What You Need to Know before Your Tile is Installed

by Marcus Pickett

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One of the most popular materials for kitchens, bathrooms, and flooring, tile may seem like a relatively easy project to plan, but the simple tile and grout formula comes with thousands of permutations that will affect the tile's decorative appeal, installation cost, and longevity and versatility. Before you go any further, stop and find out what you need to know before your tile is installed.

Basic Tiling Choices
Two of the most basic choices are tiling material and tiling size. Ceramic tile is known for its resistance to stain and colorful applications. Stone tile is better known for its strength and classic textures. But, as much time as homeowners spend on this basic tiling choice, it rarely makes or breaks a tiling project. Including installation, the average cost of a ceramic and porcelain tile is $1,912, while the average cost of stone tile is $2,083. Moreover, the percentage of consumers who would recommend their tile project and contractor to someone else also reveals a negligible difference with ceramic and porcelain registering a 94.9 percent satisfaction rate and stone at 95.4 percent.

Tiling size can also create a variety of different decorative effects and installation costs. Fortunately, 12"x12" tiles are great for most projects, relatively easy to install, and are reasonably priced. Choose a tile that is smaller or larger and extra costs generally apply. Small tiles require additional time and patience to set the tile. A 6"x6" tile actually quadruples the number of tiles and the time it takes to set them. At the same time, larger tiles are more difficult to set evenly, as subflooring must be perfectly level to avoid raised or lowered edges.

Patterns, Accents, and Costs
There's no denying the visual appeal of a tile installation. "Nothing looks better than new tile," says Billy Emerson from Vinita, OK. Yet, the best tile applications usually involve a decorative eye with a careful balance to meet your budgetary demands. Going into a tile project, many homeowners appreciate neither the difference a border, insert, or patterned accent can make nor the extra cost such accents will add to the installation. Dot inserts, for example, create a beautiful accent to your tile, but at substantially higher costs. Including these accents intermittently on your floor may not be a huge deal, but some inserts can cost $20-$40 a cut. If you include 100 or more such inserts—which is by no means unheard of—you can pay $4,000 for this single tile accent.

Avoid going on a roller coaster ride in which you quickly decide to upgrade a homogenous tile pattern, only to realize you can't afford your "dream" tile. Chances are you'll find yourself frustrated and more likely to make a poor final decision. Consider, from the very beginning, both your budget and your desire for decorative flair. Basic variations and permutations generally won't entail thousands of dollars of extra costs but can still add remarkable charm to your tile.

Grout, Sealant, and Tile Philosophies
Even experienced tiling contractors can frequently disagree about the best way to go about installing tile. Epoxy grouts offer unquestioned longevity but with considerable drawbacks. The mistakes are hard to fix, and if you ever want to change the tile, it's a mess. Plus, as long as it's done right with a good sealant application, there is no reason to think you won't have a tile installation that will last for 40, 50, or 60 years with a cement-based grout. If you're confident about your choice of tile, your tile contractor can use epoxy, but you should make sure the contractor will fix the installation if the tile is twisted or doesn't otherwise meet your satisfaction.

More than just basic tile installation, different philosophies also exist for those committed to environmentally-friendly projects. Although correct application of a responsibly manufactured epoxy grout product isn't exactly going to make the heavens melt into a toxic sludge, epoxy's chemical base doesn't lend itself to an environmentally-friendly label. Yet, many tile contractors recommend an epoxy grout in combination with recycled glass tile, commonly considered one of the "greenest" tiling materials.

Your Vision Lies in the Details
Most homeowners have a loose vision, or general idea, of what they want from their tile, but the overall success of getting what you want for the price you can afford lies in the details. Ironing out these details involves looking at what's out there from tile manufacturers and soliciting and listening to the wisdom of professional tile contractors. You can't start this process too early, but you can get too far into a tiling project without considering these details. Know what your options are and the consequences of your choices before the first tile hits the floor.

Marcus Pickett is a professional freelance writer for the home remodeling industry. He has published more than 600 articles on both regional and national topics within the home improvement industry.