Trends in Setting Materials: New Materials and Formats for New Installations
 
May 1st, 2004

by Jeffrey Steele May-June 2004

The marketplace of ceramic tile and stone has evolved enormously over the past decade. Today’s tiles are larger and feature more natural composition. Porcelain has captured a bigger share of the market. And tile is now being imported from a wider area of the globe than ever before.

But tile and stone aren’t the only aspects of the business undergoing change in recent years. So too have the demands distributors, dealers and installers make upon setting materials. These materials have had to become stronger and quicker curing to adapt to changes in tile size and composition.

No one is more aware of this swiftly changing world than the manufacturers of setting materials. These companies have cranked up their research and development divisions and created a new generation of setting materials, ideally suited to the whole new generation of tile.

Adhering to recent trends

Jerry Hansen, sales manager with Houston-based Texas Cement Products, is among setting materials industry observers who’ve watched the evolution of the market.

“The types of tile we’re seeing today are very, very dense body,” he reports. “And we see a lot of porcelain tile. Porcelain tile literally has the water absorbency of less than one-half of one percent. In addition, ten years ago, the average size floor tile was 8 by 8, whereas today it’s closer to 16 by 16. What that means for us, in installing products, is that we have to use different products today.”

Ed Metcalf, senior vice-president of sales and marketing for Bethany, Ct.-based Laticrete International, a leading provider of setting materials, echoes that sentiment. Tile is becoming denser, more stone is being used, and larger and larger modules are becoming the norm, he points out. “Those three factors have increased the performance requirements for installation systems,” he adds.

Laticrete International works closely with distributors to help their dealers comprehend the full sales potential that exists not only in ceramic tile but in the installation system chosen. Many dealers don’t fully understand that setting materials provide the same potential for sales and profits as does carpet padding installed beneath carpeting, Metcalf observes.

“What a lot of dealers do is simply subcontract the labor,” he says. “And typically when it’s done that way, the installer is responsible to show up with the installation material. Two things result: one, the installer may show up with the wrong materials, and secondly, the dealer loses out on an add-on sale. What we’re finding is with the growth of ceramic in the residential market, these factors are just increasing in importance.

“So dealers can help themselves by marketing, recommending and selling the correct installation system. That helps them avoid a claim or complaint, but also helps them increase the average ticket sale.”

What’s Available?

Among setting materials manufacturers, among the best known is Middleton, Mass.-based Bostik Findley, one of the largest adhesive companies in the world. Product manager Phil Pitts, who is in charge of the company’s ceramic tile setting material line, has seen a lot of changes in the past 10 years, and reports his company is responding to that market metamorphosis.

A decade ago, he notes, glazed white body or glazed red body tile was set with an inexpensive and generic base grade thin set comprised of sand and cement mix. But today, the most popular and common setting materials are latex thin sets containing redisbursable polymers in the bag. These tend to be available in good, better and best qualities, he points out.

“I liken that to what you see at the gas pump, where you have 87, 89 and 92 octane,” he says. “Some buy the highest grade because they require performance and because it makes them feel good. The same sort of thing is occurring with tiles.”

Bostik Findley’s high-end, high-performance mortar is called Hydroment Reflex. Very popular in wood frame construction markets, it bonds well to all types of tile, so it’s excellent for use with porcelain. In addition, Pitt says, “the high level of polymers in the bag make it flexible, so it’s ideal for wood frame construction where there’s deflection.

“It’s also very sought after in the tract home market, where the homes are slab on grade. The fresh slabs, or green slabs as they’re called, are shrinking, and the highly flexible mortar helps prevent those shrinkage cracks from damaging the tile.”

Bostik Findley’s mid-range product is called Single Flex. This brand is highly appropriate for both porcelain tile and plywood construction, while offering a bit more affordability than the Reflex. At the most economical end of the scale is Hydroment PM, which stands for Polymer Modified. “It’s absolutely great for most installations, and provides the best value,” Pitts says.

The company is responding to the increasing preference for larger tiles with Big Tile & Stone, a specialty mortar that provides the thicker setting bed required when installing 16-by-16 and other very large tiles. It’s excellent for marble, granite, travertine and limestone, Pitts says.

Finally, Bostik Findley offers Porcelain Mate. It’s specially designed for installations in which porcelain tile is laid over cement or concrete substrates.

One of the most knowledgeable observers of the ceramic tile setting material industry is Kica Loliyong, product manager for tile and stone installation systems with Mapei, based in Deerfield Beach, Fla. According to Loliyong, today’s setting materials manufacturers are being required to develop products that work not only with larger tiles, but with thicker tiles – tiles that are 5/16 or 3/8 of an inch thick as opposed to the quarter-inch thickness of yesteryear’s products. “And as you go into stone, that gets even thicker and has more body,” he adds.

Mapei has responded to the new generation of larger-format and thicker tile and stone products with several product launches. Two of the more notable are UltraContact and UltraContact RS. Both products, says Loliyong, provide “full or 100 percent contact between the tile or stone and the thin set. It eliminates all the back buttering exercise, all the beating in with a rubber mallet. What you end up with is just put your tile in place and move on to the next tile, because you have 100 percent contact with the back of the tile.”

UltraContact RS, which stands for Rapid Setting, cures faster. With regular UltraContact, an installer can grout after about 16 to 24 hours. The UltraContact RS reduces that time frame to three to four hours. “So if you’re a contractor facing a time constraint, and you’re working on a tile than needs a medium bed thin set, you go with the Ultracontact RS,” Loliyong reports.

Another leading company is Southern Grouts & Mortars, based in Pompano Beach, Fla. This 26-year-old enterprise has four manufacturing facilities across the country, producing installation systems for ceramic tile and dimension stone.

SGM’s primary line is sold to distributors, which in turn sell to builders, contractors, installers and retailers. The company markets surface preparation, waterproofing, installation products, grouting, caulk, cleaners and sealers, according to general manager Bob Pritchard.

New from the company is Porcelain Set, a mortar designed for the installation of porcelain, glass and large-format tiles over a wide variety of substrates. Another product is Southcrete 1132, which is one part anti-fracture and waterproofing membrane. Southcrete 1132 is a load-bearing membrane designed for ceramic tiles and dimension stone. It produces a continuous barrier without standing adhesion to the concrete slabs, helping reduce the risk of substrate cracks transferring to the hard-surface flooring.

Based in Arlington Heights, Ill., Specialty Construction Brands boasts an interesting history. For years, the company originally known as TEC Specialty Products was the building manufacturing division of the H.B. Fuller Company. About 14 years ago, TEC was spun off into a separate company, but remained a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fuller.

Last December, TEC joined with another Fuller subsidiary, Foster, to form Specialty Construction Brands. But it still sells TEC as well as Foster brands.

“TEC’s strategy has been targeting the upper end of the market,” reports brand manager for setting systems Sandy Eich. “As we looked at our heritage and the strength of the brand, it’s been innovation into those high-performance products. For instance, we were the company that innovated in the one-part mortar system, back 20 years ago when Full Flex was introduced.”

Stick-to-it-tiveness

The company has continued innovating that system, she adds. It introduced Super Flex, the first crack isolation mortar, about nine years ago. Last year came the introduction of 1 Flex, a “system in a bag” that offers crack isolation up to an eighth of an inch, Eich says.

Why call it a system in a bag? “[With] most other manufacturers in the industry, it would be a two-step system,” she explains. “You would have to put down some kind of a membrane first, and then adhere the tile to the mortar. With the 1 Flex, everything is in the bag. You don’t have to put in a separate membrane; you just install the tile with the 1 Flex. The formulation and the technology is such that it will crack isolate up to an eighth of an inch. So you’re taking one whole step and a layer of product out of the installation process.”

The company’s research and development has most recently brought forth Double Duty Plus, a mastic for tubs and showers. The product’s unique characteristic is that it will hold 16-by-16-inch tile or stone, including porcelain. “There’s no other product I’m aware of you can use for such a dense, heavy duty product,” Eich comments. “So a contractor can start anywhere on the wall, and he doesn’t have to use spacers. It’s got that kind of grab and non-slip characteristics.”

At Laticrete International, the focus is on marketing a system called the Laticrete Residential Tile and Stone Installation Solutions Program. According to Metcalf, the program offers a limited range of products and is easy for dealers to understand. The program is targeted at all the challenges that today’s tile products like porcelain, stone and large modules present. And all of the program’s products contain Microban™ antimicrobial component.

The foundation of the program is Laticrete SpectraLock™ grout, which has achieved enormous success with consumers because it eliminates the main complaints consumers voice with cement grout, including staining, cracking, shading and mottling, Metcalf explains.

The ironic aspect of those problems, he adds, is that one of the least costly components of a tile installation – the cement grout – is causing 90 percent of the complaints.

“With SpectraLock, you’re paying a bit more upfront, but in the end, the end users are willing to pay a bit more in return for a product that meets their expectations,” Metcalf says. “That means they never have to seal it, it’s going to be cleanable to the original color, and it’s going to be consistent in color across the installation. You have a happier customer. It’s a matter of managing expectations. If they don’t want to upgrade, they’ve made the decision to avoid spending the extra money. They’ve chosen cement grout over the SpectraLock.”

Texas Cement Products, Inc., celebrating its 40th year in business, is the manufacturer of setting materials under the brand names TexRite and C-Cure. It also manufactures grouts and mortars for the installation of ceramic tile, as well as underlayment products for the patching and leveling of floors and walls prior to installation of floor coverings or ceramic wall tile.

The larger ceramic tiles being used today require not only more mortar, but a different kind of mortar, Hansen says. The larger the tile, including some up to 24-by-24 in size, the longer it takes for mortars to set up. That problem is compounded by the fact that newer porcelain tiles have almost no water absorbency, he notes.

Ten years ago, the average floor tile had a water absorbency of about eight percent, and a wide variety of mortars could be used underneath. Water would be absorbed into the substrate and the body of the tile, and help bond the tile to the substrate.

By contrast, today’s average floor tiles, including porcelain, have a water absorbency of about three percent. Because there’s less opportunity for the water to be absorbed into the body of the tile, the application calls for an adhesive bond that will dry and cure under the tile, Hansen says.

“In many cases, installers are used to setting in one day and coming back the next day to grout,” he notes. “But when you have tiles that have no absorbency, it takes much longer for that mortar underneath to cure, and it can only cure through those grout joints. It has to be fully set. Otherwise, the tile will slip when you walk on it. So it requires 72 hours, the amount of time the industry is recommending today prior to grouting.”

That presents a major hurdle for installers, he adds. So Texas Cement Products has recently introduced specialized products for porcelain that permit mortar to set more quickly, allowing grouting to be completed sooner. One product, RapidBond, sets in four hours and is ideal for applications that require rapid setting, Hansen says. The other, PorcelainSet, is a standard mortar that can be used in most installations where speed is not as essential.

Unveiled several months ago, both RapidBond and PorcelainSet are brandnames under the TexRite marque, and are sold by Texas Cement Products to distributors, who in turn sell to installers.

The choices available in setting materials give the dealer, installer and customer a range of price points and levels of quality. Choosing and using the right setting material can make or break a tile installation. Tile dealers who educate the user and then recommend and sell the right system for each tile have fewer failures, more satisfied customers, and a larger average ticket sale.

For more information:

www.bostikfindley-us.com. 800-641-9247

e-mail sales@sgm.cc

www.tecspecialty.com

www.laticrete.com

Texas Cement Products, 713-682-8411

www.mapei.com

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