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Q: Why is there such a range in tile prices?

A: For most of us, shopping for new tile is a once-in-a-decade experience, so even for the savviest of shoppers, the wide range in tile pricing can be confusing.

If you’re wondering why tiles can range in cost from $1 to $100 per square foot, there are four main variables that affect the price: material costs, production processes, brands and customer service.

Material costs. While all ceramic tiles are essentially made of the same ingredients, the quality and color of those ingredients can make a dramatic difference in the price. For example, to make a tile with a pure white body requires white clay, which is much harder to find than the red or beige clays found in most tiles. To achieve bright blue and red glazes requires minerals that are much more expensive than cream, brown or even green colors.

Production process. The simplest form of ceramic tile consists of one body color and no glaze, and requires a single firing. But there is a wide variety of production options, so prices for ceramic tiles can vary greatly.

Applying glaze or an additional surface color to the body, cutting down the original pressed size into modular sizes, polishing the surface or straightening the edges to accommodate tighter grout joints are all additional processes that add value to the finished product, but also increase the price.

Made-to-order artisan lines are the most expensive tiles. Each piece is pressed, glazed and inspected by hand. These tiles are truly custom art, and the pricing reflects that uniqueness.

Brands. Tile has both branded and generic versions. Branded-tile manufacturers create beautiful brochures and catalogs that show room scenes and full installations in a variety of formats.

They also test the materials for qualities such as slip resistance, breaking strength, suitability for exterior or submerged environments, and stain resistance. Most generic tiles do not go through that kind of testing.

Customer service. Another cost determinant is the customer service you receive both before and after your purchase.

You may find a very good deal on tile at a liquidation warehouse, for example, but there will likely be little if any design support, technical knowledge or installation recommendations.

And, more importantly, should anything go wrong with the project or if the material turns out to be defective, you may not have the ability to return it.

At full-service showrooms, the tile may carry a higher price tag, but the price will include a showroom designer to help you make your selections, and a knowledgeable staff who can handle a claim if there are concerns with tile quality.

Armed with a better understanding of pricing, you are ready to find the tile that best suits your budget, as well as your décor.

Ryan Calkins is the president of Statements Distinctive Tile & Stone and is a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. HomeWork is the association’s weekly column about home care, repair and improvements. If you have questions about home improvement, send them to