Each year, Total Solutions Plus (TSP) brings the ceramic tile industry together to network and learn from each other. The 2017 conference was held at the Marriott Washington Wardman Park in Washington, D.C. More than 700 tile professionals attended, making it the highest turnout for a TSP of all time. Attendees visited more than 100 tabletop exhibits during the networking night where contractors and distributors were treated to an evening of product knowledge and new technologies.

The conference sessions gave professionals a complete update of issues affecting the tile industry. The team at Laticrete, which presented an uplifting economic report at the conference, reported that 2017 tile consumption will finish 4% ahead of last year. Economic indicators show strong consumer confidence, unemployment is good at 4.1%, 30-year mortgage rates continue to be low and inflation is low at 2.1%;, and the U.S. gross domestic product is above 2.

Eric Astrachan, executive director of the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), gave an update on the Why Tile consumer initiative, first unveiled at Coverings 2017, which promotes the unlimited design possibilities of tile, the durability, the health benefits and the heritage and craftsmanship. He reviewed the website (partners.whytile.com) where tile industry professionals can download education on selecting tile, tile design inspiration photos, social media posts, project guides, schematics and maintenance tips.

“The goal is to empower the consumer, including the design professional, to understand the positive impact that ceramic tile can have,” Astrachan said. “But let’s not forget the tenant that is important to everybody: that tile is, over its lifetime, significantly cheaper than all other flooring options.”

He also related information about the new OSHA regulations for crystalline silica, which he reminded attendees that the standard is about exposure. Workers cannot be exposed to more than 50 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air and anything over 25 needs to be monitored.

“A product cannot meet or comply with OSHA because it’s an exposure standard, not a product standard,” Astrachan said. “It has to do with how it’s used, how often you’re exposed, how you’re using it, what’s in the product, etcetera. What they can say is ‘use of this product according to our instructions can result in this level of exposure.’”

For the construction sector, full-scale implementation started October 23, 2017.

“For more doing people doing field work, you’re probably going to need to do an exposure assessment at some point for your own legal protection,” Astrachan said. “Because people can be exposed to so many different forms of silica on a job site, you need a written exposure claim, you need a designation of a competent person, you need to provide medical supervision, you need to provide training, you need to have SDSs [safety data sheets] on file, the manufacturers have to give them to you, and you have record keeping requirements.”

Astrachan also updated attendees on California’s Proposition 65, known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, intended to help Californians make informed decisions about protecting themselves from chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. The question concerned whether tile needs a Prop 65 warning. TCNA engaged Environmental Health & Engineering, a firm that does exposure and risk analysis, to look at exposure pathways and possible health risks, the various chemicals in the study, and the different tile cutting techniques involved. The firm determined that full-time professional tile installers were below the threshold set by the Environmental Protection Agency and no Prop 65 warning was necessary.

Chad Bulen, technical services manager for Bostik, presented Bosti-Set, a new mortar for gauged thin porcelain tile panels that is lightweight, premixed, needs no back buttering or water, offers acoustical and flame retardant benefits thickness control technology and no volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Bulen said the mortar improves jobsite efficiency by reducing a typical 5,000-s.f. wall installation from 10 days and a four-man crew to six days with a two-man crew.

The National Tile Contractor’s Association (NTCA) and Tile Contractor’s Association of America (TCAA) organized two contractor roundtables. In the first, “The Business of Being a Tile Contractor,” Mike Novakoski, president and CEO, and John Parker, vice president, Elzinga & Volkers General Contractors of Holland, Mich., discussed how they have created a culture that attracts the best and brightest and encourages them to not just stick around but helped them to grow their company.

In the second contractor roundtable, “Resolving Commong Jobsite Problems,” Elzinga & Volkers General Contractors hosted an informal roundtable discussion that examined how contractors are managing compliance with federal and state regulations related to silica and dust, testing, training and equipping installers with the tools and information they need to complete a project safely and successfully.

Irene Williams, owner-principal of Msg2Mkt, LLC, a full-service digital marketing and public relations firm pinpointed the social platforms every tile business should focus on to connect with customers.

Jim Whitfield, manager of technical services for Mapei, and Pierre Hebert, Canadian technical manager for Mapei, presented “Selecting and Specifying Ceramic Tile with ANSI and ISO Standards.” The standards contained in ANSI and ISO provide an excellent method for architects, designers, specifiers and end users to select the correct system of products for their installation.

Mac Fulfer, an attorney who became interested in face reading for the purpose of jury selection, taught attendees how to have an instant and objective assessment of every person they meet just by reading facial features. He discussed how to spot deception, stress, personal preferences, create instant connections, and understand the other person better than their best friend before the handshake ends.

In a change to programming, an industry awards dinner and dance took place the last night of the conference. NTCA awarded the 2017 Ring of Honor to Dan Welch, president and COO, Welch Tile & Marble of Kent City, Mich. The Ring of Honor award is a lifetime achievement award for an NTCA Contractor or Associate Member, and is given to individuals who have impacted the industry through active participation, devotion and support of the mission and objectives of the organization.

TCAA awarded the 2017 Carl V. Cesery Award to Ed Metcalf, president and COO, Laticrete. CTDA bestowed the 2017 Hall of Fame award to Tom Carr, president of Pan American Ceramics. TCNA also presented the 2018 Lifelong Service to the Industry Award to Steve Taylor, director of architecture and technical marketing, Custom Building Products.

The next edition of TSP will be held October 27-30, 2018, at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas.