Perspective: Reducing Callbacks and Preventing Failures

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CUSTOM Insights recently spoke with Artie Atkinson, ceramic foreman at Schoch Tile in Cincinnati, OH. Artie has 30-plus years of experience as a tile contractor, so we discussed the scarcity of skilled tile installers and how to prevent costly mistakes in spite of it. These are a few of the tips he shared on how to prevent failures and callbacks. 

How can installers use the TCNA Handbook to help prevent failures?

There are a couple of key details that many installers are not using.  This information is at everyone’s fingertips and each project will include multiple methods from the book.  We all want to prevent cracks in tile or water leaks, right?

The most commonly overlooked detail is probably EJ171 on how to place movement joints.  These need to be kept clear and filled with a flexible 100% silicone sealant.  Anyone can go look at the videos of cracking and tenting tile on YouTube and they will never forget this one again.

Another important detail is F125 for relocating small cracks with a crack isolation membrane and soft joints.  Better yet, use the membrane across the entire floor to protect the tile.

Tiling wet areas always needs extra attention. B421-16 shows how the waterproofing membrane should go over the mortar bed.  Steam rooms or steam showers require a tiled ceiling that is sloped 2 inches per foot – much steeper than the ¼-inch per foot slope to the floor drain. Because of the steam and heat, SR614-16 also calls for sealed slip joints and vapor-proofing. (CUSTOM’s RedGard® Waterproofing and Crack Prevention Membrane is the first liquid-applied product to exceed requirements for a low-perm membrane suitable for continuous use steam showers – Editor)

What are some simple things contractors can do during the labor shortage? 

With the lack of skilled tilesetters, the industry is seeing more failures than ever caused by lack of training.  We sometimes get called in to troubleshoot what went wrong with another company’s work.  When I’m asked what they could have done differently, sometimes the answer is very simple. 

Inexperienced installers can have big challenges with properly mixing grout.  That is why I always recommend Prism grout.  It is forgiving about things like weather conditions and it also helps prevent efflorescence. 

Also, I’ve been consulted where different types of mortars have been confused by workers during the installation.  A high-performance product was used to install a backerboard or mat, while a heavy tile was set with an economy product.  An easy way to keep this straight on any jobsite is to only use a white ANSI118.15 mortar. We keep multiple skids of white ProLite on hand at all times because we can set practically anything with it.  

Does the installation products manufacturer have a role in preventing failure?

Install using all products from the same manufacturer.  Choose one that backs up their products with service.  It is the only way to get a warranty and if there is ever a question or concern, you know who to talk to about it.   Of course, I call my CUSTOM reps to learn more about products and how to use them.  Those guys are amazing!  One of them left his home at 4:00 a.m. to drive four hours and meet me on a jobsite at 8:00. He was there by 7:45 which really impressed me since it was the first time we had even met. 

What is your final tip for tile contractors to prevent failures?

Do your homework and take advantage of educational opportunities.  Get involved in the NTCA and send your crew to CTEF training.  Teach them to learn, ask questions and have them share their knowledge with others in the trade.  Help all of the tile installers you meet to do the best job they can.

Artie Atkinson began as an apprentice at 15 years old, worked in the union and has worked for Schoch Tile for 15 years.  He comes from a family tradition where his dad and two brothers have also been involved in the industry.  Artie is a big believer in using the TCNA Handbook and teaching other tile installers how to do it right the first time.  His motto is, “I only want a call back when the owner is giving us more work.”  

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