August 3, 2017
by David DeBear, CTC, CSI
All too often, design/construction professionals end up in a rush to pump out bids that seem to be routine, everyday tasks. What happens when you are awarded a project, then come to find out you were low bid for all the wrong reasons?
This article is based on the ceramic tile and stone industry, discussing a frustration that occurs in commercial work on a regular basis. It is fairly common to have basic, predetermined installation numbers for bidding large commercial projects. Other than the tile pricing, this includes labor expenses, mobilization costs, insurances, logistics, and the installation materials cost. These numbers are based on history and, for the most part, have always worked.
So where do the problems come in? Technology is always evolving, new materials are specified, and estimators typically do not pay attention to the detail in the project manual, finish schedules, and specifications. Often, one can be consumed by the take-offs and the square footage numbers.
Here lies the issue at hand—when using historical numbers for installation materials and methods, if you do not dive into the bid package, it can be easy to miss things like odd conditions, epoxy grout, waterproofing, or antifracture membranes. This can leave you saying to the general contractor, “But I didn’t bid it that way!”
This is a double-edged sword. Being the low bid also means having low (or no) profit, which can cause problems like beating up suppliers for better pricing or starting change order and ‘value engineering’ conversations with the general contractor and architect.
When tile and installation material manufacturers hit the streets with their architectural teams, they bring the message of higher quality and performance. Along with that, they demonstrate the need to use higher-performing installation systems with high-tech porcelain, glass, stone, large-format, and now slim tiles. In the architectural community, there is mandatory licensing, as well as continuing education requirements to keep that license for all architects. This is something that has been building for years through the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).
As a part of this process, new technology, standards, and design ideas are brought to architects, designers, and specification writers—typically, by industry organizations and the manufacturers using AIA’s Continuing Education System (CES) and other credible educational formats. The information relates to the industry’s advances and to systems integration technology across all divisions of construction.
So what does this have to do with the tile business? In a word, liability comes to mind. Architecture and design professionals research and specify materials that work together based on science and technology, as well as the manufacturer’s written instructions. Manufacturers of both tile and installation products invest a substantial amount of time and money to validate not only installation systems, but also systems integration across all divisions of construction.
Architects do not want to assume liability for a less-than-adequate tile installation—whether the fault lies with the tile or the installation system. Consequently, they constantly look for the best quality and most effective systems for the project.
Where do they go for this information? The answer is simple—ANSI material and installation standards. Specific sections include ANSI A108, General Requirements, ANSI A118, Material Specifications, and ANSI A136, American National Standard Specifications for Organic Adhesives for Installation of Ceramic Tile, as well as two subsections of ANSI A137, American National Standard Specifications for Ceramic Tile—namely, ANSI A137.1, “Tile Slip Test,” and ANSI A137.2, “American National Standard Specifications for Glass Tile.” Other staples of the industry are the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) Handbook, ASTM International, and the manufacturer’s reps. Believe it or not, architects actually read these documents!
Those who dedicate their time and expertise to the industry do things like participate on the committees responsible for these resources, as well as other industry organizations (such as the technical committees of the National Tile Contractors Association [NTCA] and Tile Contractors’ Association of America [TCAA]). They help develop industry standards, and form a group of manufacturers of tile and installation products, consultants, industry organizations, and many others from the construction process. They are out there to help all of us do a better job with consistency and high quality.
These standards are always being improved, expanded, and upgraded to keep up with technology. There are now not only standards such as ANSI 118.7, American National Standard Specifications for High-performance Cement Grouts for Tile Installation, but also a new standard, ANSI A118.15, American National Standard Specifications for Improved Modified Dry-set Cement Mortar.
Newer standards—ANSI A118.12, American National Standard Specifications for Crack Isolation Membranes for Thin-set Ceramic Tile and Dimension Stone Installation, and ANSI A118.13, American National Standard Specifications for Bonded Sound Reduction Membranes for Thin-set Ceramic Tile Installation—are also in place. Another breakthrough standard is ANSI A138.1, Green Squared–American National Standard Specifications for Sustainable Ceramic Tiles, Glass Tiles, and Tile Installation Materials, which addresses sustainability.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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