Today, one of the top concerns for commercial buildings is keeping the operating costs for heating and cooling down, especially when energy costs — whether petroleum based, electrical or other — continue to climb. Other concerns that are commonly referenced, especially for new construction, are a building’s life-cycle or sustainability, its VOC levels (Volatile Organic Compounds) and its recycled content and green attributes — just to name a few. Tile and stone feature huge strengths when it comes to these concerns, and our industry should be making every effort to capitalize on the superior attributes tile and stone have to offer.

Life cycle and sustainability

Tile has been found in structures that have survived from as far back as around 2650 BC, at the Step Pyramid of Djoser-Saqqara, Egypt and the Fortress of Nazareth, which predates Christ. In the U.S., LEED (Leadership in Energy, Environmental and Design) identifies that tile has a minimum life cycle of 50 years, which exceeds that of other finishing materials such as carpet, vinyl and wood (some of which last less than 10 years). In reality, tile and stone can be found in many buildings that go back to the days of Rome, the Ming Dynasty, Michelangelo and the French Revolution, so we can say that a 50-year life cycle remains an extremely conservative estimate. A truer statement would be that the tile can last as long as the building in which it is installed.

In addition, the maintenance of tile and stone is as simple as using warm water with a little soap; no chemicals or toxic cleaners needed. A recent study commissioned by the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) indicates that tile is the least expensive long-term option when considering maintenance and the long lifetime tile provides. The study indicates that the maintenance cost for tile (depending on the type of tile) runs about 32 to 35 cents a square foot per year, stone 44 to 61 cents, whereas carpet was determined to be $1.08 and VCT was the most expensive at $1.83. Data is from “TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installations,” Tile and the Environment, page six.

Low or no VOCs

While some competitive industries promote low or tolerable VOCs, tile and stone (not including all sealers) do not contain VOCs. Tile and stone are so low in emissions that neither the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) nor the CaGBC (Canadian Green Building Council) require any IAQ testing (Indoor Air Quality) by a third party. VOCs are known to be a big contributor to poor indoor air quality, and with today’s ever increasing population with allergies and respiratory conditions, eliminating VOCs and aggressive cleaners as cited earlier makes tile and stone extremely attractive. In addition, the adhesives used to install these materials have little to no VOCs. Mortars that meet ANSI A118.1 (non-modified) have none and those that have additives such as in ANSI A118.4, ANSI A118.11 and ANSI A118.15 have very few (if any) VOCs. The same can be said of grouts, whether they meet ANSI A118.6 or ANSI A118.7.

Recycled content

Today, more and more tiles have recycled content. At the moment, the relatively new ANSI A 138.1 “Green Squared American National Standard For Sustainability Ceramic Tiles, Glass and Tile Installation Materials,” calls out that the highest level Three requires 35% post-consumer/pre-consumer and reclaimed waste content versus Level One (3%) and Two (15%). This also holds true for mortars and grouts: Level One (5%), Level Two (10%) and Level Three (20%). Sheet applied membranes and underlayments are identical to mortars for Level One and Two, but differ at 25% for Level Three. Obviously, “recycled content” has become an important buzz word, and the tile and stone industry has embraced these directives and meets or surpasses the claims of flooring materials such as carpet, vinyl, laminate and others.

Green building

Now more than ever, the desire to construct buildings with green goals in mind is driving decisions about construction materials and methods. The impact of the U.S.’s buildings on resource use was identified by the Environmental Information Administration (Annual Energy Outlook, 2008) and is shown by some alarming statistics. Buildings account for 40% of primary energy use, 72% of electricity consumption, and they create 39% of CO2 emissions. Green buildings can reduce these numbers in energy use, CO2 emissions, water use and solid waste, all of which have reduction goals created by the USGBC and the CaGBC, as well as other associations such as Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) in California and Real Property Association of Canada (REALpac).

Montreal Gold Certified LEED building

In Montreal, approximately three and a half years ago, a 66,000-square-foot Canadian headquarters for Schluter-Systems was constructed. Interestingly enough, just over 75,000 square feet of tile was installed in this building by tiling most of the floors (excluding the warehouse), many walls and the exterior facade. The choice of tile was an easy one, as it is durable, has a long life cycle, emits no VOCs, is low maintenance and is the perfect match for radiant heated floors as tile is a very effective conductor of heat with very little thermal resistance.

Other green initiatives that were used/applied in the Montreal facility include:

•          Radiant heated floors (modular screed system)

•          A white PVC roofing membrane to reduce heat-sink and provide longer life cycle

•          A green wall and a green roof

•          Solar panel wall on the southern exposed building facade to heat fresh air supplied during the winter

•          An earth tunnel, which is about 200 feet long x 3 feet in diameter buried below the frost line for the intake of air for heating (winter) and cooling (summer)

•          Ventilated facade

•          Rainwater retention chamber which is used for the toilets

Energy cost savings

•          A traditional office building in the West Island of Montreal of similar size and use typically costs between $3.75 and $4.00 a square foot for heating and cooling per annum, whereas the Schluter building consumes energy at a rate of approximately $0.81 per square foot. Calculations and estimates indicate that the extra capital cost (approximately 20% more in this case) of constructing a green building, which qualifies as LEED Gold, will be compensated/paid off within less than 10 years.

Schluter-Systems’ new regional distribution and training center in Reno, NV

Like other buildings built by Schluter-Systems, the very first requirement for the Nevada building was to have high-energy efficiency and, since it is in the middle of the desert, it was crucial to use the most efficient system to heat and cool the building. Just like other buildings in Montreal, and Plattsburgh, NY, it was decided that the best way to go was to use geothermal as the main means to heat and cool the building. Geothermal heat pumps transfer energy between the earth and the building through the water in the hydronic system. Working in conjunction with the geothermal system, the earth tunnel (200 feet long and 12 feet below ground), the solar wall (1,500 square feet metal cavity, capable of producing temperatures in the 170 degrees F range), the solar hot water panel, and the heat/cold air recovery system (capable of recapturing up to 80% of the heat in winter and the cold air in the summer) together complete the heating, ventilation and cooling system of the building. Not only do these systems enhance employee comfort in the building, they are also great for the environment and reduce operating expenses for the building. 

Another very unique feature incorporated into the design of the building was the warehouse “radiant wall system.”  A very unique radiant wall system was installed as the primary source of heat for the warehouse. The wall assembly consists of grooved Schluter Kerdi-Board panels, with pex piping running throughout and covered with ceramic tiles. The system covers 900 linear feet of wall, 8 feet in height.

Traditional office/distribution buildings in the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center that are similar to this facility in size and use typically have total energy consumption costs ranging between $1.25 and $1.50 per square foot. Over the past two years, the Schluter building has been running at a cost of $0.43 per square foot or an overall cost saving of approximately 65%.

The Montreal and Reno facilities both also employ the Schluter®-Bekotec modular screed panel, which forms the platform for the hydronic system and integrates with the tile covering to produce a system that reacts very quickly to changes in temperature, and consumes 70 to 80% less energy than traditional systems. In addition, the modular screed system was used for sound attenuation purposes and was able to attain a FIIC 63.5 IIC with only a 4-inch slab and a dropped ceiling with no insulation in the plenum. FIIC is Field Impact Insulation Class. The slab with the dropped ceiling was tested prior to the addition of the modular screed and had an FIIC of 33. For additional details on this sound attenuation, please refer to the MMSA bulletin which describes the types of testing for sound in

Of course, all this new technology is great, but it does come at a cost — both in dollar amounts and experience or lack thereof. Often the question arises, “How much does all this technology cost? In general, on any given project, one can add anywhere from 10 to 20% to the total price. It is important to note that prices on certain items have come down drastically over the last five years. Two notables are LED lighting and solar panels.

In the three years between the construction of the Montreal and Reno facilities, Schluter was able to take advantage of some of these technological advances as well as lessons learned. The Reno facility was completely designed using a three-dimensional software package that allows the user to visualize each aspect of the design as it would appear in real life. In addition to the benefits of visualization, the software is capable of detecting errors and conflicts in the design and then providing suggestions or alternatives for correcting those errors. By using the software (Revit, in this case) the building owners were able to save considerable time and cost. The 100,000-square-foot facility was delivered in five months and on budget.


Building awards for the Montreal and Reno Schluter-Systems facilities


•          Hydro Quebec Award – Energy Efficiency, New Building

•          Architectural Award of Excellence for Design - 2nd Place, New Building over 50,000 square feet

•          CaGBC – LEED Gold Certification


•          Commercial Project Honoree Project Green (highlighting sustainable projects featuring tile and stone) at Coverings 2012

•          Northern Nevada – New Building Design Award

•          Nevada Energy – High Efficiency Award

•          USGBC – LEED Gold Certification

            journeyman installers and 2 apprentices

Installation Time: 3 months

For the new building in Reno, a new type of exterior cladding system was designed using Schluter Kerdi-Board, which is an extruded polystyrene foam backerboard/building panel. The 2-inch board was directly fastened to the steel studs on the exterior of the building and then Schluter Ditra-Drain, which is a drainage membrane designed for use within thin-bed ceramic and stone tile assemblies in exterior applications, was applied onto the Kerdi-Board creating something similar to a ventilated facade. This assembly allows for some ventilation behind the tile and the extruded foam board so that the mortar behind the tile would not be burned by the high heat of the sun, and allow for independent movement between the tile and the substrate as all Ditra uncoupling membranes function. All materials were bonded with an ANSI A118.1 mortar, and movement joints were applied in all directions approximately every 8 feet.

Air temperature can swing by as much as 40 or 50 degrees F in a single day in Reno. To monitor the severity of these temperature fluctuations between the highs and lows that the exterior facade would be exposed to, Schluter had temperature sensors installed behind the light and dark tile on both the east and west sides of the building. The readings that have been observed are quite remarkable. On April 1 of this year, on a relatively cool partly sunny day when the ambient temperature outside was approximately 59 degrees F, the east dark tile was approximately 140 degrees F by 10 a.m., when earlier that morning at approximately 5 a.m. it was recorded at 22 degrees F. Later on the same day at approximately 4:30 p.m. the dark tile was approximately 100 degrees F and surprisingly, the light-color tile was only about 10 degrees F cooler at around 90 degrees F. The next morning, similar to the previous morning, the recorded temperature for both walls was approximately 22 degrees F.

The building has now seen two full years of the extremities of the weather in Reno, and the tiled facades have performed incredibly well and have not shown any wear and tear. They are predicted to last for many years to come.


Both Schluter buildings in Montreal and Reno are real life testaments of the high performance of ceramic and stone tile in today’s New Generation Commercial Building. The unique applications of ceramic tile in these facilities serve as examples of how tiles can function as more than just coverings; they can become integral components of overall building systems to provide improved energy efficiency, comfort and utility.