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How to Evaluate a Finished Tile Installation

How to Evaluate a Finished Tile Installation

What goes into evaluating a finished tile installation?

At times, this can be the most frustrating part of the project - for both the installer and the homeowner or project owner. Why? Because of finished tile expectations, naturally-occurring variations and other unexpected situations that fall within industry standards.

So, in addition to always providing a tile installation mock-up, be sure to consider and specifically address the four points below when you present the mock-up.

>> See Why a Tile Installation Mockup is Really Necessary

4 Points to Consider When Evaluating a Finished Tile Installation

1. Grout Colors Affect the Look of the Finished Tile Installation 

Imagine having a project where the owner selects a 4x16 white tile and decides at the last minute to change from the previously selected light-colored matching grout to a contrasting medium grey. Sure enough, the grey color highlights all of the characteristics in the tile and the installation, which the owner may consider unacceptable.  

Grout color selection will make a big difference in how the final installation looks. Using the guidance contained in the NTCA Reference Manual backs you up.  

Chapter 8 of the 2016/2017 edition states:

"Selection of a grout color that contrasts with the tile will emphasize the grout joint and correspondingly any variations in tile size and position.  Selection of a similar or complementary grout color will de-emphasize such variations."

>> See NTCA Reference Manual: An Invaluable Tool for the Tile Industry


Before this happens to you, build a mockup showing the consumer exactly what he or she will receive upon completion.  With the consumer’s signature on the mockup, you are assured that their expectations will be met.

2. Inherent Tile Variations Affect the Final Look of the Installation 

Tile is made from natural materials that may exhibit slight variations during the manufacturing process.  However, if the tile is tested to the industry standards and passed, it will function well. 

The American National Standard Specification for Ceramic Tile,  A137.1 under Table 9, lists the minimum and maximum specifications for Calibrated and Rectified Glazed Wall Tile including nominal tile size and allowances for wedging and warpage.  

Tiles manufactured and tested to the specifications in the A137.1 must fall within the allowable tolerance.


The size of the grout joints help compensate for variations. If the tile has some wedging (the sides are not perfectly parallel and the corners are not perfectly square), a wider grout joint is needed to accommodate the variances in size and shape.  

Additionally, if the grout joints are not up to the edge of the tile sides, the low joints will exacerbate the problem.

>> See Addressing Low Grout Joints with Tile Installation Standards

3. Tile Installation Workmanship Reflects Variation 

As much as we would like to have every tile installation be of the highest quality, not all installations are 100% perfect.  

Within ANSI A108 - the American National Standard Specification for the Installation of Ceramic Tile - you'll find A108.02 - 4.3 Workmanship, cutting, fitting, and grout joint size.    

This section gives specifications that account for allowable variations in tile and an acceptable degree of installer skill, to produce quality and acceptable installations even when (or especially when) working with tiles that exhibit a range in size along with possible wedging and/or warpage.  


This section also discusses recommendations for grout joint size and patterns to achieve acceptable installations.  Paragraph 4.3.8 discusses grout joint size and states:  

“To accommodate the range in facial dimensions of the tile supplied for a specific project, the actual grout joint size may, of necessity, vary from the grout joint size specified.  The actual grout joint size shall be at least three times the actual variation of facial dimensions of the tile supplied.

Example: for tile having a total variation of 1/16 in. in facial dimensions, a minimum of 3/16 in. grout joint shall be used.  Nominal centerline of all joints shall be straight with due allowances for hand-molded or rustic tiles.  In no circumstances shall the grout joint be less than1/16 in.”

4. Evaluate the Finished Installation from a Normal Distance 

Perhaps the most important aspect for evaluating a finished installation is the viewing distance. It should be viewed for acceptability from a normal viewing distance, not a foot away or closer.

Normal viewing distance assumes that the viewing is done without a magnifying glass or microscope. The idea is to experience the completed project as users of the space would.

It also assumes normal lighting.

Guidance from the 2017 TCNA Handbook

Given how challenging the notion of 'normal viewing distance' is to evaluating a tile project, you'll find that the 2017 TCNA Handbook now includes significantly more information.

More specifically, you'll find help in these categories “Lighting and Tile Installations” (wall-wash lighting), "Visual Inspection of Tilework" and "Design Considerations When Specifying Tile" sections.

Under the heading of Finished Tilework, the Visual Inspection of Tilework states:

“When visually inspecting finished ceramic, stone, and glass tile installations, do so without magnification under the permanent intended lighting (artificial and/or natural) and without the use of additional lighting such as flashlight, spotlights, or temporary lights. 

View the installation 36” from walls and 60” or normal standing height from floors.  Recognizing the hand-built aspect of tile installations, any aesthetic concerns not visible at these distances (but apparent at closer distances) are acceptable.”

Certified Tile Installers Know About Ceramic Tile Installation Standards

Many items need to be done correctly in any tile installation.  Doing all the planning and research up front along with addressing consumer expectations will help you ensure success in your project.

If you're an installer, consider becoming a Certified Tile Installer (CTI)

If you're a homeowner, hire a Certified Tile Installer.

CTIs set themselves apart from the crowd and know how to anticipate tile installation problems before they occur.  They do it right the first time and get paid accordingly.

Thanks for reading.


Download 3 Tip Sheets:  How to Select Your Next Tile Installation Contractor

Special thanks to Mark Heinlein CTI #1112, National Tile Contractors Association Training Director &
Technical Trainer / Presenter


Note: We originally published this article on 10/17/2017, and have updated it.