Recent news reports about the health-impact of building materials are not a concern when you select ceramic tile. To summarize the science of tile’s environmental positives, the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) released a bulletin yesterday highlighting tile’s attributes.
Ceramic Tile is:
made from clay and naturally occurring minerals, so it’s free from formaldehyde, VOCs, and PVC.
fired at extremely high temperatures producing an inorganic material, so its Zero VOCs don’t contribute in any way to “sick building syndrome.”
formaldehyde-free, unlike other floor coverings which have been in the news recently for their possible adverse health effects.
free from PVC resin which is used in other floor coverings and is a subject of concern among health experts
available in thousands of choices that are slip-resistant when wet, and it’s not flammable.
the most cost-effective and best use of resources, with a 60-year service life — when installed properly.
The bulletin was released yesterday at Coverings, the largest tile and stone expo in the United States with exhibitors from more than 40 countries. “More and more research is being done as people realize the long-term impact of various common chemicals in the built environment,” said TCNA scientist Dr. Jyothi Rangineni.
The TCNA Handbook is “a guide to assist in clarifying and standardizing installation specifications for tile,” while the ANSI book is a compilation of voluntary standards that “define the installation of ceramic tile as well as the test methods and physical properties for ceramic tile installation materials.” Each is representative of the consensus efforts of national as well as regional organizations and individuals who volunteer their time to serve on each committee. Both of these publications are widely used throughout the industry.
Less widely used, but equally relevant is the National Tile Contractors Association’s Reference Manual. While the NTCA Reference Manual also focuses on tile installation and its many facets, it’s written for the benefit of professional tile installation contracting firms and individuals who are committed to installation excellence and the best interest of the industry.
Its purpose is “to identify recurring challenges to successful installations of tile and stone, recognize potential problems, and to gain consensus from industry experts on offering solutions.” In this respect, the Reference Manual is different from both the TCNA Handbook and the ANSI Book, because it takes things several steps further and details information for issues before, during and after the installations are performed.
This publication is valuable “feet on the ground” information about tile installation. It’s produced by the National Tile Contractors Association Technical Committee (comprised of highly skilled and experienced members providing perspectives and expertise from all segments of the tile industry).
Great effort has been given to provide consensus answers to issues tile contractors, manufacturers and distributors face daily. This unique compilation, its explanation of problems, causes and the listing of their cures is invaluable to the installation trade. The proper use of this manual will save its user the cost of an annual NTCA membership several times over. The education it provides represents sincere efforts by those on the committee who have “been there and experienced that,” and have the desire to see others in our industry avoid the pitfalls that often occur without this knowledge.
We encourage our peers in the industry to get this valuable reference tool and to apply it correctly as the problem preventer it is designed to be. Successful tile installations are the goal for all of us!
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the choices and the beautiful tiles when you first go to a tile showroom, so we thought we’d give you a few tips to consider as you’re making your selections.
— Large tile is very popular right now, and it’s getting larger. We’re glad to install it for you, but it does require upgraded mortars and more time to ensure the substrate is appropriately flat and that patterns flow with the maximum full tiles possible. Therefore, your price will be a little higher for large-format tile (anything larger than 15″). Because most large tiles have some degree of curvature, we can’t install large tiles with anything less than a 1/8″ grout joint.
— Glass tile and sheeted materials also require different setting materials (and tools in some cases), so there is usually a higher level of skill needed to install these materials. Many sheeted materials may not line up the same way non-sheeted materials will (grout joint widths will vary from one sheet to the next). The nature of the material will usually mean a little higher installation price for sheeted or glass products.
— Natural stone has a honed surface and will need to be sealed prior to installation (as will some that have polished surfaces). If the stone is pitted, grout will fill any holes and won’t be removed. Filled stones are not a good choice for floors where high-heel traffic may impact these weaker parts of the end-product. Sheeted pebbles/ river rocks will be grouted, and we’d like to make sure you like that look as much as you like the ungrouted version you might see in the showroom. (You might want to see a sample mock up for approval.)
— Accents and liners should be similar in thickness to the tile being installed. A good tile designer will steer you to products that line up well, so it’s important to take advantage of the talented showroom designers we have in our area.
— Grout joints are routinely 3/16″, so if you want a different width, please discuss it with the designer and your installer. Some tiles require specific types of grout and joint sizes, so it’s important to be specific in what finish look you want.
— Patterns, accents, and borders can add pizazz to a tile installation, so they are worth including in your plan. They do take more time to install, so your labor cost will increase each time you add an accent or extra feature.
— Standard heights of showers are 7′, and tub surrounds are generally 5′ off the tub. If you want a different finish height, be sure to let your designer and installer know that.
— Niches are more popular than soap dishes these days, and most showers now contain a shelf or foot prop, so be sure to specify which of these you’d like to add to your project. Waterproofing is needed behind that niche, and the best installers will be sure your design flows seamlessly through the indentation. There’s a little extra charge for these items, but having an easy place to keep your shampoo and soap is priceless!
To help architectural and design professionals demand installation excellence, the tile industry approved historic new language for its 2012 Tile Council of North America (TCNA) Handbook. This update details the credentials an installer needs to complete a specific project so that the customer can rely on both the beauty and longevity of the tile.
In the past, correct tile specifications have included types of tile, setting materials, methods of installation, and any mention of installer qualifications has been vague at best. However, this new TCNA handbook, “strongly recommends using installers who have demonstrated their commitment to their craft and taken the time to stay current with the latest materials and methods.”
Listed are recognized certifications and programs which give an indication of a tile professional’s qualifications. Also referenced is a Contractor Questionnaire developed by the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) which can be used “to aid in evaluating and comparing contractors.”
This industry-approved language has also been added to MasterSpec and other systems designed for use by engineers, architects, specification writers and owners.
Most tile installers will tell you they do a ‘quality’ job, but for true ‘quality’ other things MUST be considered:
-How long will the installation last? will it move when the structure breathes? how much use can the surface withstand? will the setting material keep the tile in place when water seeps through? how challenging will it be to maintain the surface?
-What are the consequences of a project’s failure? grout coming up or ‘crunching’ heard each time you walk across a floor? tiles popping loose and creating a trip hazard? down-time and money to re-do the project; or water seeping through the downstairs ceiling?
As TCNA executive director Eric Astrachan said, “For a tile installation with permanence and artistry, specify installers who are passionate about their craft. For a permanent finish, the issue should never be who is cheapest, but rather who is best.”
Tile containing recycled content or set with materials which emit no harmful odors meets the criteria to be called ‘green’ in some rating systems, but, if it’s manufactured overseas and brought here using a great amount of transportation energy, should it still be considered part of an environmentally friendly local-government building?
We’ve seen this scenario play out a few times in the past several years, and are always amazed that fabulous tiles manufactured within 500 miles of our location are not used on local ‘green’ projects. (Of course, we’re also flabbergasted by local projects that bring in contractors and subcontractors from other states, but that’s another blog topic.)
The point is that ‘green’ criteria to date have addressed individual components of a tile installation – the composition of the tile or setting material, the long-term durability of tile, the fact that tile doesn’t emit any VOC’s (volatile organic compounds), where it’s manufactured, or how the plant that makes it handles its water supply. Now, however, there’s a measurement standard which will encompass all aspects of ‘green.’ ANSI’s new Green Squared Standard (A138.1) is a “multi-attribute, total-system approach to sustainability.”
Within the standard, things like recycled material, life-cycle assessment, and re-use of post-life product are detailed. It’s complex and measured by independent certification laboratories so that the industry now has definite points of evaluation and end-users can determine which products are truly ‘green.’ With the Green Squared certification, customers will be able to see that they are choosing some of the most sustainable products on the market today.
‘Green’ features aren’t new to tile and stone, but this quantification of its positive attributes should help easily translate its viability to architectural specifiers and consumers. “Tile’s inherent durability, and the perpetuity of the natural materials out of which tiles are manufactured, have made ceramic tiles the natural choice for centuries,” states the 2012 TCNA Handbook.
When we talk about tile’s durability, I often think of the image of a solitary tile shower stall on the second story of an area home that withstood the devastation of a 1988 tornado. That blue 4×4 tile seemed to stand out defiantly in a neighborhood ransacked by nature’s power.
The property damage and loss of life that night were devastating, but, 24 years later, thinking of that shower reminds me of all our craft used to be. Tile was the substantial, durable, and standard bathroom material. The color choices might have been few, but the installation was meant to last.
Today tile is a designer product, a limitless ‘feature’, and often an ‘upgrade,’ and yet we spend many of our hours tearing out our competitor’s poor installations and tiling them as they should have been done the first time. It isn’t the fashion or even the function of the tile itself that’s made the difference in durability. It’s what’s under the tile – what you can’t see.
In the earlier days of tile setting, “there were only a few methods of installing tile – bonded mortar beds and unbonded mortar beds. For several reasons, the resulting installations were likely to be problem-free, and indeed, many of them are still around today.
First, mortar beds were, simply stated, good. They helped tile installations withstand building movement and the installer created the substrate, for a nice flat finish.
Second, because mortar bed methods had been in use for hundreds of years, the knowledge and understanding of how to properly execute them was high.
Third, there was a culture of tile setters, a fraternity of sorts, of the tradesmen who knew how to turn a pile of sand and a couple bags of cement into substrate, setting material, and grout. Anyone who could do this was, by necessity, thoroughly trained, and the industry benefited from this built-in training and quality control mechanism.
Tile Installation guide 2012
Fast forward to today. Even though mortar bed methods are still recognized as the best choice for many scenarios, most jobs are being specified with thin-bed installation methods because these thinner, lighter installations are faster and less expensive to install. They are also less expensive to design for: floors don’t need to be recessed, lighter duty framing materials can be used, and the installation is 75 percent lighter than if a mortar bed were specified. This has allowed tile installations to be more affordable and more readily available.
But what else happens when a labor-intensive, highly skilled method of installation is almost completely supplanted by methods that don’t require years of training? The built-in competency requirement diminishes. Outside of a few state licensing programs, very little is in place to make sure a tile contractor knows industry standards and best practices and has good installers. The consistent uptick in tile consumption over the last fifty years attracted workers and business owners who recognized a growth industry with very few obstacles to getting started, and many good companies and installers entered the trade, but at the same time less-skilled workers and less-qualified business owners set up shop as tile contractors too.
The perception popularized by television shows, internet blogs, YouTube, and the like – that tile setting is so easy you can do it yourself – is a fallacy that oversimplifies the craft. While materials exist now that make it look easy and allow nearly everyone to attach tiles to a floor or wall, knowing the right materials for the project and installing them properly to last the life of the building is, in some ways, even more difficult today than it was when only mortar beds were used. With all the improvements to setting materials through the years and the changes to how buildings are constructed, tile setting has gone from a skill-centric trade to a knowledge-centric trade. Knowing what will work over the life of the building requires real expertise.”
As the TCNA Handbook states, “Because tile is a permanent finish, the lowest bid should not be the driving factor, but rather who is the most qualified to perform the scope of the work specified.”
We are in the process of tearing out and re-doing a very nice couple’s steam shower. The tile work they had was horrific, the ‘waterproofing’ was non-existent, the framing was a joke, and the ‘finished’ product leaked all over their house. It wasn’t our work – it was the work of someone who claimed to be a ‘contractor’ and who has taken advantage of these unsuspecting homeowners.
This was one of the worst excuses for construction we’ve seen in a while. (Though last week’s shower with 8 nails through the pan liner was bad too!!)
There’s no way this ’tile installer’ thought he was doing a sufficient job for these folks– he stuck cardboard in behind tile as a ‘filler’ in one area of the shower! Yet, he was recommended to this couple by a plumbing manufacturer, so they thought they were hiring someone who would do a good job.
He didn’t; and he’s doing his best to give our industry a black eye. But, to this couple’s credit, they realize he is an exception, and they’ve maintained a positive attitude meeting their adversity by educating themselves. Before they signed on with us to tear out and re-tile their steam shower, they got references, researched the products we suggested, and even came by a steam shower installation in progress to see our guys at work.
Good for them! When you’re not in the construction business, it’s hard to know where to start to find a reputable and experienced craftsman. Certainly, referrals are a good resource, as is doing some research on-line. Other valuable places to get information on potential contractors are their trade associations (ours is National Tile Contractors Association); a certification body (for us its Ceramic Tile Education Foundation); the local Home Builders Association; local business groups; and other people in similar fields. Your money and your home are too precious to entrust to someone who would stick tile to cardboard.
We wish we had met this couple before their bad experience started, and we’re doing our best to create the steam shower they had in mind when this project started many months ago.
In the meantime, we’ll keep reminding everyone how important it is to find a reputable and experienced contractor who will stand behind their work. (Longevity in the business DOES matter, especially in today’s economy.) If you have any suggestions on where else we should be spreading the word, feel free to share.
We seem to be making lots of circles lately – and, with square tiles, that’s a pretty big accomplishment 😉
When you were in school, you probably wondered if you’d ever use what you learned in math class. Most people don’t need a compass or protractor to accomplish daily tasks, but our profession is based on measurements, fractions, and geometry (with some chemistry and physics thrown in, of course).
It takes skilled craftsmen to install these works of artistry, but behind-the-scenes we’re often using colored pencils and protractors to prep for the laser lines and configurations used on the actual job site.
Detailed measurements and certified installers combine to create beautiful symmetry.
A recent photo of our work on the front page of the local newspaper featured mosaic tiles with concentric metal rings that we fashioned from regular square edging. And, after we made a circular pattern with changing-colored tiles, an architect wrote to tell us,
“the floor tile in the lobby is some of the best work I’ve seen in a while. The circles are very close to perfect. The arches are cut in nicely, the joints are very good. It’s just a good neat job.”
Geometry & tile artistry make this lobby a work of art.
And, we even won a national award for a combination of tile and marble circles that we formulated to fill the first floor of a commercial space. Good thing we still remember how to use that compass and string from math class all those years ago!
Whether it be in circles or squares, we love a long-lasting and beautiful tile installation. And, no matter what– it takes math to get there.
Our industry trade journals have been filled lately with professionals and manufacturers talking about the importance of using a “quality tile installer.” We’re thrilled that this conversation has finally come to the forefront, so we take a step back to ask –what does ‘quality’ mean and why does it matter to you?
No doubt every tile installer will tell you he or she does a ‘quality’ job, so how is a consumer or contractor to know? How much does ‘quality’ matter anyway, since HGTV makes it look like anybody can install tile with some rented tools and those plastic-spacing gizmos?
For most, the finished look of a tile project would define its value, but, for true ‘quality’ two other things MUST be considered:
–How long will the installation last?
will it move when the structure breathes? how much use can the surface withstand? are you sure the setting material will keep the tile in place when water seeps through? how challenging will it be to maintain the surface?
–What are the consequences of a project’s failure?
grout coming up or ‘crunching’ heard each time you walk across a floor? tiles popping loose and creating a trip hazard? down-time and money to re-do the project; or water seeping through the downstairs ceiling?
The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) is updating its handbook this year to include specification language that will help architects and design professionals recommend a level of installation quality, but, in the meantime, homeowners can follow the direction of TCNA executive director, Eric Astrachan:
“The Tile Council of North America strongly recommends using installers who have demonstrated their commitment to their craft and taken the time to stay current with the latest materials and methods. There are excellent programs to help you find those installers: the NTCA Five Star program and the CTEF Certified Tile Installer program are two… For a tile installation with permanence and artistry, find installers who are passionate about their craft. For a permanent finish, the issue should never be who is cheapest, but rather who is best.”
Neuse Tile Service was the first NTCA Five Star installer certified in North Carolina, and is one of only two NC companies which is both Five Star certified and an employer of CTEF installers.
–A wet piece of tile that is still dripping when removed from the wet saw will interfere with the mortar bond.
–‘Keying in” tile is covering an area with thinset with the flat side of a notched trowel before tile is placed. A trowel with notches impregnates the substrate with setting material; and thinset bonds to itself really well.
–For proper installation, trowel in one direction at a 45 degree angle, and as you place the tile, press it forward then pull it back to ‘burp’ out any air that might interfere with the bond in the future, as you collapse the ridges the notch trowel has made.
–For appropriate trowelling, 80 percent coverage is necessary. ‘Five-spotting’ just won’t do.
–Only cement-based setting materials can be used in a wet area.
–All installations need movement joints.
–The minimum grout joint for tile is 1/16″. Large format tile and offset patterns must have larger joints.
–Large format tiles require a substrate that is twice as flat (no more than 1/8″ variation from plane in 10 feet).
–Grout joints up to 1/4″ allow for 1/32″ of lippage (variation in the height of adjoining tiles).
–You need 3 times the facial dimension variation of the tile for minimum grout joint width.
–Wall-wash lighting can be a problem unless it’s out 24″ from the wall because no tile is perfectly flat.
–Too much sealer can cause hazing on the surface, damage, or change the color of your installation.