Walk softly with sound underlayments
March 1st, 2006


By Beth Rogers

March-April 2006

More and more companies are producing sound reducing products to be used under ceramic tile to mitigate noise transfer. According to Richard Maurer, director of marketing for the Noble Company, the sound attenuation market has been growing dramatically and is now cranking out an estimated 50 million square feet of covering annually.

To gauge the impact of their tile underlayments on sound, manufacturers determine the measurement of the IIC or “impact insulation class” using testing methods established by ASTM. Unlike decibel ratings, where a higher number reflects a louder noise, higher IIC numbers reflect more sound reduction or “resistance.” In short, the IIC quantifies the amount of sound energy transmitted between floors and ceilings.

Consequently, sound reducing underlayments make most sense when used in multi-level structures, whether they are commercial or residential, to deaden the sound transfer from one unit to the next. These underlayments won’t do anything about minimizing airborne noise—or sounds from within a space.

The difference in a building with and without an underlayment, says Tom Duvé, president of National Applied Construction (NAC) Products, is like the difference between hearing someone tap dance on a hard surface versus carpeting. “If you put underlayment down in the kitchen it wouldn’t make your kitchen quieter,” admits Reeve Haldeman, senior product manager for Custom Building Products, “but it would help reduce the sound in anything below it….All the sound underlayments are essentially doing is separating the point of impact from the sub floor or the ceiling construction. We’re providing a buffer and that buffer is reducing the transmission of those impact waves.”

Custom Building Products has been making sound reduction underlayments since 2003 and just introduced SoundGard Lite, a polypropylene mat which comes in a peel-and-stick option or can be adhered to the floor with thinset or mastic. Tile is then direct-bonded to the mat. There is some flex in the mat, admits Haldeman, which makes it suitable only for up to light commercial applications. “You couldn’t use it in a car dealership or something like that,” he says. The mat comes in 3, 5, and 12 mm thicknesses.

Most acoustical underlayments had their roots as anti-fracture treatments. Pam Zepp, NAC’s marketing director, notes the company started out manufacturing several anti-fracture and waterproofing underlayments but quickly realized they had inherent sound deadening qualities so, in the early 1990s, after working with some chemists to enhance those properties, the company introduced SAM 3 (sound abatement membrane), followed by Super Sam, both of them made from modified elastomers, sound deadening resins, and reinforced woven fibers.

Both products are a peel-and-stick application. Zepp notes that the substrate needs to be clean and dry. Concrete requires a primer to ensure proper adhesion. The company also manufactures 101 floor prep, a hardener which fills in porous substrates.

“One of the big selling points of the product is that it’s made for fast track installation,” says Zepp. “When you lay that membrane down you can install tile the same day. It’s an extremely easy product to use. It’s a much easier system to use than installing multi-layer floors, and contractors can save themselves a lot of money.” SAM can be made to be waterproof as well if it’s installed with seam and corner tape. Super Sam at 90 mils is thick enough so that it doesn’t require a sound-rated ceiling assembly underneath it to be effective.

Noble Company rolled out Noble Seal SIS (sound isolation sheet) about 11 years ago. SIS, which is 3/64 of an inch thick, is made out of chlorinated polyethylene (CPE) from pellets that the company buys from Dow Chemicals, extrudes, then laminates on both sides with a fiber to help bond the membrane to the substrate and tile.

Maurer says that more and more areas have codes governing sound reduction. The city of Los Angeles is one of the most stringent in the nation when it comes to noise attenuation, requiring hard surface flooring in stacked housing to meet minimum International Building Code standards of an IIC of 50 before issuing a building permit—and more cities are following suit.

Consequently, more underlayment manufacturers are adding sound reducing materials to their product lines. However, says Maurer, most contractors are still turning to cork for sound reduction “which is real cheap and has been used for years and years.” Maurer estimates that cork easily constitutes one quarter to one third of the reported 50 million square feet of sound attenuating underlayment sold annually.

What about cork?

Larry Lyons, sales and marketing director with Trevor-WI-Amorim Industrial Solutions, a division of the Portuguese company Amorim, the largest producer of cork products in the world, has nothing but accolades for cork. “It’s very effective. It can be low in cost. It’s very friendly to most types of finished floor materials…it doesn’t require a lot of special techniques and tricks. It’s easy and forgiving to work with.” Lyons says that cork is also highly water resistant.

Amorim distributes Acousticork in 6 mm and 13 mm thicknesses with the latter almost always used in conjunction with ceramic tile, making it substantially thicker than many of its competitors. Acousticork comes in a roll or sheet form that needs to be glued down to the substrate. Tile can be directly bonded to Acousticork with a latex modified thinset mortar.

Amorim recently developed a process to waffle the bottom of the Acousticork to make it more sound absorbent. It also recently released Acousticork 55 Plus which consists of a layer of coir sandwiched between cork. Developing the perfect acoustical medium to be used in conjunction with tile is a balancing act, notes Lyons , that strives to handle density versus compressive strength–too dense and the material’s not sound absorbent enough; too flexible and it will deflect and crack tile.

Diversified Foam Products, says Ed James, vice president of operations, distributes 1/8 inch thick Prolayment SB made out of cross-linked polyolefin by Toray Industries. While the company does far more business in crack suppressing membranes, more customers have been looking for sound attenuating products. The attractive thing about Prolayment SB, says James, is it sells at a competitive price point. In the past, contractors used underlayments like red rosin paper which he says was “basically ineffective and was just put down to have people feel better about having something under their tile.” Today’s underlayments, says James, truly do perform.

Four years ago, the Quebec-based Acousti-Tech company developed Cerami-Tech, a 3 mm thick underlayment made out of non-woven polypropylene and polyethylene composite fibers. As Acousti-Tech marketing director Danielle Watier notes, wall-to-wall carpeting in high rises is becoming a thing of the past which means that more emphasis has to be paid to sound reduction. Additionally, high-rise dwellers are less willing to put up with noise. “Condos cost a lot of money and people want to have privacy in their homes, so acoustical products are gaining new consumers.” Cerami-Tech is sold all over North America and is applied to floors with a latex based adhesive or an AD316 adhesive.

Acousti-Tech follows the same ASTM standards as its American counterparts. Cerami-Tech is distinguished from its competitors by its ability to minimize heat loss (something of great importance in Canada ) and its stringent CCMC ( Canadian Construction Materials Center ) certification which creates consumer confidence by “guaranteeing what you’re buying.”

Measurable Results

Many consumers don’t understand fully what it is they are getting when they buy sound attenuating products. As most manufacturers point out, numbers by themselves without context are meaningless. So many variables affect an IIC rating. Sound travels differently through different substrates whether it is a four inch or eight inch concrete slab or a 3/4 inch wood floor. If a structure has a ceiling attached to a plenum that further naturally attenuates noise. An overall IIC number is “smoke and mirrors,” says Haldeman, “Because that IIC number means nothing if you don’t know what the sub floor construction was. A double wood floor with a drop ceiling already has a base IIC of 67.”

Consequently more and more manufacturers are referring to ASTM E 2179, a test method for assessing the before and after impact of an underlayment. The difference in IIC number is often referred to as the “Delta IIC” which reflects the contribution of the underlayment. Lyons says that consumers would be better served if all manufacturers rated their product according to E 2179. However, that test standard only became ratified in 2003 and many companies haven’t bothered with the substantial expense of testing existing products under it.

Haldeman says Custom Building Product’s underlayments have delivered a Delta IIC as high as 23. Noble only promises 13 to 15 Delta IIC points with its products. In layman’s terms, as Maurer explains, “an increase of ten of IIC will reduce the sound pressure level by about 90% and what your ear is going to hear is half as much noise.” Twenty points means that only 25% of the noise would be heard. “Twenty is a big number and that’s pretty hard to do,” says Maurer.

Furthermore, even with the rating system, there can be a tremendous amount of variability on ratings depending on what lab the product was tested in. Watier says that what truly matters in IIC numbers is the FIIC—the field rating, which is more realistic than tests conducted in the controlled environment of a laboratory. However, Lyons feels that field tests, conducted under actual conditions, “are totally unreliable….If something changes in the receiving room [where the sound transfer is measured], like they put an overstuffed couch in the middle of the room, it could change the dynamics of the whole test.”

Lyons says that “whoever is making the end decision should try to get test data that correlates as closely as possible with what they’re actually going to build.” Too many ratings pertain only to assemblies with sound rated ceilings, which is meaningless in structures where one person’s ceiling is the actual underside of a neighbor’s floor. As Lyons observes, “the degree of acoustical performance you start with dictates what you wind up.”

Amorim has data on 15 different test assemblies. Most companies only refer to one or two test assemblies, says Lyons , and don’t post the details behind the assemblies. “We feel that the process should be very transparent, that you should see exactly how the material was tested to come up with that number so that that number has some meaning to you.”

Duvé says, “I would like to see the standards improve for sound attenuation so we can compare apples and apples in the field and the customer gets a good product.”

Looking Ahead

Despite some incongruities which may never realistically be rectified, and disagreements between manufacturers on how to best test their product, more code bodies dealing with multi-family structures and more homeowners’ associations are requiring sound attenuation. Markets that don’t mandate sound reduction, such as Chicago and Boston , are the exception now according to Lyons . Lyons observes that many builders are looking to go beyond the threshold of an IIC of 50: “The prices on some of these condo properties especially in the luxury market in coastal areas can exceed $1000 per square foot, so builders want to make sure they do the best they can for sound control, so they’re looking for higher-performing solutions.”

Most underlayment manufacturers have targeted the condominium market. NAC counts buildings like Turnberry Towers in Las Vegas and Florida , and Caribe, a high rise building in Gulf Shores , Alabama , among its clients. Noble’s SIS has been used in the Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados as well as the Seattle Convention Center .

Interestingly, notes Lyons , what would appear to be other big markets for the sound attenuation industry, like hospitals, hotels, and office buildings, haven’t proven to be that fruitful. Rental apartments also appear to be a marketing dead end: “The feeling is that if the tenants don’t like the noise they’ll move away.” Lyons notes that there has been some demand for Acousticork in student housing.

Growth is good. Maurer says that sales of SIS have consistently improved 10 to 15% each year. According to Lyons , Acousticork has had annual double digit increases in sales over the last five years. Duvé says NAC sells around a million square feet a year just in sound control products. “It’s a good market, and I think it’s going to expand,” he says.

As more competitors enter the field, cautions Watier, the danger is that some of the companies may be less than reputable and she anticipates that in the future there will be more litigation and claims on products that don’t deliver the promised sound reduction.

Ultimately, when selecting an sound reducing underlayment, says Haldeman, “you should look for the Delta IIC you need to achieve the IIC of the total construction that’s required. Then you have to balance out ease of installation, the time it takes to install it, and price.”

Exterior Tile Trends: Taking Tile Outside
March 1st, 2006


By Bill & Patti Feldman

March-April 2006

In residential and commercial markets alike, exterior tile is having its day in the sun. It continues to be a popular choice for decorative and durable surfacing of walkways, patios, fountain areas, and other landscape elements around homes and commercial buildings and is starting to show up on the floors and walls of the newly trendy outdoor kitchens and other open-air living areas. In exterior commercial applications, there is increased use of tile on vertical surfaces.

Over the past couple of years, tile manufacturers have broadened the selection of available tile sizes and designs in ceramic, glass and stone, and especially in glazed and through-body porcelain. Particularly popular nowadays are designs that capture the texture, relief and the typical variations of color of natural stone.

Porcelain is perfect outside

Porcelain tile for outdoor use can be an easy sell to commercial and residential customers alike. Very durable and scratch- and fade-resistant, it can mimic the appearance of natural slate, granite and other traditional exterior surfaces while requiring minimal maintenance. Selection of tile with a high MOH rating (reflecting degree of hardness, with 10 being the hardest) and PEI rating (reflecting wearability, with 5 being the highest rating), ensures that the tile would work well in areas of high foot traffic. Also, its chemical inertia makes it suitable for high pollution areas.

Having practically no water absorption compared to ceramic tile, porcelain tile is much less likely to freeze and crack in sustained cold weather or otherwise show signs of weathering in freeze/thaw cycles, making it ideal for outdoor applications. The water absorption rate of a standard porcelain tile is generally less than 0.5% while for ceramic tiles, this rate is often only just under 3% for floor tiles and just under 10% for wall tiles.

Though some glazed tile can be slippery and therefore not suitable for floor use unless treated, porcelain tiles can be manufactured with a coefficient of friction high enough to be considered non-slip.

Porcelain tile can also be marketed as sustainable. While the tiles can last the lifetime of a building, should design needs change, the tiles can be recycled as material for road and landscape base material rather than be shipped to landfills.

Using glazed ceramic or porcelain tile to achieve the natural look of stone in outdoor living areas is on the upswing in many regions of the country. Designers frequently create modular rectangular patterns incorporating a variety of sizes and shapes to replicate the appearance of classical stone flooring. Some are also mixing “free-form” pieces to achieve a pleasing aesthetic. Often, floor and wall tiling materials in an outdoor kitchen or living room are echoed around a fire pit and as pathways throughout the garden.

And, notes Rob Henry, a Principal at Robert F. Henry Tile Company, a distributor based in Montgomery Alabama, large modular patterns using stone-look tiles up to 24″ or 36″ square are also popular around pools. Among projects for customers with brick homes, “there is a lot of interest in coordinating tile color to the brick, especially for patios, decks and pool decks, as well as walkways,” he noted, “even though that sometimes raises the hot-foot issue if the tile is dark.”

In 2006, for commercial tile, “large” and “larger” and “even larger” is in, with more products available not only in large format sizes such as 24” x 24”, 24” x 36” and 30” x 30” but also in slab-like pieces, such as 24” x 48”, 30” x 60” and 60” x 90” suitable for exterior floors and walls.

How large is large format?

For example, a huge horizontal installation for the renovation of the Waterside Shops, an upscale open air lifestyle mall in Naples, Florida, that is close to completion, utilizes 90,000 square feet of 18” x 18” anti-slip slate-look porcelain tiles for all the exterior flooring. The specifications for the “extreme make-over” called for a light color that would stay relatively cool to the touch on hot sunny days.

The installation, which features multiple sizes of tile manufactured by Impronta Italgraniti USA, is one of the largest exterior flooring projects using porcelain tile in the United States. It replaces pock-marked cement tile that, while typical of older South Florida Mediterranean-style malls, did not accommodate the contemporary fashion-forward oriented environment the mall developer was aiming for.

The mall has many covered walkways with canopies only 8 ½ feet high. Because of the disparity between the bright Florida sun and the shadows created by the canopies, the architect, JPRA Architects of Farmington Hills, Michigan, specified the light color to maximize reflection of light back onto the ceilings, explained James Ryan, A.I.A, Chairman of the Board of the architectural firm.

Vertical Installations on the up and up and up

Porcelain tile and porcelain slabs have many value-adding characteristics that make them good choices for vertical cladding on commercial buildings. These include porcelain’s higher mechanical strength, superior to that of natural stone for the same thickness, its lower weight (one-third the weight of granite) and therefore lower shipping costs and installation costs, and its high wind thrust resistance, which makes it suitable for use in hurricane zones. Also, because it is 30% denser than granite, porcelain tile has greater chip resistance than granite.

Manufacturers have developed techniques that enable duplication of the look of natural stone close enough, in some cases, to match existing stone. For example, for matching existing granite in renovations, it is now possible for a porcelain tile manufacturer to take high resolution scans of the existing granite and use computerized plotting to replicate the veining patterns in the porcelain tile, mimicking the width and depth of the vein.

And because of the ability of the manufacturer to control the veining and the color, porcelain tile can enjoy an overall lower rejection rate by the architect and lower percentage of waste than natural stone and granite, especially in projects where the architect is aiming for a monolithic look.

Impronta Italgraniti, of Italy, supplied two types of porcelain tiles that replicate the look of natural stone and granite for a 400,000 square foot exterior ventilated façade installation at The Avenue, a huge new shopping mall in Kuwait City. (The manufacturer also supplied 376,000 square feet of interior common space flooring of the same tiles, half in polished finish, half in matt. The combined total of 776,000 square feet for interior floors and exterior vertical cladding puts the project among the largest tile jobs supplied by a single manufacturer.)

Because of the hot desert environment, Noor Architects of Toronto designed a ventilated façade, a form of energy efficient construction that features an air space of a few inches between the rough exterior of the building and the stainless steel grid-and-track system that supports the exterior large-sized nominal 2’ x 4’ porcelain tile.

The 12 mm thick tiles were partially drilled through from the back near the corners to allow for later insertion of threaded mounting screws which are first dipped into liquid epoxy. The tiles were set into the stainless steel ventilated framework with a quarter inch gap between the tiles that allows for the flow of air.

A ventilated façade keeps the building cool during the day and warm during the night. “In the desert, the cool air at night cools off the tiles, allowing for natural dissipation of the heat. In the daytime, the tile and the space act as a thermal barrier and can lower energy costs by up to 20–30 percent,’’ explains Jerry Joyce, Vice President of Impronta Italgraniti USA. “It is, in fact, a form of energy efficient construction.”

A ventilated facade can also provide an effective acoustic barrier, reducing exterior noise pollution by up to 20 percent, he adds.

“While most projects in the U.S. using porcelain tile for cladding still utilize conventional full spread installation techniques and are usually low reaching, with the cladding area typically only up to 30 feet high, in Europe and Asia, where there has been active development of many new standards and systems that enable installations above 30 feet, tiling projects frequently go much higher,” observes Joyce.

Innovative cladding systems of the type that allow vertical installations without any functional height limitations—i.e. ventilated facades—are slowly being introduced in this country.

Manufacturers are keeping pace with the evolution of this new technology. For example, VitrA, a Turkish tile manufacturer, and Tile of Spain branded manufacturers Alcalagres and Apavisa Porcelanico offer innovative ventilated façade systems that can be installed over original construction as well as used for new construction.

“The introduction of ventilated systems in the US opens up the possibility that tile distributors can sell the systems, including the steel framework,” points out Joyce, “just like, years ago, tile distributors jumped into selling cement backer board even though its introduction came through the building products sector.”


Linda Hennelly
Crossville Tile

Nissy Atassi
Paramount PR

(for) Imagine Tile
Bloomfield, NJ

Jerry Joyce
Impronta Italgraniti

James Ryan, A.I.A.
Chairman of the Board
JPRA Architects

Carolyn Holck Brown
Oceanside Glasstile

Robert F Henry
Tile Company

Mary Anne Piccirillo
White Good & Company
(for) Tile of Spain

Alexandra Ainsworth
Communicators International, Inc.

(for) Vitra USA

Kirsty Froelich
The Tile Shop

Concrete Tile Is Another Exterior Option

Mention concrete to many people and they think of a cold, gray sidewalk or wall. Those in the business, like John Paganos, founder of Olde World Stone & Tile, describe it another way: “The unique, aged look of our concrete stone and tile is reminiscent of those tiles found in the villas of Tuscany, the chateaus of Burgundy, and the haciendas of old Mexico.”

Concrete stone and tile, also called cementitious stone and tile, has been around since the days of the Romans. Back then, pouring a mortar-like mixture on site firmed the tiles, as with the building of the Coliseum. Today companies produce tiles in factories using various methods to achieve the different textures and styles available. A number of companies, including Olde World, use the wet-cast method to give the tile a handmade appearance. Styles, shapes, textures and sizes are virtually unlimited. The use of iron oxide colorants in the mix guarantees that the integral color will never wear out. Concrete tiles are produced by one of three manufacturing processes. They are either poured, extruded or ram pressed. Some concrete tiles duplicate the look and replace the other softer and less durable tiles like brick and Mexican Saltillo for use in high-traffic, commercial applications.

How big is the cementitious tile market? Wausau Tile, the country’s largest manufacturer of concrete tile has been producing what it calls pre-cast terrazzo tile for over a decade. Olde World Stone & Tile has been designing and making molds and helping entrepreneurs start their own tile and stone manufacturing businesses since 1992. Ro-Tile, a division of Coronado Stone Products, Inc., is one of six plants that Coronado has throughout the U.S. and Canada. They’ve been manufacturing concrete tile for over 40 years. Cal-Ga-Crete has been producing concrete tile since 1963. Their tiles have been used in Disney Parks around the world. The Los Angeles City Hall, built in 1928, was restored and retrofitted 73 years later, with 16,000 concrete tiles from Arto Brick to replace clay tile walks.

In the residential market, cementitious tiles are used for driveways, kitchens, family rooms, etc. They can also be used around swimming pools due to their natural slip resistant properties. Architects like concrete tiles because they can be used for both interior and exterior applications, creating a flow and feeling of one big space.

Concrete tile is installed by setting them in mortar, like ceramic tile. Olde World recommends back-buttering the tiles and the use of a mortar bag to fill the grout joints. Installers used to working with ceramic tile and cleaning off the grout the next day, have to work differently with cement tile. If the grout haze is not removed right away, it may stick. Most producers pre-seal their tiles at their plants to facilitate ease of grout removal. Acid should never be used on concrete.

There is no debate that concrete or cementitious tile is here to stay and that the category will continue to grow. Companies like Olde World Stone & Tile and others are offering molds and finishing techniques to help dealers and distributors profitably provide customers with custom, hand-made tile and stone at very competitive prices.

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