Green practices are becoming more and more popular as the years progress — and it is certainly evident in the tile industry. In Louisville, KY, a 3,725-square-foot residence — known as “My Green Kentucky Home” — was recently constructed using a variety of sustainable tile products to create awareness, inspiration and to enlighten the general public on some of the most important issues related to the built environment.

For the last two decades, CertainTeed Gypsum and its parent company, Saint-Gobain, have hosted the Gypsum International Trophy Awards, which recognize excellence in design, plastering, drywall installation, finishing, innovation and more. This year, for the ceremony’s 9th edition, “My Green Kentucky Home” was selected as the U.S. winner in the Trophy competition and the “Innovation & Sustainability” runner-up in the International Competition out of nearly 90 projects worldwide.

The single-family home was built by Sy Safi, principal of GCCM Construction Services, LLC, in Prospect, KY, and Clive Pohl of the architectural firm, Pohl Rosa Pohl, in Lexington, KY. “The overall design goal for the project was to create a real 21st century home that is an example in sustainability, resilience and regeneration, which achieves the highest levels of third-party green rating for health, comfort, safety, efficiency and the environment,” said Safi. “Specifically for the tile, we aspired to locally source as many tile materials as possible with the highest recycled content.



“We always begin with the sustainability mindset and go through the LEED checklist among other qualifications that covers innovation and design, location and linkages, sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental air quality, and awareness and education,” Safi went on to say. “After we find the like-minded manufacturers, we take a closer look at the ingredients of their materials to avoid VOCs and the distance it’s extracted/ processed/fabricated to our end-use location for a reduction in travel and our carbon footprint.”

To build a home that met all of the necessary qualifications, approximately 800 square feet of tile, which was manufactured by Florida Tile, was used for the floors in the kitchen, laundry room, bathrooms, inside adjacent closets, lower-level entry, lower-level stair landing and shower pan; shower walls (floor-to-ceiling), soaking tub and tub walls; and around the entire fireplace and hearth — all supplied by Tammy Henry of Louisville Tile.

“We are lucky in Kentucky because Florida Tile met our design goals with about 40% recycled content, and is manufactured about an hour from here in Lawrenceburg, KY,” said Safi. “Sourcing local is important to the economy in our state and important for us to support the jobs of our family, friends and neighbors. That support alone can create future jobs as well. Supporting products with recycled content is important for us, especially since about 25% of our landfills are construction waste. We were able to divert over 90% of our construction waste from landfills and into recycled or upcycled uses.”

Safi said the homeowners were very involved with the project’s LEED design charrette meetings, and spent a countless number of hours selecting tile that stayed true to the design team’s goals. “Since [one of the homeowners] led most of the finishing decisions, she found it to be a bit challenging selecting tile from just one manufacturer and did look elsewhere,” he said. “[However], eventually, she was able to find everything she needed from Florida Tile.”

A handful of different porcelain tile collections from Florida Tile — including Quartez, Craftsman and Hamlet Manor — were employed throughout the home in a variety of sizes, such as 12 x 12 and 18 x 18 inches, as well as bullnose and corner pieces.

The fireplace design was the only challenge in regard to the tile work, according to Safi. “We went back and forth on the fireplace tile design for months, which wasn’t figured out until the 11th hour,” he said. “It was challenging because it is the main focal point of the room when you enter the space through the foyer from the front door. You have this nice hearth at seat height and essentially different sections of the walls built and integrated around the fireplace. We wanted to make sure that by mixing tile sizes we were speaking the same language with the design intent of the fireplace.

Installation Details

Architect: Pohl Rosa Pohl, Lexington, KY

General Contractor/Installer: GCCM Construction Services, LLC, Prospect, KY; GL Construction, LLC

Tile Manufacturer: Florida Tile, Lexington, KY

Tile Supplier: Louisville Tile, Louisville, KY

Installation Products: CertainTeed Gypsum, Valley Forge, PA; Schluter® Systems, Plattsburgh, NY; TEC™, Aurora, IL

Installation Time: 2 weeks

“Our architect, Clive Pohl, came out to the site, met with us and came up with the final design, which [the homeowners] absolutely love,” Safi went on to say. “Case in point: It helps to have your pro by your side and have your architect do all the design, including finishes for a complete set of drawings.”

When completing the installation, which took two weeks, Safi was onsite every day to supervise. “After we decided on the design and layout, I let the guys run from there, but I checked the work on and off throughout the day for quality control,” he said. “If I’m not doing the shower pan liner and waterproofing work myself, then I inspect all steps involved through those stages of work. For tile, I look for levelness, symmetry where necessary, consistent or random tile patterns, cracks, chipped corners, clean cuts, direction the mortar/mastic is being spread for wall tile, consistency of mortar, even grout line widths and grout depths, and matching sanded caulk with grout.”

The installation was completed utilizing mostly CertainTeed Gypsum products, including the Diamondback® GlasRoc® Tile Backer, which is a tile substrate for walls, ceilings and floors that is especially designed to meet the demands of high-moisture areas. It consists of a high-performance, water-resistant gypsum board produced with CertainTeed’s patented, proprietary Embedded Glass Reinforced Gypsum (EGRG) Technology that allows for tiles to be directly applied to a surface, eliminating the need for surface sealants, skim adhesive coats or waterproofing membranes; and protects tile installations and wall cavities from moisture intrusion and excessive vapor transfer, thereby eliminating the need for a separate moisture barrier.

Installers also used TEC’s Accucolor Premium Sanded Grouts and Full Flex Premium Latex Modified Thin Set Mortar, Miracle Sealants Spray-On Grout Sealer, and Schluter Systems’ transition strips.

“My decision to use all CertainTeed Gypsum products was kind of by luck because we had our intentions in the right place with our design and build philosophy to not just be sustainable, but also resilient and regenerative,” said Safi. “When looking for ways to be resilient and regenerative, I came across CertainTeed’s AirRenew drywall, which acts like plants in our environment by removing toxins from our indoor air and making it inert. I had to have that product in our model home because I can design and build a home toxin-free, but that won’t stop the occupants from bringing in furniture and other items that come with toxins. It was kind of like my secondary way of keeping toxins out of the indoor air.

“I’ve adopted a friend and builder colleague of mine in Chicago, Brandon Weiss’s philosophy and approach of ‘one is none and two is one’ in this case for indoor air,” he went on to say. “Lucky enough for us, when I asked the other important questions about the AirRenew product, such as local and recycled content, it turned out it was made just 30 minutes north of Louisville, KY, in Carrollton, KY, and has about 97% recycled content in it. From this product alone, I knew our company and CertainTeed Saint-Gobain were kindred spirits that had a special commitment to peoples’ health and the environment so I looked more into their other products. Prior to finding AirRenew, I used CertainTeed’s Form-A-Drain, which I think is one of the greatest construction material inventions in the longest time because it does three things: forms your footer, leaves it in place after the concrete pour and serves as a perimeter drain that stays level and also mitigates radon around the perimeter of your home and under the concrete slab. 

After finding AirRenew, we landed the M2Tech board, Diamondback® Tile Backer board, SilentFX board for sound, CertainTeed batt insulation for sound and R-value and EverNew PT deck boards. The Diamondback® Tile Backer board behind the wall tile is great on many levels. It has a waterproofed face on it that allows you to eliminate the plastic vapor/water barrier behind the board, it cuts easily similar to regular drywall and is easier to install. Though it’s not required for us to waterproof the screw heads, we did...’one is none, two is one.’”

Since the installation process of this home involved a lot of different aspects. Safi had two different teams of installers — one to complete the install of the CertainTeed Gypsum products behind the tile and another to install the actual tile. “Four guys installed the thin-set mortar bed, CertainTeed Diamondback® GlasRoc® Tile Backer, tape and thin-set seams, and thin-set screw heads,” he said. “[And] one to two guys installed all of the tile.”

Safi added that when installing the tile, the most trying part was the layout. “The most challenging aspect of the tile installation is the layout because you are trying to figure out what looks best in the room, where do I start a full piece — do we center the tile on the door or do we center a grout joint on the door, where are the best places to put the cuts, how can we minimize cuts and still make it look good?” he said. “Also, deciding on bullnose tile versus transition/floor profile strips for finished edges.”

Despite the minor complications the teams ran into when completing “My Green Kentucky Home,” the reaction from both the homeowners and other visitors since its completion couldn’t be any better. “Our homeowners love the tile work,” said Safi. “They were relieved once color selections were finally made and work had begun. I always say, the toughest part is making decisions on design and color/style selections because I can make anything happen in the field.

“Not too many people think about the impact our decisions have on our health, finances and the environment just from the products we buy and the means and methods to how it’s designed, manufactured and built,” he went on to say. “When we had the home open as a model for sustainability, we intentionally left areas open so people could see what is beneath the tile and behind the walls to give them a better understanding of the steps we took to allow this tile to withstand the test of time. We blew every visitor’s mind with all the sustainability details that went into the tile from design to implementation. The tile was a great awareness and educational piece that provoked many wonderful conversations.”