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Retailers' guide to tile & stone: Epoxy settings coming of age for installers

November 30/December 14; Volume 30/Number 12

By Ken Ryan

(Editor’s note: This is the tenth in a 10-part series familiarizing flooring retailers with merchandising and installing tile and natural stone.)

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 6.47.57 PMHistorically installers have shied away from using epoxy grout. While these products satisfy the needs of the end user with uniform color, durability and stain resistance, they are more difficult to install. The consistency of the epoxy grout makes it challenging to spread and fill the joints. However, technological enhancements have made epoxy grout easier to work with and, in the process, improved its reputation among tile contractors and builders.

Unlike cement grout, which is made from a cementitious powder mix, epoxy grout is derived from epoxy resins and a filler powder. The grout is said to be exceptionally durable and almost completely stain proof. “Epoxy grout is changing for the better because it is getting easier to use, and applications are easier to use,” said Brett Maundy, business development manager, Midwest, for Merkrete, which manufactures a full line of tile and stone installation systems. “The problem with epoxy mortars has been their image—people are scared of it because of what they heard in the past, which is that it sets up too fast or requires hot water cleanup.”

Epoxy adheres to a wide range of materials and its properties are dependent on the specific chemistry of the system. Some of the most important performance requirements include adhesion and exceptional chemical, heat and water resistance as well as satisfactory mechanical and electrical insulating properties.

Epoxy grouts are typically a two-part product system—one part epoxy and one part colorant. Epoxy grouts offer maximum resistance to staining and chemical attacks from food, beverages and cleaning agents, and never require sealing. Because of their chemical-resistant properties, epoxy grouts are often specified for commercial environments such as health clubs and restaurants.

There is a higher product cost with epoxy and installation is typically a bit more labor intensive but the end product is exceedingly durable and stain resistant. “The chemical resistance allows it to withstand acids and other chemicals,” Maundy said.

Because epoxy grouts eliminate many of the limitations of standard cement grouts and boast high levels of stain resistance, they are sometimes used in common residential tile installations such as kitchens.

The cleanability of epoxies has changed dramatically in the last decade and contributed to its growth. Whereas epoxies once required hot water to clean, today they can be cleaned with cold water. Many epoxies also have a built-in soap ingredient that allows for easier cleaning. Cement grout, meanwhile, attracts dirt, grime and grease, making it more difficult as well as time consuming to clean it without considerable effort.

Low absorbency is another benefit that comes with epoxy grouts because they are highly water resistant. Instead of suffering the same water ingress as cement- and sand-based grouts, the water simply sits on top, waiting to be cleared away or dried by the sun. As a result, outdoor areas are regularly epoxied, along with kitchens and bathrooms.

Maundy said workability time for tile setters has become much more forgiving. Workability is the degree of ease by which a material can be cut, shaped or smoothed by hand or machines. In the case of epoxy grout, tile setters can work with large format tile without having to set up too quickly. “I do a lot of installation training and my advice to installers is to find an epoxy you like and get used to it because they all perform a little differently. I also recommend advertising on your business cards that you are a grout epoxy specialist; this is a skill and an upsell over a standard traditional mortar.”



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Retailers' guide to tile & stone: Liquid-applied membranes provide benefits for optimal tile usage

November 9/16; Volume 30/Number 11

By Ken Ryan

(Editor’s note: This is the ninth in a 10-part series familiarizing flooring retailers with merchandising and installing tile and natural stone.)

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 5.01.20 PMIn many flooring applications tile is used because the installation area is likely to be exposed to excessive water. However, a ceramic tile surface is not necessarily the waterproof solution, which is why a waterproof membrane must be incorporated into the installation.

Liquid-applied membranes have been utilized in the tile industry for some time, evolving accordingly over the years. This subfloor application can provide waterproofing or crack isolation, some products offer both features depending upon the manufacturer. Liquid membranes are typically installed using conventional paint brushes, paint rollers, small-notched trowels or paint sprayers.

Bob Baldocchi, vice president of marketing and sales support for Emser Tile, said flooring dealers and their installers need to be aware of the application of liquid membranes and the importance of using them properly. Take crack isolation, for example. There are products on the market today that offer maximum protection by inhibiting the transfer of cracks to a specific area.

“To be able to isolate a problem and spot repair it, as opposed to ripping out the entire floor, can save consumers a tremendous headache,” Baldocchi said. “We are trying to educate all of our retail customers. We take very little for granted in what they may or may not know.”

Moisture proofing is another key element of liquid-applied membranes. Moisture migration can contribute to the deterioration of stone tile surfaces when they are directly bonded to the concrete slab. On products that provide both waterproofing and crack prevention for tile and stone installations, one coat is recommended for crack prevention and two coats for waterproofing.

Today’s pressure of completing projects in a specific time frame often leads to tile/stone installations being rushed and installed incorrectly. However, the advanced technology that goes into today’s waterproofing membranes allows for faster curing times, which means quicker flood testing, ultimately allowing the installation to move forward in a timely fashion.

Curing of concrete is defined as providing adequate moisture, temperature and time to allow the concrete to achieve the desired properties for its intended use. The liquid cures in the air to form a seamless, joint-free membrane. Applying more of the liquid chemical per unit area can control the thickness, experts say. Cure times vary depending upon the manufacturer’s requirements and job site conditions.

When properly applied, liquid membranes can be used in both interior and exterior applications and are effective for both horizontal and vertical crack suppression. Suitable substrates typically include concrete, masonry, cement plaster and cement backer board. The membrane, however, must cure before proceeding with the stone or tile installation. Once the membrane has cured, the appropriate thinset or mortar can be applied directly over the membrane and the stone or tile installed. For a shower installation, it is advisable to conduct a flood test of the shower once the membrane has cured (normally after 72 hours) and before the tiling begins. Liquid-applied membranes are generally cost effective and can be the best choice for projects with many angles and/or shapes.

While excellent for waterproofing, professionals advise that liquid membranes are not necessarily complete vapor barriers. If vapor is a concern, such as in a steam room, then a suitable vapor barrier may need to be used in conjunction with the liquid membrane. Liquid-applied membranes are designed to meet the waterproofing requirements of ANSI A118.10.

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Retailers' guide to tile & stone: Grout does more than fill voids

October 26/November 2; Volume 30/Number 10

By Ken Ryan

(Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a 10-part series familiarizing flooring retailers with merchandising and installing tile and natural stone.)

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 5.03.54 PMWhen retailers discuss the merits of stone or ceramic tile flooring with their customers, benefits such as aesthetics, versatility and longevity are often top of mind. Grouting is usually not mentioned within the first few minutes of conversation, but it is a critical component nonetheless.

Grout fills the voids between tiles and bonds them together while preventing the edges from chipping or cracking. When installed correctly, it provides a visual that makes ceramic tile or stone even more desirable to consumers.

Offered in a variety of colors to either match or contrast the tile, grout comes in two basic types; deciding which one to use depends on the width of the tile joints. Standard grouts are made from a polymer-enhanced Portland cement. Narrow joints of 1⁄8 inch or less call for unsanded grout, a pudding-smooth blend of Portland cement and powdered pigments mixed with water. Unsanded grout is primarily used for walls, tub enclosures and countertops. In cases where sanded grout could scratch delicate tile surfaces, such as marble or other natural stones, unsanded grout is recommended.

Joints wider than 1⁄8 inch require sanded grout—the same material as unsanded but with the addition of sand, which helps bulk up the grout and keeps it from shrinking in the joints.

Because grout is porous, it is highly absorbent and can easily become stained or discolored when dirt or stain particles seep into its small holes. As a preventative action, it is imperative that grout is sealed as soon as it is installed, especially in a busy home where spills are frequent and foot traffic is heavy.

“Standard grouts are susceptible to stains because they are porous,” said Steve Dalene, owner of Dalene Flooring Carpet One in South Windsor, Conn. “In the past the only solution was to seal your grout, which needs to be done every couple years, or to just pick a dark colored grout that looks cleaner longer. There are now better grouts out there that fix both of these issues. Epoxy grouts, urethane grouts and silicone-based grouts are the latest and greatest. They are not only more durable but more flexible than standard tile grout. They are also much more stain resistant. Some of these products come pre-mixed for quicker installation and a more consistent coloration. Most can be used in both interior and exterior applications.”

In the past mortar and grout required 24 hours to cure before walking on the tile. However, new technology has sped up the drying time.

A product marketed as Burst Add-A-Pak, from Merkrete, can be used to help speed up work times in almost any Portland cement mortar such as mud beds, masonry mortars, underlayments, thin sets and grouts. “It will make your grout serviceable in 30 minutes, which is important because time is money and the inconvenience of a family is money too,” said Mark Haaland, business development manager for Emser Tile.

He added that grout is becoming an aspect of design rather than function based on advances in technology. “Our Designer series, for example, adds an element of flavor to an otherwise bland category. Grout isn’t what it was years ago and people are paying a premium for steadfast color.”

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Retailers' guide to tile & stone: Tips for choosing, installing a backsplash

October 12/19; Volume 30/Number 9

(Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a 10-part series familiarizing flooring retailers with merchandising and installing tile and natural stone.)

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 1.21.38 PMFrom classic subway tiles (replicas of the 3 x 6 rectangular white ceramic tiles used in the New York City subway) to large-format glass wall tiles and mosaics, today’s tile options can make a bold fashion statement on a kitchen or bathroom backsplash.

Industry experts offered the following tips for choosing the right tile and installing a fashionable backsplash.

Choose the right material

According to Curt Shewmake, director of operations at Great Floors in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the same material used for a countertop (tile or granite) works for backsplashes. “With some surfaces, like solid countertops, the transition from the countertop to the backsplash can be seamless. This is helpful from a maintenance standpoint. Granite, marble or other natural stone tiles, as well as ceramic or porcelain tile and mosaics, work as well.”


A backsplash should not be treated as a separate entity to the overall space; instead it should work together with both the floor and countertop for an even, balanced look.

Evaluate the walls

Before tiling, check the soundness of the wall. It should be dry and firm enough to hold the tile weight. If condensation is evident, experts recommend waiting for the area to dry before tiling or replacing the drywall with a cement-type backer board. A dehumidifier can speed up the drying process. If the area is not dry, the tile will seal in moisture, causing the wood in the wall to rot. In that case, the damaged drywall would need to be repaired or replaced.

Go over the details

Decide how far up the wall the backsplash should extend. A backsplash usually extends at least 4 inches up from the countertop and sometimes all the way up to the bottom of the wall cabinets, according to Shewmake.

Estimate the amount of tile needed

Measure the length and width of the backsplash area. Wall tiles are typically available in square or rectangular shapes as well as mesh-mounted mosaics. A standard space of 10 feet by 18 inches will require at least 15 square feet of tile.

Plan the layout

If the countertop is tiled, plan the layout so the backsplash grout joints line up with the countertop grout joints. If there is not a tiled countertop, start the first tile in the center of the base of the backsplash. Also, the substrate needs to be suitable for tile. Any area that may come in contact with moisture should be covered with ¼-inch backer board.

Use proper adhesive

While mastic is often an easy alternative to mixing thinset mortar, experts said this is an unwise choice for the longevity of the tile installation as mastic will not bond properly in any area that may be susceptible to moisture.

Grouting for DIYers

The final step in tiling a backsplash is applying the grout. When grouting, keep the grout somewhat on the dry side and pack it well into the grout joints before wiping clean. Experts advise not to use too much water when cleaning off the grout haze, which forms on the tile after the grout dries. The haze should be loosened with a dry towel and the remaining dust must be swept off. After the grout has dried completely, seal the grout to prevent stains.

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Retailers' guide to tile & stone: Engineered stone adds charm, durability to living spaces

September 14/21; Volume 30/Number 7

(Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a 10-part series familiarizing flooring retailers with merchandising and installing tile and natural stone.)

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 1.50.43 PMAncient civilizations used indigenous stone to build cities, roads and monuments; many of which still stand today, a nod to the strength and durability of this natural resource. The aesthetic appeal of stone continues in the modern world, albeit with a twist: Engineered stone tile is gaining popularity in recent years, giving added opportunity to dealers who want to go beyond flooring.

Engineered stone products are primarily—more than 90%—made of natural quartz, the hardest non-precious stone, bound together by resins. These products require less maintenance than granite because they are non-porous and do not have to be sealed periodically. As well, its impervious surface provides more stain and bacterial resistance than granite.

Engineered stone is a durable, long-lasting alternative to real stone and is meant for everyday wear and tear. In addition to floors, engineered stone products can be used for kitchen countertops, shower and tub surrounds, vanities and other surfaces throughout the home. And unlike porous granite, which can foster bacteria, engineered stone is ideal for commercial settings.

Ray Ferraro, president of All Trades Contracting, a Clinton, N.J., dealer, said quartz is “our go-to material” for bath counters, seats and sills. “It pairs perfectly with today’s tile and is non-porous in a bath. We still lead consumers to granite for a kitchen since it is a purer look, flows nicely, won’t burn and is at a much better price point. The successful quartz materials designers have made their quartz look as close to marble as possible and that’s the real success story. Quartz is virtually maintenance free and super hard while marble is soft and porous.”

Ferraro said that unlike real stone, consumers do not have to worry about chips or cracks with engineered stone. It can also be cut and milled in the same manner as other stone products that are available for creating countertops, allowing contractors to readily substitute engineered stone when a plan might call for something else.

Moreover, it can be installed with or without grout and over a variety of existing floors. It rarely requires sealing and can be installed much faster than standard stone.

Ferraro noted the best way to merchandise engineered stone is to take a few of the best colors as loose samples, place them next to a wood floor and move them around easily. “While mounted on a board or rack it doesn’t have the same effect, and the surrounding samples make the human eye scan too many colors. I’d suggest putting it in a small section on a bath floor with a 1⁄8-inch grout line.”

For installations that need added durability and slip resistance, unglazed quarry tile is a good solution, experts say, because its construction is better at resisting breaking.

In relation to design, grays and whites continue to be the colors of choice for consumers. “I’m happy to be trending out of the cream/beige/bone world,” Ferraro said.

As for care and maintenance, retailers recommend sweeping, vacuuming or damp mopping as necessary to remove dust, dirt and grit. Consumers can remove substantial spills or spots with a heavy detergent and a stiff brush or a non-metallic scouring pad. It is advisable to routinely mop the surface with a neutral liquid cleaner. A rule of thumb: Use a simple two bucket method—one bucket containing the diluted cleaner and the other containing clear water.

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Retailers' guide to tile & stone: Shower tile enhances bathroom appeal

August 31/September 7; Volume 30/Number 6

(Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a 10-part series familiarizing flooring retailers with merchandising and installing tile and natural stone.)

Consumers are drawn to tiled showers for the aesthetic appeal it can add to a bathroom. Whether it is travertine creating a spa-like atmosphere or ceramic and mosaic achieving bright, vivid hues, there are plenty of fashion-forward options from which to choose.

Beyond the aesthetics, there are some essential characteristics to shower tile: It must be slip-resistant, relatively impervious to water, and sized appropriately for the space and slope of the shower pan. While smooth tile may be ideal for the walls and seats of a shower, textured tiles are needed on the floor for safety.

Larger formats are in vogue these days across all flooring surfaces, and shower tile is no exception. However, smaller tiles offer more grout lines and thus, slip resistance. Smaller tiles also allow for greater control when cutting and installing, and should always be considered for any curved tile installation, flooring experts said.

There are additional benefits to using large-format tile; they are easier to clean and maintain, and are said to be more hygienic because they allow for less space for mold and mildew to accumulate.

Olga Robertson, president of FCANetwork, said any tile that is non-porous is suitable for a shower. “Today anything goes with floor tile being used on walls.”

Beyond helping customers choose the right colors and patterns of their shower tiles, RSAs must be able to convey the critical importance of proper installation and maintenance. Poor practices in these areas can result in leaks and mold growth, which may cause damage to the surrounding structure and lead to an unsanitary environment. As well, post-installation maintenance can be an issue if the proper board is not installed for a wet area or if it is not sealed properly.

“If a customer is [working on] a shower—something sophisticated [like] a steam shower or shower floor set in mud—it’s not a matter of qualifying the customer as much as educating [her] on the importance of spending more money on the substrate and better setting materials to ensure a good outcome,” Robertson said. “Getting the customer to understand the long-term value of proper care and maintenance, and spending more on quality substrates” is key to ensuring a successful transaction.

Ed Whitaker, a sales associate for Grigsby’s Carpet Tile and Rug Gallery in Tulsa, Okla., said working with the customer is much more involved for a shower tile project. “For sure it involves a lot of training [for RSAs], and there are many questions to ask, such as, ‘Where are the proper water shut-off valves? How old is your house? Are you looking for contemporary or rustic?’ Plus, at some point the house is going to be resold, and you want to have a design that matches the rest of the house.” Whitaker said he typically visits a home before making any recommendations on product and design.

While all tile installations require strict attention to layout, design, bonding and placement, with shower installations there are additional challenges such as waterproofing, proper drainage, incorporating plumbing fixtures and meeting code requirements. While a flooring installer may know about plumbing and how to waterproof a shower, there is certain work only a licensed plumber can do in order to meet code. “There is a lot of scheduling and time delays that go into effect with third and fourth parties involved in the process,” Whitaker noted. “You have to plan accordingly.”



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Retailers' guide to tile & stone: The beauty of large-format wall tile

Aug. 3/10; Volume 30/Number 4

(Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a 10-part series familiarizing flooring retailers with merchandising and installing tile and natural stone.)

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 11.09.05 AM Large-format wall tiles are becoming increasingly popular in today’s interiors as more modern homes opt for contemporary styles. Industry standards categorize large-format tile as any tile or stone with at least one edge greater than 15 inches.

Retailers cite three main advantages of having large-format tile: narrow grout joints, ease of maintenance (it is typically much easier to clean the face of the tile than it is to clean the grout) and room size perception (bigger tiles make the room appear larger).

When installed correctly, dealers note large-format tiles create a room flow that is especially effective in open plan living spaces. “Large format is a big chunk of what we are selling,” said Emily Hagan, lead designer with Palm Tile, a Sacramento-based flooring dealer. “The 12 x 24 format seems to be ‘a happy medium’ among consumers these days.”

Advancements in digital inkjet technology have allowed manufacturers to achieve almost infinite design variability with large-format tile. The standard inkjet machine is capable of decorating about 30 12 x 12 tiles in a row before a design has to be repeated.

Innovation is evident in almost every large tile collection. Emser Tile’s Artwork, for example, is a large-format glazed ceramic wall tile featuring a hexagon-patterned surface in white, black and metallic silver tones. Another new collection is Surface, a wall tile that achieves unique textures replicating plasterwork, textile and waves in a 12 x 24 format.

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 11.11.22 AMStephanie Gasway, an Emser sales representative, just remodeled her own home in Reno, Nev., with several Emser large-format wall tiles. She chose Artwork in a white hexagon in her guest bathroom, Surface in ripple white on an 11-foot tall by 16-foot wide wall, Alchemy Silver on the bathtub wall and Ambiance Palau by the fireplace.

“People just lose their minds when they see it,” she said. “It looks fantastic in my home. I love contemporary and it is really beautiful.”

Carin Atterburg, interior designer for Surface Works, a Portland, Ore.-based dealer, said the marketplace is searching for creative, cost-effective alternatives and large-format porcelain provides enduring aesthetic appeal with modest grout joints.

She explained that factories are focusing on larger porcelain tile for many reasons including lower production costs, less waste and supply and demand. “Nine out of 10 jobs today use large format in some fashion.”

Among the trends Atterburg is seeing now are color body porcelains, which are tiles created with continuous colored stains from the glaze surface throughout the body of the tile. “They are making a statement in the market due to their flexibility in finish coat options and low cost to produce. Traditional full through-body porcelain is getting some strong competition as factories improve the fashion and durability with manufacturing methods that save cost and time in the kiln—not to mention attempting to save cost and [environmental] resources that the market is demanding.” Through-body porcelain (sometimes referred to as unglazed porcelain) tiles are produced using colored raw materials that permeate the entire line, incorporating uninterrupted color and pattern features seen on the surface all the way through the tile body.

In terms of colors, Atterburg said the market is trending toward classic looks with rich gold tones. “Not shiny brass of the 1980s, but brushed luster in venetian classic style like pastel pinks with notes of navy and linen tied together with a ribbon of gray.”

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Retailers' guide to tile & stone: Wood-look tile gives dealers a new path to success

July 6/13; Volume 30/Number 2

By Ken Ryan

(Editor’s note: This is the third in a 10-part series familiarizing flooring retailers with merchandising and installing tile and natural stone.)

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 11.36.12 AM The wood look for ceramic and porcelain tile has become one of the hottest trends in the flooring industry. With advancements in manufacturing processes, tile that resembles natural wood is being used in projects large and small.

The trend has enabled consumers to achieve the look of real hardwood in all areas of their homes. Initially, it gained significant traction for use in wet areas such as a kitchen, bathroom or pool house where consumers wanted the look of wood while minimizing the risk of water damage. Since then, the trend has grown to include all flooring applications in both residential and commercial, along with feature walls and backsplashes. The sizing of these programs, which are often seen as 6 x 24, 8 x 36 or longer, also provide maximum pattern flexibility.

“Wood-look tile started slow but has built momentum and is now a major part of what is sold in tile,” said Phil Koufidakis, owner of Baker Bros., with seven locations in the Phoenix area.

At Acadian Flooring America, with five locations in the New Orleans area, the wood-look tile business now represents 33% of all tile jobs, according to Tony Foret, manager. This is up from 15% a year ago. “The technology in the last year or so has gotten to the point where these wood-look tiles replicate the real thing.”

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 11.36.05 AMFollowing Hurricane Katrina, Foret said Louisiana residents are uber-conscious about flooding; consequently, the wood-look tile has hit a home run with Acadian customers. “We do a lot of big jobs with just wood-look tiles—1,500 square feet, 1,800 square feet. I just did one entire house, 2,400 square feet of tile porcelain with wood visuals. It is a look that is extremely popular.”

Foret said pulling a sample from a display rack is one way to merchandise wood-look tile; however, he recommends installing the wood visuals on the showroom floor in expansive sections, such as 6 x 6 feet, to allow consumers to visualize the look in their homes. “Once I did that the product started selling like hot cakes.”

Baker Bros. merchandises its wood tile planks within the tile section. “We try to keep all the tile together as a category,” Koufidakis said. “The customer who wants that look is not interested in an 18 x 18 square tile. We have also started to install these on our showroom floors.”

The beauty of wood-look planks in residential applications is far-reaching. Koufidakis said the wood look is used throughout the home, not in just one specific area. “In commercial applications, I have seen it used in bathrooms on the wall as well. The attraction is clearly the durability of the tile.”

About six months ago, State College Distributors, with three Southern California locations, moved its wood-look porcelain to the front of the store, adjacent to its hardwood section. “Often the customer walks past it and thinks it’s wood,” said George Solis, sales manager. “Their reaction is often, ‘Oh my God, I love this product.’ The rest is history.”

Unlike real wood, the porcelain wood-look tile can be used in wet areas, including kitchens and bathrooms. There are additional benefits, as well; porcelain tile is easier to clean and maintain than real wood, and because of sophisticated manufacturing techniques, these tiles are durable enough to last decades.