Although Americans continue to spend billions on kitchen renovations each year — more than $67 billion on products alone was spent in 2016, according to market research by the National Kitchen & Bath Association — bathrooms have been treading behind them for some time now.

“Bathrooms are more demanding so they require more planning and create more questions,” said Mike Micalizzi, senior director of technical services at Custom Building Products. “Above all, there is the issue of waterproofing and moisture vapor protection in showers. The hot water and tile materials, like glass and stone, create thermal cycling concerns so adequate movement joints filled with a flexible sealant must be included. All tile and installation products need to be suitable for wet areas.

“High-performance products, including a non-sag mortar on shower walls, should be used in these applications, whether they are residential or commercial,” he went on to explain. “Residential kitchens are simpler, but commercial kitchens are harsh environments with very special tile installation needs.”

“Inquiries are made about both areas, however bathrooms typically generate additional challenges,” said Brett Mauney, technical sales specialist at Merkrete. “One of Merkrete’s key product offerings include waterproofing membranes so we receive a fair amount of questions regarding shower installations. These questions span across both residential and commercial projects.”

Noah Chitty, director of technical services at Crossville, Inc., agreed and said the majority of the questions he receives about bathroom renovations revolve around the “right thing to do,” from an installation standpoint. “The top three concerns usually are in regard to DCOF guidelines, how to properly maintain the tile from a cleanability standpoint, and installation-related questions,” he said.

For Mauney, the top three issues he’s approached about are waterproofing, the use of grout and selecting the proper setting mortar. “Due to the potential liability associated with waterproofing, installers typically inquire about installation requirements and methods to ensure they provide a proper and trouble-free shower installation,” he explained. “Since large and heavy tiles (LHT) have become more of the norm instead of a trend these days, it is extremely important to set them using the proper LHT adhesives. In addition to the tile itself, grout is also a finished product and ensuring proper installations can make the difference between a beautiful and long-lasting installation and potential issues. There are many grout products, but the most common is still polymer-modified, which are mixed with water. Following manufacturer’s guidelines for proper water ratios, mixing instructions and cleaning are the perfect starters for a proper installation.”

Waterproofing by Merkrete
Waterproofing is one of the most common methods experts are approached about today. Photo courtesy of Merkrete


“Floor warming products, such as Ditra-Heat, are generating the most discussion [for us], as they involve other trades and skills not usually associated with the tile trade,” said James Harrington, director of technical services for Schluter Systems, North America. “Questions around floor thickness often come up around the topic of floor warming. The second biggest topic is explaining the differences between our unique products and the ‘traditional’ methods. Another is providing clarification for the best materials suitable for a specific application.”

“Project owners may budget for costly finish materials, but not the right products to install them,” added Micalizzi. “This is a conversation that designers and contractors need to have with owners at the beginning of the process. When the need for surface preparation is ignored, such as meeting flatness requirements for large-format tile, the tile installation will experience failures. The lack of trained and experienced installers is an ongoing issue. Everyone in the industry needs to commit to continuing education covering new technologies and techniques.”

When it comes to both bathroom and kitchen renovations, all representatives strongly advise adhering to the guidelines in the Tile Council of America’s (TCNA) Handbook, ANSI/ISO standards, as well as manufacturer recommendations. “Most manufacturers provide detailed directions and recommendations to follow when using their products for tile and stone installations, which can be found on the packaging, website and technical data sheets,” said Mauney.

“Crossville is very involved in the industry committees for installation and other standards development, so usually we draw on our knowledge of the industry standards,” added Chitty. “We always recommend making sure people are aware of the things that are written in our own company literature, as well as the industry standards, like whether the product is rectified or calibrated and what the minimum grout joint size should be. We try to provide as much information as possible to ensure that, if used, the end user has the information required for a successful installation, as well as long-term satisfaction of their choice to use our product.”

Micalizzi, who believes the TCNA Handbook and ANSI standards represent the “time-tested and proven methods” of the industry, also suggests using the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) Reference Guide. “Contact the manufacturer of the tile and tile installation products to learn their recommendations for your specific installation,” he added. “There are 800 numbers, online chats and websites designed to help your installation succeed. If you get into a bind, help is only a phone call away.”

“While the TCNA Handbook and Terrazzo, Tile, Marble Specifications, Standards & Testing (TTMAC) are all important industry guidelines, it is imperative to understand that the manufacturer’s recommendations may take precedence over certain standard guidelines,” said Harrington. “If there are ever any questions, the responsible person should contact the manufacturer. Manufacturer workshops are an excellent resource for learning about specific systems and how they mesh with industry standards.”

“And don’t forget the other instructional documents and videos on their website and YouTube channel,” said Micalizzi. “Careful planning is the best way to avoid problems along with the use of a complete, warranted system of tile installation products.”