The San Diego International Airport, located three miles northwest of downtown San Diego, CA, is home of the busiest single-runway commercial airport in the U.S. and second busiest in the world. The airport has 465 scheduled operations carrying 48,000 passengers per day. Due to this high level of airport traffic, the airport authority decided to renovate the SAN Terminal 2 East of the airport and needed a tile and crew that could work quickly at night.

According to Mike Micalizzi, the senior director of technical services of Custom Building Products in Huntington Beach, CA, a previous installation the airport experienced was very problematic and couldn’t stand up to its service conditions. Because of that experience, the airport authority was determined to find the best solution possible.

“As part of their due diligence, multiple material suppliers, including Custom, presented their assembly system to the entire authority management, including maintenance,” said Micalizzi. “There were many questions and discussions. This type of interview is rare in our industry. Typically there’s a specification written; a low bidder gets awarded the project and many times lower-priced products are used; and maintenance plans are undefined until there’s a problem. During the presentation, Custom was able to explain our extensive assembly testing with Wausau Terrazzo Tile for a fast-track installation. This included surface preparation using a high-strength self-leveling underlayment, LevelQuik RS; a fast drying membrane to add protection against cracking from movement, RedGard Waterproofing and Crack Prevention Membrane; ProLite Rapid Setting Tile & Stone Mortar and rapid setting Prism Color Consistent Grout.”

Because the work had to be done in the off hours in a limited timeframe, and had to sustain the high foot traffic of the airport, Wausau Tile, located in Wausau, WI, was selected. “Our cement terrazzo tile combined with Custom’s system, allowed the flexibility the airport needed to keep any interruptions to their daily operations to a minimum.” said Mark Rounds, terrazzo division manager for Wausau. “Our tile is formulated and produced for high traffic projects nationwide just like the San Diego Airport.”

The project used 55,000 square feet of 24- x 24-inch x 5/8” thick cement terrazzo tile; the traditional pattern is Peppercorn and the micro terrazzo pattern is “Black of Night.” The project was installed by Christian Brothers Flooring & Interiors, Inc. of Lakeside, CA. Terrazzo tiles were chosen because of their durability, according to Micalizzi. “Terrazzo tiles are also very large and heavy,” he said. “ProLite mortar contains light-weight aggregate especially designed to resist sagging, so this made it easier for the installers to set the tiles flat to each other and set firmly in just a few hours. Tile flatness was critical to the airport authority because they didn’t want to hear luggage wheels clank between tiles or edges damaged due to lippage.”

In regards to the grout, the airport authority wanted the color to come out right the first time and Prism is designed to dry evenly. “Prism is also ready for traffic in just a few hours so the area could be open to travelers,” said Micalizzi. “With over 17 million passengers a year moving through the airport, you can image how busy those walkways were.”

Working with terrazzo tile

Each night, about 150 to 600 square feet of terrazzo tile was laid, depending on the complexity of the cuts in the airport. Unlike poured terrazzo, its tile counterpart is made at the Wausau facility, located in a separate building where they have a tile production process. “We bought a machine from Italy and seven very talented guys run it,” explained Rounds. “We have the capability of manufacturing custom colors, along with our standard color palette, which includes 100’s of colors of aggregates.  Our cement terrazzo tile is hydraulically pressed creating very high compressive strength and durability.  Along with multiple colors, we offer additional sizes of tile as well as accessories including wall base, stair treads, thresholds, etc.”

Wausau can produce the tile in three days, and in each eight-hour shift, can produce about 8,000 square feet of total tile. For the tile, any regular tile mortar can work, as long as it complies with ANSI 118.4 or ISO 13007 standards. “That’s the biggest part of our education,” said Rounds. “We don’t want installers to be afraid of it. There is nothing too difficult about installing a terrazzo tile that installs similar to a ceramic or porcelain. We also have a relationship with 3M to provide the initial protectant for our tile. It’s a very low-maintenance product with a great support system provided by 3M.

“Wausau’s cement tile is one solid mix all the way through in 5/8-inch thickness,” Rounds went on to say. “The benefit with a solid tile is that in 20 to 30 years down the road, if the tile gets dirty, dingy looking, or if they are not doing proper maintenance, you can re-grind the tile floor and bring it back to its original beauty, because the mix is all the way through.”

Facing challenges

Due to the amount of foot traffic in the airport, the airport’s schedule was non-negotiable. It required very rapid-curing, high-performance products. “The contractors were working under very challenging conditions,” said Micalizzi. “They were working off hours with a limited timeframe, moving themselves and materials through a very intensive airport security, traffic over and around their working areas, an existing substrate with areas needing repairs and an extensive tile pattern and floor pitches.

“The success and cost efficiencies of the San Diego Airport renovation have caused other airport officials to inquire about the tile installation system as an option for their specifications,” Micalizzi continued. “We hope that they also collaborate with us and the installers so they can have the same success story.”  cstd


San Diego Airport

SAN Terminal 2 East

San Diego, CA


Tile Supplier: Wausau Tile, Wausau, WI

Installation Products: Custom Building Products, Huntington Beach, CA