This is the second of four articles featuring the assessments involved in the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) program with today’s topic being “Membranes.”  The purpose of highlighting the features and benefits of the new, and recently launched, ACT program is to spread the awareness that the tile industry is providing certification to tile installers who meet and exceed the industry standards and best practices of quality tile installations. This tile installer testing program was developed with a two-fold purpose: to allow the ACT installer to be differentiated from those who do not have this distinction and to provide the consumer, whether commercial or residential, with a choice of a better and more qualified tile installer.

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Liquid Membranes
Sheet Membranes

Over the course of just under one year, the committees drafted, edited and published all the documents necessary to construct the wood test modules, conduct the actual hands-on test, establish evaluation criteria for the hands-on test and administer the online written test. The ACT program originally contained four skills tests, including Large Format Tile and Surface Prep, Membranes, Mortar Bed (Mud) Floors, and Walls and Shower Receptors. Subsequently, the Mud testing was divided, yielding a separate Mud Floor and Mud Wall test for a total of five skills tests.The ACT program committee was formed in October of 2012 and included five of the leading tile industry labor organizations: the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), the International Masonry Institute (IMI), the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (IUBAC), the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) and the Tile Contractors Association of America (TCAA). The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) was subsequently added to the committee, bringing the support of its manufacturing members, which were pivotal in the development of the ACT curriculum. The formation of this committee was an unprecedented event, in that it joined the non-union (CTEF and NTCA) and union (IMI, IUBAC and TCAA) tile installer organizations together with a common goal of creating a pool of qualified tile installers without regard to their labor affiliation.

One key component and strictly enforced requirement of the ACT tests is that the applying installer (applying to take one or more of the tests), must have first successfully passed the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) tests, which are conducted by the CTEF, or he or she must have successfully completed the studies and practices of the IUBAC and received the designation of Journeyman. The installer, successfully completing either of these programs, has already proven his or her basic installation skills and now moves on to elevate and document their advanced installation skills and knowledge.

The ACT tests are a combination of an open book written test, which is administered online and taken at home or in the office per the installer’s schedule, and the hands-on test which is provided at regional locations around the country. Upon registration, the installer receives a packet consisting of the ACT Study Guide, the TCNA Handbook, the ANSI Specifications, Instructions to the Installer, Installer Critical Points and Statement of Intent. These documents provide the installer with all the study materials necessary to take both the written and hands-on tests. The program is designed to have the installer take the written test first, followed by the hands-on testing. The scores of each test must be a minimum of 85%. While this may seem to be a high requirement, it speaks to the high integrity of the program along with the above average skills and knowledge needed to achieve the ACT designation. Realize that ACT certified installers are the pinnacle of their trade.

The membrane types included in this test focus solely on:

  • Waterproofing: ANSI A118.10 American National Standard Specifications for Load Bearing, Bonded, Waterproof Membranes for Thin-set Ceramic Tile and Dimension Stone Installation
  • Crack isolation: ANSI A118.12 American National Standard Specifications for Crack Isolation Membranes for Thin-set Ceramic Tile and Dimension Stone Installation.

These membranes provide a waterproof barrier that will protect both the tile and stone installation — along with everything below the substrate and the building structure. Waterproofing protection is one of the most practical steps to ensure the longevity of a tile and stone installation system. It not only protects the spaces below and adjacent to the tile or stone installation, it also protects the setting bed, reinforcing wire (if used), concrete base and reinforcing or wood structure from potential damage and deterioration. Since damage to many flooring components can occur, it is no surprise that the majority of construction liability claims involve water damage that has resulted from the lack of, or an improperly installed, waterproofing membrane.

Crack isolation membranes provide a flexible barrier in between the tile or stone installation and the substrate that will prevent minor lateral movement or in-plane substrate cracks (typically up to 1/8 inch [3mm]) from transmitting up through the tile or stone finish. However, crack isolation membranes may not be 100% effective in preventing reflective cracking (cracks in concrete telegraphing through the tile). The speed of modern-day construction and the desire to use thinner and more light-weight materials can lend itself to movement in a building structure. Minimizing potential cracks of a tile and stone system must be addressed during installation to prevent future damage. Modern crack isolation membranes are thin, load bearing and maintain a high level of flexibility without sacrificing the necessary strength and support required for tile and stone installations.

Today’s pressures of completing projects in a fast-track manner often lead to tile and stone installations being rushed and not installed correctly. The advanced technology that goes into waterproofing and crack isolation membranes allows the installer to take advantage of faster curing times, and ultimately, allows the tile and stone installation to move forward more quickly.

There are numerous types of waterproofing and crack-isolation membranes available on the market, but the ACT testing focuses on liquid applied and sheet types. There are various membrane manufacturers and types that can be specified within a ceramic tile or stone installation system. Industry standards and methods for this ACT Membrane certification are based on American National Standards (ANSI) for product requirements and installation methods and TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation for installation specifications and methods.

Liquid membranes

The ACT test requires the installer to select the proper materials for the job and use them in the proper sequence. Liquid membranes require that all cracks, cold joints, control joints, coves, corners, penetrations and drains be pretreated with the liquid, and depending on the manufacturer, a layer of reinforcing fabric. When dry, the entire area is coated per manufacturer’s recommendations to a specified thickness, and if required by the manufacturer, a layer of fabric is placed into the wet liquid. The ACT Evaluator at this point checks the applied liquid for the appropriate thickness with a wet film mil thickness gauge. After proper dry time, a second coat of liquid is applied and again verified by the Evaluator for proper thickness. As part of this test, the installer must properly interface a drain and pipe penetration. These two areas are scrutinized heavily by the Evaluator since they can be the source of failures done by the ill-trained novice.

Sheet membranes

For the installation of sheet membranes, again, the installer must select the appropriate products and installation materials for the required job. Sheet membranes are normally installed over a properly prepared and structurally sound substrate. Typically, a latex-modified Portland cement mortar (ANSI A118.4 or A118.15 compliant) is required to bond the membrane to the substrate and also bonds the tile or stone to the membrane. Many manufacturers also provide a quick-setting adhesive to bond the membrane to the substrate, which in turn allows the tile to be installed immediately without the fear of a bond loss between the membrane and the substrate.

The mechanic must install the sheet membrane over the entire floor area and up the walls to a specified height in one piece while also providing the suitable connection at the inside and outside corners. A full width waterproof seam is required to be completed with the manufacturer recommended sealant. As with the liquid applied products, the sheet membrane must include a water-tight connection to the floor drain and pipe penetration. The Evaluator now dismantles the installer’s work piece by piece to determine if the installation procedures were completed correctly and that a waterproof installation was achieved.

Although this brief description of the ACT Membrane test may appear to be very easily provided, there are critical points on the Evaluator’s score sheet that if not completed satisfactorily, the entire test fails. Included in this category for the sheet membrane are: minimum overlap of materials with appropriate sealant at the seam and proper sealant applied between the sheet and the drain body. For liquid applied products, the critical failure point includes providing the manufacturer’s recommended wet film thickness. Common to both tests is the requirement to provide a minimum 3-inch upturn at all walls.

Both the liquid applied and sheet membrane installations also require that the perimeter of the test area and the test module itself be protected from the waterproofing materials in a neat and workmanlike fashion. The entire test must be completed within the four-hour time allotment or the test fails.

Once the Evaluator has completed the scoring and has taken the documenting photos, the installer removes the work provided and returns the module to the same condition at which it was found prior to the start of the test.

These test parameters may sound rather extreme since the concept of applying a waterproofing or crack isolation product seem to be fairly simple. But realize how critically important these procedures are to the success of a project. If this were your personal project, you would expect it to be leak free — and so it should be.

No matter which of the ACT-related tasks are involved on the job, the use of qualified labor makes perfect sense. Saving a few dollars at the outset with the cheaper “I have done it all” amateur can be extremely expensive the second time. Think about it.