Overview Report: TCNA Meeting for the 2017 Handbook

By Steve Rausch

The recent Handbook meeting in Atlanta was probably the best-attended meeting in history. Photo courtesy Becky Serbin, NTCA
The recent Handbook meeting in Atlanta was probably the best-attended meeting in history. Photo courtesy Becky Serbin, NTCA

The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) publishes an annual Handbook containing the industry standards that helps us create, sell, and install tile and stone products properly so we can continue growing as a business while satisfying customers.

The 2017 TCNA Handbook, which will be finished and released in the spring of 2017, will include the latest information about the products and proper installation methods. The recent Handbook meeting, which took place June 21-22 in Atlanta, was probably the best-attended meeting in history. With many new technological advancements, answers to the “how and why” of the assemblies listed for proper installation will be answered. Additionally, lists of proven methods that work every time, and anywhere, when the methods are followed properly, are included.

Standards, for the most part, are divided into three categories or sections: Product or Material Standards; Testing Standards; and Installation Standards.

Typically, the Product or Materials standards are set using a process called the consensus method, and are usually proposed by the manufacturers making those products. Consensus method means committees meet and discuss the proposals, debate the merits of each claim and statement about the proposed product, then it is voted upon by industry experts. Once it has passed the comments periods, then questions are resolved and the standard finally arrives.

Comparatively, International Standards start at the three- to five-year time frame and go upward from there due to the differences in countries around the world agreeing upon anything. The products are different due to less exacting manufacturing equipment; some countries do not use thin set – everything is installed with thick cement bed. And, Chinese firms will rarely agree to European methods or standards and South American countries either don’t use standards or grab U.S. ones.

Thankfully, Testing standards are a little more straightforward. Technical and laboratory folks usually agree on which tests are needed or required to prove the claims made by a product of quality or function. Sometimes, there may be multiple tests that seem to verify the same claim but use different methods, which tend to make the testing part more difficult. However, those differences are usually resolved without too much controversy.

Finally, the Installation standards are usually very difficult to develop. Typically, there isn’t a proposer to start an installation standard. It may be a manufacturer, but it could just as easily be a labor or installer group who wants the standard, and that has been somewhat difficult in the past by the division of the different labor groups. That being said, I’m happy to report it seems the labor or installation groups have come together and set aside their differences for the good of the industry and are working together to ensure good installation standards are passed.

Furthermore, most manufacturers, even fierce competitors, want the products they make installed properly so they too work with the labor groups to pass the right standards. Labor or installation standards seem to pass the quickest and easiest of all the groups.

Here is a brief list of some of the highlights of these meetings:

Proposal to remove “spot bonding methods” from handbook – Failed

The issue here is about the high level of failures due to not using epoxy setting material designed specifically for this purpose. Agreement to add stronger cautionary note about only using specific materials designed for this purpose.

Proposal to add method for exterior deck/balcony with “SRSB,” tile and stone – Approved

This added method includes new material, Structural Ribbed Self-Supporting Boards (SRSB), which are a pultruded, lightweight material manufactured of a composite, dovetailed rib system to be attached directly onto the joist system of a deck or balcony in residential applications. Proposer cited over a million square feet installed in North America without a single failure.

Proposal to add method for barrier free shower system using SRSB system – Failed

Same material as above; however, concerns were voiced about the required drain system used in the assembly. Again, proposer cited substantial number of successful installations in North America. Concerns were voiced about being a somewhat proprietary system.

Proposed changes (six changes) to EJ 171 – (Expansion Joints) Method Modified with Some Changes

Multiple proposers suggested changes for additional clarity to this method outlining expansion joint treatments. Dealing properly with expansion joints is one of the most critical and difficult of all tasks facing the installers today. All proposed changes were made; however, some were modified from the floor discussions differently than proposed.

Proposed edits to W 245, three changes requested – 2 Failed; 1 Approved

Adjust mortar requirements – Failed; Glass Tile additional note to be added – Failed; overall note added about cure time requirements of liquid membranes – Approved.

Proposed edits to W 248, two changes requested – 1 Failed, 1 Approved

Another adjust mortar requirements – Failed; Glass Tile note and additional references to be added – Approved.

Proposal to add MIA Accreditation to the Installer/Contractor Guide section – Approved with Modifications

The Marble Institute of America (MIA) requested their program be added to be recognized with other nonprofit programs for evaluation of competency and skills of installers. This proposal was modified from the floor to remove some language that applied more to shop fabrication of marble and stone so that the program is targeted installation versus just shop practices.

Proposal to edit/update Sustainability Guide – Approved

This proposal was to update certain standards and certifications that have changed since originally published.

Next, was a proposal on adding a completely new section to the Handbook pertaining to “Using the Handbook for Specification Writing,” as well as design and evaluation criteria pertaining to finished installation appearance – Approved as Modified During Floor Discussions.

A last-minute insert, from NTCA contractors, with multiple proposals including:

  • Additional new and updated information about membrane selections
  • Additional updated information about mortar coverages expectations
  • Additional information about flatness and lippage expectations
  • Additional information about grout joint sizes, and pattern considerations
  • Additional information about tile layout considerations and expectations, including design considerations for specifying tile
  • A complete new section about how to handle customers’ expectations of finished tile work and factors to consider for visual inspection of properly installed tile work.

The proposer’s exact words: “All of these proposals are basically relieving the installation contractors from any liability for installations that weren’t properly specified and discussed prior to starting the job.” This has been a major issue for years and although this section won’t be “perfect,” it will help clarify the sometimes odd or unusual expectations never discussed until it is time to pay the installer for the completed work.

Proposal to edit (four changes) Subsurface Tolerances Section – Approved as Modified During Floor Discussions

These proposals edit and modify substrate tolerances for thin-bed methods, large tile methods, floor flatness tolerances, and differences between 10’ straightedge methods versus flatness based on F-Numbers methods.

Proposal for new language edits to Substrate Tolerance and Framed Wall Construction – Approved as Modified During Floor Discussions

This proposal clearly states the installer isn’t required to bring out of industry standard tolerance walls into compliance without additional specified and compensated work.

Proposed edits to Membrane Selection Guide (Membrane Considerations) – Approved

This proposal added a cautionary statement about extended curing times being possible whenever certain membranes are used. It also adds a caution note about hollow-sounding tiles being possible under some conditions.

Proposed edits to Setting Material Selection Guide (extended mortar cure times) – Approved

This proposal, as the prior one, adds cautionary statements about extended curing times being possible under certain conditions including use of some membrane products.

Proposed edits and new language under Lighting section – Approved as Modified During Floor Discussions

This proposal adds additional discussions and information about critical lighting and its possible effect to finished tile work. It also adds information about how to minimize the undesirable effects of critical lighting.

Proposal to clarify grout joint width in Grout Selection Guide – Approved as Modified During Floor Discussions

This proposal was dealing with primarily unsanded grout and changes width to 1/8” or less for stone work.           

Proposal to add wall deflection criteria – Approved

This proposal was to bring the Handbook consistent with interior and exterior building code requirements, as well as consistent with the Gypsum Association’s Handbook requirements.

Proposal for new language regarding “EQ” metal framing studs – Approved

This proposal provides additional information and new language to the Field and Installation Requirements Section of the Handbook about using Equivalent Gauge (EQ) Steel Framing for Ceramic Tile and Stone work. This clarifies that a full 20-gauge structural stud will be required and specifies the minimum thickness of the metal must be 0.0329”. The proposal also outlines specific concerns and recommendations for the tile contractor, instead of just using what the Gypsum Association has for the drywall installer.

In closing, I’d like to mention several questions I get asked regularly anytime standards are discussed:

  • Are standards updated yearly? No, not usually, however, they are reviewed on a regular basis to recheck and make sure they are still relevant. Standards are usually “coded” to easily tell which are the most current and which have been updated at what time.
  • Does the rest of the world follow U.S. standards? The world tends to utilize the ISO as the benchmark of standards, and many ISO standards are almost the same as our ANSI or ASTM standards, but never quite the same. This is why you are seeing more U.S. involvement in the ISO standards development process, as well as seeing more U.S. manufacturers have both the ISO and the ANSI or ASTM standard listed on their products. Although installation standards differ in most areas of the world, it is well-acknowledged the U.S. installation standards are by far the best in the world.
  • Are Standards and Building Codes the same? No! Building codes, which is an entirely article in itself, are based upon When a building code requires certain products, installation or performance levels, they usually provide the applicable standard you must comply with to meet that code requirement.
  • Why do most training courses stress standards so heavily? It is the best way to assure the consumer the product will accomplish the job properly and the installation will work properly to avoid failures within the system. If an installer doesn’t know, or just ignores the standards, then the job is far more likely to fail.
  • Is the floorcovering industry the only industry to use standards? Almost every business and industry is based upon some product or performance standards. ASTM alone has over 12,000 current standards on practically every type of product. When you take your next beach vacation and see that parasail go flying past, know that the entire process is based upon multiple standards from the materials used to make the sail to the lines and harnesses used to pull it. And yes, the boat operator is directed via standards as to its flying guidelines.

Lastly, please consider taking the time to purchase and read the new 2017 edition of the TCNA Handbook to protect yourself from unnecessary problems with your work and to keep current with our evolving tile and stone installation industry.

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