But I didn’t bid it that way!

Common errors

Exterior waterproofing associated with tile cladding may be specified in MasterFormat Division 07–Thermal and Moisture Protection or Division 09–Finishes.

There are currently many committees hard at work creating standards for self-leveling underlayment, uncoupling membranes, slim tile installation materials and methods, and many more areas relevant to the tile industry. It is of the utmost importance for design/construction professionals and their staff to stay current with all standards and methods, ensuring they do not miss something in the bid process or specifications.

The following are some of the most common oversights.

Missed section references

In Part 1 of the specification section for tilework, Section 09 31 00–Thin-set Tiling, located in the bid package, there are references to other sections. These are often overlooked or missing from the package. If they are missing, it is important to get them, because they most likely contain something you will need to know, related to the right material selection or processes for the tile installation.

Making assumptions

Not using the RFI process to clarify an item in the specifications, but rather assuming something, another common mistake. Typically, when an RFI is sent through the pipeline, all bidders get the written response, creating a level playing field.

Concrete confusion

In MasterFormat Division 03–Cast-in-place Concrete, there are many aspects that affect tile installation, such as lightweight concrete mixes, air-entrained concrete mixes, flatness tolerances, and the dreaded curing compounds. There is common confusion related to these products and how they work, which is the core reason to look at the concrete specs to ensure compatibility with the specified tile or stone installation systems.

Not researching basis of design or performance specifications

The basis of design will reference a specific branded item, such as a thin-set mortar or underlayment, yet allow other manufacturers to be used provided they meet that design criteria. The basis of design material is the standard for the work. Performance specifications will cite specific ANSI or ASTM criteria.  This is important because there are defined standards for materials and/or methods, and it eliminates general statements and ‘or equal’ specs.

Considering structural implications

In some cases, structural drawings may be required for above-grade or post-tension construction. These items are important as deflection, concrete crepe, and load designs come into play, especially where large-format tile is specified. Here is where the RFI also becomes a great tool for all, if the appropriate tile setting materials are not specified. Paying close attention to the TCNA details specified is also crucial.

Movement joint details

All too often, the patterns for the floor tile or stone include large-format tile (tile with an edge greater than 381 mm [15 in.]) or multiple sizes and shapes. While this creates a beautiful floor, the movement joints in the substrate are overlooked or ignored, because no one wants to see a straight-line movement joint through the finished pattern. This issue can often be accommodated with the use of crack-suppression membranes and details provided in the TCNA Handbook, along with the specific material manufacturer’s instructions. It is important to keep in mind, however, these accommodations are limited to specific types of joints, so one should consult the installation materials manufacturer, ANSI, and the TCNA Handbook for more information.


One should be sure not to be a victim of missed system components and value engineering.

Time is a precious commodity and needs to be managed very carefully. From the materials manufacturer side of the business, the scramble to value engineer or negotiate for better pricing on specified items is seen all too often. Occasionally, manufacturers are even asked to communicate with the architect or general contractor to eliminate things like a membrane or epoxy grout from a project on the contractor’s behalf—all because it was missed on bid day or generic numbers were used for installation materials. One should remember the specifications were written for the project, and for good reason.

The general contractor never wants to hear, “But I didn’t bid it that way!” This problem can be eliminated by being more connected to the industry of which we are all a part. This can start with taking an extra few minutes to study the bid package, becoming a better student, and getting involved in one’s own continuing education. It is important to get—and read—industry manuals and books, attend seminars both locally and at various conventions, and learn the industry inside and out.

One should also rely on product reps to provide their current product information, remembering we are all on the same team. This raises not only profit margins, but also the integrity of the industry.

David DeBear, CTC, CSI, is the national commercial business development manager with Custom Building Products. He brings more than 30 years of combined education and experience to the design and construction communities on the proper specification, surface preparation, and installation of ceramic, porcelain, natural stone tile, and masonry. With his background in the construction industry and comprehensive knowledge of building materials and methods, DeBear serves architects, general contractors, and specifiers, both as an educator and an industry resource. In addition to developing more than 24 American Institute of Architects Continuing Education System (AIA/CES) programs for Custom Building Products, he has received the AIA/CES Award for Excellence. He represents his company on the ANSI Accredited Standards Committee, ISO Technical Advisory Group, and the Tile Council of North America (TCNA). DeBear can be reached via e-mail at ddebear@cbpmail.net.

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