How to Shop for Tile

How to Shop for Tile

Sarah Coffey
May 1, 2012

Anyone who’s renovated a kitchen or bathroom knows how confusing it can be to navigate the world of tile, so we thought we'd try and give you a map. This resource guide runs through the basics of buying tile, including size, style, and price.

Choosing a Tile Size

Larger tiles are easier to install; smaller tiles are better for surfaces that require more detail. Measure your area, then call a tile shop or take your measurements in for an exact breakdown of how much tile you'll need for your project.

For a mosaic pattern, try smaller tiles, like 1-inch squares (usually available in larger, mesh-backed sheets of 12 x 12 inches). Classic rectangular subway tile generally measures around 3 x 6 inches. Other popular standard sizes include 4-1/4 inch squares, 8 inch squares, and larger squares or rectangles (up to 20 square inches) for flooring.

9c8decee4eecbd9ccb06d03ab63991d9cb316f47. w.94 h.71 s.centercrop Modwalls
For colorful 1 x 1-inch mosaic tiles, ModWalls is a good resource. They have an extensive selection of glass blends and porcelain penny round tile, as well as plenty of online examples of real-life installations.

d8ffc8f267de475c670e2dc719df31b335fb6227. w.94 h.71 s.centercrop Subway Ceramics
For a big selection of classic subway and hex tile in a few different sizes, try online store Subway Ceramics. They specialize in reproductions of early 20th Century American subway tile, which tends to have very thin grout lines and a flat, simple surface.

c47b84ff6c683273f370c398d612b9f44a773bbe. w.94 h.71 s.centercrop Stone Source
For larger tiles, try a store that specializes in flooring. Stone Source has a wide range of large-format tiles in marble, limestone, slate, and ceramic. They have an online shop, as well as locations in New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Jersey, and Washington, DC.

Choosing a Material

Tile is widely available in ceramic, stone, and glass, with more and more companies adding high-tech synthetics and other materials to their lines.

Stone (like marble, slate, or travertine) is the heaviest and it's often used for flooring. Ceramic tile is durable, works for floors and walls, and offers the greatest range of options for color and pattern. Glass tile has a lovely translucency, and it's great for mosaics, backsplashes, and decorative applications.

b130c990fd1db57e9d9f96d923d3f3007bcbeb00. w.94 h.71 s.centercrop Ann Sacks Tile & Stone
Glazed ceramic tile is waterproof and easy to care for, which makes it well-suited to kitchens and bathrooms. Fired at higher temperatures than regular ceramic, porcelain is denser and more durable. For a wide range of styles, check out Ann Sacks' designer lines.

bb9b588e05818b691bb0756c0ef63c74ba31d934. w.94 h.71 s.centercrop Trend
Mosaic tiles are defined as anything less than 6 inches square, and they can be made of ceramic, glass, or even metal. Mosaic tile is usually sold in mesh-backed sheets—sometimes pre-grouted. International manufacturer Trend uses post-consumer recycled glass for their mosaics.

fc29494658df83570f134e5fa7393d63ae25b33c. w.94 h.71 s.centercrop The Tile Shop
Stone tile is quarried straight from the earth, and its natural texture is one if its main selling points. Polished stone is glossy, while honed stone has a matte finish. For a big online selection of natural stone and marble tile, we like the Tile Shop.

High or Low?

Tile can vary widely in price, and it can be hard to tell the difference between high and low options. Generally, more expensive ceramic tile is richer in pigment, sometimes it's hand painted or hand glazed, and it may be denser.

When shopping for flooring, PEI rating is important, as it indicates the durability (or hardness) of the tile, Grade 1 being the least long-wearing (recommended only for walls and low-traffic spaces) and Grade 5 being the most durable (for flooring that experiences really high traffic). Price can also depend on the complexity of the design and the cachet of the brand.

b8eed4542a40d55977c1562c35a37aa1a4e7bf55. w.94 h.71 s.centercrop Home Depot
If you're on a budget, try an inexpensive brand like Dal-Tile at Home Depot — they carry a 3x6 subway tile called "Rittenhouse Square" that runs about $4/sf. The difference in quality usually appears in the glaze, which is flatter and thinner around the edges than higher-end brands.

0590773461f70dc5edac552e07dc900071761234. w.94 h.71 s.centercrop Heath Ceramics
This company's ceramic tile is hand-glazed, which gives it really rich color and variation. They carry basic square and rectangular shapes, as well as made-to-order dimensional tile with a textured surface. Prices start around $17 per square foot for the most basic lines.

bf0c35831a7952bd974c717c7ab30fce9f314e1e. w.94 h.71 s.centercrop Hakatai Glass Tile
Hakatai, a company that specializes in glass tile, has a large online inventory, including lots of recycled glass options. You can find several lines of good quality around $10 per square foot, and their color selection is broad.

Photo: Lush 3x6 Surf Tile from ModWalls

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