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Don’t buy tile from a big box store until you read this

different tile batches
two different tile dye lots installed in a shower

I know it seems like a pretty simple thing. You want to tile a bathroom floor so you go down to your local big box store and pick up what you need. What could go wrong? Sometimes more than you think. Below are 5 tips for purchasing tile from Home Depot, Lowes, Costco, and the like.


The number one problem: Batch numbers

The biggest issue with big box store tile purchases is shading and sizing differences. This is great if the tile is supposed to be shaded and not a solid tone. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about variations from batch to batch.

You know what’s not fun? Realizing that that the next box of tile doesn’t match the tile you just installed. Sometimes you can’t even notice the difference until you stand back and look. Nobody wants a different colored line or block of tiles in the middle of their floor.

On every box of tile there is a dye-lot number which is sometimes called a batch or shade number. Different batches of tile will have different numbers. Batches can be different in both size and color from run to run. You’ll need to check your boxes of tile to make sure that the numbers are all identical.

tile box batch numbers
Make sure all the batch numbers are the same on the tile box labels


I don’t have any concrete proof of this but my hunch is that the big box stores get the “seconds” to sell in their stores. It seems like I see greater numbers of mismatched sizes, chips, and factory flaws than tile that is purchased straight from the distributor. Again, I can’t prove this but I think this is the case. I also see an inordinate amount of sizing differences between the tiles sold in these stores. Sometimes tiles can vary by 1/8th inch or more from one to the next. This makes controlling the size of the grout joint very difficult.


5 Tips for purchasing tile from a big box store

1.  Don’t purchase from different stores.

With as much tile as Home Depot and Lowes stock the batches will likely vary from store to store. If you purchase all from one store then you are reducing the odds that you will be getting different dye lots. If one store doesn’t have as much as you need then go to another store and buy everything in one purchase.


2.  Buy new unopened cartons.

One of the great things about big box stores is that they typically have great return policies. You can return your extras rather than throw them away or store large quantities of them. One of the bad things about big box stores is that you may purchase someones returned tiles. Do you think people return the good tiles or the bad tiles? The person before you may be returning different batches of tile. I’ve seen cut, broken, and completely different tiles in boxes that have been returned.

3.  Buy too much.

As was mentioned above the return policies are great. Having too much let’s you be choosey in what you install. You can pick through the flawed tile and return what you don’t use. Furthermore I recommend getting 20-30% extra when buying through a big box store.

4.  Always check the different components.

If all of your tile is one size this won’t be an issue. If you are installing more than one size or shape of tile then you’ll need to make sure the different sizes match -even if it’s from the same line. Make sure that your 12×12’s and 6×6’s match. Take out a piece of bullnose trim and compare it to the rest. I can’t tell you how many times they are starkly different.

5.  Know what you are purchasing.

Different kinds of tile can be easier or more difficult to install. This can lead to unexpectedly higher prices if you are hiring the project out or more headaches if you are doing it yourself. Tiles that tend to rate higher on the difficulty scale include:  natural stone tiles, large tiles (6×24’s, 18×18’s, etc); glass tiles. Tiles that are simpler to install include:  ceramic tiles, subway tiles, and porcelain tiles with a more rounded “shoulder” or edge.

Big box stores have great prices, great return policies, and are very convenient to shop. So if you can find tile there then you can be sure that you are buying it at a great value. As a result this means no more regretting your tile purchases now that you know these 5 tips.


big box store tile
The tile on the right is more expensive to install than the tile on the left



  1. We have a big project in my new shop and limited time, we need to start tile install this week so I’ll have to get my tile from a big box store, no time to order. My husband is a contractor so he will be doing the work. Our question is; the new shop is on a middle floor and the landlord is concerned about noise and asked that we put some sort of additional barrier under the tile for noise. We have no requirement as to how much and there is a good 1-2″ of concrete base we are putting the tile on, and of course he plans to use cement board. We have 1000 sq feet to tile and don’t want to spend a fortune or what we think will probably be a useless layer since the floor has plenty of protection against normal walking (which with less than 4 people typically in 1000sq feet at a time is all that will be happening). He thinks a nice thin material like roofing felt would provide the required “extra layer” without breaking the budget for a useless thing. Cork is crazy expensive for that large of a space. They have only had carpet and linoleum in there so they just are trying to take care of the people downstairs, which I get. Anyway, will the tile have a problem by using the thin roofing felt as an underlayer between the cement and concrete board? Putting down wood look 6×24″ tile. Thanks!!

    • Sound proofing isn’t a useless layer. They do work and they are a reasonable requirement. If the people above you remodeled you would appreciate a sound proofing layer installed up there.

      First off- there’s two problems with what was mentioned in your comment: Cement board (over concrete) and roofing felt. Neither one of these products should be used for your situation and the roofing felt probably has 0 sound deadening ability and will only contribute to loose tiles down the road. Additionally the cement board shouldn’t be used over concrete. You already have a concrete surface. Why not stick to that?

      At the big box stores you will find something that works. Home Depot has a product called EasyMat that helps to deaden sound. Lowes has a similar product but I don’t remember the name of it. Also both stores have Ditra which does have some sound deadening ability.

      So take the money that you save by not buying cement board and roofing felt and put it towards a proper sound insulating product. You neighbors and landlord will like you. 🙂

  2. It’s 2am. I can’t sleep. I have a partially installed tile floor in my living room, and I hate it. I had a shiny glazed grey/blue tile in my kitchen, but could not find that tile again for the living room. In a hurry, I bought at ton of 8×48″ distressed wood-look tile. Also in a hurry, I got a family friend’s new tile business to install it. The long tile amplifies any imperfections in the slab, so has uneven levels.

    The guys installing made a lot of dust in my house, but that’s a different story. My advice: If you’re not sure, don’t just get something you won’t like. Take your time and buy a few samples and make SURE you will like it.

  3. Hello DIY tile guy. Could you guide me on the numbers on two different tile boxes purchased from a big box store? The shade number is the same but under the shade number, there are two other numbers that are different. There are also different numbers and letters in another place on the box. This is Daltile… Thanks

  4. We had water damage that ruined part of our wood floor. We had some old flooring in the garage that we told the company we went with that we wanted to use the same as before. The guy took a piece to match it. During installation I noticed a difference in coloring but didn’t say anything thinking it would all blend in. When the job was done I asked the installers where the extra wood was. They said they ran out and used what we had in the garage. The flooring in the garage is about 5 years old. What problems are we facing?
    Thank you

    • Wood flooring isn’t an area that I know a lot about. It does have to be adapted to the climate prior to the install. Was the stuff from the garage? I don’t know. I also don’t know what the consequences would be if it wasn’t.

  5. put subway tile in shower, shortly thereafter noticed cracks and chipping, only about one month old! today noticed glass tile chipping too! bought from homedepot. any suggestions?

    • The cracks would have to be movement. So it could be the studs were too far apart maybe? Maybe the backer board is the wrong kind or thickness?

      It’s hard to say without a lot more information. It’s unlikely the tile. Not in this case with both glass and ceramic cracking.

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