The biggest mistake that people make on their tile project is not spending as much time shopping for an installer as they do shopping for tile. Tile installation, especially when it comes to stone, glass, metal or other specialty tiles requires expertise and skill. To help you navigate the process of selecting a tile installer, here are five simple rules:

  1. Check with independent monitoring agencies. Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau maintain databases of tile contractors and installers, with ratings and reviews. These may not distinguish between the good and the great, but they’ll certainly steer you away from the worst.
  2. Ask for referrals from friends. Think about friends and neighbors who have done a kitchen or bath remodel and ask them what they thought of the tile contractor and if they have any concerns about their tile installation. Chances are they’ll have a good recommendation, with a couple of tips on how to work with the contractor (e.g. “He did a great job, we just had to keep on him about our deadline.”)
  3. Make sure they are licensed and bonded. Reputable tile contractors will be able to provide you with copies of current insurance and business licenses. If they refuse to provide the information, take your business elsewhere as it will mean that you have little recourse if something goes wrong.
  4. Ask for examples of similar work. There are major differences between installing ceramic tile and installing stone. Or between glass tile and porcelain. You don’t want to be the guinea pig for a tile installer who is using your project to learn how to install a new material. Ask the installer for pictures of installations he or she has done with the same type of material. In many cases, tile installers will have an image gallery on their website where you can see the types of installations they have done. Take the time to preview their work.
  5. Request a detailed quote (from more than one contractor). Although I have yet to meet a tile installer (or any contractor, for that matter) who enjoys paperwork, all of the reliable ones provide detailed quotes. Their quotes include a breakdown of material costs (underlayment, setting materials, tile, grout, sealer, etc) and labor (tear out and prep, installation, and finish work–if required).

Finally, a word to the wise about tile installation and remodeling projects. Never in the history of renovation has there been a job that went exactly as planned. There will always be at least one glitch, probably many. The best preparation for the unavoidable glitch is to underbudget by 10% in time and money, so that when the project takes 10% longer and is 10% more expensive, you’ll be right on target.