Installer Update: Green Installation Materials
April 1st, 2009

Green Building, 2009

By William & Patti Feldman

Green has gone mainstream. Increasingly, builders, owners, specifiers, and governments are attuned to the benefits of sustainability and environmentally friendly products.

Ceramic tile itself is an inherently green material and cementituous tile installation materials have no or low VOCs, as well. Many manufacturers of tile installation products give especially high priority to eco friendly manufacturing processes and materials and often make that clear on their websites. For example, they may be made of recycled materials and they may meet recognized stringent indoor air quality standards and employ dust-free technology.

While greenness cannot be seen, certain aspects can be certified against known standards, whether by the manufacturers themselves (which is first-party certification), via assessment by a trade association or other organization within the field (second party certification) or by an unbiased independent testing organization (third party certification). Manufacturers who have gone to the effort of earning certification for their products will likely put that information into their marketing and on their websites.

“Gaining certification that materials and manufacturing processes are green is becoming extremely important and will continue to grow,” says Howard Pryor, chairman of the green building committee for CTDA and director of architectural services for Conestoga Tile ( “Not only are architectural firms building green libraries, but for many commercial projects they are only specifying products recognized as green through certification.” This, he points out, avoids reliance solely on comments that might be considered greenwashing. “If this trend continues, you are going to see a lot of companies moving toward getting certified.”

Another way to show greenness is to register a project to receive certification credits from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program, a nationally recognized and widely accepted performance oriented rating system evaluating sustainability and the environmental impact of new construction and of renovations in existing buildings.

Last year, the numbers of LEED-registered and LEED-certified projects doubled over the previous year, jumping from approximately 10,000 registered projects at the end of 2007 to over 20,000 registered projects by the end of this past January.

The use of LEED compliant products can help contribute to a project earning credits in one or multiple of the six environmental categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Material & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Innovation & Design Process. The credits accrue per project and the total number of points determines the earned designation. Platinum is the highest, followed by Gold, Silver, and Certified. The characteristics of an individual product can help contribute to the overall point collection within each project.

Selecting green products

Architects and specifiers often look for certification that a product can help contribute to the overall point collection within each category.

“Product selection is a key to sustainable design,” suggests Steven Rausch, field marketing and technical manager for the substrates and specialty products division, USG, and a member of the CTDA Green Building Committee. “Ideal materials are those that reduce, recycle and renew— which are the three R’s of sustainability.”

For purposes of tile installation materials, the issues, as noted by LEED, include reducing the amount of raw materials and energy needed for manufacture (with lighter products generally requiring less energy to transport); recycling discarded material into new products, reducing raw material consumption and energy use as well as minimizing landfill deposits; and renewing the environment by using materials that can be regenerated easily or offer other environmentally friendly benefits.

While tile installation materials may be only a small part of an overall large building project, in a mall or other large square footage job, they could be a more significant component.
“Showing that specific installation materials can contribute to sought-after LEED points can give a flooring contractor an edge when bidding a job,” says Dr. Emphraim Senbetta, LEED AP, of the Quality Management Systems and Environmental Health & Safety Department at MAPEI ( MAPEI, a manufacturer of installation systems for tile and stone, carpet, vinyl, wood and decorative concrete flooring, uses local materials and recycled materials in its manufacturing processes wherever possible.

Green floor installation materials and their packaging may contribute to LEED credit in, for example, the following categories.

  • MR (Materials and Resources) 2.1 and MR 2.2: Construction Waste Management
  • MR 4.1: 10% recycled content of total building materials (post consumer + ½ pre-consumer)
  • MR 4.2: 20% recycled content (post consumer + ½ pre-consumer)
  • MR credit 5.1 and 5.2: 10% and 20% regional materials respectively (if the materials are manufactured within 500 miles of the project jobsite, reducing the environmental impacts from transportation)
  • MR 6: Specifying rapidly renewable building materials for 5% of total building materials (e.g., for purposes of this article, cork underlayment)
  • MR 7: Certified wood (e.g. use of a minimum of 50% of wood-based materials certified in accordance with Forest Stewardship Council guidelines)
  • EQ (Indoor Environmental Quality) 4.1: Low Emitting Materials, Adhesives & Sealants
  • EQ 4.4: Low Emitting Materials: composite wood and agri-fiber products (e.g. containing no added urea-formaldehyde resins)

Though the tile industry doesn’t typically pursue third-party certification, evaluating flooring installation materials against a standard, where possible, can be helpful in differentiating among options to meet specific goals.

“The criteria used to label as green should be based on a standard. The best standards are typically those that have been developed by a voluntary consensus organization that has industry support,” suggests Kirby Davis, Senior Architectural Specialist at LATICRETE®. “Non-biased third-party certification of a product against an established and stated standard avoids conflicts of interest.”

Some tile installation products carry third-party certifications from two well respected independent organizations, Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) and GREENGUARD.

Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) is an internationally recognized certifier of environmental, sustainability, and food quality and purity claims, in Emeryville, California. In the green building arena, SCS ( is known for its Indoor Advantage Gold certification of products conforming with requirements specified under California 01350, the Collaborative for High Performing Schools (a non-profit organization focused on improving the design of schools to make them healthier facilities), and LEED rating systems. Other programs include recycled and material content certifications.

GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) ( is a non-profit organization that oversees a testing laboratory which offers certification to building materials and other products that meet the GREENGUARD established acceptable indoor air standards for indoor products, environments and buildings. One certification is GREENGUARD IAQ Certified for low-emitting indoor building materials, furnishings, and finish systems. The more stringent GREENGUARD Children & Schools certifies building products tested for chemical emissions performance according to California’s stringent Section 01350 IAQ standard.

Products & manufacturers

The list of green products and manufacturers who pay attention to green concerns grows daily. Many offer materials that carry certification and/or can contribute to LEED points.

MAPEI’s ( Ultraflex 2 polymer-modified thin-set mortar for walls and floors features dust-free technology that produces up to 90 percent less dust during pouring, mixing, and use of the product and enables easier jobsite cleanup. This technology helps contribute to LEED EQ 3.2 “Construction IAQ Management Plan: Before Occupancy.”

MAPEI’s Ultralite Mortar for large format tiles contains more than 20% post-consumer recycled content and can contribute up to two points in MR 4.1 and 4.2.

Because MAPEI has eight manufacturing plants in the U.S. and four in Canada located within 500 miles of many North American population centers and jobsites, often its products can contribute credits under MR 5.1 and MR 5.2.

LATICRETE® ( manufactures a wide range of LEED compliant products, including thinset, medium bed, and thick bed mortars, various types of grout and grout enhancer, and epoxy adhesive. Approximately 24 products are GREENGUARD Certified. For example, LATICRETE 125 Sound & Crack Adhesive is a flexible lightweight Kevlar reinforced sound deadening and anti-fracture mortar made of 30% recycled content and is GREENGUARD Certified. LATICRETE 170 Sound and Crack Isolation Mat is a high performing acoustical underlayment system that muffles impact noises through ceramic tiles, stone and other hard surfacing material and minimizes transmission of cracks from the substrate to the tile installation up to 1/8″ non-movement cracks. The 3 mm thick rubberized membrane is comprised of 89% post consumer recycled content. Both products can contribute to MR 4.1 and MR 4.2 for recycled content.

TEC, a manufacturer of tile installation systems (, offers a family of eco-friendly lightweight mortars that also delivers installer benefits. “Not only do we offer green alternatives that contribute to LEED points, we create high performance products with advantages for our customers and their clients,” says Kristin Cattaneo, Senior Brand Manager for TEC.

For example, she points out, the one-step 1/8″ IsoLight Crack Isolation Mortar is manufactured with a minimum 10% recycled materials and no VOCs. That the lighter weight product provides significant handling and application benefits compared to regular mortars and can contribute to LEED certification under MR 4.1, 4.2; MR 5.1, 5.2 (there are three US manufacturing locations), and EQ 4.1.

FiberBacker, by MP Global Products (, is an environmentally sustainable eco-friendly acoustical and insulating flooring underlayment engineered for use under ceramic tile, porcelain and natural stone flooring. Odorless, hypoallergenic, and containing no VOCs or liquid adhesives, the product carries the SCS Indoor Advantage Gold seal, SCS’s highest level of indoor environmental quality certification and the most stringent indoor air quality certification in the country, and SCS’s Recycled Content seal certifying minimum 95% pre-consumer recycled textiles.

Adding an insulating R-value of .50 to the floor system that acts like a thermal “break” to the flooring assembly, FiberBacker helps keep floors warm in the winter and cool in the summer, minimizing energy consumption.

Under ceramic tile, the elasticity of Fiberbacker suppresses lateral cracks from the concrete subfloor to the tile above. The product also insulates the transfer of noise to lower level rooms and deadens sound. The randomly air laid filaments create a three dimensional matrix that helps to absorb impact sound, explains Bob Pratt, technical director at MP Global, and the 3/16″ thickness helps smooth out little subfloor imperfections while adding only minimal thickness to the total flooring installation.

USG Fiberock Tile Backerboard and Underlayment ( is manufactured from a combination of synthetic gypsum and cellulose fibers and has a SCS Green Cross certified recycled content of 95% pre-consumer material, contributing to LEED MR 4.1 and MR 4.2 for recycled content. The panels are manufactured in Gypsum, OH, possibly contributing to LEED MR 5.1 and 5.2, depending upon project location.

Intended for use in both dry and wet areas, including tub and shower surrounds, the panels are engineered for durability, strength and resistance to moisture and mold.

Other green attributes accrue in the manufacturing process, with attention paid to water efficiency, energy consumption and the effect on the atmosphere, points out Steven Rausch, field marketing and technical manager for the Substrates and Specialty Products Division, USG and a member of the CTDA Green Building Committee. “USG also aims to qualify for LEED points in the category of innovation and design.”

AcoustiCORK sound control underlayments (Amorim Cork Composites, for tile and other hard surface flooring, made from rapidly renewable cork bark, are approximately 85% post industrial recycled content by weight, use only low emitting materials and contain no added urea-formaldehyde. The product line includes five different sound control underlayment products, to fit nearly any application requirement. The AcoustiCORK line includes the new CRC 950 High Performance Composite Sheet Sound Control Underlayment and the RC Series Roll products which contain both cork and post consumer recycled rubber; as well as perimeter isolation barrier; and a crack suppression membrane. Used in a green project, AcoustiCORK products help qualify for LEED points under MR 4.1; MR 6; MR 7; EQ 4.1; and/or EQ 4.4.

The Noble Company’s Sheet Membranes ( contain an average of 11% post-industrial scrap, which could contribute to points in MR 4.1. The membranes are made from a core layer of chlorinated polyethylene (CPE), an inherently flexible elastomer sheet with fiber laminated to both sides. Noble sheet membranes are guaranteed not to rot, crack or deteriorate due to microorganisms for the life of the original tile installation. The products do not use urea-formaldehyde binders in the manufacturing process or contain any other VOC off-gassing materials, potentially earning credit in EQ 4.1. Water used in the manufacturing process is recycled and biodegradable inks are used in the stamping process whenever possible.

Noble Company’s ready-to-tile waterproof shower niches are made from extruded polystyrene (XPS) and are not considered VOC emitters in the LEED certification process (EQ 4.1). The XPS in the niches contains up to 40% post-industrial recycled content.

Raw materials for both sheet membranes and shower accessories are purchased locally, reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions necessary during transport.

PermaFlex Lite 525, from Bonsal American’s line of ProSpec ( products, is a lightweight thin set mortar for tile and natural stone installations that offers the coverage of a typical 50 lb. bag of thin set in a 25 lb. bag. The product incorporates post-consumer recycled glass microspheres, rather than sand, making the product much lighter than typical thin set mortars. The reduced weight per bag facilitates easier lifting for the installer. These design features contribute to LEED project points in EQ and MR.

Flex-Guard and Speed-Flex, “peel and stick” crack isolation membranes, also from ProSpec, are manufactured using non-hazardous materials per EPA 8260 and EP A5030B. Since they require no priming, they can be installed quicker and are more cost effectively than typical crack isolation membranes. These products contain no asphalt, PVC, CPE or other harmful, toxic outgassing materials.

Grout Boost liquid grout additive ( mixes with any standard Portland cement grout to make it stain resistant, eliminating the need to ever seal the grout. When grout is enhanced with the product, liquids bead up, oils do not penetrate, and ground-in dirt leaves no trace. Because the stain resistance is integrated throughout the grout, Grout Boost provides permanent stain protection that will never wear away, as sealers do. The water-based product has low VOCs and no solvents and is California VOC compliant.

EasyMat Tile & Stone Underlayment from Custom Building Products ( has no VOCs, contributing to LEED credit EQ 4.1. The product, which features impact and sound reduction capabilities, is 97% lighter than traditional floor backerboard. The company’s MegaLite®Crack Prevention Mortar, which is 40% lighter than other mortars, also has no VOCs (EQ 4.1). Made with at least 20% recycled material, it contributes to EQ 4.1 and 4.2. On many projects, because there are 10 manufacturing plants around the country, potentially minimizing transportation emissions, the products can contribute to MR 5.1 and 5.2.


Alliance for Healthy Homes

American Chemistry Council

American Concrete Institute

American Indoor Air Quality Council

Build It Green

Ceramic Tile Distributors Association



Department of Energy

Ecology Action

Ecological Design Institute

Energy Efficient Building Association


Green Building

Green Building Pages

Green Format

GREENGUARD Environmental Institute

Green Seal

Marble Institute of America

National Tile Contractors Association

Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance

Scientific Certification Systems

Solutions for Remodeling


Tile Council of North America

U.S. Green Building Council

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