More than two million visitors arrive each year to experience the pristine color of the Cayman Islands’ famous beaches, waters and coral reefs. To support record levels of travel, Owen Roberts International Airport (ORIA) on Grand Cayman has been expanded and renovated with large-format tile. The airport now features a dome shaped like the shell of a sea turtle, an iconic symbol of this Caribbean paradise. Fusion Pro® Single Component® Grout was specified at ORIA for stain-proof and color-perfect performance as part of a full Custom tile installation system.

Both the arrival and departure areas have been extended over multiple phases and a new food court is planned. The Customs section and passenger greeting areas are more spacious, with increased service areas and accommodation for additional luggage carousels, and the airport can now service larger aircraft.

The tile installation system from Custom Building Products at ORIA was selected with the needs of the tile, travelers, concourse movement and tropical climate in mind. Architectural firm, RS&H, specializes in global aviation projects and has previously specified Custom systems on large-scale commercial construction. 

Around 130,000 square feet of large-format 24- x 24-inch porcelain tile and 6- x 12-inch cove base was installed at ORIA to match the increased scope and scale of the airport. Crossville's Structure™ Porcelain Stone®tile in the colors “Shale,” “Gypsum” and “Sandstone” provide a contemporary minimalist background for the wonders of the natural world waiting outside the airport.

Where flatness requirements were required for large-format tiles, LevelQuik®RS Self-Leveling Underlayment was placed up to 1 1/2  inches deep. LevelQuik is a rapid-setting formula that can achieve an extra heavy-duty service rating for use in high-impact environments like airports. LevelQuik®Advanced Acrylic Primer, which can be used over both porous and non-porous concrete, was applied prior to leveling.

Surfaces to receive tile were prepared with RedGard® Waterproofing and Crack Prevention Membrane. Two coats of RedGard were applied to provide crack isolation exceeding ANSI A118.12, as well as ANSI A119.10 waterproofing protection. This versatile, liquid-applied, elastomeric membrane isolates in-plane cracks up to 1/8inch and is rated for extra heavy-duty service.

Large-format tile longer than 15 inches requires a non-slump, polymer-modified mortar to support its weight and prevent lippage that can be caused by doming. Truly flat tile assemblies are especially important at transportation hubs with wheeled traffic in order to prevent chipped tile edges. The tiles at ORIA were set with VersaBond®-LFT Professional Large Format Tile Mortar, which exceeds ANSI A118.4 and A118.11 and can be placed up to 3/4  inch on horizontal applications to assist with bedding large and heavy tile.

“The installers’ favorite product is the VersaBond-LFT,” said Steve Gaffing of McAlpine Ltd., the local general contractor. “It is easy to use and works well under the 24- x 24-inch tile.”

Today’s tile-driven design focuses additional attention on the grout, so the joints need to look perfect. Fusion Pro®Single Component®Grout was chosen at the airport for its key benefits to the project owner: stain-proof, color-perfect performance. All of the heavy traffic tracks innumerable staining agents over the tile and Fusion Pro offers the most technologically advanced, non-epoxy grout protection against stains. 

“Fusion Pro was a very good product as it involves no mixing, has the same color throughout the job and comes in a usable size tub,” said Gaffing.

The grouting process began with two key steps to increase efficiency and overall production, which is always a concern on any project awaiting a return to service. First, the grout was tested on mock-ups to see if use of a grout release was required. Due to microtextures, variable tile coatings, tile porosity and the potential for pigment stains, a quick and inexpensive pre-treatment may be recommended. No sealer or release product was needed at ORIA, but installers applied Aqua Mix®Grout Release prior to grouting because it further speeds both application and clean up. 

The second step was training installers about the method to maximize Fusion Pro’s advantages on a large job. Using a simple rotating formation, a team of three to four installers worked in an assembly line. The first worker spread grout in a small area, another followed to shape grout joints and one to two more workers removed excess from the tile and completed the cleaning. These first-time Fusion Pro installers learned that use of the proper tools, such as a medium-hard SuperiorBilt float, microfiber towels and clean water, allowed fast clean up with no accumulation of grout haze.

With no need to return and seal the grout, tiled surfaces were opened to light traffic in 24 to 36 hours. Permanently flexible Commercial 100% Silicone Sealant was used to fill all soft joints to accommodate expected movement. The “Urban Putty” color was chosen for the grout and sealant to unify the three tile colors used on the project.

Like any construction project, this one included its share of challenges, but ORIA offered a couple of twists. Instead of running on “island time,” a remote tropical project like this required a great deal of additional planning. In this case, shipping product actually means getting it onto a certain container ship in time, while keeping an eye on the weather to avoid delays. An even greater challenge was working in both new and renovated areas while maintaining the schedule and security concerns at a fully operational airport.

The complex logistics were managed by Custom in close consultation with the project managers, Paramount Carpet and McAlpine Ltd. Both firms praised the support they received from the Custom team. “Help was always available,” said Gaffing. “The technical representative was easily contactable and replied promptly by email or phone. He was very helpful and knowledgeable about the products and their usage.” The foremen on the project reported that the installers benefitted from representative site visits prior to the start of work, assistance with planning to ensure proper surface preparation, expert demonstrations and hands-on product training.

Owen Roberts International Airport

George Town, Grand Cayman


GENERAL CONTRACTOR: McAlpine Ltd., Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

TILE INSTALLERS: Paramount Carpet, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; Mozaic Creations, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

INSTALLATION PRODUCTS: Custom Building Products, Huntington Beach, CA (LevelQuik®Advanced Acrylic Primer, LevelQuik®RS Self-Leveling Underlayment, RedGard®Waterproofing and Crack Prevention Membrane, VersaBond®-LFT Professional Large Format Tile Mortar, Fusion Pro®Single Component®Grout, Aqua Mix®Grout Release, Commercial 100% Silicone Sealant)