A Customer Guide to Tile Cleaning
September 1st, 2007

September-October 2007

Many people who choose stone tile think it is impossible to damage. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” cautions The Tile Doctor, an online resource from The Ceramic Tile Institute of America (www.thetiledoctor.com/maintenance/cleaningstone.cfm). “Stone has many potential weaknesses, but once it has been properly protected and maintained the beauty is unparalleled.”

Sealing stone is the first maintenance step. Surface preparation—whether the stone is polished, honed, or natural—along with the stone’s density and porosity will determine the best type of sealer to use, The Tile Doctor says.

Once their tile is sealed, customers can follow these Tile Doctor tips to make sure they clean and maintain their tile properly.

Always check labels on the product you are thinking of using and test an inconspicuous area first to see what effects, if any, the cleaner will have.

Use pH-balanced cleaners and soapless detergents for daily cleaning. Mild dishwashing liquid sometimes works quite well on stone surfaces.

Steer clear of acidic cleaners in daily cleaning. They can etch and remove polished surfaces from alkaline stones like marble, travertine, and sandstone; eventually erode the grout in joints, making cleaning and maintenance more problematic; and permanently damage colored grout pigment.

Try to solve heavy duty cleaning needs with pH-balanced cleaners. These can include scouring cleaners and poultices manufactured for this purpose.Use a soft bristled brush to agitate the cleaners in the grout joints.

If pH-balanced cleaners don’t work on heavy duty jobs, proceed to more aggressive high alkaline “heavy duty” or “deep clean” type cleaners. You may have to use an acidic solution to solve a particular problem. Sulfamic and phosphoric acids are the safest and most-used acids to solve tile and grout cleaning problems.

Most stones, once protected, require occasional scrubbing to remove surface build-up of dirt and grime. Use a neutral cleaner, mop or scrub-on cleaner as directed, and rinse if necessary.

Honed (smooth but not polished) or slate (rough) finish stones require more frequent scrubbing. A good penetrating sealer cuts down on the frequency with which this task is needed. Most stones will be easy to maintain with a high-quality sealer and regular maintenance.

For stains on marble or stone, apply poultice in paste form to the surface, covering the entire area where the stain is. The stain is normally drawn out of the stone. Some poultice products push the stain into the stone away from the surface and allow you to seal the stone, thus keeping the stain away from the surface.

Stone Tile: Selling one of today’s hottest trends
September 1st, 2007

By Jeffrey Steele

September-October 2007

Stone is the natural choice for today’s increasingly sophisticated buyer

There’s nothing like timeless beauty to enhance the visual appeal of a residential, office or commercial setting. That’s why more and more homeowners and designers are choosing a truly timeless material—natural stone tile—to adorn such places.

Stone is the natural choice for a good many reasons. Stone tile is offered in the same broad range of sizes as ceramic, from mosaics to large-format 30-inch-square slabs. The range of stone available is impressive, including limestone, travertine, marble, onyx, quartzite and slate. And just when you think that rounds out the selection, consider that stone tile is offered in honed, brushed or sandblasted finishes, among others. Today’s stone is more durable, too, given the advent of sealers that add years of life.

One of the nation’s more prominent stone tile importers is Millwood, NY-based Elon Tile. Launched in 1966, Elon Tile was at the start exclusively a supplier of Mexican tile. When current president Ken Rossomando took the reins in 1971, he expanded the product line to include products from seven countries. Today, Elon Tile supplies and services approximately 400 retail showrooms across the United States, and employs a staff of 30 across its two distribution centers.

The company offers an inventory of more than 6,000 tile and stone items made from marble, onyx, limestone, travertine, quartzite and slate. “Our clients make a commitment to show and display concept panels and/or create vignettes in their showroom in return for a protected geographic area in which to do business with our extensive product line,” Rossomando says. Distribution centers in San Antonio, Texas, and Millwood maintain all the company’s inventory.

Rossomando believes the most dynamic tile trend today is mosaics, which Elon Tile offers in polished, honed or tumbled finishes. Supplementing the 500 mosaics in inventory are several new line additions, including one-inch-round mosaics available in marble, onyx and travertine and three-dimensional mosaics.

Mosaics offer vast design possibilities, vibrant color, a variety of sizes and stone selection, Rossomando says. “The newer three-dimensional look and one-inch-round mosaics have created an extraordinary interest in the use of these products,” he says. “The latest and most exciting are the honed finishes, available in marble, onyx, travertine, limestone, quartzite and slate.” These mosaics range in size from 5⁄8-inch square to 18-inches square, he says.

Another trend is the use of larger stone tile, including 16-inch squares and 16 by 24 inch rectangles. Larger formats are particularly popular in warmer areas of the country, including Florida, Arizona and California, where they are embraced in both residential and commercial applications. “In these warmer climates, larger tiles are used throughout the entire home, both indoors and out,” Rossomando says, adding that larger tiles are also growing in popularity in many other areas of the U.S.

With growing regularity, stone tile is being used for innovative residential and commercial landscape designs. Quartzite and sandstone are the primary choices in this application, and are being used as exterior pavers that can be cut into many sizes and shapes. Popular finishes that include flamed, honed and sandblasted looks are available to enhance any landscape design concept, Rossomando reports.

The advent of porcelain tile that combines many of the looks of stone with the easy care of porcelain has led to greater acceptance of porcelain. However, in many markets, stone applications are being favored over the look of porcelain because of the former’s natural beauty and appeal to sophisticated buyers, Rossomando says.

Adding to stone’s attractiveness as a surface is the ease with which it can now be maintained. “All stone, regardless of application, should be sealed,” Rossomando says. Sealing enhances and improves the beauty and longevity of the stone. The many excellent sealers in the marketplace now make the maintenance of all stone products extremely easy and have dramatically encouraged the sale and installation of stone products throughout the industry.

Since maintenance is no longer a major factor in the care of stone, the leading determinant regarding porcelain versus stone may be the economic factor. Generally speaking, porcelain is less expensive, and stone tends to be used in upscale settings. That said, stone can be used anywhere and everywhere, Rossomando believes.

Another major supplier of stone is Universal Granite & Marble, based in Naperville, Ill. The company began as a Chicago-area supplier in 1996, but since has expanded and supplies to cities throughout the Midwest and South.

Brian Hill, general manager of Universal’s tile division, reports major offerings include specialized French limestone and Italian travertine, with the latter available in sizes up to 30-inches square. The company also meets the increasingly strong demand for patterned stone tile with 12 different four-piece patterns in travertine from Turkey, Mexico, Peru and Italy and limestone from France, Egypt and Israel, he says.

“We’ve seen a dramatic shift away from porcelain and ceramic to natural stone, and while people are still asking for marble, it’s moving to limestone and travertine,” Hill says. “Within that area, anything unique such as a brushed finish, antique finish or chiseled edges is very hot right now. That’s the thing designers are asking for daily. They want unique colors and patterns. A lot of designers are looking for material that’s not cookie cutter, and may incorporate some beige tones but also feature other colors. They want movement in the floor. They don’t want something everyone else has.”

The growing interest in travertine is intriguing, given that it was long thought to be a less elegant and less desirable material, he adds.

“It used to be considered a lesser quality stone, with no polish and more of a worn look. In a house over a million dollars, you wouldn’t find a travertine tile. But today people are moving more toward that look. We’re putting limestone and travertine with antique finishes in $25 million homes up on the North Shore [of the Chicago area].”

Hill also finds dimensional limestone and travertine mosaics to be popular, as well as mosaics featuring a mixed palette of colors. “You can mix travertine, limestone and marble on a sheet and give it different color tones,” Hill explains. “It can be used as an accent, or as the focal point on a wall.”

Like Rossomando, Hill believes advancements in stone sealers are one of the lead factors behind stone’s ascendancy in the market. Today, there are companies that manufacture sealers capable of providing protection lasting for up to 10 years, he says.

“If you’re using the right cleaner on it, that sealer is going to last, and that floor is going to last,” Hill observes. “It’s not high maintenance like it used to be, and that’s had a huge impact on the marketability of stone. It used to be people said, ‘I don’t want it because I have to maintain it.’ That factor’s gone now. It has the same maintenance characteristics as porcelain. A homeowner —or a tile dealer selling to a homeowner—has to ask themselves if stone can last in a shopping mall where thousands will walk over it every day, who’s to say it can’t last in their homes?”

Mesh-back stone mosaics and river-pebble tiles are the central focus at Stone Mosaics, a four-year-old company based in Melbourne, Fla., says president Roger Sinigoi. Selling primarily to distributors, Stone Mosaics’ products are found in the exteriors and interiors of offices, commercial buildings and residences. River-pebble tile and mosaics are specified by architects for settings such as outdoor walkways, pools and pool decks, driveways and garages.

Indoors, they’re found in bathrooms, shower stalls and many other places. “Our standing stone, a split-stone that sticks out from the mesh, is used for all types of wall cladding in doctor’s offices and waiting rooms, in fountains, outdoor showers and court ponds, and in fancy bathrooms,” Sinigoi reports.

Stone Mosaics carries 14 color combinations in river pebbles, and another 14 colors in sandstone, granite, quartz and marble mosaics. New color combinations for fall will include yellows and golds mixed in with darker grays and blacks, Sinigoi says.

Also new is a “fractured face stone,” a two-by-six marble or sandstone that provides the appearance of an uncut stone direct from the quarry. “The fractured face is a real natural look that’s good for the outside of homes, for pillars, for fireplaces,” he says. “I see this becoming more and more popular. Ours will be fabricated so the mason can install the fractured face very quickly and easily.”

Stone Mosaics is also known for its custom products, particularly those featuring drawings rendered by a Melbourne artist used by the company.

“She produces seascapes with turtles and dolphins, and a compass rose that’s very popular,” Sinigoi reports. “We can also produce custom products based on our customers’ drawings.”

The choice of stone is a matter of personal taste, he adds. Many simply prefer the natural look of stone over the manufactured look of porcelain and ceramic.

Newer grouts that have come to the marketplace are adding to the settings in which stone can be installed as well. These advanced grout products can expand and contract, enabling stone to be used in colder climates where the freeze-and-thaw cycles would normally preclude stone installations. “We’ve been selling to companies that have been installing them as far north as Canada for outdoor kitchens,” he reports.

Another company well acquainted with stone tile is Cornerstone Granite Company, a 15-year-old Nantucket, Massachusetts-based business that specializes in natural stone countertops, as well as exterior stone products and stone tile, says president David Butler.

Cornerstone offers tile ranging from one-by-one-inch tumbled limestone mosaics to 12-inch square polished granite blue pearl from Norway. “We offer standard to custom-cut stone tile, including tiles that feature hand-painted murals,” Butler reports.

Travertine and earth-tone colors like soft light beige, light grey and soft white are especially popular. Tiles that offer “the old Tuscan look,” including smaller tumbled mosaics that can be laid in geometric patterns, are also growing in favor, he adds.

“Being a New England company, we find there’s a lot of retrofitting here. And even the new houses are built to look like the old houses. You have a traditional or colonial look. The tumbled, acid-washed look is very popular because the polished tiles don’t work in that kind of home.”

Butler believes the chief advantages of stone vis-à-vis ceramic and porcelain are overwhelmingly aesthetic. Both he and most of his customers feel porcelain has a man-made look, while stone’s look is decidedly natural.

Durability isn’t an issue. “Most people who buy our products take very good care of the tile.”

As for price, Butler rejects the idea stone is always more expensive, noting he has seen very expensive porcelain tile, and very inexpensive stone tile. The expense involved in stone is a function of how easily material comes out of the quarry, currency rates of the countries from which the stone is extracted, and how much additional work is necessary to get the stone tile in shape to be installed in a home, he says.

Selling success depends on presentation

Dealers are unanimous in their belief that showroom space and presentation are keys to selling stone. “Obviously, if you’re a tile dealer wanting to sell stone tile, you’re going to have to give it fair showroom space,” Butler says. “You’ve got to be creative in your displays, and maybe get a designer to help you lay out a floor pattern or a wall pattern, and not just offer a book of tile to flip through.” He believes customers really need to see an application. “A picture just doesn’t cut it. If they can see a floor they can walk across, or a display table that showcases an actual pattern seen in a home, that helps sell stone tile.”

For his part, Stone Mosaics’ Sinigoi says his concept boards can help do the selling job. The easy-to-understand boards display all sizes and colors sold by the company. Tile dealers should trumpet the natural beauty of the stone, its installation ease and its ability to complement many other décor elements in the home, he says.

“It’s just a really beautiful look,” he adds. “I’m looking at a staircase done with it on the risers, with a porcelain non-slip surface on the horizontal stairs. It looks like something that’s been done by hand, when in reality it goes down easily and quickly.”

Universal Granite & Marble’s Hill believes the biggest key to selling stone tile is to emphasize this is a natural product featuring piece-to-piece variation. “Take the time to learn about the colors and finishes of the tile,” he urges. “Tell your customers this is made by Mother Nature, and what we pull out of the ground is what you get. As long as you educate your customer to the fact that the tile has natural characteristics, natural flaws, natural beauty and natural charisma, you’ll be on the right track.”

Finally, Elon Tile’s Rossomando believes the key to selling stone tile is to ensure as a dealer that you boast both a highly knowledgeable sales staff and attractive displays or concept panels to help customers visualize the tile in their own homes. The better the concept panels and the greater the number of displays, the less time a sales staff will need to spend with prospective customers.

In addition, no dealer should miss the opportunity to discuss the ease of care in maintenance and installation. Those newer qualities have helped make it much easier for dealers to sell stone tile, Rossomando says.


Elon Tile


Cornerstone Granite Company


Universal Granite & Marble


Stone Mosaics


Choosing Substrates and and Installation Systems for Ceramic Tile and Stone Tile
September 1st, 2007

by Donato Pompo


September-October 2007

Installations are only as good as the substrate to which they are applied, the method of installation, and the quality of installation products used. The substrate is the foundation of the installation. When this foundation is unsuitable for whatever reason, the products applied are automatically in jeopardy. Thankfully, remedies exist for correcting substrate problems, but it is important to first evaluate the substrate and take any corrective action as part of the substrate preparation process.

Substrate quality and suitability

Concrete substrates are an excellent because they are stable, are not significantly affected by exposure to moisture, and don’t promote the growth of mold. There are wall and floor applications where the conventional mortar bed is best and other floor applications where a cementitious self-leveling underlayment would be preferred. Poured gypsum underlayments can be used for tiling in dry floor areas with proper preparation or in areas with limited water exposure if used with a waterproof membrane.

Wood is a questionable substrate for direct tile attachment and unacceptable for exterior areas or any interior wet areas. Wood may cause excessive movement when it expands from exposure to moisture compounded by temperature variations, and will warp as it dries, creating more movement. Wood can be used as a tile substrate in dry interior areas where the deflection in the floor is not excessive for ceramic tile or stone, and conforms with the International Residential Code (IRC) or Commercial Residential Code (CRC). Using wood for an underlayment does limit the chance of achieving a flat surface, let alone a level or sloping one. Quality plywood underlayment boards that are installed correctly with the proper ANSI A118.11 thin-sets can provide a suitable floor for dry interior applications.

Backer boards come in many configurations from cementitious to foam, to the new generation of water resistant gypsum, and some hybrids of the aforementioned materials. Some are limited to wall use or interior dry applications, and others are suitable for interior wet areas or exterior wall applications.

Gypsum backer board is suitable for interior dry wall applications. Mold flourishes in wet environments, and gypsum wallboard is a potential food source in those conditions. Water-resistant gypsum wallboard (green board) can no longer be used as substrates in shower areas. New generation gypsum boards such as the Coated Glass Mat Water-Resistant Gypsum Backer Board and the Fiber-Reinforced Water-Resistant Gypsum Backer Board are suitable for shower walls and other applications.

Steel substrates are suitable for many applications if properly prepared and used with a suitable bonding epoxy.

Tile-over-tile, vinyl and other coatings can be a suitable substrate if the existing material is structurally sound and properly prepared, which typically requires mechanically scarifying the surface and using special modified thin-sets. The new installation will only be as good as the bond of the existing material to its substrate. Scarifying some surfaces can be hazardous if inhaled.

Floor preparation for tile involves understanding the characteristics and limitations of the finished product, as well as evaluating the substrate and installation system to ensure they are suitable for the intended application and use. Any substrate problems need to be corrected with a legitimate remedy meeting industry standards. Industry associations such as Tile Council of North America (TCNA), Ceramic Tile Institute of America (CTIOA), Marble Institute of America (MIA), and the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) can provide information and some guidelines. Installation systems manufacturers can provide system specifications and warranties. Industry consultants can assess project needs and develop project specifications.

Installation Systems

Considering all of the choices, the limited resources for training, and the risk and liability of making a mistake, installers are wise to use one of the installation systems available from any of the major manufacturers of installation products for ceramic tile and stone.

Architects asked for single source installation systems as quality assurance to avoid failures. These systems ensure product compatibility and installation guidelines for each component provided by a single manufacturer. Generally these systems also provide added warranties and are better performing products.

For tile installations a single source system would include the crack isolation or waterproof membrane, if used, the thin-set for bonding the tile to its substrate, and the grout to fill the joints. The system could also include the mortar bed, underlayment or backer board. If the manufacturer produces sound control or heating assemblies they, too, may be included within the installation system.

Manufacturers of these systems usually offer 5-Year to Lifetime warranties. Many include both labor and material guarantees. When a material manufacturer can limit exposure to failures and increase product use with a system offering, then they are willing to encourage the consumer with their warranty. Beware: these warranties are not “no-fault insurance.” The warranties only guarantee the performance and compatibility of the products as long as they are installed correctly and per industry standards.

Installers should take the time to research and learn industry standards. As a forensic investigator, I have yet to investigate a tile failure and find that the installation was completed per industry standards. Typically there are many industry infringements that result in compounding factors that lead to the failure. The best way to avoid installation failures is to follow industry standards and manufacturers’ instructions.

In truth, if a single source installation system was not used, but you used different, but correct, quality products from different manufacturers, and installed them correctly per industry standards, the result should be a successful installation.

Consider first the different tile products to choose from, including ceramic, stone, glass, metal, wood, resin, resin-back, back-mounted, and who knows what else. Consider also the different applications such as interior versus exterior, wet versus dry, cold versus hot climatic conditions, large format tiles or moisture-sensitive stones, or conditions requiring chemical resistant or other specialty product. Add to that the many different tile setting products including rapid, non-modified, modified, epoxy, modified epoxy, furan, non-sag, medium bed, full contact, mastic, self-leveling, among others, and all of the different substrates mentioned above that have to be considered. The best solution for the installer might be to go to their installation product manufacturer of choice and ask for the best installation system, with a labor and material warranty, which would be best for their tile and application. When installers give their clients a choice on whether they want a labor and material warranty with their tile installation, they generally do, and are willing to pay for the added assurance and security. It then adds more value and profit, and minimizes risk for the installer. It is a win-win situation.

Quality assurance and control

In addition to having the right installation product system, the key to a successful tile installation is to have clear and concise installation specifications with job-specific quality assurance and quality control plans. First, the right ceramic tile or stone for the respective application must be selected to ensure its suitability. Considerations must be made for:

  • Resistance: slip, abrasion (wear), and absorption (stain);
  • Freeze-thaw stability for cold climates;
  • Durability: compressive strength or specific gravity and density;
  • Maintenance: moisture and chemical sensitivity and surface texture.

The most overlooked part of an installation is to have a Quality Control Plan. One should not leave quality control accountability to the installer, as is normally the case, but rather designate an independent inspector or owner representative to implement the quality control plan. Too often inexperienced or unmotivated installers are left unsupervised, which leads to mistakes and failures. Good supervision provides quality on-the-job training for apprentice installers, which grooms them to become part of the industry’s future skilled labor pool.


Use of ceramic tile and stone has grown substantially over the years and despite the current housing slowdown it will continue to grow. The tile industry needs the combination of more training and more installers to supply the demand for qualified installers, which will lead to more successful installations and minimize failures. There are organizations that offer hands-on training such as Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), Ceramic Tile Institute of America (CTIOA), Ceramic Tile And Stone Consultants (CTaSC), and some union organizations throughout the country. Quality installation specifications, proper substrate preparations, proper installation products, and good workmanship are key to lasting installations.

Donato Pompo, CTC, CMR, CSI, CDT, MBA, is the founder of Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants (CTaSC), and possesses over 25 years of experience in the ceramic tile and stone industry. He investigates tile and stone failures, provides quality control services for products and installation methods, writes specifications, and develops and offers online and hands-on training programs. Donato is the past chairman of the Ceramic Tile Institute of America technical committee, he is a member of the Marble Institute of America (MIA), he is a committee member of the ANSI and TCNA Handbook committees who set the industry standards, and he has experience as an installer and as a manufacturer of installation products for ceramic tile and stone. He is a Certified Microbial Remediator (CMR). Donato@CTaSC.com; www.CTaSC.com

Foster and Clark Real Estate
CTDA - Membership
CTDA - Online Education