Even if you’re working with a top-notch tile installer, you still need to set them up for success with the proper materials. While every contractor follows a different process, Jeppsen often has his clients pick out their own tile, but he always provides feedback on whether the materials will be suitable for the intended application. While his clients select their own grout color, he handles selecting the correct type of grout.
However, you might be tasked with choosing your own grout or your own tile, and picking the right material is crucial for your success. When selecting grout, you need to consider the size of the grout joint before deciding between sanded grout and unsanded grout. Sanded grout has a more polished appearance, but it’s prone to shrinking and cracking, so it should only be used if tile spacing is less than 1/8 inch. Above that, you should use unsanded grout, which is less likely to shrink or crack.
Tile, as well, has a lot of variation. You’ll need to make sure that the tile you choose is specifically recommended for the application in which you’re hoping to use it. In the description, you’ll be able to see manufacturer guidance, like whether a tile is for wall and backsplash use only or if a tile is non-vitreous (absorption of more than 7% water) meaning it is appropriate only for indoor use. Heed these manufacturer guidelines or risk heartbreak when your tile fails.
Additionally, the quality of your tile does have an impact on the end look. For example, choosing a higher-quality tile may ensure you’ll see fewer sheet lines if you use a mesh-backed tile.
If you do need to cut costs on the tile itself, Ethan Randolph, a contractor specializing in tile work in Springfield, Missouri, says a quality tile installer can still succeed with subpar tile by correctly prepping the area.
“An experienced installer will be able to know how to tackle the potential challenges that can arise with a product that’s more on the economic side,” Randolph says. “But what really determines whether a tile job is going to be a pass or a fail is the prep of the area. If you take more time trying to get that area leveled and remove random debris, it’s going to go a long way with whatever tile you select being a success — even if it’s on the cheaper side. It’s better than trying to get really nice tile to make up for some of those differences.”
While there isn’t an official tile grading system in terms of tile quality, the Porcelain Enamel Institute established a 1-5 grading system to help you determine whether a tile is intended for high-traffic flooring areas or for backsplash use only. The higher the number, the more durable the tile.