It used to be no one besides the professionals wanted to touch tile work. It was not easy, nor was the outcome always what was desired.

All that has changed, says Rick Walker of Tile Factory Outlet. Over the years, he says, tile makers have come up with a setting system that makes it very viable for the do-it-yourselfer to try his or her hand at fitting the tile squares in place. New products have made it a pretty smooth and slick process.The first question, of course, is why tile? Walker answers that by listing some of the advantages of the product.

- Tile, he says, once installed, will last for the life of the home. In comparison, most carpets and linoleums have a replacement life of about 10 years.

- Cleaning and maintenance is very easy. All a person needs to do is wipe it off with a vinegar/water solution. It needs no waxing.

- Linoleum can be scratched, cut and burned, and carpet can be stained and burned. Tile can't. Tile can be broken, but broken tiles can be cut out and replaced fairly easily.

One of the biggest problems in the past with tile was the grout, or cement-like material that goes between the tile. Older grouts, says Walker, used to stain easily. It was the No. 1 complaint of customers.

"Now there is a stain-proof product on the market that works very well on the grout. You simply spray it on after the grout dries. Now people can spill on the tile and it will clean right up without staining," he adds.

What's involved in setting tile?

The main thing is to have the right equipment. The three most important tools, ones that most people don't have but can usually be borrowed or rented from tile dealers, are the cutter, grout float and tile nippers.

Briefly explaining the process, Walker says the first thing in setting tile is to draw a horizontal and vertical line from the center of the room.

Tiles can then be placed on the line to see approximately how they fit, always keeping in mind that the best look is one where there is balance. The center point can be adjusted to ensure a balanced look.

This done, the adhesive can then be applied, making sure that no more adhesive is put down that can be worked in about a 15-minute period. In setting the tile there are spacers available to ensure that the tiles are evenly spaced and straight. Tiles are placed from the center out, like a burst, saving the tiles that need to be cut for last. Before applying the grout, tiles should be left to dry for 24 hours.

Grout is poured onto the floor and then worked into the cracks with the floater. Start by working the grout from the corners towards to door. Grout is pushed into the cracks diagonally. When completed, take a damp, not wet, cloth and wipe off the tiles. The following day, when completely dry, tiles can be cleaned off with a sponge and a mild-soapy solution. The sealer should be placed over the grout when dry.

He points out here that while most tiles made are good and durable, there are some on the market that aren't. He advises consumers to take the time to ask or check. The rating system in tile goes from one to five, with five being the hardest, industrial strength tile and 1 the weakest. For most homes a No. 3 works well.

He recommends that buyers check the rating and shy away from tiles that are not rated.

He points out that the thinner tiles will have a much greater chance of breaking than thicker ones. He says tiles about 1/4-inch thick are best.

He also recommends that when buying tile that the buyer pay out a few more dollars and pick up a few extra, "just in case one breaks. In most cases we'll be able to order replacement tiles, but in few cases we may not."

As far as cost, Walker says a person can expect to pay a professional about $7 a square foot to have tile put down. The do-it-yourselfer can do the same job for about $2 to $3 a square foot.

He also notes that today there is a wide range of colors and styles. "We have about 30 different colors in the floor tiles, and about another 40 or 50 in the wall and bathroom tiles," he adds.