Your Guide to Tile Flooring

Ceramic, porcelain, terra-cotta, and concrete tile promise durability, easy maintenance, and long-lasting style. The array of colors, patterns, sizes, shapes, and textures means you can create a one-of-a-kind design to suit the look of any room.


Tile is the material of choice anywhere you want a durable, low-maintenance floor. Proper installation ensures that the floor will last for years, even decades, to come.

Both ceramic and porcelain tile are made from natural clay, a long-lasting material, making it an eco-friendly flooring choice. When deciding between the two, consider their defining characteristics.

Ceramic tile is a composition of natural clay-base products, minerals, and water. It is available with a glasslike, kiln-fired coating called glaze. Glazed ceramic tile resists stains and can be cleaned with a damp mop and household cleaners. Depending on the glaze, the color of the ceramic tile body may be visible if the glaze is scratched. Ceramic tile is less expensive than porcelain, but both are cheaper than natural stone.

Porcelain tile contains special clays and minerals and is fired at extremely high temperatures. The result is a surface that is harder, denser, and more durable than most ceramic tile, which can also make it more difficult to cut for do-it-yourself installation. The color extends through the thickness of the tile, making scratches and chips less noticeable.

When kids and pets are part of the household equation, you can't go wrong with ceramic or porcelain tile. The surfaces are scratch-resistant and withstand spills and pet accidents. In cool climates, consider installing a radiant-heat system beneath a tile floor to keep it toasty-warm on nippy nights and chilly mornings.

Terra-cotta tiles, which are manufactured from raw clay, come unglazed and are porous; tiles require sealing to prevent stains and dirt from accumulating and to keep out moisture. Imperfections, rough edges, and pitting give the material distinctive character that complements a number of styles, including rustic, casual, elegant, and classic. Some ceramic and porcelain tiles mimic the look of terra-cotta but are water-resistant and don't require sealer.

Grout fills the gap between tiles, creating a solid, water-tight installation. There are two common types of grout: cement-base and epoxy. Cement-base grout is commonly used for do-it-yourself projects. For joints less than 1 ¿8 inch wide, you can use a nonsanded variety. For joints larger than 1 ¿8 inch, sanded grouts provide a sturdier bond. Apply a penetrating protective sealer to all cement-base grouts to prevent staining. Latex polymers are sometimes added to sanded grouts to increase water resistance in water-prone areas, such as bathrooms or kitchens.

Epoxy grout is highly water- and stain-resistant and requires no sealer. It is, however, quite expensive and more often used professionally for countertop tile applications.

You can visually alter a room's proportions using different sizes and shapes of tile. Large tiles of 12×12, 16×16, and 24×24 inches are popular. The larger the tile, the fewer the grout joints and the cleaner the look. At the other extreme, square and classic hexagonal mosaics about 1 inch wide complement claw-foot tubs and help a small bath seem larger. Laying tiles on the diagonal also expands the look of the space.

To ensure that your tile lasts a lifetime, you must install it properly. If you plan to install tile, take advantage of the large volume of do-it-yourself tiling information: Watch installation videos online, utilize the manufacturer's technical materials, or take a free installation class at a home center. If you have an old tile floor that you wish to dispose of, check for recycling programs.

It's possible to save money on labor and install a tile floor yourself, but you'll want to weigh the pros and cons. Plan to invest in a tile cutter, tile nippers, a notched trowel, and a tile float. You'll also need other miscellaneous supplies such as a bucket, sponges, a measuring tape, and a chalk line. Also consider the time investment. For the average do-it-yourselfer, the typical 8×8-foot bathroom requires two weekends: one weekend to lay tile and another for grouting. If you're a novice, do your homework and learn how to properly lay tiles. Good measuring skills and proper tools are a must so you don't end up with too-short pieces along one wall or crooked rows. You also need the physical ability to work on your knees for extended periods, although cushioned knee pads provide some relief.

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