Sunday, May 20, 2012

FLOOR TILE: Does SIZE matter?

Janice T. sent this question to Ask A Home Improvement Expert:

"We've been thinking about changing the tile in our bathroom but we aren't sure which size tile we should use. Is smaller tile better for a bathroom?"


That's a great question!.... and it's nice to finally have a woman ask a man if size matters.
My personal opinion is that the more grout lines you have, the busier a floor looks. A lot of people grew up looking at their parents bathrooms with tiny mosaic tiles and mauve colored fixtures.
You've seen how your parents used to dress, do you really want to use their sense of style as a point of reference?


{{{shiver}}} Yikes......Anyway, I always start by trying to use the largest tile I can in a given room. The reason I start here as I said, is that more grout lines make a floor look busier and unfortunately
Busier = Smaller. I don't want a small room to feel even smaller, I want it to feel spacious and open. Larger tiles can make a small bathroom feel bigger. There is no rule saying you can't use 18" x 18" tiles in a 50 sq. ft. bathroom. It's all about the look you are trying to create. However! There are a few issues that can potentially sway the choice of tile size that  you should always take into account.

How level are your floors?

Run a level over your floor before you make any decisions to spot the inconsistencies in your floor and to see which way it may be pitching. Smaller tiles have the ability to conform to these inconsistencies. In a perfect world, you'd never want to have a floor with a lot of pitches and rolls but often in homes that are 150-200 years old, the best you can hope for is to minimize the motion of the floor. If you tried to get it back to perfectly level, you'd likely end up with a floor that's much higher in some areas than you want. This is especially troublesome when the doorway transition ends up being over an inch out of level (unless you enjoy watching your friends trip in and out of your bathroom). In these cases, we are try to get the floor to be as FLAT as possible... not as LEVEL.
Larger tiles such as an 18" x 18" are more difficult to lay flat due to the fact that each tile covers so much floor space. If the area you're working is a little higher in the middle of where a tile lands, you may find that corners of your tiles are left sitting up higher than you would like. Sometimes adjusting the layout of where your grout lines will land can help work around some of these problem areas.

Desired Effect

Is there any other tile in your room? If there is a specific tile pattern on your walls or shower, it may dictate how you want to approach your floor. There are common styles that people are trying to recreate or achieve that can help determine the floor tile. For example, A subway wall pattern: We often see a smaller mosaic tile pattern with subway-style tiled walls.

There are no hard and fast rules but, there are applications that you may have seen and are subconsciously trying to recreate.

If you are simply looking to update your floor, I  would suggest picking color before size. It's often more important to get the color you desire and you may find that the color you love? Isn't available in every size and shape. Your question may be answered before you ask it!

Bathroom usage

Is this a bathroom that gets a lot of family use? If it is, I would point out that for every grout line you create is also one you need to maintain. Grout needs to be cleaned and sealed according to usage, sometimes as often as once a year. A full bathroom with 5 family members and a dog that  you can't seem to keep clean no matter how many times you wrap him in plastic, will be subject to more water and soil on the floor than a half-bath connected to a guest room. (I'm kidding, don't wrap your dog in are optional)
Fewer grout lines can also mean fewer possible areas for moisture to get through to the substrate if those grout lines ever open up over time. Remember: More grout lines = More maintenance.

Grout color

Grout color will affect your choice as well. There are two ways to go with grout color, one that blends or one that pops. Both have their advantages in certain situations but more often I try to find a grout color that blends with the color of the tile itself. This helps keep whatever floor tile I choose feeling like one consistent floor not like a bunch of smaller pieces. I see this mistake a lot, a bad grout color choice making a floor look too broken up. Example:

I also tend to avoid very light grout colors in favor of more neutrals because lighter grout colors are much more difficult to maintain and they discolor quickly. I only use white & off-white grout when it's specific to the effect the customer desires. Which brings me to my last point:

Personal preference

What do you like? I always ask potential customers to pick out a few pictures of bathroom floors that they think are cool. When a customer shows me three pictures of bathrooms all with larger style tiles or perhaps all with a particular pattern, it makes finding their solution simpler. Sometimes I even find they don't like the floors they've shown me at all, they actually like the color, layout or style of a room. It's important that whatever you pick works with the room itself and when in doubt? I would suggest that something simple, clean and neutral often works better than something bold and intricate. It also allows you to update other elements of the room over time without limiting your choices.

So, there are no universal answers but there are certainly considerations in making your choice. Try to ask yourself these questions before you make a decision or Ask A Home Improvement Expert!

As always, I'm Daniel and I'm a General Contractor. (<--- and that's still a link)



  1. No doubt why you get so many blog comments.
    travertine tiles

  2. Bigger isn't necessarily better, but it's definitely easier. Larger tiles are much easier to install than small ones.

  3. Can someone help me to discover more details about how to find a way to decorating my floor with tiles ?


    1. Maybe try clicking the link you snuck into your comment? Yeah, I caught you.


If you're planning on dropping a link, be thoughtful about your comment or it won't be posted.