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Tips on Choosing Tile

The salesperson should have manufacturers’ specifications on all tile in the showroom and should at least be able to tell you whether a given tile is rated for use on floors, walls or countertops. If the tile you like is not rated for the use you have in mind, the salesperson should be able to direct you to a similar-looking tile that’s better suited to your needs.

Grading systems
You may also hear a tile retailer mention a tile’s grade. This refers to the grading system established by ANSI for tile sold in the United States, whether made in this country or elsewhere. This somewhat arbitrary grading system classifies tile as standard grade, second grade or decorative thin wall tile.

So-called standard-grade tile, which accounts for about 75% of all tile sold in the United States, is that which meets all the minimum requirements for tile established by ANSI. Second-grade tile is tile that is structurally equivalent to standard-grade tile, except that its glaze may have minor imperfections or its sizing may be slightly off from the specifications for that tile. Second-grade tile is less expensive than standard-grade tile, with much of it created as a manufacturer starts up production on a new run or changes equipment in the plant. Decorative thin wall tile is tile whose bisque and glaze are so fragile that it should not be put to any functional use, but should rather be reserved for decorating walls.

In addition to graded tile, there is a broad spectrum of ungraded tile whose production standards don’t match those established for standard-grade tile. This tile includes products of genuinely inferior quality as well as crudely made Mexican pavers and even Japanese tile of very high quality. Simply because a tile is ungraded, however, it should not be rejected out of hand.
For consumers in the United States, the PEI Wear Rating System (developed by the Porcelain Enamel Institute) offers a more practical approach to selecting tiles. The PEI system divides tile application into five groups:

GROUP I -Tiles suitable for residential bathrooms where soft footwear is worn.

GROUP II – Tiles suitable for general residential areas, except kitchens, entrance halls and other areas subjected to continuous heavy use.

GROUP III – Tiles suitable for all residential and light commercial areas.

GROUPIV – Tiles suitable for medium commercial and light institutional applications, such as restaurants, hotels and hospital lobbies.

GROUP V – Tiles suitable for heavy traffic and wet areas where safety and maximum performance are required, such as exterior walkways, food-service areas, building entrances and shopping centers.

No matter what grade of tile a customer selects, they can be the best judge of a tile’s suitability by taking home samples of the tile they like and putting them through a few tests of their own to see how they hold up. It’s only fair to tell the retailer of your plans first, though. Knowing this, the salesperson may or may not charge you for the samples, but will in any case be able to steer you away from tile that is fragile or inappropriate for your purposes.

To put a sample tile through its paces, try rubbing it with a favorite pot or frying pan to see how easily it’s marked up and, in turn, cleaned off. I also recommend scuffing it up with junior’s hiking boots and GROUP I tiles suitable for residential bathrooms where soft footwear is worn.

Shop around until you see the tile you like or find a shop that seems to want your business. Shopping for a beautiful material like tile can be fun and exciting. Don’t let an uncooperative salesperson spoil the experience.

Most retailers and distributors have a mix of customers that includes seasoned professionals, rank amateurs and everything in between. Regardless of where you fit on the ladder, look for tool loans or inexpensive rentals, seminars or workshops, personalized services and other signs that a retailer or distributor can support the customers’ needs.

Installation materials are a matter of personal choice, or regional preference. Make sure your supplier carries only those materials that bear the quality hallmark of the Tile Council of America, or another trusted source. Many suppliers are willing to review your plans and recommend the right materials from their inventory. If not, their competition will be happy to oblige you.

Matthew Millsap is a home improvement expert. He believes in consumer education. If you need more information or are looking for quality tips on choosing tile please visit