A roller-applied membrane, with crack-isolation properties, can allow tile to be installed over concrete that is just three days old.
Common installations are a tile/stone contractor's bread and butter, but the need to increase profitability always exists. Installations such as tile over concrete, tile over plywood subflooring, tile over green concrete and showers come up often. Yet, inefficiencies can threaten the profits of even commonplace jobs. Here are 10 tips to help improve efficiency - and the bottom line.
1. Think "big picture." Taking a step back to first look at the big picture will save time and money in the long run. Among the questions to ask yourself before getting out the tape measure and pencil include:
• Is the specified type of tile or stone appropriate for the intended installation? A stone material that is terrific for an interior wall may not be suitable for an outdoor patio - and vice versa.
• What are the ramifications of the job's other specifications? Don't get tripped up by not reviewing all specifications related to the job. For example, a tile floor installed over joists 19.2 inches OC, versus 16 inches OC, requires extra attention to ensure a successful installation.
• How to attack the job? Some jobs are best handled in one intense burst of activity while others are better completed in phases. A careful review of the specifications should provide the answer and help you better plan.
• What are the logistics of getting materials, equipment and personnel to and from the job site? Depending on the job, basic logistics can affect profitability.

A one-step mortar, containing polymer additives, isolates cracks and sets tile in a single step.
2. Estimate and then re-estimate.
It's always tricky to accurately forecast the needed amounts of tile, installation materials and labor. A common rule of thumb is to purchase 10 percent more tile than required by the job's square footage to allow for cuts, errors and breakage. An overage of more than 10 percent may be needed for particularly fragile tiles, or when setting tile on a diagonal. A tile dealer or distributor should be able to provide guidance.

In addition, be on the lookout for factors that might cause you to use more installation material than anticipated. Two variables are the condition of the substrate and the size of the tile to be set. A wavy floor at the jobsite might require more material than expected. Likewise, larger size tile often requires more mortar to ensure a secure bond.

A good approach to use when considering mortars is to look at the yield - or approximate coverage in square feet - per bag when used with specific sizes of trowels (e.g. 3/4-inch rounded notch or 1/4-by-1/4-by-1/4-inch square notch.) In fact, the yield per bag provides a better comparison than price because a cheaper mortar might offer less coverage.

Grout coverage is a bit easier to gauge because it is based on the width of the joint (1/16 inch or 1/8 inch) and the size of the tile in the installation. Grout manufacturers present this coverage information on packaging or specification sheets.

If you need to increase the efficiency of your estimating, you may want to consider one of the tile estimating computer software programs on the market. In any event, it always pays to go through the estimate with a fine-tooth comb whenever time permits.

3. Assign the right installers.
Make sure that the people who will be working on a particular job are knowledgeable about the techniques and products that will be used. For example, someone experienced in wall tile is more likely to efficiently complete a wall installation than an installer who specializes in floor mosaics. Also, don't hesitate to take advantage of training opportunities offered by trade associations and manufacturers.

4. Know and follow TCA Handbook standards.
The Tile Council of North America (TCA), a trade association representing manufacturers of tile, installation materials and raw materials, issues the Handbook for Ceramic Tile Installation (commonly called the TCA Handbook). Now in its 42nd edition, the Handbook reflects generally accepted tile installation methods that are reviewed by a representative group of experts in the ceramic tile industry.

The Handbook is an invaluable resource because the methods it addresses cover a wide range of ceramic tile installations. It doesn't, however, contain proprietary methods recommended by the manufacturers of tile installation materials. When in doubt about selecting an appropriate installation method, consult with the manufacturer. For more information, visit www.tileusa.com. Natural stone installation guidelines are covered in the Dimension Stone Design Manual. This reference book, produced by the Marble Institute of America (MIA), includes industry recommendations, performance data and design information. More information on this book is available at www.marble-institute.com.

5. Consider the tile to be installed.
As you approach an installation job, be aware of the nuances of the type of tile involved. For example, an impervious porcelain tile and a porous marble tile may both be desirable surfaces, but each requires its own installation products and methods. The service environment and maintenance requirements after the installation should also be considered.

Depending upon the material and the type of installation, consult the TCA Handbook, the Dimension Stone Design Manual or installation material manufacturers.

6. Properly prepare the surface.
Tile installed over an inferior surface is subject to cracks, loose tile, cracked grout and expensive callbacks. Properly preparing the surface helps ensure the project's success. Surface preparation products fall into three general areas:
• Creating the underlayment, or the leveling layer, for the surface.,br> • Making an existing underlayment suitable for tile installation.
• Addressing a particular condition related to the surface.

An underlayment may consist of cement board or a pourable material, called a self-leveling underlayment, which creates a flat, level surface for installing tile. The TCA Handbook requires a substrate tolerance of 1/4 inch in 10 feet and 1/16 inch in 1 foot.

In other instances, it may be necessary to patch an existing concrete or plywood underlayment so it is level and free of voids, seams and depressions. In addition, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) recommends that concrete or masonry be "dry, structurally sound and free of wax, curing compounds or other coatings." The best way to ensure that this substrate is free of contaminants is to employ a mechanical cleaning method such as sandblasting, shotblasting or scarifying.

Specific conditions might also exist, such as cracks in a concrete underlayment or a situation that requires waterproofing before tile is set. Crack isolation and waterproofing membranes are available for these purposes.

7. Take a systems approach.
When choosing installation materials, it helps to consider a systems solution that incorporates products that work in tandem. Here are examples in common installations:
• Tile over concrete. The downside of concrete substrates is that naturally occurring cracks can cause rigidly bonded tile to crack. The solution is to treat the substrate with a crack-isolation system prior to installing tile. These systems include sheet membranes, liquid membranes or one-step mortars containing polymer additives that isolate cracks and allow tile to be set in a single step.
• Tile over wood subfloors. Wood subfloors are often associated with deflection. This can create problems because deflection that is more than L/360 of the span when measured under a 300 lb. concentrated load (L/720 for stone) can cause the flooring installation to fail. Have the project owner or their design professional ensure the wood substructure (floor joists or trusses) does not deflect more than the allowable criteria. To address deflection between the joists or trusses, verify that the specified installation method is appropriate for the given joist span. Spans greater than 16 inches OC, such as the increasingly common 19.2 inches or 24 inches OC, require different systems to prevent excess deflection. As the variables in floor construction increase, the greater the importance of a latex modified mortar's flexibility and high bond strength to keep the tile from cracking and losing bond.
• Tile over green concrete. Increasingly tighter timelines in the construction industry make it difficult to schedule the traditional 28-day wait to install tile over newly poured concrete. One successful system consists of a liquid membrane, with crack-isolation properties, that can be applied over concrete that is just three days old. The membrane is followed by a quick-setting mortar that allows tile or stone to be installed the same day.
• Showers. Some shower installations can present a twofold challenge. First is keeping heavy marble tiles from slipping during installation. The second is preventing potential water and mold damage to the substrate. A system approach calls for application of a mold-resistant waterproofing membrane. Then, setting wall tile weighing up to 6 lbs. per square foot and heavy floor tile requiring medium bed performance with the new generation of low-density technology mortars.

8. Don't skimp on technology.
It's good practice to keep abreast of advances in technology that can improve your efficiency. For example, when one-step mortars that isolate cracks and set tile in a single step were introduced a few years ago, installers saw dramatically reduced tile installation times. The clock has sped up again with the next generation mortar formulated to adapt to any of three different types of installation products - a latex modified mortar, a non-sag mortar or a medium bed mortar. Still more innovations are on the horizon.

9. Offer care and maintenance services.
There's a significant profit potential in cleaning and sealing installed tile and grout. Because few installers offer cleaning and sealing services, you have an opportunity to use it as a way to separate yourself from the competition. In addition, cleaning and sealing projects may lead to installation referrals and vice versa.

If you're not already offering this service, it's easy to get started. Many cleaning and sealing products on the market have been simplified and are designed to work across multiple surfaces.

10. Consider warranties.
Warranties on installation products provide peace of mind for customers and can help your bottom line.

In the most common type of warranty, the manufacturer simply promises to replace the defective product. Under a performance warranty, the manufacturer promises to deliver a specific function. Some manufacturers offer aggressive warranties. These include 1/8-inch crack protection for up to 12 years when the installation uses the same manufacturer's crack-isolation system and grout products. Review them closely.

By offering a manufacturer's performance warranty, you can also move a customer to a higher-margin premium tile or stone installation that is guaranteed for the long haul.

There's no question that profits are under pressure. But keeping these tips in mind will help you produce work that is top-quality and profitable.