How to choose the right tile 

3 easy steps to pick your perfect tile

Written by: Matthew Sandoval

Choosing the correct tile for the job is critical to the success of your project. While some may see this as a chore, it is a creative, fun experience that allows you to express yourself. Follow this guide before you hit the showrooms to avoid the stress and uncertainly that many feel while choosing their tile.

Location and use

With so many applications of tile out there, there is a material for every use. How do you know if the tile is suitable for your application? It's pretty simple, actually. Tile manufactures use several classifications that rate the material in fields like porosity, density, and shade variation. I know, it seems like a chore but it will save you a lot of time and money in the future if you do a little research, or ask the right questions in the showroom. 

Things are about to get technical.

Here is a few of the ratings most tile will come with. I've included what I believe to be the most important when considering your material. 

Shade Variation (V-Rating)  Tile manufactures use this rating to convey how much variation you can expect for a particular tile. The ratings go from V0-V4.

V0= Very little or no shade differences from one tile to another

V4=Extreme difference in texture, color, or appearance tile to tile

Water Absorption (ASTM C373) This scale refers to the porosity (how much water will go through) the tile. Its rated is percentage based. The ratings go from .5% to 7% and more. 

Impervoise tile= <.5% (the least porous)

Non Vitreous= >7% (water easily passes through it)

Scratch Hardness MOH hardness scale that measures how easily a tile will scratch. The scale is measured from 1 (talc) with is the most scratch prone to 10 (diamond) being the most resistant.

If you are looking for a tile with specific qualities, these scales are a must to pay attention to. They give a great picture of how the material will perform over time. 

If you want a simple guide of which tile to pick for your location, here are some basics to consider

1) Almost all ceramic tiles are only rated for walls. (we're not talking about porcelain, which is ceramic that has been vitrified) This is because they are usually thin (less than 3/8") and are made from compressed clay. Only use ceramics on the a floor if they have been rated for floors, even then, be cautious. 

2) Natural stone requires A LOT more continued care. Yup, sealing, cleaning, and sealing again. Stones like marble are extremely soft and scratch easily. While beautiful, be ready for the continued expense. They also have natural veins that are week spots, so they will be the first to crack or break if there is any movement in the structure, or close care wasn't taken during installation. 

3) Handmade tiles are not uniform. They vary greatly from tile to tile with thickness, color, and texture. If you're looking for clean crisp tiles, these may not be for you. They aren't supposed to be perfect, they showcase the raw, hand made beauty that makes them so popular.

4) Porcelain tile is VERY tough stuff. They are dense, don't stain, and last a lifetime (with proper installation) These are almost always rated for walls and floor.

While considering the use and area the tile will be installed, please consider the ratings that are given to it. Most reputable showrooms are pretty knowledgeable if you get lost along the way.

 

Budget

That's right, the dreaded cost. For whatever reason, I find more often than not prospective clients are somewhat skidish about this topic. There's nothing to fear, everybody has their personal preference to what their willing to invest in their tile finishes. (an honest contractor will work with you to stay on budget) There are so many factors that can effect the total price (brands, location, shipping, etc) that it can be hard to judge cost of material. It's ok, here are some things to consider when trying to budget for material cost. 

1) Mosaics are expensive While mosaics are usually necessary in shower pans because of the slope, they cost much more than field tile (larger tile that is used on the majority of the walls) Take a common tile I use on projects, a 12x24 porcelain tile. My cost is around $5 per square foot. The exact same tile cut into 2x2's (a mosaic) cost $17.50 per square foot. on top of material cost, consider the labor to install them, they are much more expensive. If you find a beautiful mosaic you must have, consider doing a feature strip or a smaller inlay. 

2) Patterned tile A lot of designers today are picking patterned tile. While they can define a space and give it character, it can cost much more. You can find some that are discounted online, but be aware, there may be a reason. Some tile patterns, such as the Versailles pattern, uses multiple tiles to create a pattern. Expect to pay more both in material and labor for installation. 

3) Natural $tone No, that wasn't a typo. Stone is simply more expensive than it's man made counterpart. It has a lot to do with the mining process, and the extra steps that are needed to polish it. Take into consideration the extra handling and setting of the material you're budget must allow.

4) Where you buy While some tile can be found for the same price at multiple locations, it's becoming increasingly rare. If you find a pattern or type of tile you want, I advise you to shop around. Almost all showrooms will give you a sample, use that to try and find something comparable down the street. 

5) Contractor Discount Every place I use offers a contractors discount. While some contractors see this as another revenue stream, it doesn't hurt to ask if you're getting the tile cheaper than retail. 

6) Don't be afraid to ask When I go shopping for a client, the first thing I do at the showroom is tell them my budget. Don't be hesitant, as many of the salesman are just that, salesman. Tell them the cost per foot you've budgeted for tile. They will be more than happy to help. It's a lot better than the alternative, to have them pick out a tile only to find out it's beyond your budget. 

To summarize staying on budget, follow these six steps and remember to not only consider the cost of the material, but potential labor cost to install it. 

Your Taste

While I truly believe in designers and helping people find just the right colors and textures, it has its limits. I've seen it so many times it's like a terrible re-run. People put a lot of faith in professionals, and for good reasons. What I have issues with is when their taste ins't your taste. Sure, they may have the trendiest ideas, but are they yours? Good design takes into consideration the clients needs. 

Tile is a permanent finish in your house. It is expensive, luxurious, and resists the effects of time. With that, comes a certain responsibility to yourself. Before you give the OK for the purchase, take a minuet. Go get some Dutch Bro's and really consider if you like the material picked out. 

Location and use, budget, and taste

 

Those are the ingredients that make a well informed and stress free experience. You don't need me anymore, hit the showroom with confidence!

Infinite colors. Infinite textures. Don't rush to the finish line, enjoy the process. Let the material become an extension of you, a beautiful, timeless reflection of self. There is a tile for you, you just have to find it. 

 
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