A large contingency from the tile industry met recently at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Bonita Springs, Fla., to take part in Total Solutions Plus (TSP) 2013.

Held annually, the conference is a collaborative effort to bring industry professionals together for education as well as networking opportunities and is sponsored by the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA), the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) and, for the first time, the Tile Contractors’ Association of America (TCAA).

With over 500 people in attendance, Jim Olson, NTCA’s assistant executive director, reported TSP ’13, saw “a 25% growth in one year,” noting, “There is a lot of industry strength.”

Bart Bettiga, NTCA’s executive director, added, “Each year TSP gets better, and the quality of people is incredible. We reached more than 500 people for the first time ever. Also, it’s the first time TCAA joined us, so now we are truly an industry.”

Adding to the excitement of being an “all industry” event with respect to tile was the opening reception, which was sponsored by Coverings, the annual international tile and stone exhibition scheduled this year at the Las Vegas Convention Center April 29 to May 2.

Jon Petz, an engagement expert whowas named one of the top 40 business professionals under the age of 40 by Business Journalsnewspaper, and author ofBoring Meetings Suck,”got things off to a rollicking start with his opening keynote presentation, “It’s Showtime . . . and Life Isn’t a Dress Rehearsal.”

Things got kicked into high gear when Eric Astrachan, TCNA’s executive director, discussed one of the hottest topics in the tile industry today—thin tile—during a presentation, “Fat, Skinny, Tall, Short and Tattooed: Tiles Go Wild.”

Thin tile, he noted, which typically refers to 3- to 6mm thickness, “is in. How is thin tile different? It has reduced thickness, increased edge sensitivity and flexibility is a new consideration.”

Astrachan explained an ANSI standard for thin porcelain tile (A137.3) is currently under construction. “Even giving it a name can be a challenge,” he said.

In discussing the upcoming standard, Astrachan cited some of the areas it will include, such as thickness, water absorption, breaking strength considerations, three-point bending, installed performance, impact resistance, evaluation of edge length, bond strength and freeze/thaw testing.

Astrachan stressed the importance of evaluation of edge length, explaining there needs to be a new method because the current one only goes up to 5 x 5 feet.

Additionally, he spoke about “cool” new installations such as barrier-free systems, raised flooring systems, waterproof deck membranes, mortar for large-format tiles and thick tile—up to 30mm. “The advantages of thick tile are higher breaking strength and [the fact] it can be used for raised floors.”

The topic of “Barrier Free Design/Techniques” was discussed in a breakout session by Arthur Mintie, director of technical services for Laticrete. Those in attendance learned what barrier-free installations are, along with the benefits, design considerations that need to be taken, how to define the space and installation techniques.

He noted in 2013 the population of Americans 65 or older increased to 70 million or 13% of the general population, and that percentage is expected to grow as people in general are living longer. “Every year in this country, approximately 235,000 accidents happen in the bathroom alone.”


Advanced Installer Certifications

Another highlight at TSP ’13 was the demo sessions for the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT). These included “Membranes and Large Format Tile” and “Mudwork and Showers,” both given by NTCA and TCAA.

Scott Carothers, executive director of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), led the discussions. He explained along with CTEF partners in the development of the initiative are TCAA, representing signatory tile contractors from International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (IUBAC); IUBAC; International Masonry Institute, which provides professional and technical training for union masonry contractors; and NTCA, with membership open to all tile contracting companies.

“We have been working for the last 364 days,” Carothers said to a standing-room only crowd. “We had the idea to bring certification to the next level—to provide a pool of qualified installers who can do the job correctly the first time.”

The plan was to give a preview at Surfaces and have the first test at Coverings. “We had a task in front of us,” he added. “Some may say we were too aggressive.”

Carothers explained committees were set up, and leading manufacturers of setting materials lent their support. ACT addresses various technically challenging installation areas of current importance, including Large Format Tile Installation and Substrate Preparation, Mudwork, Shower Pans and Membranes. A specific certification demonstrates the installer’s skill and knowledge in each of these segments.

“We had to have a test,” he said. “We needed evaluators, a study guide, a hands-on test and a written test. We also had to have a trial run.”

Manufacturers that contributed to the development of modules and tests for each of the areas of installation included Mapei, Custom Building Products, The Noble Co. and Laticrete.

At Coverings 2013, four union and four non-union installers took the test on the show floor. “We realized we had to split the mud floor and mud wall, [into their own] certifications,” explained Carothers. “We finished the first leg of the race in six months. We made it.”

Those eight installers recently completed the online written test, which comprises 25% of the certification score, and they are now the first class of ACT graduates.


Awards presentations

TSP was more than just and educational and networking event, it was also a place for the tile industry to recognize some of the most dedicated members of the category.

As such, the NTCA Ring of Honor Award and Tile Person of the Year was presented to Carothers. “I’ve always had a passion for this industry and love it dearly. We are moving forward because the industry is behind us.”

CTDA presented its 2013 Hall of Fame Award to Dave Milanowycz, director of sales for the independent channel at Florida Tile. Additionally, Bill Griese,TCNA’s standards development and green initiative manager, was honored by ASTM International with the International President’s Leadership Award.

In addition to the awards programs and seminars, a tabletop exhibition was held, giving manufacturers of tile and setting materials the opportunity to show their latest product developments to the record-breaking crowd.