How to Choose a Tiler
Our experts give their top tips on finding the perfect professional, choosing your tiles and what can go wrong
So how do you pick the right pro and what are the conversations to have before the tile cutter comes out? We asked three experts where to start.
Professional advice from: Cat Hoad of Absolute Project Management; Amy Shirlaw of Amy Shirlaw Interiors; Ruth Webber of Bert & May
Also in this series: How to Choose a Cabinet-maker l How to Choose an Interior Designer l How to Choose an Architect l How to Choose an Electrician l How to Choose a Kitchen Designer l How to Choose a Plumber
“Tiling requires total attention to detail: ensuring each tile is positioned exactly, as well as looking at the bigger picture – where ‘cuts’ will look best or most innocuous,” Cat Hoad says.
“Tiling also needs experience – using the right sort of prep for the specific sort of tile you’re using,” she continues. “For example, if you put adhesive on with a rake, that’s fine with a solid tile, but if you’re using a see-through glass tile, you’ll see the rake marks through it.”
It’s easy to think of tiles as just decorative, but don’t forget they have a practical, protective function also, says Amy Shirlaw. “Tiling is a fixture – securely attached directly to the wall or floor,” she says. “The worst thing that could go wrong is the tiles failing to properly act as a protective surface, which could lead to water damage and a whole world of other problems.”
As with any professional, ask lots of questions before you book your tiler to ensure they understand the job and expectations. Also ask to see examples of their work.
Have a frank conversation about what you want and see how they react. “Gauging how they are with certain tile patterns and materials is important,” Amy says.
“Often, there’s a good reason why they don’t rate certain tile patterns, so it’s worth getting their input. You can dismiss it if it’s just down to personal preference, but often their experience and insight should give you pause for thought.”
Cat adds, “Verify the tiler has experience of using the sort of tiles you’ve chosen and fitting to the surface you’re using.”
You can use Houzz to find local tilers. Browse their profiles, take a look at their projects, read reviews and more. You could also contact the Concierge team, who will find the best professionals to match your job.
“[Watch out for] the tiler not asking any questions on specific details, especially if it’s a small, detailed or irregular-shaped tile,” Cat says.
Amy adds, “For me, it’s feeling out how flexible they can be. Bathroom and kitchen refits are fraught with the unforeseen due to the nature of pulling everything back to the bare bones.
“It’s also worth checking how happy they are with the other trades you’re working with to see if they can work alongside each other, should any remedial work come up.”
Ruth Webber advises checking the tiler thinks you have enough tiles. “It’s important to order more than the quantity you expect you’ll need: usually around 15% to 20% more than your total square footage. This ensures there are extras for where tiles need to be cut for edges and corners, or if any are damaged,” she says.
“We particularly recommend ordering extra if you’re working with unique, reclaimed tiles, as once they go out of stock, it’s unlikely you’ll find more of the same design.”
“The main problems are scruffy cutting, and not minimising cuts or making sure they occur in an innocuous place,” Cat says. “Also, [the tiler] not being experienced or skilled enough to cope with uneven tiles such as zellige [a type of handcrafted tile].”
Uneven spacing is another potential disappointment, as well as your tiler not thinking through how to do angles then filling big gaps with silicone.
Amy adds, “Bad positioning can be disappointing, wasteful and an expensive headache to remedy. To avoid this, I believe you should be at the property when the tiling is happening, as there may be on-the-spot decisions to be made.”
Cat agrees, but acknowledges this may not go down well and instead suggests, “Make expectations clear in advance, especially with angles or trims, and ask to check soon after the tiles are stuck but not yet grouted, so there’s maximum opportunity to rectify anything that’s wrong.”
Any tile that needs a pattern lined up or is an unusual shape is going to be tricky. Encaustic tiles in particular have a reputation for being difficult.
“Encaustic tiles are great because they’re low-maintenance and hardwearing,” Ruth says. “However, they need to be properly sealed in order to be water resistant, and can be a little more challenging to install than porcelain or ceramic tiles. We advise letting your tiler know in advance that they’ll be working with encaustic tiles.
“Working with someone who’s experienced in laying encaustic tiles will help to avoid any issues with cutting or sealing incorrectly, which can leave the finished look being not quite as slick as you’d like,” she continues. “Ensuring that the pre-installation preparation is done to a high standard is also important, as well as using the correct grouting materials.”
“Big tiles in poky British homes are especially tricky,” Amy says. “The large-tile look is gorgeous and can be savvy for budget and cleaning purposes, but only when used in the correct sized and shaped room. British homes, especially bathrooms, are normally carved into awkward, small shapes, which means extra-large square tiles don’t get the chance to shine. They frequently have to be cut down to size, meaning wasted product and losing the effect you want.”
“Combining tiles of different sizes is also hard,” she says. “Two 10cm-wide tiles won’t line up with one 20cm-wide tile, for instance, because of the thickness of the grout lines in the middle.”
More: How to Choose a Kitchen Designer
Don’t leave this to chance – discuss it early on with your tiler to ensure you’re on the same page. “You should have edgings and grout considered before a tiler turns up,” Amy says. “They are just as important to the overall look and feel.”
Cat suggests checking which trim will be used. “[It’s a problem] using cheap, bulky plastic tile trims with expensive tiles, so all you notice is the trim,” she says. “The grout is surprisingly important,” she continues. “For example, with white tiles you could have white or dark grout, and the effect would be quite different.
“Silicone is also important,” she continues. “There are different colours available, and it can be applied in a slim or thick line. Make sure this detail has been covered with the tiler, as beautiful tiles can be ruined when silicone isn’t applied well or in the right colour.”
Also consider the detail you want where tiles meet other floor finishes; there are lots of different threshold options. “Generally, tilers have moved away from chrome or plastic options,” Ruth says, “and metal trims can be coordinated with taps or other features in the kitchen, such as brass.
“The other option is to paint the exposed edges of the tile once installed,” she says. “Encaustic tiles are porous, so we recommend avoiding the surface of the tiles until they’re sealed. A coat of primer and your choice of colour generally works well.”
More: How to Care for Encaustic Cement Tiles
“Give the tiler a clear plan for how you want your tiles to be laid in advance,” Ruth says. “For example, if you have a bespoke tessellation in mind, lay it out for them and discuss which tiles might need to be cut for the edges, and which you want in full. Taking photos of the tiles laid out in the pattern that you want can be really helpful and will give the tiler a reference to go back to.”
Amy adds, “Be realistic about how a certain pattern in your space will be achieved – chequerboard and diamond patterns may look similar, but they’ll have very different install times.”
Most importantly, she adds, have a clear and honest discussion with your tiler right from the quote process to the first day on site.
“People should bear in mind that very big tiles will be heavy, so might cost a lot in labour to fit,” Cat says. “This is especially the case if they’re thick and, say, 1m square, in which case, they might need two people to lift and position them.
“Note also,” she adds, “that very cheap tiles may be difficult to cut, as they can break easily, which will increase the amount of waste and time the job takes.”
What tiling lessons have you learned doing past renovations? Share your experiences in the Comments.