About Hiring a Tile, Marble & Stone Service Provider

Tile, marble and stone can transform a room. Marble kitchen counters make beautiful surfaces on which to work. Granite brings a dramatic flair to the bathroom, and carefully placed stones gives a fireplace earthy, Old World charm. Colorful, artistic tiles can brightly define the style of a kitchen—Spanish, French, Scandinavian. These materials come in a staggering range of types, qualities, shapes and colors. Tiles, for example, range in size from five-eighths of an inch square to one square foot and up. Marble can come in tile form or in slabs that can be as small or as large as you need. Slabs—pieces of stone larger than 24 inches square—can be cut in various sizes and shapes to fit the area.

Where Do I Start?

The kind of tile that you choose will depend on your specific needs. For example, if you are selecting tiles for a high-traffic area like an entryway or kitchen, you’ll want durable tiles that will not show wear and tear. If you are tiling your kitchen, you might consider a durable stone such as granite or a ceramic tile that is easy to clean and maintain. Smaller tiles tend to be used for decorative purposes because they are more laborious to install and harder to clean, while the larger tiles are used for more practical purposes such as covering a floor. Remember, each kind of tile has its advantages and drawbacks. The installer that you choose should be able to help you explore what kind of tile will work best for you.

Tiles, either manmade or natural, can be as plain as classic bathroom-white ceramic or as intricate as hand-painted/embossed pieces from Portugal. Manmade tiles are generally porcelain or ceramic and are durable and resistant to stains. Some manufacturers rate ceramic tile on a scale from 1 to 4+, from least to most durable. Porcelain is considered more durable than ceramic because porcelain is not glazed. Note that porcelain is actually a form of ceramic, but is fired at such high temperatures that it is more dense than the material labeled ceramic. Porcelain is vitreous, or glass-like—water cannot penetrate it—and this is one reason why porcelain is stronger than ceramic. Because of the firing process that ceramic tile undergoes, the color as well as the shape of the tile is permanent.

Natural Tile and Stone

Most natural tiles—such as marble, granite, limestone and slate—will last forever. That doesn’t mean it will look like new forever. Marble is one of the most classic, desired and expensive stones, and because it scratches and stains easily it must be sealed after installation. Even after the marble is sealed, it will still be more vulnerable to scratching than other stone, such as granite, so be prepared to care and maintain a marble installation. There are many types of seals to choose from: a matte seal preserves the stone’s natural color or texture, a glossy seal makes the stone appear shiny and smooth and gives it a more formal appearance, and a color enhancement sealer brings out the stone’s colors and beauty.

Like marble, granite is a natural stone that comes in both tiles and slabs. Granite is one of the strongest stones, but it also needs to be sealed after professional installation. Granite is more impervious to stains than marble, and also less expensive.

In general, marble and granite slabs are more expensive than tile because the slabs are customized and take more of the installer’s time. Slabs are commonly used for areas such as countertops and around fireplaces. Installing slabs requires different skills than installing tile; therefore, you should ask a potential installer if they normally install tile or slab.

On Cost

With the exception of hand-painted tiles, tile is generally priced per square foot. This simplifies price comparisons of tiles that differ greatly in size or shape: once you know how many square feet you need for your area, it’s easy to calculate the difference in total cost between tile choices. Basic ceramic and porcelain tiles range from $2 to $20 per square foot. Hand-painted tiles can cost anywhere from $8 to $150 each.

On the whole, stone tiles like marble and granite are more expensive than their ceramic counterparts. The price of marble and granite depends on color and type. Natural stone is quarried all over the world, and a particularly desirable origin can make it more expensive. Some stone is easier to find and is not considered as rare as other types of stone. Like ceramic tiles, natural stone tiles are priced per square foot. Marble and granite slab, however, is priced per project because there are so many variables in slab work. The price depends on the edges, customization and amount of work that goes into the actual installation. Slabs also have to be cut to fit the area precisely. The pricing of slab work depends on how difficult the stone was to get and how large the slab is. The larger the slab, the more expensive it is going to be to transport.

Tile and stone installers generally charge per project. The more custom work they have to do, such as edges and corners, the more expensive the project. Also, note that more artistic tile installation, such as creating mosaics, is much more expensive. Hiring a larger company can be cheaper because much work can be done in house, and the company can buy in bulk to save on materials. Also, installers will not have to be subcontracted and the materials will often be in stock. If you order from a smaller company and they do not keep a particular, expensive tile in stock, the price could be higher than from a larger company. With any installer, tile or marble that has to be ordered can significantly delay your project.

Who Installs the Tile, Marble and Stone?

Some of the service providers in this guide use their own installers and some subcontract the work out. If you choose a company that uses installers that are not in house, make sure that the company has used them before and ask for references. Some companies also keep a list of installers that they use on a regular basis.

Qualifications

No professional certification is required to install tile, marble and stone, but there are other ways of screening potential installers. For example, they should have a business license and, ideally, a general contractor’s license. An excellent way to evaluate a potential installer is to ask for references, speak to them, and look at photographs of previous installations. Membership in professional organizations may also confer credibility to this service provider. These associations can offer general information as well as answer some of your simple questions about tile and marble installation. The main professional associations to contact for information are The Marble Institute of America (614-228-6194), Ceramic Tiles Distributors Association (CTDA) (800-938-2832), The Tile Counsel of America (864-646-8453) and the Tile Institute of America (805-371-TILE).

Whether you decide to install simple ceramic tile in your shower or rare marble in your living room, the entire process will go more smoothly with a basic understanding of these special materials as provided above.

Decorative Ideas
  • For the children’s bathroom, use hand-painted tiles in favorite colors to make washing more fun.
  • Scatter random tiles containing a thematic print (herbs for a kitchen or shells for the shower).
  • Install mosaics around kitchen windows and in the window wells.
  • Mix marble countertops with ceramic tile backsplashes.
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