As a material, tile comes with a price tag starting at $1.25 on up to hundreds of dollars per square foot. This is pretty obvious when you have the material in hand. What is not so obvious is the labor cost involved for the tile you are looking at. Our first thought is that the cost to install tile is a flat rate no matter what tile we choose. This is a mistake.
Floor and Wall Patterns
If you want to have your tile installed in a pattern, the floor on a diagonal for example, your investment goes up. When tile is installed 90-degrees to the room, tile edges will line up with the wall; when the pattern is put on a diagonal, every tile that meets the wall will need to be cut. This requires more material and more time for the installer to make these cuts. As such, you will be looking at paying more.
The more intricate the pattern, the more time the installer will need to take during the install and the more expensive the project.
Odd Shaped Tile
The same thing applies to any tile that is not rectangular in shape. Where floor meet the wall, every tile will need to be cut.
Mosaics are typically 1×1 tiles and come on a 12×12 mesh sheet. These can be relatively easy to install. But… here it comes. If you are looking at a tile that is a hexagon you will want to be sure that the tile line carries “points.” Points are pre-cut portions of the tile. Remember, when you get to the wall you will need 1/2 of a 1″ piece of tile to fill the void. Paying for your tile expert to cut 1″ pieces of tile is going to add up in a hurry. If the tile doesn’t come with points and you really love it but don’t want pay your tile setter for the additional tile, you may opt to have the 1/2″ void grouted in. Once the baseboard is installed it will be hardly noticeable.
Large Format Tile
Large format tile is anything over 12″x12″. Large format tile is quickly gaining in popularity, and for good reason. Why look at grout lines when you could be looking at a pretty tile?
However, the gaps between tiles is where installers find room for adjustment. Perhaps the room isn’t perfectly square (most rooms aren’t perfectly square) or the wall/floor isn’t perfectly flat (most walls/floors aren’t perfectly flat), adjustments made in small increments are undetectable to the eye and, at the same time, hides the imperfections of the room’s construction. (The reason why old homes feature mosaic floors is more than just a design statement.)
Now, compare the installation of a 12×24 versus a 12×12. Instead of making an adjustment every foot you are making an adjustment every 2 feet, this doubles the adjustment. What may have been 1/16″ adjustment is now 1/8″ – and it is no longer undetectable. However, if the adjustment isn’t made, your room will look out of square.
Every contractor wants repeat business and they aren’t keen on a shoddy looking room. The resolution is to start with as near perfect room as you can. This means more shimming, more skimming and possibly even a coat of self leveling floor compound. This prep work is time-consuming.
If you are installing large format tile on the walls you can expect an added layer of cost. The larger the tile, the heavier it is. When working with small tiles, an entire wall can be set at once. As the tiles get heavier, the more they want to slide down the wall. Bottom rows of tiles need to set and cure before you can add height. Your installer may only be able to set a few rows of tile (or just one row of tile it is very large tile) per day.
You may be trying to pinch your pennies during this economy. In the past, there was a vast price gap between porcelain tile and ceramic. Today, the difference in price is negligible. For durability and longevity, invest in the porcelain. And then, keep your tile rectangular and 12×12 or under in size. Nothing feels worse than to buy a tile on clearance thinking you’re getting a deal, just to find out it will cost you double in labor… and when it comes to tile, the labor is usually the more expensive portion of the project.
As a side note, if you are looking for something truly unique but want to keep life simple for your tile setter, there are companies that will precut extensive tile patterns. Your contractor can provide to this kind of company your tile and your pattern. If you have a unique shaped tub of shower base, you contractor can give them a scribe or pattern of the shapes and they can cut your tiles to fit. This will not only be a cleaner look, but may also be less expensive than having your contractor cut each piece on the jobsite.
January 2011 – Stephanie Bullwinkel, CBD