In the upstate region of South Carolina under the "orange glow" of Clemson University lies a research park that is home of The Tile Council of North America (TCNA). The Council is a trade association representing manufacturers of ceramic tile and related products and also serves as the secretariat for the TCA Handbook as well as for several American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards. The work they do has implications for virtually everyone working with ceramic tile. At the same time, TCNA relies on folks working in the field to help make certain their work has pin point accuracy.

By definition, a secretariat is, "an administrative unit responsible for maintaining records and other secretarial duties; especially for international organizations." In many cases it's just administrative personnel with no hands on expertise in their organization's field. But that is certainly not the case at TCNA. The people there have expertise in ceramic tile installation, manufacturing, testing, and other areas related to ceramics, engineering, and materials, etc. This allows the TCNA to act both as an administrative body and as a technical resource, although, due to the sheer volume of inquiries and because of the large number of manufacturers represented, product-specific technical queries are often forwarded to a manufacturer.

The TCNA's roll includes publishing the TCA Handbook and the ANSI standards. The specific ANSI standards over which TCNA is secretariat are: A108 - American National Standard Specifications for Installation of Ceramic Tile and A137.1 -American National Standard Specifications for Ceramic Tile (in progress). The responsibility for getting these documents published means that TCNA coordinates submissions and acts as host for the consensus body which reviews the new material and updates the old.

Not surprisingly, the growth of the tile industry and the wave of new products we're seeing has promoted many submissions to TCNA for review at the consensus body meetings. To help maintain the generic nature of the TCA Handbook, guidelines are applied to new submissions. For instance, a product generally must be designed so it can be produced by more than one company. Also, it should be at least three years old and successfully installed to collectively cover millions of square feet. This helps ensure that any installation which follows a detail from the TCA Handbook should be reliable and long lasting.

Even with these tough criteria, the most recent edition of the TCA Handbook accepted 15 new details. One of the most noticeable additions to this year's book are the self levelers - both gypsum and cementitious. There are eight new details using these materials. Also, new to the book are the crack isolation details, the preformed curb, and the cementitious coated foam backer board. Each of these passed review by the consensus body and met the criteria of in-field use. Also, glass and porcelain tiles are defined in the Handbook and several new glass standards have been added to ANSI.

It should also be noted that not all changes in the handbook are the result of new products. Some of the changes and updates come from contractors, installers and other people in the field who contact TCNA when they believe corrections or updates are needed. In addition, when inquiries indicating that clarification may be needed are received by the Tile Council or the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation, the consensus body often votes whether to include the correction or to further clarify a detail based on that inquiry. Questions or comments from the public are often saved for future reference for this purpose.

Outside the technical realm, requests for updates or clarification may result from potentially contentious issues in the TCA Handbook. One example is a seemingly small clarification concerning an area of responsibility which was previously undefined: The 2003-04 Handbook suggested to, "...provide up to 3/4-inch thick plywood protection..." over freshly installed tile. The newer edition clarifies this statement to indicate who is responsible for furnishing the needed material. It now reads: "Builder shall provide up to 3/4-inch thick..." Although both ANSI and the Handbook are voluntary standards, clarity in statements such as these, especially when a contract is involved, can avoid disputes.

ANSI standards are subjected to a similar voter review process, but the rules and procedures are mostly dictated and audited by the Standards Institute itself. Submissions can be made for the ANSI standards through the TCNA, just as with the Handbook. The same consensus body presides over both ANSI and the TCA Handbook. For this reason it is important to note that the consensus body is balanced and includes representation from labor, manufacturers, users, and general interest (groups or individuals). At present the ANSI Accredited Standards Committee (ASC) A108 (consensus body) has 50 members, representing all four groups. The rules stipulate that no one group can constitute a majority.

Because ANSI has rules and regulations by which the TCNA must abide, the A108 document is being revised to meet its five-year renewal. Submissions and input from the public and committee members have been reviewed and voted on over the past 18 months or so and the new document is nearly set for publishing.

Significant changes to the ANSI A108 document include three new glass tile installation standards and both an installation and material specification standard for crack isolation membranes. In addition, the first stages in changing the way L/360 is referenced when checking for deflection in the subfloor will be noted in the 2005 edition of A108.The 2005 document will refer to two building codes: The International Residential Code (IRC) for residential applications and to the International Building Code (IBC) for commercial applications when outlining the deflection requirements instead of L/360.

As the industry continues to grow and evolve, the Handbook and standards will always be in need of maintenance. While the TCNA continues to do its job as secretariat, the folks who use these standards, the TCA Handbook, and all of the ceramic tile and related materials, continue to be the "eyes and ears" for the industry. And as secretariat, participation and feedback are among the tools that enable the TCNA to continue to publish reliable documentation.