6 Risks of Buying Tile from Big Box Home Improvement Stores (Floor & Decor, Lowes, Home Depot)

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All Tile is NOT Equal

Over the years my wife and I have heard or, experienced our share of “horror” stories from homeowners like you that bought tile from “big box” home improvement stores (Lowes, Home Depot, Floor & Decor). So, that you are fully informed when shopping for tile… we have put together a list of risks of buying tile from big box home improvement stores and what you can do about it.
This list is based on my Wife’s direct contact with customers at her work and our (often) frustrating experience selecting, buying and installing tile for our own  projects. As the saying goes… your mileage may vary.

Six Potential Risks of Buying Tile from Big Box Home Improvement Stores Like Lowes, Home Depot, Floor & Decor

  1. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow – You buy a particular tile but, discover a month or, so later that you need more. On the return trip, you find out that the tile has been “discontinued”. In some cases this means there is no more. (See #2, below for a variation on this)
  2. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (Part II) – The tile that you bought 3, 4, 6 months ago… now appears out of stock. If you can track down a willing sales clerk, they will search their inventory system and may find 2 -3 stores that have some… 100 miles away. The catch? You will responsible for the shipping. This is called inventory consolidation and the retailer has decided to transfer the inventory to the stores that sold the most before marking it down.
  3. Damage Incorporated – In this scenario, you buy the correct amount of tile. When installation rolls around you learn that several boxes have broken pieces. This means that you return to the store which often leads to the “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” (above). What does this mean for you or, your installer? Wasted time. It’s also why most tile shops recommend buying a few extra cases of tile.
  4. Tolerances Slip, Slip, Slipping Away – That .25 – .85 cents/ sq. ft tile that was displayed at the end of the aisle when you first walked in to Lowes, Home Depot or Floor & Decor? Was probably produced with less tolerance and quality checks than other tile. Think of it this way: a 1,000,000+ square feet are ordered to fill a shipping container, the contract is at the very tightest of margins to make a promotional price for the big box retailer. Would the manufacturer let things slip a little? They just might. What does this mean for you or, your installer? More time adjusting during installation to make the tiles level.
  5. Lots of Lots – Shipments from the retailer’s distribution center to the store are often broken down and re-palletized. This can cause different lots of a given run of tile to be intermingled with other lots. If mixed tile lots are installed without care, the result can be dramatic and unexpected color/shade variation. What does this mean for you or, your installer? Time spent examining lot numbers on boxes to ensure consistency.
  6. Can Anyone Help Me? – It’s no joke, you are making a major decision in the remodel of your kitchen, bath, mudroom or, other room. But, where are the sales clerks? Hello? There’s often not one in sight or, one that knows much about tile. And getting design help? Fugghetaboutit

Some Suggestions on Avoiding These Risks

So, what is a homeowner like you or, me to do? Here are a few suggestions on avoiding the risks of buying tile from big box home improvement stores.

  1. Search out a few local specialty tile shops that have been in business 7 – 10 years or, more. Why? They are more likely to have access and relationships with a list of vendors. Some of these vendors only sell to independent shops so, you’ll get more tile choices. The smaller shop may also have the ability to get something custom or, shipped quicker than the big box store. Will the tile from the tile shop be more expensive? In many cases. But, you’re also likely to get better service and a better product.
  2. If budget is a major concern, consider tile from two stores. Get the “field” tile (this is the tile that covers the major portion of a surface) from one store and the better/more interesting tile from a local specialty tile shop. This may complicate your logistics. But, it will help bring your budget in line.
  3. Shop for tile early and budget accordingly. Too often tile is shopped last and allocated too little budget. One less custom kitchen drawer insert might be just enough budget to get some really spectacular tile for your kitchen backsplash or, shower wall.
  4. Buy extra tile. Especially in the case of field tile. Another box of field tile won’t break the bank and will go a long way to ensuring a smooth installation.
  5. Work with an experienced installer. Often, a local tile shop has a list of installers they have worked with on projects. If you go this route, seek a recommendation and get references. You can also try this directory, the Better Business Bureau, the business’ Facebook page and sites like Yelp.

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What have been your experiences buying and installing tile? What advice do you have for others? Share it in the comments below!

Background Image: Nico Paix

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