Almost every residential installer has heard the phrase uttered from a surprised customer at five minutes after five o’clock, something like “That is not what I picked,” or “My floor doesn’t look anything like the sample board.”  This gut-wrenching feeling can happen when the client is not fully aware of shade variation that can occur with ceramic and porcelain tiles. Hopefully, it wasn’t your customer and you gained this valuable lesson from someone else’s mistake or oversight, but it could happen to you if you are not careful.

Specifications for Ceramic Tile
Excerpt from ANSI A137.1: Specifications for Ceramic Tile, Table 3.

Consumers selecting tile without the assistance of a knowledgeable installer or salesperson can sometimes lead to unhappy outcomes. If the tile selection is made from a single piece of tile or from a small cut piece on a sample board, the results can be painful. Consumers should be informed the tile they receive most likely will not look exactly like the piece on the sample board and that a variation in shade, some very subtle and some widely varied, is possible.

Most sample boards or tile literature now list a range of shade, tone, texture and color as found in the TCNA Handbookand similarly in ANSI A137.1: Specifications for Ceramic Tile. This chart, as shown in Table 3 (see excerpt above), ranges from V0 (zero), which exhibits no shade range detectable by the average eye, to the potentially extremely varied color and tone of V4. Also, be especially cautious of consumers who make their selections online or from a color photo. While being a great way to save time, there is nothing like seeing, touching and knowing all about their selection before the tile is ordered.  Additionally, a computer or tablet monitor may not be color-perfect and there is very little if any recourse once the tile has been installed.

The safest way to eliminate the “five oh five” surprise is to provide your customer with a mounted and grouted panel that shows the tile shade variation and pattern layout (if the job calls for it) along with the size and color of the grout joint. This, of course, is to be completed BEFORE the job begins. You may say following this procedure will cost you additional time and money—which, yes, it does—but this cost is minimal when compared to the cost of a possible tear-out and replacement. Finding and fulfilling your customers’ tile desires in advance will save a lot of headaches and money.

Always strive not to meet your customer’s expectations, but to exceed them while also providing superior workmanship and quality the first time.