All About Tile Flooring

Advantages of Tile

  • Tile is extremely durable and will never really "wear out" as other flooring materials might.
  • Glazed tiles are easy to clean and won't stain (though the grout could if it is not sealed properly), so you can drop just about anything on it without hurting it.
  • It's ideal for people with allergies because it is less likely to collect pollen, dust or bacteria.
  • Tile flooring adds to a home's value and re-sale appeal.
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Disadvantages of Tile

  • It's cold. If you come downstairs to the kitchen barefoot on a winter morning that tile floor may be uncomfortably cold compared to vinyl, wood or other bare floor options.
  • It's hard. If you drop a glass, even relatively close to the floor, it's going to shatter. Floor hardness can also be an issue if you spend a lot of time on your feet cooking. You may need a small mat to place where you most frequently stand.
  • If a ceramic tile is later damage and needs to be replaced, you may find it impossible to get an exact match. That's why installers will advise you to hold onto any extra pieces left over in the initiall installation.
  • If the grout is not sealed properly it will discolor with wear, and if something is spilled on it the grout may stain.

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How to Install Tile

Tile must be installed over a firmly supported subfloor to prevent chipping and cracking. The subfloor should be, at minimum, a 5/8-inch thick exterior grade of plywood that is topped by a ½-inch cement backer board. However, the necessary thickness will depend on the tile. For instance, stone will need twice the stiffness of ceramic, since it is heavier. The purpose of the cement backer board is to create a stable base. If the tile is laid directly onto the subfloor or on a hardwood floor, cracks may develop in the grout lines and tile as the plywood expands.

Although professional installation will usually produce a superior result, laying floor tile can be done as a do-it-yourself project.

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Types of Tile

Floor tile typically falls into two broad categories - ceramic and stone. Ceramic tiles are made from soft clay that is fired to hardness, sometimes with a glaze coating. Stone tiles are cut from natural rock formations such as marble and slate. Since they aren't fired, stone tiles can't have a glaze, but they can be given a clear shiny surface coating.

Unglazed ceramic tiles:

Two popular unglazed ceramic floor tiles are quarry tile and porcelain. Quarry tile is less expensive than porcelain, but the selection of colors and sizes is limited. While unglazed porcelain is more expensive, the selection of sizes, colors and textures is broader. Porcelain is considered to be the most water-resistant and durable type of tile. Unglazed tiles are the same color all the way through, so a small chip is less noticeable than it would be on a glazed tile. Many people also prefer the more natural look of unglazed ceramic tile, and it is less likely to be slippery.

Terra cotta is another ceramic that is sometimes used in floor tiles, however it is not ideal for this purpose because it is much more porous and therefore needs to be sealed repeatedly yet still remains less durable than other ceramic tiles.

Glazed ceramic tiles:

Adding a glaze to ceramic tiles dramatically changes its appearance, and any color imaginable is a possibility. Depending on the glaze, the finish may appear glossy, satin or textured. Glazes are applied either as a single or a double layer. With single-glaze tiles, the coating is applied before the tile is actually fired. With double-glaze, the clay is first fired at a relatively low temperature called "bisque," which is about 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Then the glaze is applied and the tile is fired again, very rapidly up to about 2,000 degrees. The bisque firing stage gives the tile sufficient strength to withstand the rapid temperature increase that some glazes require.

These factors also affect the durability of glazed tiles, which is why some manufactures provide a hardness rating that rangs from light or least durable, to medium, medium-heavy, heavy and, extra heavy or most durable. Generally, single-glazed tiles are more durable than both double-glazed and unglazed. Single-glazed tiles are usually more vivid in color, while double-glazed tiles have more visible patterns.

Stone tiles:

The most common types of stone tiles are granite, marble and slate. To add texture or alter the appearance, stone tiles may be polished and honed. Polished tile has a sleek, shiny appearance, but it can be slippery when wet. The honed finish provides a matte or dull texture. It is not as slippery as the polished finish.

There are other finishing options including tumbled marble that provides a rustic, antique look and flamed granite, which has a deep, rough texture that adds excellent traction.

Marble has a beautiful shine and a classic appearance. However, it is highly porous and stains very easily. With granite, the water absorption rate depends on the stone. Slate is also extremely porous, so it must be sealed regularly. However, it does resist abrasions, chemicals and fading.

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