Clay-base ceramic tiles are an ideal choice for kitchens, baths, basements, porches, laundry rooms, and other moisture-prone areas. Floor tiles are extremely durable; water-, stain-, and wear-resistant; and easy to care for. An array of colors, patterns, shapes, and sizes is available. Tiles larger than 12 inches square are currently the most popular choice. Tile ratings
All tile feels hard, but some types of tile are actually harder than others. The body of a tile, sometimes called the bisque or biscuit, is produced to meet a specific need or use. Although thickness is one gauge of strength, composition of the tile and the temperature and duration of firing also determine its strength. To help you determine whether the tile you are considering is appropriate for a particular location, check the tile's rating, as determined by the Porcelain Enamel Institute. Hardness ratings are as follows:
-- Group I, Light traffic. These tiles may be used on residential bathroom floors such as a guest bath where bare or stocking feet are the norm.
-- Group II, Medium traffic. These tiles are designed for use in interiors where little abrasion occurs. They are not recommended for kitchens, entries, or stairwells.
-- Group III, Medium-heavy traffic. These tiles can be used anywhere inside a home, including kitchens and baths.
-- Group IV, Heavy traffic. These tiles are very hard and can be used in homes or in light to medium commercial areas.
-- Group V, Extra heavy traffic. These tiles can be used anywhere.
-- Underlayment. To prevent chipping and cracking, tile must be installed over a firmly supported subflooring. Broken tiles cannot be repaired, but they can be replaced. Tile grout, if left unsealed, can be difficult to clean.
Tile can feel cold underfoot, but it can be warmed with radiant or hydronic heating coils.
Whatever tile you choose, glossy finishes have a tendency to show finger- and footprints and can be slippery when wet. For better traction choose a honed finish.
Q: What's the difference between ceramic and porcelain tile? I've been told they're the same, but I can't buy that. How are they different, and is one better than the other?
A: In general, porcelain tile is harder than ceramic and offers greater design flexibility. Although both are made from clay and other naturally occurring materials fired in a kiln, the clay used to make porcelain tile is more refined and purified. It's fired at a higher temperature and greater pressure, resulting in an extremely dense and hard material.
"Porcelain is proving to be a longwearing material that is really making its mark on the industry," says Tanya Woods, an associate kitchen and bath designer (AKBD) in Bloomfield, Michigan.
Porcelain tile is an ideal product for cold-weather climates where freeze/thaw conditions are a concern. Due to its low moisture absorption rate (.5 percent or less), porcelain is less likely to crack and is more impervious to stains.
"The term porcelain has become branded to some degree -- it is to tile as Kleenex is to tissue," Woods says. "But this does not mean all porcelain tiles are created equal."
When picking porcelain tile, it is best to choose one that has "through body color." Some tiles may have only a ceramic glaze fired over the body; if chipped, the white-, tan-, or red-clay base is exposed.
For safety in wet areas or in flooring applications where accessibility is a concern, look for a tile -- whether porcelain or ceramic -- with a high coefficient of friction. This property is measured on a 1¿10 scale, with 10 being the most slip-resistant.
"Porcelain also offers strong advantages when it comes to design," Woods says. "Due to its strong nature, many sizes are available from a small mosaic 1×1 to large slabs of 24x48 and many unusual sizes in between."
Porcelain can also be rectified -- cut to a precise size so all tiles are identical, allowing the tile contractor to set extremely tight grout joints.
Certain factors make installing porcelain tile a more difficult do-it-yourself project. Its density and hardness require a wet saw with a porcelain diamond blade. For proper surface adhesion, you should use a latex modified thinset mortar. For large-format porcelain tiles, a level substrate is needed to reduce lippage, or variations in height.
But the payoff of lasting beauty is well worth the extra installation requirements ."Notably, surface finishes, textures, patterns, and variation of color are very stylized and lend to porcelain's appeal," Woods says. "The tile industry has grown as a result of the introduction of porcelain tile, and it looks as though it's only going to continue to increase in popularity."