When it comes to home renovation projects, they largely fall into two camps. There's the simple and easy DIY stuff that you can do on your own (or with a friend) without too much risk of messing things up beyond repair. And there are those projects that require a professional contractor/plumber/electrician what-have-you. They're much more expensive, but (hopefully) more likely to turn out better.

Then there's the lesser-known third category of home renovations. These are projects that are right on the line between "call a professional" and "I can save a ton of money by doing this on my own." Laying tile is smack-dab in the middle of this line. Whether you're installing a new kitchen backsplash, redoing your shower or putting in some new tile flooring, you'll have to decide whether you'll want to do the work yourself or bring in a ringer. But regardless of who's installing your tile, it's still going to be you who buys the tile, and the best place to do that is online.

Types of Tile

tiled kitchen
Artistic Tile

Ceramic: The most common tile you'll come across, ceramic tile has a wide variety of applications in multiple rooms of the home, from your bathroom floor to your kitchen backsplash, but shouldn't be used outdoors. It's affordable, durable and even offers different looks to match your style — unglazed has a raw and rustic look, while glazed ceramic is sleeker and more polished (it's also more resistant to stains).

Porcelain: Porcelain is sort of like super-ceramic. It's made from clay, like ceramic, but is fired at a higher temperature, making it less porous and more durable — but also more expensive. Its increased strength means you can use porcelain tile outside, unlike ceramic tile.

Glass: Glass tile is just what you think: it's tile made of glass. It's pretty, but delicate because it's made of glass. That means it can chip and crack in the wrong application, and should only be used in areas that aren't going to see much abuse or have to support any weight, like a backsplash or wall accent.

Cement: Basically the opposite of glass, cement tiles are strong and can take a beating. They're thicker and heavier than other types of tiles, and those traits — along with their slip-resistance — make them an ideal choice for flooring and outdoor walkways.

Natural Stone: There are a number of different stone materials that are used in tile-making. The best-known are marble and granite, which are pricey raw materials that are frequently used to add a touch of luxury to a space. Other common natural stone tiles that are more affordable are made from travertine, limestone, sandstone and slate. Each type of stone has different properties and use cases. For instance, while most stone tiles are strong enough to be used as flooring, some stone materials are porous and need to be treated frequently to prevent water damage and staining.

Metal: Metal tiles are more of a niche product, but they've been on-trend in recent years. Like with stone tiles, many different materials are used in metal tiles, from aluminum to copper to steel. They all have their pros and cons, so make sure whichever tile you're eyeing can be used in the way you're looking to use it. In general, metal tiles are resistant to stains and scratching, and their highly-reflective appearance makes a statement.

Mosaic: Mosaic is not a material, but rather a style of tile. Mosaic tiles are much smaller than standard tiles and can be grouped together to form interesting patterns. Because of their small size, mosaic tiles have far more grout lines in their layouts than standard tiles, making them highly textured and a great choice for an area you're looking to draw attention to.

What to Look for When Buying Tile Online

Since you won't be seeing the tiles in person before purchasing (unless you opt for a sample), you're going to need to read all of your prospective tiles' specs carefully to make sure you're getting what you want. A tile's size and thickness will affect how it'll look in your space, as well as what applications for which it'll be suitable.

Another thing to look out for is the rating of your tile. Tiles are rated from 1 to 5 for hardness by the Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI). A lower rating indicates a weaker tile, while a higher number means your tile is harder, and therefore more durable. While you can get away with lower numbers on walls, always be sure to go with a 3 or above rating if tiling a floor or countertop.

Home Depot

Home Depot

Is it any surprise that the massive home improvement retailer is a great place to pick up some tile? Home Depot has a near-endless variety of tiles from which to choose, and they make it extremely easy to narrow your search by material, size, price, location, color and more. The store also offers lots of resources on how to complete your tiling project, along with every tool and material you need to do so. The brand also offers samples of many tiles for $2.99, and they'll match the price if you find your tile for less somewhere else.

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Lowe's

Lowe's

Typically speaking, if Home Depot shows up on a list, Lowe's is right behind them. The other home improvement superstore offers a very similar buying experience to the Depot, with essentially the same search options and lots of instructional videos and resources on tiling. They also offer samples, which ship free but cost up to $4.99 each. And, like Home Depot, they'll match a lower price from qualified retailers.

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Bedrosians Tile & Stone

Bedrosians Tile & Stone

In business since the 1940s, Bedrosians has deep industry connections that allows them to offer some of the best tile and stone products around. They carry a wide variety of options in most materials, with an emphasis on traditional ceramic, porcelain and natural stone varieties. They have several trendy, custom lines of their own, offer some samples starting at a buck a piece and sell all the accessories you'll need if you're laying tile yourself.

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Mosaic Tile Outlet

Mosaic Tile Outlet

In case you couldn't tell from the name, this retailer specializes in mosaic tiles. While their selection is smaller than big box retailers, they still offer a ton — especially if you're into mosaics, which makes up the bulk of their catalog. They even dedicate a section of their website to pool tiles and boast a wide variety of peel-and-stick tiles — an easy backsplash application that requires no extra adhesive or grout. They offer samples for $5, and all orders ship the same day, which is great if you're looking to get your project up and running right away.

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Overstock.com

Overstock.com

You might think of Overstock as a destination for cheap furniture and appliances, but the discount retailer also offers a surprisingly strong selection of tiles, with everything from affordable peel-and-stick mosaics to funky decorative murals. Their tiles are split up by location, but you can also search by material, color, etc. And while Overstock.com doesn't offer samples of their tiles, they do offer free shipping — a rarity when shopping for tile online.

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Wayfair

Wayfair

Wayfair is not only a gargantuan online furniture store, the retailer also offers a wide selection of tile. One aspect of shopping for tile on Wayfair that we like is their "Installation Location" selector, which not only breaks down tile offerings by specific use but also gives you information on what features those tiles have. For example, tiles for a kitchen countertop need to resist heat and moisture. Wayfair charges $2.99 for samples, but they offer a lot of freebies that many other brands don't, including free shipping, a checkout calculator for figuring out how much tile you need and a free in-home consultation and measurement.

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Modwalls

Modwalls

If you've got a mid-century modern aesthetic, you'll love the offerings at Modwalls. This niche retailer has been around since 2005, making them a pioneer in the online tile retail space. Their eclectic artisan offerings are full of bright colors, unique shapes and retro designs, and while shipping can be on the pricier side, delivery times are usually quick. If you're looking for something different and head-turning when it comes to tile, this may be your best bet. But if you want to try them out first, you can score samples for just $2 each.

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Artistic Tile

Artistic Tile

If it's a luxurious look you're after, then Artistic Tile is where you want to be shopping. Quality is the name of the game here, as the brand uses only the finest materials and emphasizes original design to craft high-end products. They also offer customization services, in case you can't find exactly what you're looking for among their many striking designs. Even so, Artistic Tile's prices are still competitive, and they offer samples of many tiles starting at just a dollar. However, shipping costs vary greatly and can get very expensive — into the hundreds of dollars — so be sure and pay attention to that when checking out.

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The Tile Shop

The Tile Shop

The Tile Shop is a nationwide retail chain that also has a strong presence, and one good thing about shopping with them is they bring that in-store experience to you at home by offering free design consultations and a "tile visualizer" tool that lets you play around with different looks in various rooms. The Tile Shop offers full-size samples, charged at the rate for that particular tile (tiles are normally priced by the square foot), while shipping costs between $12 and $60 and is based on weight. And while the Tile Shop offers basically every style of tile, one of their specialties is luxury vinyl tile — an affordable flooring option that's exploded in recent years thanks to its durability and ability to mimic the look of pricier materials like hardwood and stone.

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Tilebar

Tilebar

You want variety? Tilebar's got it. They carry over 6,000 products in every material, style and price range imaginable, and all of the brand's designs are original, and they frequently partner with artists and designers on custom collections. They also offer the best sample deal in the business, with free shipping available when you purchase five samples for just $5. Once it's time to buy tiles for your project, you'll pay a flat rate and have your tiles at your door in around a week's time.

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Johnny Brayson is Gear Patrol's associate home editor.