Gillian and Brian Turner of NATTCO use notched trowels, margin trowels, knee pads, sponges and buckets donated by their company to tile the Scoby kitchen.

NATTCO's Brian Turner shows new homeowner Tracy Scoby how to spread thinset with a notched trowel.
Tile Partners for Humanity recently completed its largest project to date - tiling 34 Habitat homes in Houston, Texas - thanks to the generous donations of individual members of the tile industry.

TPFH is a partnership between the tile industry and Habitat for Humanity International, a non-profit organization working to eliminate substandard housing. TPFH works within the industry to raise awareness of Habitat and to solicit donations of tile, installation materials, tile tools, cleaners and sealers, installation labor, and installation training for volunteers and homeowners.

Industry members donated tile, installation materials, tools, cleaners and sealers, installation labor and training to tile 12,000 square feet in 34 homes built by Houston Habitat for Humanity this spring. The Habitat affiliate built a total of 38 homes as part of the SuperBUILD project, held in conjunction with Super Bowl XXXVIII, which took place on February 1, 2004 in Houston.

In one of those homes, a new homeowner learned to set tile and hopes to turn that experience into an opportunity for an improved life for him and his family.

Tracy Scoby works at a Houston-area McDonalds and his wife Cassandra works the night shift at a local hospital. They moved from a two-bedroom apartment to a three-bedroom house that they helped to build.

Tracy worked with Brian and Gillian Turner, president and vice-president of North American Tile Tool Company, to set tile in the new home. NATTCO donated 34 buckets of new tile tools, including notched trowels, margin trowels, grout floats, mixers, knee pads, sponges, spacers, tile cutters, wet saws, chalk boxes, and buckets to the project.

Master Tile donated in excess of 14,000 square feet of tile for the project. LATICRETE International, Inc. and Texas Cement Products each donated 7,000 square feet of installation materials. Aqua Mix donated grout sealers and tile cleaners.

TPFH partners donated labor to install tile in all 34 homes and worked with homeowners and volunteers to teach them to install tile. PJK Ceramic Tile & Marble, based in Houston, donated labor for a total of 9,640 square feet in 24 homes. Charlie Juhl, also in Houston, donated labor for 1,300 square feet in five homes. LATICRETE donated labor for 1,040 square feet in four homes. NATTCO donated labor for 260 square feet in the Scoby house.

For Scoby, working with the Turners was an opportunity to learn a new skill and work with his hands. Habitat homeowners are required to complete a certain number of hours of "sweat equity," where they help to build their home and those of their neighbors.

Brian used his company's tools to show Tracy how to mix and spread thinset and set tile. Tracy recalled the first lesson he learned: "Brian said the number one thing to remember was that you always have to put the first tile in the right place. If you do that, then everything goes where it's supposed to. He laid that first tile perfectly and we just went from there!"

For Brian, it was easy to teach Tracy because he showed a true interest in learning.

"Working with Tracy was a pleasant experience because of his enthusiasm. He showed a great deal of interest and that made it easy to teach him. You can show someone how to do something, but you can't teach them unless they want to learn."

And Tracy did want to learn. He talked to Brian and other tile contractors donating labor about the money he could make in the Houston tile industry and decided he wanted to learn all he could. He was particularly interested in getting out of what he called a "dead-end job" and making money that could go toward his new mortgage.

New homeowner Tracy Scoby spreads thinset with a notched trowel in his kitchen.
"It would sure mean a lot because I've always wanted to do something with construction, always wanted to do something with my hands. I could start now and work through the rest of my life, and this is a skill I could maybe pass on to my boys. If I prosper, maybe they could prosper along with me."

For Tracy, working with Brian and Gillian was a rewarding experience.

"Brian's a really down-to-Earth person, a person you can get along with. He's an all-around good teacher and had no problem teaching and guiding me in the process. His wife is very diligent and a hard worker. They're just caring people with a genuine concern."

When asked what stood out about Tracy's work, Brian pointed to the pride Tracy took in his handiwork in the kitchen.

"It was a very simple action - laying the tile around the back door. Tracy got such a kick out of making sure it fit perfectly, and he'll be looking at that for 10 or 20 years! He took such pride; it was the first thing he did and he did it just right," Brian said.

Cassandra praised the design in the entryway, where volunteers Pavel Rusek and Todd Hudson included a diamond shape, as her favorite part of the floor. Tracy laughed and said, "Yeah, it's beautiful! It makes the whole house look good, brings class to it. Maybe I'm just saying that because it's my house!"

Tracy said that while he had never set tile before, it was easier than he thought it would be. He recognized that proper tools can make a difference.

"The tools were great! That little tile cutter made the job go by just like this! There wasn't too much to it. I also learned how to use a wet saw!"

Gillian called the entire experience fulfilling, saying, "It was a great work environment. It was hard work, but so much fun! It was very uplifting and I truly enjoyed meeting everyone that was there."

At the end of the day, Brian and Gillian left to catch a plane back to Kentucky. Tracy returned the next day to work with LATICRETE's Victoria Wright and Mark Brooks, TPFH's Ally Fertitta, and Robert Jones, his new next-door neighbor. Wright and Brooks taught the two homeowners to grout, and Robert expressed the same interest in learning more about the tile industry. He currently works the night shift at IHOP and, like his neighbor Tracy, would like to start a new career.

While Brian and Gillian rested after a long day of work, Tracy and Cassandra admired the handiwork in their new floor. Brian sent good wishes to the new homeowners and offered these thoughts on Tracy's potential new career:

"Don't get discouraged if you don't have immediate success. Tracy's got so much enthusiasm and dedication, he's the type of person with stickability. Some people think they can do something and then start doubting themselves if it doesn't work immediately. Tracy shouldn't doubt himself. He'd be an asset to any company."

TPFH pledged to provide a total of $1,250,000 in materials and labor to Habitat for Humanity projects over five years, or $250,000 a year. In its first year, 2003, TPFH partners exceeded that goal by at least $100,000. Many donations went to Habitat stores, where materials are resold and their profits used to finance new Habitat construction.

TPFH's primary goal is to put materials in Habitat homes, not stores, and is working to solicit materials appropriate for construction in addition to resale. Habitat homes require simple, basic ceramic or porcelain tile that is neutral in color and without excessive pattern.

For purposes of the pledge, Habitat values all donations at retail value according to the communities where the materials are consumed or where the labor is utilized. TPFH partners are able to claim a tax deduction for their donations that is valued at the cost of materials for donations to Habitat stores and up to twice that value, under Internal Revenue Code 170e3, for donations to active projects.

TPFH is guided by seven industry organizations whose representatives sit on its board of directors, including the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association, Ceramic Tile Education Foundation, Ceramic Tile Institute of America, National Tile Contractors Association, The Tile Doctor, Tile Council of North America, and Tile Heritage Foundation.

TPFH formed in December 2002 and accepts donations of tile, installation materials, tile tools, cleaners and sealers, labor, and installation training for Habitat projects. TPFH is supported exclusively by industry donations and accepts donations of financial support for its operations and communication efforts.

For more information on TPFH or to make a pledge, please visit