4 Ways To Pay Less For Tile Online

Buy Tile For Less with These Four Easy Tips

Green Subway Tiles with Crackle Finish
Green Subway Tiles with Crackle Finish. Iain Farrell/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

A funny thing can happen when you buy tile online: it ends up costing twice what you expect. Magnetically drawn to an offer of rock-bottom cheap tile, you reflexively reach for your credit card, until you realize that that low price suddenly isn't so low, after all. Use these tips to pay less for tile online.

  • 01 of 04
    Bathroom with tiled walls and glass doors into shower
    Kevin Mcfeely/Arcaid Images / Getty Images

    Subway tile is about as simple as tile gets, a classic item that graces many a bathroom wainscot or kitchen backsplash.

    The white 3" x 6" size subway tile at one well-known online home improvement retailer is $1.69 per square foot. Yet by the time you're in the online shopping cart, that price has skyrocketed to $3.77 per square foot. 

    For a 105 square foot bathroom, total tile price is $177, but shipping and handling alone is $218, rounded -- a whopping 123% of the final tile price.

    If...MORE you are not outraged by that, let's put it another way: imagine hiring someone for $218 to drive to your local Home Depot to pick up 7 boxes of tile.

    Solution - Be Careful of Online Bait-and-Switch Tactics

    Don't 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 is where the retailer profits.

    Make a simple spreadsheet. Lay out retailers, tile price, shipping and handling, and extras. You will be shocked.

  • 02 of 04

    Do Not Buy Porcelain When Ceramic Will Work and Is Cheaper

    Hands holding tile against light switch and marking it with pen
    Steve Gorton / Getty Images

    Porcelain sure sounds great; the word has a more authoritative ring than mere ceramic.  After all, how many times do you plan to tile that bathroom? Once. Might as well get a quality product.

    Yes, there is a difference between porcelain and ceramic tile. To be called "porcelain," the tile must have a water absorption rate of 0.5% as defined by ASTM C373.  This impervious tile stands up well in moisture-prone environments.

    But do you really need it for your application?

    Solution - Porcelain...MORE Is 60% More Expensive Than Ceramic, On Average

    Ceramic tile costs less than porcelain. 

    Researching one of the better-organized tile retailer sites to assess average prices of porcelain vs. ceramic tiles, one finds all sizes of tile in all ranges of price and quality.

    On average, porcelain tiles cost $5.20 per square foot vs. ceramic's $3.24. 

    In other words, you will pay 60% more for porcelain than for ceramic, on average.

    Another interesting fact is that only the most expensive 15% or so of tiles are close in price (with porcelain still slightly more expensive than ceramic). 

    When you get below the top-priced 15%, prices diverge wildly.  What this means is that mid- and low-priced ceramic tiles are vastly cheaper than their porcelain counterparts.

    Unless you are installing tile in a high moisture environment, ceramic tile will work just fine for you.

  • 03 of 04

    Do Not Buy Simple Stuff At Fancy Places

    Tile Flooring
    Doug Bennett / Getty Images

    Why would you buy tile at jacked-up prices from specialty houses rather than at discount stores?

    One good reason is because artisan tiles are much cooler and more interesting. But when you're dealing with basic field tile needed to populate a wall in large quantities, why would you do this?

    Once again, let's compare that basic field tile product: 3" x 6" subway tile.

    One high-end tile company quotes a price of $5.76 per square foot for subway tile. This company liberally uses the...MORE word "artisan" to refer to their tiles and they have showrooms on the West and East Coasts.  Another subway tile by a fantastic art tile retailer goes for $9.37.

    This same basic subway tile is available from Home Depot for prices ranging from $2.00 to $2.31.  One difference is that the Home Depot tile is 0.25"-- thinner than the artisan house's subway tile.

    Even if you look at Dal-Tile's Rittenhouse Arctic White subway tile from South Cypress, the price is $3.21 per sq. ft.  While $2.55 less may not seem like much, imagine your savings when multiplied over an entire room's worth of tile. Plus, the Rittenhouse is the same thickness as the artisan house's: 0.325".

    Even factoring in South Cypress' shipping costs, it is vastly cheaper than tile from the artisan shop.

    Solution - Use Cheaper Tile For Field Areas and More Expensive Tile For Attention-Getting Areas

    Populate field areas with less expensive tile from less expensive retailers. 

    Then, if you desire, purchase the super-expensive artisan tile for borders, medallions, bullnoses, hand-painted tiles, and other special products that garner all of the attention.

  • 04 of 04

    Get Your Purchase Right (Never, Ever Return Tiles)

    Woman standing on bathmat in tiled bathroom
    Tile can be as beautiful as it is functional. Sean Justice/Getty Images

    Amazon and Zappos make returning items easy.  It's not too hard to slap a printed label onto that shoe box and put it in front of the house for UPS to pick up.

    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 no tile companies that will ship returns for free; you must bear the charges.

    Solution - Make Certain That You Do Not Have to Return Your Tiles

    Before...MORE buying, obtain tile samples -- preferably for free.

    A lot of tile makers offer samples for purchase, but a few will offer truly free, no-catch samples. Fireclay and BuildDirect offer up to 5 free tile samples.

    If you think tile companies that charge "only" $5 per sample are doing this out of the goodness of their own hearts, consider how much that little tile slice works out to be, per square foot. 

    One of Home Depot's $5 samples is a single tessera from a larger mosaic sheet (Sand Beach Pelican Glass).  At $5 per tessera, the entire sheet would be $180.