This is the last of four articles featuring the assessments involved in the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) program with today’s topic being Shower Receptors. 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 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 the choice of a better and more qualified tile professional. 

View the other three articles in series: 

ACT Mortar (Mud) Floors and Walls

ACT Membranes


ACT Large Format Tile and Surface Prep

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 open shop (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. 

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. Afterward, the Mud testing was divided, yielding a separate Mud Floor and Mud Wall test for a total of five skills tests.

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 abilities 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, while the hands-on test is provided at regional locations around the country. Upon registration, the installer receives a packet consisting of the ACT Statement of Intent, Study Guide, Instructions to the Installer (hands-on test guidelines), Installer Critical Points (items that if not completed according to industry accepted methods and standards, constitutes a failed test), the TCNA Handbook and the ANSI Specifications. 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 and pass the written test first, followed by the hands-on testing. The minimum score for the written test is 84% with the hands-on portion requiring a score of 85%. While this may seem to be a lofty 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. With the addition of new products and new installation techniques emerging on a more frequent basis, only the highly trained craftsmen and women have the knowledge and skill sets required to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Ceramic tile and natural stone are aesthetically pleasing and highly functional products for shower surfaces. Unfortunately, informal industry statistics generally agree that over 90% of the showers in place today will fail in some fashion. While it is true that each of these may not be catastrophic, a failure is still a failure. The majority of these failures are caused by the low priced, “I can install whatever you throw my way tile placer” (not a qualified installer who has attained certification) who knows very little, if anything, about the proper and time proven methods required to install a beautiful and long-lasting shower.

In order to construct a shower that has both beauty and longevity, the shower receptor or base includes several key elements according to the TCNA method B415. The ACT Shower Receptor test ensures that these procedures are completed according to these tile industry standards by including multiple “Critical Points.”  These Critical Points are so vital to the shower’s success that if even one of them is not installed correctly, the entire test fails.   

To understand the importance of these requirements, we first need to understand how a conventional shower receptor functions. In what is known as a “water in and water out” system, most of the shower water finds its way to the drain and is carried away. However, by design, some of the water goes through the grout joints, into the mortar bed and follows a downhill slope of the shower pan membrane to the drain body. Within the structure of the drain, there are numerous weep holes which allow the water to enter the drain and be taken away.

The following items make up these Critical Points.

The preslope or sloped fill

The slope which creates the downhill movement of the water is the basis of the entire shower assembly. This can be accomplished normally in two ways. The first is to use sand and cement mortar over 2.5 # wire lath which tapers from the high point along the walls down to the drain per the plumbing code requirement of 1/4 inch per 12 inches. This may also be provided through the use of a factory-made tapered foam preslope panel. Whichever method is employed, it must slope to the drain. If this is not provided, waste water, soap, shampoo, cream rinse and body oils are allowed to reside in this flat space under your shower floor which cultivates a foul smelling odor that will not dissipate over time.

Pan liner membrane and drain body sealant

The factory recommended sealant must be used to provide a water tight barrier between the shower pan membrane and the drain body and serves two functions. One is to keep any potential drain backup water from entering the preslope area (which could never escape) and secondly, it keeps any water travelling down the membrane from working its way into that same space.

No fasteners below 3 inches above the curb, No fasteners in the backer board lower than 3 inches above the curb

These two requirements guarantee that the shower pan membrane will not be compromised by a nail or screw used to secure the membrane to the studs or the subsequent installation of the backer board.  In either case, no penetrations can be below this 3-inch level.

Vapor retarding membrane on walls

The vapor retarding membrane is applied to the stud walls after the pan liner membrane has been installed and must overlap it by a minimum of 2 inches. This product must be installed with continuous corners (not cut in the corner) and be free of rips, tears, cuts or holes. If any of these situations are allowed to exist in the shower assembly, moisture can enter the wall cavity causing mold, mildew and deterioration.

Factory-made corners installed on the curb

The curb is the area where many showers fail. The curb is designed to keep the water inside the shower area and away from the adjacent framing and finish materials. The installation of four factory-produced outside corners or boots in the appropriate sealant, according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, will protect these vulnerable areas and be trouble free. 

No fasteners in the top or inside of the curb

Again, the curb may be the failure point. Regrettably, too many tile placers are unaware of this requirement and simply nail or screw backer board through the pan liner membrane and into the framing. These fasteners provide a four lane highway for water to follow yielding disastrous results, often in a short period of time. Installed correctly, there is no need for any fasteners on the top or inside the curb. 

This may seem like an exhausting list, but one that is essential to a trouble-free shower installation. All the work that has been explained here, and many details that were not due to article length constraints, must be completed in four hours while maintaining a neat and clean workspace throughout the installation process. 

The test requirements outlined here may seem overly stringent, but to obtain high-quality workmanship, it is absolutely necessary. The focus of the ACT tests is to differentiate ACT certified installers from others in the field, especially those who obtain a certificate of attendance after participating in a coached seminar and loosely call it tile certification.

No matter which of the ACT-related tasks are involved on the job, the use of truly qualified labor makes perfect sense. Saving money by hiring the cheaper “l got a piece of paper somewhere that says I can do it” amateur can be extremely expensive.

A footnote: The ACT committee is not resting on the established tests which we have discussed in these four articles. ACT is moving forward with the next round of certification testing for Grouts (both cementitious and epoxy) and one of the newest products on the market, Thin Porcelain Tile. Watch for these exciting topics in the near future as quality becomes the middle name of tile installations.

This article is dedicated to Mr. Bill Dumas, an ACT certified installer from the IUBAC shown in these photos, who passed away earlier this year.