The Tile Council of America is frequently asked questions about standards. Most of the time the questions stem from real world situations yet the answer lies in the standards. It is the intent of this article to educate the reader as to the nature of standards and where the ceramic tile industry stands in early 2004.

There are a large number of standards developers around the world. There are four key standard and test method developers that you are likely to encounter; the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and Central European Normalization (CEN).

Ceramic tile and installation material standards have been promulgated as ANSI standards for about 30 year in the USA. Our industry uses ASTM for establishing testing methods. Both CEN for Europe and ISO for worldwide trade establish both the standards and the test methods. It must be considered that standards in the United States have been and remain voluntary. That is, a manufacturer or tile installer does not have to make or install a product to the standards unless specified or contractually agreed to. This is hard for many foreign industry personnel to understand as most countries have laws requiring that standards be met. But since the standards make sense, or at least should make sense, it is foolhardy to ignore them for a few dollars.

When the standards setting process works correctly, things go smoothly. The standards can define the properties of the product to be sold and establish a basis for the transaction. Thus ceramic tile that meets ANSI A 137.1 can be deemed satisfactory for the intended use. The same holds true for ANSI A118, standards for installation materials and A108 for the installation itself. A specifier may refer to an ANSI standard product and, with a reputable manufacturer, know that he or she is getting what they specified.

The standards and test methods used in the USA have been developed by what is called industry consensus. This means that ceramic tile industry-related organizations are asked to participate in the standards process. Every effort is made to assure that the standard developing committee is open to all parties with a legitimate interest in setting standards, and that the committee is "balanced" and not dominated by any one facet of the industry.

The ISO standards process is different. Any country may request a voting position on the ceramic tile standard setting committee; in the case of ceramic tile, it is TC-189. There are about 266 countries in the world and only 17 have chosen to become voting countries on this committee. The voting is simple; if a majority approves a draft standard it will be approved. Each country, no matter how much or little tile they produce, has one vote. The organization that represents the country on the committee makes the vote after polling their constituents for advice. For example currently there are four proposed ISO standards in the drafting stage being voted on. These include the standards for grout, mortar, and the associated test methods. Any ISO member may ask to initiate a "project" or new area of standard setting or the associated test method. Once a project is approved, a "working group" will be established to study the proposal and create a "draft standard." This standard will, if approved by a simple majority of voting countries, become an ISO standard.

As it turns out, ANSI holds the secretariat for TC-189, the ceramic tile industry committee. The secretariat is responsible for communicating, scheduling meetings, and keeping records, including minutes of meetings for the committee.

Trim units for unglazed pavers found in ANSI A137.1.
Sometimes the secretariat needs to prod people into action as well, as there are deadlines set by ISO for the completion of projects. Since ANSI is essentially a governing body, they will delegate the actual work to an individual from a neutral organization, such as a trade association. The ANSI delegated trade association or organization will then become the voting body for the approval of the standard.

Once an ISO standard is developed and published, it is possible for a national body, such as ANSI in the United States, to adopt the ISO standard. This is the process working, as it should, with a true international standard and ANSI standards and ASTM test methods in harmony with that standard. Then tile and installation products can be made and tested in any country and shipped to another with performance characteristics assured. The organizations of ANSI, ASTM, and ISO require periodic review of the standards or they will cease to remain as approved standards.

Given all the committee technical work, where do we stand at this time with standards in the USA? Nearly 80 percent of the tile consumed in the USA is imported. Thus international standards and compatible domestic standards are essential. We use ANSI A137.1 in the United States for ceramic tile itself. This standard has gone past its required review date, and is not considered as an American National Standard (ANS) at this time; however, many specifiers still use this publication as it has a long-standing tradition. It is organized by types of tile i.e.: unglazed mosaic tile, glazed mosaic tile, unglazed quarry tile, glazed quarry tile, pavers (floor tiles larger than 6 square inches), and wall tile. The ISO standards are organized by method of production and water absorption levels. This is good for industry technicians but may be confusing to consumers. Can you picture a consumer going into a tile store and asking for a "Group BIa" tile instead of a porcelain floor tile?

This is why the ANSI secretary is attempting to generate a new ANSI A137.1 standard that is compatible with the ISO standards but still retains a user-friendly organization. The recent growth in the popularity of porcelain, or low water absorption tiles and glass tiles, portend a need to add these types to the standards for both production and installation. Trim shapes are not prevalent in other countries but are extensively used in the United States and therefore will be included in the new ANSI standards for ceramic tile.

The ANSI A108/118/136 standards are for installation and installation products such as backerboards, grouts, and mortar. These standards are just now entering into a 5-year review and a new edition will be published in about a year. These standards are very useful in selecting the correct products for various details found in the Tile Council of America's Handbook for Ceramic Tile Installation. Specification details found in the Handbook are for tried and true industry consensus methods that may be used successfully for tile installation. The Handbook refers to the ANSI standards so both publications are needed to properly specify tile work. I have often said with my fingers crossed that in my ten years in this job I have not heard of tile failures when the Handbook methods and the ANSI standards have been met. It is amazing how many tile installers will try their own methods without having proper testing and evaluation and have disappointing results.

For more information about standards and to look at frequently asked question, visit our web site, The ANSI standards and Handbook publications are available from us at a nominal cost. Buy them and follow them for long lasting tile installations.