The Tile Council of America publishes ceramic tile industry guidelines. Hundreds of people are involved in ongoing revisions of TCA technical literature.

Throughout most of my working life in this industry, I never truly understood who the Tile Council of America (TCA) was nor how their documents came about. Although over the course of the many commercial tile jobs I performed earlier in my career, I certainly got beat up a time or two for not following their technical guidelines.

When one of these jobs resulted in a problem, I remember saying to myself, "Who the hell are these guys and why are they trying to tell me what to do?" I envisioned the TCA as a facility populated by a bunch of tile gods walking around in lab coats. For years, I'd heard about these god-like laboratory tile setters who made decisions that affected my work -- and occasionally my wallet.

That vision of the TCA and its personnel was shattered once I finally had the opportunity to spend a day at one of their facilities. Despite my long-held beliefs, I learned there are no tile gods at the TCA.

The organization with which I work, the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), is totally separate from the TCA. Many in our industry assume CTEF is a TCA division, but this is not the case. However, TCA is a major supporter of ours. That relationship was established through our mutual participation in the development of industry guidelines, the basis of our instruction and the strong support TCA has given CTEF.

We at CTEF often receive calls relative to published industry guidelines. The general opinion of how things work is vastly different than what actually happens.

Allow me to shed a little light on the hows and whys of the TCA and industry guidelines. This year will be a busy one for the TCA and many other industry professionals. That's because this is a revision year for both the Tile Council of America Installation Handbook, The American National Standards for Ceramic Tile Installation and Setting Materials (ANSI A-108/118), and the ANSI A137 Specifications for Ceramic Tile Products (which will be reprinted). Some of you may be familiar with these documents, but many others are not.

Here are the facts without the fiction. The Tile Council of America is a manufacturer-sponsored organization established to promote ceramic tile and allied products. Unlike typical manufacturer organizations, its members consider all segments of the market when setting a course of direction. Contrary to popular belief, the TCA staff and members are not a decision-making organization for industry standards. There is no person or organization that dominates the committees. The TCA Handbook is a consensus document based on the input of national and regional organizations.

The TCA acts as the secretariat and host that organizes and conducts meetings on industry guidelines, keeps the minutes and publishes the results. Anyone who wishes to place an item on the agenda may do so by submitting it in writing. Anyone who wishes to attend the meetings may do so. Anyone who wishes to address the committee may do so -- all he or she need do is ask. All meetings are open to those with an interest.

Members of the committees also come from outside the industry, such as those parties who represent affected trades. For example, tile industry recommendations for substrate tolerances are not established by the tile trade. Contrary to popular belief, they are established by various substrate trade organizations.

The TCA Handbook committee relies on recommendations detailed in published guidelines from the American Concrete Institute (ACI), the Gypsum Association and the American Plywood Association (APA)/ Engineered Wood Association (EWS) among others. Most of these organizations are voting members in assembling both the TCA Handbook and American National Standards.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) publications related to ceramic tile are printed by the TCA, which also acts as secretariat. The secretariat keeps the records, compiles comments, schedules the meetings and keeps their minutes.

Participation in the standards committee is open to all legitimately concerned people. However, under the American National Standards Institute guidelines, no organization may dominate the committee -- an excessive number of manufacturing personnel or contractors, for example, would not be allowed.

The A108 standards are those used for the installation of ceramic tile, whereas the A118 standards apply to installation materials. These are used in conjunction with the Handbook for Ceramic Tile Installation, which the TCA publishes every two years.

The ANSI A-137 Specifications for Ceramic Tile Products is the tile producer's standards. This publication, which was last updated in 1988, is past due for revision. The reason for the delay is that the industry has been waiting for the promulgation of the new International Standards Organization (ISO) tile specifications.

More than 15 years ago, technical leaders from around the world met to set standards for tile (and other products) that can be used universally. This way, a buyer in another country can be assured as to the quality of the product imported from other countries. Nations that signed the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) round in Geneva agreed to use the same standards. These include the parameters needed to define a ceramic tile. The signers also agreed not to use unfair or unusual local standards to discriminate against a trading partner.

The ISO standards revision process has been in progress for a number of years and, no doubt, the updated guidelines will be incorporated into the ANSI A 137 standards. It's important to note that all tile associations have endorsed the use of these standards in both the methods and training of personnel in the industry. The entire course work in the training programs of the CTEF and other associations use these handbooks as a basis for instruction.

Certainly, these documents are not light fireside reading. But they are essential for the industry to continue on the path towards increased ceramic tile usage and quality installation. I urge anyone who works in the industry to become familiar with these books.

Because they are technical in nature, formal instruction may be of great benefit in understanding the purpose and function of the documents. The CTEF offers courses in use of these books for installers and non-installers (such as salespeople, designers, architects, maintenance people and building owners). To obtain additional information, or to purchase copies of these books, telephone (864) 646-8453 or visit the TCA Web site at