Even a small error in floor, wall, or bath tile can be an eyesore. One minutely mispositioned tile, for example, can throw off the pattern and grout line, making the goof glaring. Worse, fixing a botched tiling job is expensive, disruptive and messy, especially if water has seeped through the grout and ruined framing, ceilings and finished walls.

That's why hiring a seasoned professional and making sure the job gets done right the first time are essential. What's more, certain applications might call for specialty tile, edging, grout, adhesive and backerboard. These are best sorted out by an expert who knows what he's doing.

Trolling for Tilers
Instead of getting prospects for contractors from retail tile stores, go where the pros go by checking at a tile-supply store that caters to contractors. These outlets are more likely to know who does premium work. Also consider hiring a commercial contractor willing to take on residential jobs like yours; because a large percentage of tiling goes into commercial buildings, these are the most experienced pros. And politely decline any offers to do tiling on the cheap from a carpenter, laborer or other non-expert already working on your home.

Once you have a few names, start qualifying them by checking for current insurance as you would with any contractor. Look for tilers in business at least three years — the minimum needed for them to acquire an arsenal of specialty tools and a verifiable track record of quality work. Then ask tilers for references. Here's a case where simply looking at photos of past jobs isn't enough — pictures can lie. Insist on seeing at least one previous installation.

Spotting Quality
When viewing a contractor's past work on site, keep in mind that each ceramic or quarry tile is exactly the same size as the next. Look for consistent spacing between joints. And sight down grout lines to be sure they're perfectly straight.

Focus on the tile layout next. Is it balanced? A good tiler begins in the center of a room so fractional tiles at opposite ends of the pattern end up the same size. Also check doorways, windows and corners — especially odd-shaped angles in the baseboard or trim. Because custom-cutting tile is challenging at these trouble spots, they're a good indication of a tiler's skill. Look for snug-fitting tiles, and be wary of wide gaps with gobs of grout. Also check that tiles are tucked neatly beneath doorjambs, not butted against them, which looks terrible and creates an access point for water.

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