How to Buy Affordable Tile Online

Tiles for sale online

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Ceramic and porcelain tile have quite a range of prices, from the ultra-affordable tile that covers economy bathroom floors and tub surrounds to expensive and finely crafted artisan tile meant more for listellos, banding, and decorative touches than for covering field sections.

Between these two extremes lies an ever-shifting sweet spot in pricing for which most homeowners aim. Buying tile online affords the opportunity to pick, choose, and weigh options with ease, without pressure from sales staff. Here are a few tricks to help you score that affordable tile online.

Avoid Porcelain When Ceramic Will Work

Porcelain and ceramic are close in composition, but are not exactly the same product. To earn the name "porcelain," the tile must have a water absorption rate of 0.5 percent, according to the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM). This impervious tile stands up well in moisture-prone environments such as bathrooms and can even be fully immersed in water.

But do you really need porcelain for your application, especially given the fact that ceramic tile costs less than porcelain? On average, you will pay 60 percent more for porcelain than for ceramic.

Also, keep in mind that only the most expensive 15 percent of porcelain and ceramic tiles are closest in price (with porcelain still slightly more expensive than ceramic). This means that, when you get below that top-priced 15 percent, prices dramatically diverge. In other words, mid- and low-priced ceramic tiles are vastly more affordable than their porcelain counterparts.

Unless you are installing bathroom tile or placing it in another high-moisture environment, ceramic tile should work just fine for your application. Ceramic tile can even work in bathrooms as long as it does not receive prolonged contact with water. So, if you wish to use ceramic on bathroom walls (though not on tub or shower surrounds), you should be safe with this type of application.

Be Mindful of Shipping and Handling

Subway tile, a classic tile that graces many a bathroom wainscot or kitchen backsplash, is about as simple as tile gets. It is produced and installed by the millions annually. Rarely should subway tile be an expensive item.

Do not be fooled by enticing online tile prices without bringing all other factors into the equation. Many consumers treat shipping and handling as an afterthought, but often shipping and handling are where the retailer profits. This isn't all about online tile retailers trying to fleece customers, though. A case of 12-inch by 12-inch porcelain tile covering a mere 14 1/2 square feet weighs a hefty 54 pounds. That's a significant weight to transport and deliver, and the cost will be borne by you, the consumer, not the tile supplier.

If you are serious about saving money on your tile, make a simple spreadsheet and list retailers, tile price, shipping and handling, and extras. This provides you with a clear accounting of how much that online tile really costs and which one is the most affordable.

Consider Mix and Match Tile

Why would you buy tile at high prices from specialty houses rather than at discount stores? One good reason is that artisan tiles are cooler and more interesting. Popular artisan tile companies such as Ann Sacks pay well-known designers to create gorgeous, unique, and inventive tile. Beauty and pedigree always come at a cost.

One solution to high tile costs is to use more affordable tile for those larger field areas and the more expensive tile for attention-getting spaces. Reserve the super-expensive artisan tile for borders, medallions, bullnoses, hand-painted tiles, and other special products that garner all of the attention.

Look to Samples to Avoid Returns

Online retailers Amazon and Zappos make returning items easy. It's not too hard to tape a printed label onto that shoebox and put it in front of the house for UPS to pick up. Returning tile is a different story. Even if the tile company will accept returns of unopened boxes within 30 days, are you prepared to ship and pay for 300 pounds of tile?

Currently, there are few, if any, tile companies that will ship returns for free. The customer must bear the charges. But online tile retailers offer a solution: tile samples.

Many tile makers offer samples for purchase, and a few will offer truly free no-catch samples. Companies such as Fireclay and BuildDirect offer up to five free tile samples. This is not an act of generosity. Rather, it is a smart business move designed to entice customers to buy from them and to mitigate the possibility of those dreaded returns.

Consider Other Materials

Human-made flooring in years past was a pale imitation of ceramic tile. But technology has progressed to the point where vinyl tile or other resilient flooring options look amazingly like the products they seek to copy.

The first category of nearly perfect copies is called luxury vinyl tile. With improved graphics and deeper embossing, luxury vinyl tile may not have ceramic tile's rock-hard consistency, but its flexible nature is easier underfoot.

The second category is ​resilient tile that actually contains a stone product. Because the tile is lighter, shipping costs will be lower than with tile that contains all natural materials. A case of Alterna covering nearly 25 square feet is still, at 43 pounds, about 20 percent lighter than a case of ceramic tile that has less square footage coverage.

Article Sources
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  1. Porcelain Tile Certification Agency - Program Participation AgreementTile Council of North America, Inc.