Finish your inspection by checking the wood and walls to be sure they're free of splashed grout or water stains. Then ask the homeowner if the pro was neat and if sink and tub drains remained clear of washout; cleanup should always be done outside. Also find out whether the tile leaked or the grout cracked and if the tiler responded promptly and courteously — and without charging — to any problems.

Another way to qualify tilers: Ask if you can stop by a current job site. Once you're there, get a sense of how organized the project appears. Because tilers have to work quickly to take advantage of mortars and adhesives with short drying times, neatness counts. A seasoned professional will have tile stacked neatly by type, custom cuts done ahead of time and a pattern map at hand so he isn't stuck running to his truck for tools and materials. Experienced tilers also do their tile cutting outside to minimize dust and messy backsplash from the wet saw. The contractor should keep the saw on a plastic tarp to protect the driveway or lawn and make sure the path between the cutting and work areas is protected with runners.

While you're there, check that the tiler uses some type of plastic dust containment to seal the work area from the rest of the house. Also see that the contractor protects wood trim, a bathtub or an appliance with tape or a specialty coating if ongoing tile work abuts it.

What am I to bid?
Like what you see so far? Then let the bidding begin. To get a precise estimate, however, you'll need to supply a scale pattern map and tile samples for the design and tile types you have in mind. A draftsman or architect can convert your pattern ideas to a 1/4-in.-scale drawing for a fee of around $75. The tiler then uses the scale drawing to estimate labor and waste — and warn you off such pitfalls as specifying four specialty accent tiles that come only in boxes of 50, leaving you with an expensive 46-piece souvenir kit.

When the pro submits the bid, be sure he specifies 1/2-in.-thick cementitious backerboard or a comparable synthetic product, with the seams taped with tiling adhesive. Then establish clear lines of responsibility by getting a written two-year guarantee against leaks. If you're having the shower tiled, you should have secured the same guarantee from your plumber, especially for the shower pan (the lead, galvanized or rubberized basin that catches any water seeping through shower tile grout). The pan should be thoroughly tested before the tiler arrives.

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