By Gene and Katie Hamilton
You can find a tile mason in several ways. Ask for references where you do your tile shopping such as a tile supply store or retailers often called a tile center, showroom or outlet. Other sources are a home, decorating or flooring center or a lumberyard. Remember, the tile masons are being recommended because they buy tile from the store and usually it's in the retailer's best interest to recommend only qualified tile contractors. Look online for a contractor referral service and in the "Yellow Pages" under the listing "Tile-Ceramic - Contractors and Dealers".
Most contractors, if they have been in business for a while, have experience laying various types of tile. If you are dealing with a one-person operation, find out if he/she has installed the type of tile you have in mind.
Take the time to inspect a previous installation and look for consistent spacing between joints by sighting down the grout lines. They should be straight and even. The grout should be in the grooves, not smeared on the face of the tiles.
Look in the corners, around windows and corners to find tight-fitting tiles and stand back for an overview to see that the tiles are balanced and look symmetrical. The band of tiles outlining the room should be approximately the same size all the way around. There should not be full tiles on one side of the wall and a narrow band of tile on the other. Tile spacing should be even, and the surface should be level.
When comparing different proposals it is necessary that all the contractors are bidding on the same type of tile work and the same amount of preparation. Listen to the recommendations each contractor gives as far as the prep work is concerned.
It costs about the same to install standard white four-inch square tile as it does to set expensive hand-painted tiles. The cost of the standard tile and labor are roughly equivalent, but if you choose an expensive hand-painted tile the cost of materials will rise sharply.
Many contractors who do small jobs like bathroom facelifts will do tile work as well as setting the fixtures and installing the vanity cabinet. Your agreement should spell out exactly what will be done. Each tile job is slightly different and unless you decide to do the prep and tile work yourself, your opportunity to do some of the work will vary, depending on how much preparation is needed.
These items should be specified in a contract between a homeowner and tile contractor:
- Materials (including tile, grout and sealer, adhesive)
- Demolition work (if necessary)
- Preparation work required (plumbing lines, carpentry such as new framing, underlayment material)
- Clean up of the site
- Start and completion dates
- Cost and payment schedule
- If there is a pattern or special installation design required, a sketch of the pattern should be attached to the contract.