When tile is being being mass produced, much like anything else, it has to undergo many different quality control tests. Inspectors check for imperfections, flaws, and just down right defective material as it comes off of the equipment. Just like many other products, the tile industry has certain tolerances on the quality of the final product, and they are graded very easily by referring to them as first, or second choice. First choice tile is tile that has no major flaws, or defects. Second choice tile is something that didn’t pass quality control and can have imperfections throughout any part of the composition of the tile. First quality tile is nothing to be worried about, if there are any imperfections in the tile, they are rare, and should not affect the final installed products, but lets look at second choice tile, what are the possible imperfections?
Off-Size – From tile-to-tile pieces vary in size more than the industry tolerance of 1/16″
Off-Shade – Tiles may be different shades from tile-to-tile, sometimes noticeably, and sometimes it can be made to look like a natural variation
Wrong Color – Some tiles simply come off the production line a different color than the design called for
Chipped edges – While forming and baking the tiles a corner can sometimes get chipped, but most times it is simple as a chip in the clay underside that you would never see once installed
Glaze Imperfections – These imperfections can range from small pin-holes in the glaze to long lines that span the entire body of the tile, most are not very noticeable but some tiles may not be usable
While these attributes may seem pretty daunting, it is very possible to install second choice tile, and make it look like first quality. Many experienced tile setters have run across defective lots in their careers, so most can combat these defects with ease. When buying the tile to be installed, if it is second choice, make sure to buy at least an extra 10-15% on top of the recommended waste from your tile setter so you can cull out the ones with obvious defects, and of course make sure to tell your installer that you purchased second choice material before they start, no one likes a surprise like that! The bottom line: Second choice tile is not a terrible thing, as you may be able to get if for much less per square foot, and installed to your liking.