA staff for helping us with these submissions.

Our next meeting with be October 22 at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa in Indian Wells, Calif., during Total Solutions Plus, October 22-25. If you have topics you feel would be appropriate for this committee to consider, you are welcome to contact me at [email protected].

Showers Systems – TECH 2015

showersystemsShower systems are streamlining the installation of showers and steam showers with a range of developments such as: curbless/barrier-free systems for accessibility, flexibility and style; pre-formed components for speed of installation and shower integrity; fool-proof waterproofing and aesthetic advances like linear and wall drains.

For instance, Fin Pan’s Jeff Ketterer pointed out that many shower designs now offer curb…less appeal! “Many homeowners are choosing to remove the bathtub and replace it with walk-in showers that create a spa-like atmosphere. The entrance in a curbless shower is flat and flush with the bathroom floor, leaving a smooth transition into and out of the shower. The combination of style and accessibility provides greater value to a bathroom.”

While a fashion statement, curbless showers also offer practical advantages for disabled or aging populations. Ketterer said that according to the Administration on Aging, “For the next 18 years, baby-boomers will be turning 65 at a rate of 10,000 per day. Of these, 79% report the ability to age-in-place and live independently as their main concern.” The availability of “new and innovative curbless shower systems that require no structural modifications to the floor joists as was required in the past can meet everyone’s needs by offering style, accessibility and unlimited design options at every stage of life,” Ketterer said.

Following are a sampling of technological directions in shower systems for contractors to consider.  – Lesley Goddin


finpan-logoLisa Shaffer, president
Fin Pan

Barrier-free showers are continuing as not only a trend for an aging population but a fashion statement and design element. Having the ability to build a barrier-free shower in any configuration is most popular. The marriage of traditional methods and new technology continues its push into the market. This is being driven by the building code that recently reiterated that joists are not to be modified more than 1/4” unless a structural engineer is consulted. A contractor assumes the structural liability if they compromise the joist structure without engineering consultation. In many homes that were built with engineered joists in the 2000s, the addition of a barrier-free shower or even traditional mud pan was prohibited by the engineered joist. New methods have made installation of shower products possible in engineered joist construction.

tec-logoTom Plaskota,
technical support manager
H.B. Fuller Construction Products

Luxurious bathrooms have been a residential trend, but now owners of larger multi-unit buildings are also demanding custom-looking showers. Spa-like bathrooms have recently become more prominent in institutional, healthcare, resort, spa and pool facilities. Owners of commercial and residential spaces rely on the contractor to help them create these spa-like sanctuaries. These rooms have to blend form and function, combining a shower’s necessary utility with the look and feel of a spa.

However, in order to keep profits up, contractors need to work efficiently – particularly on multi-unit jobs. Preformed products – like niches, shower seats and curbs – help contractors meet the demands of this design trend.

Preformed components are consistent and easy to install – great for fast multi-unit installations. Look for preformed components that integrate seamlessly with existing surface prep solutions, mortar, tile and grout. For protection against mold and mildew, choose a product that comes coated with an IAPMO- approved, waterproof membrane that meets ANSI A118.10. Preformed components are a great way for tile installers to add a design element that fits with today’s building trends.

laticreteSean Boyle,
director Marketing & Product Management

Barrier-free shower installations are gaining popularity for their clean-looking tile lines and zero-entry profiles. In order to properly execute these installations without the benefit of a traditional curb placed at the shower entry, high-tech installation materials and drains can be used.

Possibly the best current installation methods/options for barrier-free shower applications are the Tile Council of North America’s (TCNA) B-422-14 method or a modified version of B-415-14. This installation method provides a complete waterproof connection between the waterproofing membrane and the drain placed at the surface of the tile installation – which minimizes the height of the overall installation. Therefore, there is no need for the full, bulky 1-1/4” to 2” (31mm to 50mm) thick mortar bed and curb that are required in traditional shower pan installations.

This barrier-free installation type places the waterproofing membrane underneath the tile or stone finish versus the bottom of the mortar bed in traditional shower-pan applications. These methods allow water to shed right at the surface through an integrated bonding flange type drain system or a linear drain with a bonding lip, which receives the waterproofing membrane.

The slope in the shower assembly can be started from a much lower profile while still maintaining a 1/4” per foot (6mm per 300mm) slope. These assemblies provide a dramatic improvement when compared to the traditional, bulky, thick-bed mortar installation systems.

noble-logoRichard Maurer,
director of marketing
Noble Company

In response to a rapidly escalating growth in demand, several companies have introduced linear drains. These drains have been popular in Europe for years because they complement contemporary and barrier-free designs. The single slope created with a linear drain allows for the use of large format tiles that are ideal for contemporary, barrier-free showers favored by designers.

A number of linear drains are available. Some are systems that include waterproofing membranes. Other manufacturers offer only the drain and suggest options for waterproofing.

Things you should consider when selecting a drain include:

  • Does the drain meet code requirements (not all do?)
  • Does it assure a secure, watertight connection between the waterproofing membrane and the drain?
  • Does it offer the aesthetics desired? Because in the end, the strainer is all you will see.

quickdrain-logoJosef Erlebach,
vice president Tech Support
Quick Drain USA

The trends in our sector of the industry are very simple and clear:

1. Curbless showers mean true zero entry

2. Linear drains spanning the full width of the shower without dead spots on the ends of the drains

3. Use of single-pitch shower pans made of 100% recycled materials

4. Integration with shower-pan accessories and waterproofing for speed and ease of installation.

5. A new trend is moving the drain into the wall instead of floor.



owenShower systems/drain systems seem to be popular with architects in hotels now and I imagine the trend will continue to grow. These shower systems come complete with pre-sloped shower pans, pre-formed curbs, waterproofing membrane, corners, seam rolls, etc.  

These are now being specified because they are a more efficient/effective method than the traditional way that entailed building the curb out of bricks, etc. However, it’s still necessary to have skilled tradespeople who have been trained to install these systems. Problems can still occur and skilled tradespeople best know how to address them. 

For example, the assumption is that since you simply install the pre-slope onto the substrate, and because the pre-slope already has a pitch of 1/8” per foot to the drain, you will have guaranteed drainage, no worries.  Well, there could be a worry if the slab the installer was given is out of level 1/4” per foot in the opposite direction of the drain and this is not addressed. Due to field imperfections like this, there will always be the need for a trained craftsperson to do the install. Skilled tile craftspeople have the necessary experience and knowledge, and know what to look for and how to deal with circumstances like this.

Rod Owen
C.C. Owen Tile Company, Inc.
Jonesboro, Ga.

finpan-showerFin Pan, Inc., manufacturer of tile backer boards and PreFormed® ready-to-tile products, has recently introduced the ClearPath® Curbless Shower Pan System. ClearPath is an innovative way to construct a barrier-free shower pan that requires no structural modifications to the existing floor joists. It’s ideal for remodeling and new construction and affords homeowners near limitless design options. The foundation of ClearPath starts with the ClearPath Drain Plate and TI-ProBoard®. The drain plate comes with integrated drain assembly, waterproofing mat and is pre-pitched for proper sloping.TI-ProBoard is a composite structural underlayment that offers the ability to install ClearPath directly on top of the floor joists. ClearPath is available in four shower kits and includes drain plate, TI-ProBoard, perimeter edge protector, fasteners and CP waterproofing membrane. When used in conjunction with Util-A-Crete® or ProTEC® Cement Backer Board or ProPanel® Lightweight Waterproof Backer Board, Fin Pan offers a Lifetime Limited Warranty. www.finpan.com.

laticrete-showerLATICRETE HYDRO BAN® Barrier Free Shower System Products provide a wide array of options to help you design and construct a barrier-free shower. The Linear Drains and Bonding Flange Drains can be installed with 3701 Fortified Mortar to form a gentle slope into the shower for a safe, easy access or use the Pre-Sloped Shower Pan and Ramp combination to save time and money. The Linear Drain and Linear Pre-Sloped Shower Pan combination can be installed with the drain at the shower entry or the far wall, over the current substrate or recessed substrate to form a shower utilizing large format tile and stone. HYDRO BAN Barrier Free Shower System Products offer

  • Barrier-free shower options
  • Bonding flange or linear drains
  • Pre-Sloped Shower Pans, Ramp, waterproof and ready to tile
  • Installation over substrate or recessed floor
  • Designed for safety, comfort, and easy access


marke-showerMark E. Industries offers the GOOF PROOF SHOWER SEAT, a heavy-duty, stay-in-place, molded plastic form that is easily installed, and can be tiled the same day. The Shower Seat is a standard 30″ wide, and has guide marks on the top surface to make it easy to trim the seat to 24″ wide. The front face has a 3/16″ wide tile support ledge for easier tile alignment and full tile support. Two level vials are supplied to indicate the proper minimum water drainage slope of 1/4″ per 12″ run. Capacity is 400 lbs. Screws, anchors and shims (to adjust for out-of-square walls, if necessary) and illustrated installation instructions are included. Weighs 7-1/2 lbs. www.goofproofshowers.com

nac-showerNAC Products offers the Extreme Bathroom System. This system provides a variety of bathroom installation options that bring NAC waterproofing and sound-control membrane systems together for surfaces that require waterproofing with impact and audible sound reduction. Drawings showcasing the systems can be accessed at www.nacproducts.com, under the Technical pull-down tab; select Membrane System Images. Six images show different system options including, SAM® 3, Super SAM® 125, Strataflex and ECB® membranes combining with SubSeal® Liquid. In addition, there is a drawing of the Extreme Deck Waterproofing System (The drawings are not instructions on how to install the system, but a visual representation of the products involved for various membrane system options for bathrooms). An added benefit of the Extreme Bathroom System, is that the NAC sheet membranes also provide up to 3/8” crack isolation protection. www.nacproducts.com

noble-showerNoble Company offers the FreeStyle Linear Drain™, which provides a highly secure drain and waterproofing combination. A clamping collar connects NobleSeal waterproofing membrane to the drain and the waste pipe is solvent-welded into the drain. FreeStyle Linear Drains have an internal slope making installation easier. There is no shimming or leveling required. FreeStyle Linear Drains are listed for shower waterproofing by national plumbing code authorities. A low-profile and high drainage capacity (36 GPM) make FreeStyle ideal for barrier-free applications. Install FreeStyle at the wall, the exit, or wherever the design requires. Available in seven widths from 24” to 60” with brushed stainless or tile-top strainers.

noble2-showerNoble also introduced ValueSeal in March 2015. It’s made from PE and only 16 mils thick. ValueSeal is easy to crease and form. It is bonded and seamed with latex-modified thin-set. Available in 6’ wide sheets to minimize seams or 3’ widths as well, ValueSeal is also translucent so bonding and seaming coverage can be visually confirmed. Noble is a quality leader for decades, with quality products and support. FreeStyle Linear Drains and ValueSeal are all made in the USA. www.noblecompany.com

quickdrain-showerQuick Drain USA has introduced a brand new concept in the evolution of shower drains: the elegant WallDrain system that takes the idea of linear drains to a logical conclusion -– no drain in the shower floor at all! This allows sloping of the whole shower pan in one direction to eliminate any grates and covers to step on or clean. This simple idea is mostly used in wet rooms and curbless showers. The system has full height, depth and length adjustability built in for ease of installation and perfect look every time.


usg-showerUSG Durock™ Brand Shower System is a fully bonded waterproofing system for tiled shower installations designed to control moisture independently of the tile covering, while creating a solid base for a long-lasting shower. Ideal for both new construction and repair or remodel projects, the USG Durock Brand Shower System is highly adaptable to job-site conditions, is barrier-free and offers a huge selection of grate options and superior grate finishes. The USG DurockBrand Shower System comes with the option of installing a custom tray program, which allows for a limitless number of shower configurations by using optional benches and niches that deliver added flexibility for a fully custom shower. This custom tray program is exclusive to USG. www.usg.com

wedi-showerwedi recently launched the lightweight, waterproof XPS foam core Fundo Ligno shower system for easy curbless and floor-even shower floor installations without structural complications. The 3/4” thin-profile, sloped shower floor system with waterproof XPS foam core and a cement-based surface is ready to tile, providing a fast and flush curbless installation into a subfloor assembly without cutting into floor joists. Installation is easy and strong because you maintain the structural subfloor panels installed between floor joists under the shower system. These new systems are designed to interlock and work with other XPS underlayment products: building panels, seats and benches, niches and many more accessories that complete the shower installation and waterproofing system. These installations are fast, modular, clean and customizable. www.wedi.com

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