Five Key Decisions for Any Tiling Project


by Marcus Pickett

Tile is a great flooring material and by far the most popular choice for bathroom and kitchen spaces. Yet, it's also full of choices that will impact the final value of your project and your own personal satisfaction with the installation. Here are five key decisions that can have make-or-break consequences for your new tile.

1. Stone vs. Ceramic Tile

Truthfully, this is probably the least important of the five decisions, but it's the one homeowners seem to struggle with the most. Stone has beautiful, natural textures. Ceramic has a nearly limitless number of color choices. Stone is stronger and more resistant to chipping. Ceramic is less porous and more resistant to stains. Stone tile has a tighter setting, reducing the amount of grout exposed to dirt and stress. Stone is more expensive, but not prohibitively so with the average job costing $2,083. The average ceramic tile installation costs $1,912. One additional option is to go for porcelain tile, a particularly strong and durable form of ceramic. But porcelain is a bit more expensive and often comparable to stone tile prices. Thus, the decision is a tough one, and while there may not be a perfect choice, there's also rarely a bad one.

2. Standard vs. Custom-Sized Tile

Standard tile is 12"x 12" or sometimes 13"x 13". Manufacturers stay in this sweet spot for most of their tile products for more reasons than just the cost-saving measures of mass production. Tiles much smaller than 12"x 12" take seemingly forever to set. Cutting the tile size in half, for example, to 6"x 6" actually quadruples the number of tiles needed to cover the same area. Tile contractors have a similar loathing for extra large tiles. Subflooring must be immaculately level to avoid raised edges that create both eyesores and tripping hazards. Large tiles might be warranted for smaller bathrooms to make the space look bigger, but you also need at least a three-tile setting in each direction. Smaller tiles can provide a richer texture and more decorative options, but are usually too confining for small spaces and too expensive for large spaces.

3. Multiple Colors, Shapes, or Inserts

Many of the best-looking tile floors include some type of decorative flair. Multi-colored tile patterns, non-square patterns made from pentagons, hexagons, etc., tile inserts, or secondary border tile can become the featured component of a bathroom or kitchen remodel. Nowhere else are the stakes higher for your tile installation than these design decisions. The cost difference of tile material pales in comparison. It's not unusual for inserts, such as "dots" in the joints between some tiles, to cost $20 to $40 per insert. For a large tile installation, these inserts cost just as much as the rest of the tile project, effectively doubling the cost of the project. Yet the stunning visual effects frequently justify the cost. Ask your contractor about computer software that will allow you to visualize the end result so you can make the best decision possible about this extra cost

4. Epoxy vs. Cement-Based Grout

Epoxy grout is stronger, more durable, and more stain-resistant than cement-based grout. But it's a dicey proposition because it's difficult to apply and the consequences can ruin your entire tile installation. Due to shortened drying times, it's more difficult to remove excess grout, and the same durability that impresses homeowners also means mistakes are permanent, unless you're willing to rip out the tile entirely. Plus, with a solid tile setting and strong, double-coated sealer, cement-based grout should still last up to 50 years or more. Although the epoxy versus cement grout is one of the more debated topics among tile professionals, you'll have several other grout decisions to make along the way. For example, colored grout, with its affinity for disguising dirt, is growing in popularity each year. There are also minor variations in quality and warranty guarantees from various manufacturers.

5. Choosing a Grout Sealer

This decision is not as dichotomous or exciting as the rest, but it's no less important. Grout sealer fills in the porous spaces of your tile and grout, allowing dirt and contaminants to stay on top of tile surfaces until you get a chance to sweep and mop your floors. Some sealers are specifically designed to repel water; others repel both water and oil-based spills. Some sealers will be eroded by cleaning solutions; others will allow you to use almost whatever you want to clean your tile. Some sealers are expected to last five to 10 years; others can last upwards of 15 to 20 years depending on foot traffic and diligent cleaning. Some sealers have higher levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than others. Of course, your tile contractor can and should help you find the right sealer for your tile installation, but there may be more than one right answer and the final decision is yours. Moreover, your tile and grout choices will often dictate the type of sealer you need - epoxy grout eliminates the need for sealer entirely - so make sure all your t's are crossed and your i's dotted before the first tile is installed.

-- Marcus Pickett is a senior home improvement writer with He has written more than 1200 articles on managing your home and home improvement trends.