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Choosing the Right Tile: A Comprehensive Guide

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A Basic Guide to Tile

If you are looking for a flexible way to add an upgraded or different look to an area of your home, tile can be a great material to use.  The variety available in color, material, and style of tile allows you to use it almost anywhere and for any purpose.

Planning Your Project

When it comes to planning a tile project in your home, you should be selective in the basic look of your tile by choosing a color and style that appeal to you and work well in combination with other decorative elements in your home.  You should also consider a couple of additional things before choosing your tile.

The finish of a tile and the material used to make it often indicate that it is ideal for a particular use or environment over another.  Some types of tile may be more attractive when used in certain rooms, and others that also look great may not be able to withstand the same conditions. 

Before making your final decision on tile, you should consider:

  • the basic properties of the tile (size, moisture absorption, durability) vs. the intended use of the tile
  • the environment and how it will impact certain tile materials

Each of the following types of tile is popular for its own unique properties and benefits, and you should make sure that the tile you choose will work well for its intended purpose.

Popular Types of Tile and Their Basic Properties

Ceramic Tile

Ceramic tile is made by combining water, clay, and various minerals into a molded form which is heated until solid.  There can be a lot of variation in the appearance of ceramic tile, but one of the primary ways it can be distinguished is by whether it contains a glaze or does not.  

When ceramic tile is glazed, it becomes more resistant to stains and heat, but tile surfaces may be at higher risk of damage from external forces.  The coating also makes glazed tile easier to maintain and keep clean.  

Unglazed tile has a more consistent appearance and color in the absence of a coating, is quite strong, and is typically used in areas with a lot of foot traffic, as it is less slippery than glazed versions. 

When elements like firing temperature are altered, different variations on basic ceramic tile are created, including porcelain, quarry, terra cotta, and mosaic tile.

Variations of Ceramic Tile

  • Porcelain Tile: Porcelain tile is made from a combination of water and clay, although porcelain clay is much denser than clay usually used to produce ceramic tile.  The density allows porcelain tile to be used freely in almost any environment, and it is commonly coated to produce a less slippery surface and used in high-traffic areas.
  • Quarry Tile: Quarry tile is a thick, unglazed, and very dense tile, which makes it quite water resistant, suitable for high-traffic areas, and ideal for outdoor use.  It can be dyed, but it is typically found in natural shades to match the clay or shale it was created from.
  • Terra Cotta Tile: Terra cotta tile can be made by hand or produced by a machine, and it has a recognizable rustic appeal. This type of tile is not as dense as other types, and its porous high-maintenance nature lends itself to use in low-traffic areas.  However, terra cotta tiles can be treated with a sealant to increase their durability.
  • Mosaic Tile: Mosaic tile is usually made from glass or porcelain, and it is categorized as a mosaic by its dimensions (usually smaller than six inches).  It is a very versatile tile, and it is often the tile of choice for kitchens and bathrooms because of its water-resistant quality.

Stone Tile

Tile made from natural stone can provide a variety of looks and applications, and it can be polished or honed to create a smooth surface.  When polished, stone tile contains a shinier finish and tends to show damage more obviously than honed stone tile, which is less reflective.

Popular types of stone tile include:

  • Marble: This stone lends itself to a beautiful and sophisticated look, and it is typically used indoors for moderate traffic areas.  It is not recommended for areas that may include high amounts of water or grease, and it requires a fair amount of maintenance.
  • Slate: A tile made from slate is a heavy-duty tile that is often used both indoors and outdoors for walls and flooring.  Although it is very porous and should be sealed regularly, it is resistant to abrasion and fading, and it should be a durable addition to any home.
  • Granite: Another heavy-duty material, granite tile is also suitable for use either indoors or outdoors and is appropriate for walls and flooring.

More to Consider

When choosing your tile, you should also consider the area you plan to tile and how it might impact the size of the tile you purchase.  For example, large surface areas like floors are generally covered with large-sized tiles, while smaller areas and walls are usually covered with smaller tiles.

However, larger tiles may not be appropriate for the patterns you would like to create, making mosaic tiles a strong possibility.

Additionally, if you intend to use tile for flooring in any area, it is important that you consider safety and the risks that any one type of tile may pose as a walking surface.  

Both the COF and PEI ratings of any tile can help you determine whether it is suitable for use as flooring.  The COF, or coefficient of friction, rating will rank the smoothness of a tile in numbers between zero and one.  Generally, it is recommended that only tiles with a rating of 0.6 or more be used for walking surfaces, and anything less is considered to be a slip hazard.

The PEI rating of a particular type of tile gives you an idea of its ability to withstand scratches and general wear.  This is another important consideration for flooring, as weaker surfaces may sustain damage more easily and be more likely to present rough walking surfaces.

This rating categorizes tile into one of five different grades based on its strength against surface wear, with one being highly susceptible to wear and best for indoor wall applications and five being highly durable tile that can handle high amounts of traffic.  In addition to consideration for flooring, you can use the PEI rating to determine a tile’s appropriateness for other projects in your home.


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