Floors by the book

June 3, 2016

Dan Marvin
When ceramic or stone tile is the flooring of choice for a project, specifiers have a tremendous resource in the Handbook for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone Tile Installation. It is published yearly by the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) and is often referenced when specifications require installations be done according to ‘industry standards.’ While the Handbook itself is not a standard like the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), American National Standard Specifications for the Installation of Ceramic Tile, it collects best practices for the successful installation of tile and stone.

The TCNA Handbook dates back to the 1950s when it included two methods for setting tile—bonded and unbonded mortar beds. Since then, it has grown to include over 400 pages filled with more than 200 methods for addressing different substrates, environments, and finishes. All these methods are vetted by a consensus process that includes representatives from the manufacturing, specifying, and installation categories.

While the resource is published yearly, major revisions are proposed and voted upon using a two-year cycle. Methods for stone tile installation were incorporated into the Handbook in 2012 with input from the Marble Institute of America (MIA). Recent additions include two new methods for curbless showers (i.e. B421C and B422C) and new methods for installing stone tile over concrete substrates with radiant heat systems (i.e. RH111A, RH112, RH112A, RH116, and RH116A).

The sheer size of the resource can be intimidating, but it contains critical information that makes it an important reference for design/construction professionals. The most directly applicable portions of the Handbook are the methods themselves. The methods are numbered so the proper reference can be included in a specification. The numbers start with F (floor), W (wall), B or SR (bathtubs and steam rooms), C (ceilings or countertops) or P (pools and water features). After that comes a number and date. Some methods may look redundant. For example, there are two F113 methods—F113-16, Thin Bed Installation Over Concrete, and F113A-16, Thin Bed Installation Over Above-ground Concrete. The A denotes the installation is above ground.

Finding the correct method starts at the end of the book with the method locator listed by application. A quick glance at methods for interior floors identifies several for above-ground concrete and even more for on-ground concrete. For example, each method lists the number and page on which it can be found.

The ‘Environmental Exposure Classifications’ table is a useful chart to double-check the correct method has been identified. This four-page chart classifies every method according to the environment it may need to withstand in its service. The environments are subdivided into residential and commercial.

The methods are further subdivided by number according to the amount of moisture the installation can withstand. The range of numbers denotes:

  1. a dry installation;
  2. limited water exposure;
  3. a wet installation;
  4. high humidity/heavy moisture;
  5. high temperatures as well as high humidity/heavy moisture exterior;
  6. an exterior installation; and
  7. a submerged installation.

Using this classification system, a Com7 would be a commercial submerged installation such as a swimming pool. Each method in the Handbook is cross-referenced against these environmental exposure classifications in the table.

By simply referencing a method by number (e.g. F112-16 for installing tile over on-ground or above-ground concrete with a bonded mortar bed), a specifier pulls a number of considerations for the installation listed with each method, such as:

In addition to the methods shown in the Handbook, there is also extensive reference material. The first section of the book explains the types of tile and how to choose the proper one for a given job. A similar section explains the different considerations for glass tiles.

A natural stone tile selection and installation guide follows, with several pages explaining the differences in stone and special considerations for each. Likewise, setting materials are examined, from mortars to grouts to membranes and backer boards.

Since 2012, a large section of the TCNA Handbook has explored the sustainable aspects of tile installation. The chart on ‘Tile and Green Building Credits and Requirements’ in the “Tile: the Natural Choice” supplement is valuable for any designer or architect working on a sustainable certification including tile. Supplements do not go through the consensus process, but contain useful information.

The second section of the book looks at field and installation requirements. This important information examines the requirements of substrates that will receive tile, glass, and stone including flatness tolerances, deflection, and the differences in terminology between the tile industry and the concrete industry when it comes to flatness. This section then explains the potential impact of lighting, mortar coverage, flatness (and lippage), grout joints, how to protect finished tilework, verbiage for ‘accessible’ designs, and wet area guidelines.

As noted earlier, the TCNA Handbook is not a specification—rather, it provides quick reference details similar to a detail on a drawing. One can match up site conditions with those in the book. The TCNA method-specific details simplify the required components, layering the installation through an effective CAD detail.

A proper specification for the installation of ceramic, glass, or stone tile includes a TCNA method or multiple methods and also references ANSI’s, American National Standard Specifications for the Installation of Ceramic Tile. It is necessary to list ANSI standards in order to establish a quality level specification language; the standards list installation requirements like the minimum percentage of mortar coverage for interior, exterior, above grade, and wet areas.

Environmental requirements at the time of the application, listed in the ANSI standards, ensure the cement based mortar is not being installed in freezing or extremely hot conditions, causing a detrimental effect on the adhesive and bond.

The ANSI material standards also establish different levels of product performance and characteristics. The ANSI standard for modified portland cement mortar allows for:

These standards also include different characteristics such as T for non-sag mortars, E for extended-open-time mortars, and F for fast-setting mortars.

For example, if a design/construction professional is installing large format tile on the exterior of a structure in a demanding environment using TCNA method W202E-16, they would want to specify a high-strength, highly modified mortar meeting ANSI A118.15T, highly modified with non-sag characteristics. A successful specification for the installation of tile will include methods from the TCNA Handbook and ANSI standards specifications for both installation and product performance.

In conclusion, the Handbook for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone Tile Installation refines the experience of thousands of tile and stone industry professionals into one reference, allowing for a standardized way to discuss and assist in specifying tile installations. (The Handbook for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone Tile Installation is available in either hard copy or as an electronic download from the Tile Council of North America. Visit www.tcnatile.com[1]).

Dan Marvin is the director of technical services for MAPEI Corporation. He has more than 20 years of technical expertise in the tile industry and sits on technical committees for Tile Council of North America (TCNA), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), Materials and Methods Standards Association (MMSA), ASTM, ANSI, and the Handbook for Tile and Stone Installation. He works closely with these committees to improve existing standards, create new ones, and communicate the changes to the public. Marvin can be reached at dmarvin@mapei.com[2].

  1. www.tcnatile.com: http://www.tcnatile.com
  2. dmarvin@mapei.com: mailto:dmarvin@mapei.com

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