This year the Technical Focus articles in TILE Magazine have highlighted the features and benefits of the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) testing program which included;Large Format Tileand Substrate Preparation,Membranes, Mortar (Mud) Floors, Mortar (Mud) Walls, Shower Receptors andGrouts. This article will focus on the soon to be released Thin Porcelain Tile or TPT testing program for which the curriculum and testing module were just completed in October. Currently, the TPT test is the last of the tests which the ACT Steering Committee has established. However, with the ongoing changes and advancements in the tile industry, additional tests will become available in the future.

The Thin Porcelain Tile test, as in the previously established six ACT tests, is only administered to tile installers who have achieved the status of a Certified Tile Installer (CTI) through the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) or a Journeyman installer through the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsworkers (IUBAC). The program is designed to have the installer initially take and pass the online knowledge test obtaining a minimum score of 84%, followed by the hands-on testing requiring a score of 85%. While this may seem to be a lofty prerequisite, 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 installation techniques emerging on a more frequent basis, only the highly trained mechanics that have what it takes to meet the installation challenges found in today’s market will succeed. These professionals provide the consumer, whether commercial or residential, with the choice of a better and more qualified tile installer.

The ACT tests are a combination of an open book knowledge 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 best practices, constitutes a failed test), the TCNA Handbook and the ANSI Specifications. These documents provide the installer with all the information necessary to take both the knowledge and hands-on tests.

The product and no standards

In the brief history of TPT, it has had numerous names, including thin panel porcelain tile, reduced thickness porcelain tile, slim tiles, porcelain panels or simply, thin tile. These names have been randomly applied by the various manufacturers because currently there are no industry standards. Hence, no official name has been determined. For the function of this testing, the curriculum development committee decided to establish the understanding that it would be known as “Thin Porcelain Tile” or “TPT” as an abbreviation.

TPT is a versatile new tile product in the U.S. that was developed in Italy and imported to the U.S. It is now grabbing the attention of architects, designers and specifiers as well as residential consumers — satisfying their craving for ever-increasingly larger tile products. These tiles presently range in sizes from 1 x 3 meters (39 3/8 x 118 ¼ inches) to 1 ½ x 3 meters (59 x 118 ¼ inches). That is one piece of tile covering from 32 to almost 50 square feet of wall or floor surface in one piece. TPT can also be easily cut into smaller tiles at the factory or on the jobsite such as 1 x 1 meter (39 3/8 x 39 3/8 inches), ½ x ½ meter (19 11/16 x 39 3/8 inches) or practically any size desired.

Since TPT is a relatively new product in the U.S. market, any widespread knowledge of the product and installation techniques is limited. Having been developed, tested and manufactured abroad, there are currently NO American industry standards established or adopted by the American National Specifications Institute (ANSI), the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) or the International Standards Organization (ISO). Without the benefit of tile industry accepted standards and methods, the ACT Program has developed the TPT curriculum to educate the installer with currently available best practices and to provide a mechanism to certify his or her skills and knowledge of the TPT products.

In view of the fact that currently there are no standards for these products; ACT has drafted a Position Statement on Thin Porcelain Tile as follows:

MAY 2014 — Thin Porcelain Tile is an exciting, new and emerging product being introduced to the world market by many different manufacturers utilizing several different manufacturing processes. This tile is typically characterized as having a thickness of between 3.0 to 6.0 mm and up to 5 x 10 feet in width and length. Currently, TCNA, ANSI and ISO do not have a product standard for manufacturing, which eventually will establish the benchmarks by which the quality of materials will be evaluated. There are no industry installation standards identifying the correct methods and materials necessary to properly install these tiles in a way that meets the performance requirements expected in the North American marketplace.

Due to the lack of standards for these products, the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), the Tile Contractors Association of America (TCAA), the International Masonry Institute (IMI) and the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (IUBAC) recommend that tile contractors not install thin porcelain tile in any thickness less than 5.5 mm for floor installations. It is our assertion that installations of thin porcelain tiles that are no less than 5.5 mm thick may be successfully accomplished in properly prepared floor applications with the proper care and processes.

The tile contractor should be aware that significant training and education is required to successfully install these products and that an investment in tools and equipment is necessary. The manufacturer of the tile and setting materials recommendations should be secured in writing prior to installation and the contractor should follow these instructions carefully or potentially be exposed to increased risk and liability.

TPT manufacturing

TPT is a lightweight product that is produced using less materials and less energy, which is made possible by a new and innovative tile technology. The mixture of clay, feldspar and other ingredients creates a layer of powder which is transported on a moving belt through pre-compaction rollers followed by pressing between flat metal plates exerting approximately 15,000 to 30,000 tons of force. In comparison, today’s conventional presses exert approximately 3,000 to 10,000 tons of force, which is significantly less than that of the TPT products. TPT is fired using a combination of hybrid gas and electric kilns at temperatures ranging from 2200 to 2600 degrees Fahrenheit.

This breakthrough technology process successfully eliminates the tension within the conventionally produced tile products, creating a uniformly large flat tile that can be cut or trimmed with precise accuracy. The unique pressing without the traditional dies or molds commonly used throughout the tile industry today provides a different type of product with endless applications.

The thickness of the TPT varies between the different manufacturers, but for the most part it is divided into two groups: three millimeters (or three plus mm if a fiberglass reinforcing mesh is permanently attached to the back) and 5.5 to 6 mm. Conventional porcelain tile is 7 mm or thicker.

The installation of TPT is significantly different from conventional porcelain tile — requiring special installation tools and techniques to prevent tile breakage during and after the installation. Given these differences, TPT should not be confused with or installed in the same way as large-format tile. Interchanging the installation techniques of the two products could lead to a very costly error. Always consult the TPT manufacturer before selection and installation to determine the tile’s suitability for the specified project and the appropriate installation materials and methods.

The TPT test

The TPT test covers several different installation components which are necessary to obtain a quality installation. The explanation of these key components is included in the TPT Critical Points document, which is provided to each registered installer. During the test evaluation, the installer must meet the requirements of the critical points or the test fails. These Critical Points include the following; the floor or wall must be a flat plane within 1/8 inch in 10 feet or 1/16 inch in 2 feet, the substrate and the tile must be cleaned before applying the mortar, all perimeter movement joints must be honored, the mortar must be troweled on the tile and the substrate in the same direction (parallel to the short side of the tile), the mortar must be fresh (do not allow to skin over), 3 or 3+ mm tiles installed on the walls and 5.5 mm or thicker tile installed on the floors, the edge leveling devices must not be moved after they are installed, the wall tile must be vibrated to eliminate trapped air, the floor tile must be walked on from the center toward the outside edges to obtain maximum coverage, lippage must be within 1/32 inch, the grout joints must be cleaned to the proper depth, the mortar coverage on the walls must be a minimum of 80% and the mortar coverage on the floor must be a minimum of 95%. You can see that the proper installation of this product is significantly more involved than spreading mortar and placing the tile as in a conventional tile installation.

Beyond the Critical Points, the installer is required to cut and fit the TPT to meet the specifications of the test. The TPT outside corners and edge terminations must be neatly fitted to the metal or plastic profile strip, which is designed to protect the product’s integrity and enhance its longevity.

Almost every installation will encounter opening or pipes which need to be accommodated. Here the installer must cut (to a prescribed tolerance) neatly around an electrical box, shower control valve and pipe for a tub spout. One can only imagine the detail work which the installer must provide to complete the installation shower niche that incorporates metal or plastic profile strips to complete the outside corners of the niche. Precision in layout and cutting are the key element to this part of the test.

This is an exhausting list of rigorous requirements, but they are essential for the TPT to be properly installed and be visually pleasing. All the work that has been explained here (and many details that were not due to article length constraints) must be completed in six hours, while maintaining a neat and clean workspace throughout the installation process.

The test requirements outlined here may appear overly stringent, but to obtain the higher-quality workmanship which discriminating consumers demand, 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, unqualified and untrained tile “placer” can be extremely expensive. A true craftsperson will always deliver long-term value.

An exciting footnote — you will be able to witness the debut of the ACT Thin Porcelain Tile and the Grouts testing at Coverings, which will be held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL, from April 14 to 17, 2015. I hope to see you there.