Tile 101

Learn All About Tile Flooring

Info

What is tile?

Tile is a hard flooring made from a number of different materials, the most common of which are ceramic, porcelain or stone.

Flooring University Tile

What are the differences in tile materials?

Ceramic and porcelain are very similar. Both are made from clay, whether natural or created from pulverized rock, slate or marble. The clay is fired in a kiln to create the shape of the final tile.

Ceramic tile tends to be more cost-effective, easier for an installer to cut and provides a wider range of color options over porcelain.

All porcelain tiles are ceramic, but not all ceramic tiles are porcelain.

Porcelain composition must include feldspar. Feldspar is a crystal that, during the firing process, melts into a glass-like material and bonds all the other ingredients together. Porcelain tile is also fired at higher temperature than ceramic tile.

Due to the unique composition and firing, porcelain tile is denser than ceramic and less prone to breaking. While more expensive than ceramic, porcelain tile is still more cost-effective than natural stone tile. Additionally, because porcelain is extremely water-resistant, it better withstands exposure to low temperatures that cause freezing and thawing.

In addition to ceramic and porcelain, tile also can be made from natural material like travertine, granite, marble, slate and limestone. Natural tile is often more costly than ceramic or porcelain.

Are there differences in tiles aside from the materials of which they are made?

A tile’s strength and durability is identifiable by its grade (or wear rating). A higher grade indicates a higher level of toughness and resistance to scratching.

Grade 1 – Weakest of standard tiles, best suited for walls.

Grade 2 – In addition to walls, can also be used for light traffic areas, such as a home bathroom.

Grade 3 – The most common grade of ceramic tile. Suitable for home flooring and home kitchen countertops.

Grade 4 – All home uses as well as commercial use with light foot traffic.

Grade 5 – High traffic commercial use, often found in shopping malls.

Another indicator of durability is Mohs Hardness Scale. Used not just for tile, Mohs Hardness Scale quantifies the resistance of a material to being scratched. This is determined by attempting to scratch the material with each of 10 different minerals (talc, gypsum, calcite, fluorite, apatite, orthoclase, quartz, topaz, corundrum and diamond, listed in order of increasing hardness), which mineralogist Friedrich Mohs has given arbitrary values from 1 through 10 representing an increase in hardness. The material being tested receives a rating based on the hardness of the mineral which is able to cause a scratch.

The potential amount of moisture a tile can absorb, is measured through an ANSI (American National Standards Institute) water absorption test. The resulting scale provides insight into the likelihood of a tile to crack under moisture penetration. Ranging from non-vitreous (low density) to impervious (extremely dense), the denser the tile, the greater stability of the tile.

Water on Tile Flooring

* Extra Credit: Porcelain generally falls under the impervious rating, making it more suitable for external use and climate change, while ceramic is much less hardy.

The Coefficient of Friction (COF) as determined by the ATSM (American Society for Testing and Materials) indicates the relative slip resistance of floor surfaces. The ATSM  test evaluates tile under both laboratory and common site installation conditions when both wet and dry, and calculates the maximum force that is required to initiate motion of a 50lb rubber weight on the tile.

Why should, or shouldn’t, I choose tile flooring?

Tile flooring offers several benefits over other types of flooring. Made from natural clays and water, tile is a natural, eco-friendly option. Tile flooring will not emit any VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and does not hold allergens, bacteria or odors, making it a healthy choice. In comparison to other flooring options, tile has the lowest life-cycle cost when measuring the price of maintenance and materials against the average tile flooring lifespan. Tile also offers the lowest water absorption rate of any flooring surface, meaning not only will it naturally resist stains and dirt penetration, but that water will not damage the flooring itself.

Unfortunately, the low water absorption rate has a side effect that is the largest disadvantage of tile flooring. Because water will sit upon tile, rather than being absorbed into the flooring, there is an increased likelihood of slipping on a tile floor over another more absorbent flooring material. Luckily, many tiles are now created with slip-resistant surfaces. The fact that water creates a slick surface on tile flooring means caution should be used when installing tile in water-prone areas like bathrooms, kitchens and adjacent to exterior doors.

* Extra Credit: Due to planar variation (surface level inconsistencies), standing water has more opportunity to pool/settle on larger tiles. Thus, larger tiles hold an increased risk of slipping. Smaller tiles have less planar variation but require more grout, which provides better sloping for water to drain and reducing slipping possibility.

What sort of style options are available for tile floors?

There are seemingly endless ways to personalize tile floors, through shape, size, shade variation and pattern.

Tile comes in many different shapes, from square and rectangular to circular and even irregular, indefinable shapes as may occur in nature.

Along with differing shapes, tiles are available in many sizes. A common belief is that tile size should be chosen based on room size. Small tiles can make a small room feel less constricting, while large tiles can help a large room feel less overwhelming.

Different shapes and sizes of tile for flooring

* Extra Credit: Tiles of smaller size are recommended, and more common, in climates that experience greater fluctuation in temperature due to the movement of wood subfloors as temperatures change.

When choosing tile for a room, it is important to understand shade variation. Shade variation is the difference in both color and texture between individual tiles in a single product. Shade variation is classified to help a buyer understand what they can expect in their final flooring.

V0/Very Uniform Appearance – tiles will be uniform in color and have a  smooth, uniform texture.

V1/Uniform Appearance – minimal differences in color and texture between pieces of a single product.

V2/Slight Variation – clearly distinguishable differences in texture and pattern but consistency in color among the pattern.

V3/Moderate Variation – while the colors and texture of a single tile are indicative of all the tiles within the product, the quantity of colors and textures on a single tile may not match the next.

V4/Substantial Variation – not all tiles will contain the same colors and/or textures. No two floorings made up of tiles from the same product will be identical.

Another factor that will play into the final look of a tile floor is the pattern in which the tiles are laid. While there are no hard and fast rules on tile patterns, it is generally held that the size of the room should be taken into account when selecting a pattern. It is recommended that the chosen pattern can be repeated at least four times within the space.

When it comes to pattern possibilities, even a floor of uniformly sized square tiles has two different options.

Rectangular tiles of a uniform size increase the number of potential patterns.

Using tiles of different shapes and/or sizes together can lead to countless opportunities for a unique and truly personalized floor.

Tile Pattern Options for Flooring

How is tile flooring installed?

Successful installation of tile flooring can be a time-consuming process for a beginner, as much depends upon the placement of each tile in relation to the last and the multiple steps involved.

Proper surface preparation is critical. Any damaged or uneven areas should be repaired or patched and then leveled.

Before securing any tiles to the subfloor, the entire tile pattern should be planned and laid out. On a clean, dry, level surface, the next step is to locate and mark the center point of the room.

Once the pattern is planned and approved, approximately ¼” of adhesive (thin set) is applied to a small section of the total surface. Notches are combed into the adhesive and tiles are placed into the adhesive one at a time, twisted and set gently into place.

Tile Floor Spacing and Installation

At the walls, the final tiles will be tapped gently into place as there will not be room to twist them into the adhesive. Any finishing or edging should be added at this time.

* Extra Credit: An equal amount of space should be left between each tile. Tile spacers can be placed between tiles during this portion of the installation process to ensure uniform spacing.

With all tiles in place, any spacers are removed and grout is applied. The grout should be forced into the joints so that no air bubbles or pockets remain. Excess grout is removed. When a haze appears on the tiles the surface should be rinsed and then hand-buffed with a clean towel.

Allow the grout and adhesive to completely cure and settle. After several weeks (check manufacturer recommendations), a sealant can be applied to flooring.

What finishing or edging options work well with tile flooring?

Although a classic quarter-round wall base is a classic and clean look for tile floors, many times a matching bullnose tile can be found to compliment flooring tiles.

Bullnose tiles are rounded on one edge, making them ideal to use at the walls in place of baseboard. They can also be used for wall edges, countertop corners or as a decorative accent.

Tips

How can I prevent damage to my tile floors?

While the hardness of tile makes it more damage-resistant than other types of flooring, it isn’t completely immune to marks and breakage. In order to keep your tile floors looking their best, a few simple maintenance tips will go a long way!

Rugs and Mats not only provide protection for your floors, but offer an excellent opportunity to showcase your personal style with complimenting or contrasting tones and shapes. Place rugs or mats in high-traffic areas to prevent excessive wear.

Felt furniture pads added to the feet and bases of furniture can prevent scrapes and chips, as well as reducing noise when furniture is shifted.

While regular cleaning will certainly help inhibit damage, in the case of tile flooring it is particularly important to keep floors dry to prevent slipping.

For matte, unglazed porcelain or ceramic tile, one way to prevent staining is to apply a breathable penetrating sealer to unglazed tile after grouting. Check with the flooring manufacturer first to confirm that this treatment is acceptable and whether a certain product should be used.

How should tile flooring be cleaned?

Regular maintenance of tile floors includes sweeping, vacuuming and damp-mopping. It is important to consider the type of tile that is being cleaned when determining the products to use.

Cleaning Glazed Tile

Never use wax or oil-based cleaners on glazed tile. Also avoid cleaners that contain ammonia, bleach or acid. These can discolor and damage the glaze.

When sweeping, choose a quality broom that won’t scratch the tiles. For textured tiles, sweep in multiple directions to ensure removal of all dirt and dust.

Vacuum carefully, avoiding vacuums with rotating components that can ding tile.

After either sweeping or vacuuming, a mild detergent, degreaser or tile cleaning solution can be used to damp-mop glazed tile flooring. Change mop water frequently, rinse area with clean water, and dry with a clean cloth/rag to bring out shine and prevent streaking. For textured tiles, choose a medium bristle brush.

Mopping Tile Floor Clean

Cleaning Unglazed Tile

Never use wax or oil-based cleaners on unglazed tile. Also avoid cleaners that contain ammonia, bleach or acid.

Sweep with a quality broom that won’t scratch the tiles. For textured tiles, sweep in multiple directions to ensure removal of all dirt and dust.

Vacuum carefully, avoiding vacuums with rotating components that can ding tile.

After either sweeping or vacuuming, a mild detergent, degreaser or tile cleaning solution can be used to damp-mop glazed tile flooring. Change mop water frequently, rinse area with clean water, and dry with a clean cloth/rag to bring out shine and prevent streaking. For textured tiles, choose a medium bristle brush.

Cleaning Natural Stone

When sweeping, choose a quality broom that won’t scratch the tiles. For textured tiles, sweep in multiple directions to ensure removal of all dirt and dust.

Vacuum carefully, avoiding vacuums with rotating components that can ding tile.

After either sweeping or vacuuming, a mild detergent, degreaser or tile cleaning solution can be used to damp-mop glazed tile flooring. Change mop water frequently, rinse area with clean water, and dry with a clean cloth/rag to bring out shine and prevent streaking. For textured tiles, choose a medium bristle brush.

Cleaning Tile Grout

Sweep, vacuum and damp-mop as appropriate for the type of tile, then make sure to rinse the grout thoroughly with clean water to ensure all detergents or products have been removed.

Over time, grout should be resealed per manufacturer recommendations.

Are there green, or eco-friendly, tile options?

Tile is inherently eco-friendly due to its earth-based composition, and ceramic tile is one of the least toxic materials available for flooring. Stone, tile and cured grout emit either no, or negligible amounts of, VOCs. Additionally, once tile has been sealed it will no collect or retain mold or allergens.

Included in Shaw Floors’ commitment to sustainability, seven of their porcelain collections contain a minimum of 40% post-industrial recycled content from scrap tile, post-consumer glass scrap and residues from processing of industrial sand.

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