Which tile you choose depends on your budget, your style and how you need your space to function. Keep in mind that tile installation is complex, and many pros received lousy feedback in Checkbook’s surveys of consumers. Be sure to hire a reputable installer and to get several bids for the work to ensure you’re getting a fair price. Until June 1, Washington Post readers can access Checkbook’s tile installer ratings free of charge via Checkbook.org/WashingtonPost/tile.
You wouldn’t don thin long-johns to ski down a mountain, so don’t pick tile that’s too easily scratched or permeable to cover your walls, floors or countertops. Most tile store staffers can advise you on which tiles fit certain spots. For example, those frosted green glass tiles may look gorgeous, but you may want to save them for your kitchen backsplash, not on a high-traffic floor where they are likely to crack. Marble boasts classic shine and luminosity, but know it can stain and crumble if it’s installed on kitchen counters.
You can also ask about the Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) rating guide, which rates tiles on a traffic-ready scale of 1 to 5, with PEI 1 tiles (e.g. an etched glass tile) only recommended for indoor wall usage. On the other hand, you can use extremely durable PEI 5 tiles outdoors or in highly used industrial settings. Most boxes of tile are labeled according to their best usages, too.
A material whirl
What your tile is made of is largely a matter of personal preference and budget. Crave a sleek, contemporary look? Consider larger, slab-style marble tiles for a bathroom wall and floor. Craving a rustic-style kitchen? Encaustic (cement) tiles in a Med-cool print could summon a welcoming vibe. You can even find leather and metal tiles, though the former are not suited for rooms with dampness or for most floors.
Keeping up with trends (or not)
Tile styles, like other household finishes, change more quickly these days thanks to Pinterest, blogs and a design-hungry populace. It’s helpful to stay current, especially if you plan on selling your home in the next 5 to 10 years.
A few things to know: Foot-square tiles aren’t as common as they were in the 1980s and 1990s; now you are more likely to find 1920s-throwback penny mosaic tiles, four-inch hexagons or even jumbo-size rectangles (18 by 36 inches) meant to mimic wood plank floors. And if your taste leans toward traditional, or you live in a historic house, you can’t go wrong if you stick to tried-and-true styles like black-and-white basket weave and subway tiles (nope, they aren’t going anywhere despite their ubiquity).
What’s your budget?
You can spend a lot on tile (some mosaic styles at haute showroom Ann Sacks cost more than $600 a square foot) or a little (subway tiles can run as little as 77 cents apiece at Home Depot). Many inexpensive tiles look terrific when installed well; some expensive styles (mosaics, rare marbles) might be worth it in smaller areas or if you really want a design punch.
Some floor tiles get slippery when wet (a potentially dangerous issue in kitchens and bathrooms). Untreated marble styles can be treacherous, and the larger the size of your tiles of any kind, the higher the chance they will make you go head over heels in a bad way.
The industry uses two measurements: the SCOF (static coefficient of friction) and the DCOF (dynamic coefficient of friction). You will want a SCOF score of 0.6 or greater and a DCOF score of 0.42 or greater. Or you can usually look on the box of tile or ask a store pro for help; you need a tile that is suitable for floor applications. And smaller tiles are also a good way to combat slick surfaces — the larger amount of grout makes them, for lack of a better term, grippier.
Longer shelf life with some colors
Tiles come in as many colors as J. Crew sweaters now. If you like bright red or neon green, there’s probably a style you can buy or special order. But classic colors — whites, grayish-veined marble, black-and-white basket weaves — have a longer shelf life and are better for resale. And much like in fashion, mixing neutrals and brights can have a dramatic effect: Think gray marble floors in a kitchen with a rainbow-colored, Mexican-tile backsplash.
You’d better shop around
When you zero-in on a type of tile, be sure to check at least three sources on pricing. Checkbook’s undercover price shoppers found prices ranging from $1.76 per square foot to $5.34 per square foot for Daltile’s 3-by-6 subway tiles.
Considering size and scale
Smaller tiles — 2-by-3 subway styles, penny tiles — can create a lovely effect in a small powder room. In a larger space, say a basement den, large wood-look tiles could mimic wide-oak flooring.
Jennifer Barger is a contributor to Washington Consumers’ Checkbook and Checkbook.org, a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. It is supported by individual members and takes no money from the service providers it evaluates. You can access Checkbook’s ratings of local service providers free of charge until June 1 at Checkbook.org/WashingtonPost/tile.
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