Tile Is Tough Enough

Tile is durable and can give clean-lined elegance to floors throughout your home
White Hardwood Floor

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By: Kim Hildenbrand

With its versatility, durability, and cool elegance, it's no wonder tile floors are so popular. Once reserved for busy entries, baths, and kitchens, tile is making its way into every room in the house. Tile can look rustic or cutting edge, and it can be installed in virtually any pattern. Made from natural materials like ceramic, stone or glass, tile is environmentally friendly. Some manufacturers even offer tile that uses recycled content.

Types of Tile

Ceramic Tile. Crafted from a mix of clays. Because the material is porous, it is finished with a protective glaze. Ceramic tile is slightly more prone to wear, cracking, and chipping than porcelain tile.

Porcelain Tile. Made by firing finely ground clays and minerals at extremely high temperatures, is harder and denser than ceramic. Porcelain is better at resisting water and stains and is often used outdoors as it won't crack in cold temperatures. However, it is harder to install than ceramic tile.

Natural Stone Tile. Usually made from travertine, limestone, marble, granite, or slate. Stone is the most durable, improves with ages and lasts a lifetime. However, it is the most expensive option.


Size. Larger tile means fewer grout lines for a less busy appearance. They also can make small living spaces appear larger. But very small spaces such as powder rooms benefit from smaller tiles.

Shape. Choices abound, including square, rectangular, or hexagonal.

Variation. Tiles are made with natural materials, which vary in texture and shades. Choose from three options: low, moderate, and high variation. Generally, lower-variation tiles impart a sleek, contemporary feel, while high-variation styles appear more rustic.

Grout. The adhesive used to fill the space between tiles, grout comes in a variety of colors. Matching grout creates a more seamless look, while contrasting grout highlights the design. Grout lines can range from thin to thick.

Accents. Dress up tile floors with a variety of borders medallions, or mosaics.


To avoid damage, select tile rated for use in the area where you plan to install it. There are three types of ratings:

Durability. The Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) has established a rating system to designate tile durability. Class 1 tile is rated for very light traffic, such as walls and lightly used countertops; class 2 for light traffic such as walls and low-traffic bath floors; class 3 for moderate traffic, including any floor in the home; class 4 for moderate to heavy traffic, including anywhere in the home and light commercial use; and class 5 for heavy traffic, mainly for commercial and industrial use.

Scratch Resistance. The MOHs rating score is an industry test that determines a tile's ability to withstand visible scratches. Tiles are rated on a scale of 1 to 10 to determine their ability to resist scratching by various minerals (talc being the softest at 1 and diamonds the hardest at 10). A lower rating means greater susceptibility to scratches. Tiles with any rating may be used on walls; glazed tile with a value of 4 to 6 is suitable for most residential floors; and tile with a value of 7 or higher is suitable for commercial spaces. Most porcelain tiles rate at least a seven.

Porosity. Measures water resistance. Non-vitreous and semi-vitreous tiles are more porous and for indoor use only; vitreous tiles (also called frost-resistant) are for outdoor use except in freeze-thaw conditions where cracking could occur. Impervious tiles are frost proof and can be used outdoors in any climate.

Keep Your Feet Warm

Tile can be cold on bare feet, so consider adding radiant in-floor heat. The most common option, electric in-floor heating requires laying heating cables or mats (either prefabricated or custom cut) between the subfloor and the floor. The system is controlled with a thermostat or timer and serves as a supplement to a home's main heat source. Most popular in baths, in-floor heating systems also warm up kitchens, bedrooms, and mudrooms—anywhere you install ceramic, stone, concrete, or engineered floors. You can choose from a variety of brands; most add a surprisingly low cost to a floor-replacement project.

Hydronic systems warm floors using plastic tubes filled with warm water. These are most often used to add heat to a whole house rather than a single room. They're more expensive, and installation is fairly complex.

Factors to Consider

How to Clean. Spills can stain grout, so wipe up spills. Sweep or vacuum regularly, and occasionally use a damp mop and mild cleaner on the surface. Avoid abrasives such as steel wool and scouring pads, which can scratch tile. Reseal stone floors as necessary.

Best for: Virtually any room. Tile is traditionally reserved for kitchens, baths, and entryways, but some homeowners extend it into living and dining areas.

Pet Friendly? Extremely. One of the best options, tile withstands scratches from claws, spilled water, and pet messes, and it won't absorb odors. But it's cold and hard, so provide soft mats or pet beds for added comfort.

Underlayment. Tile must be installed on a subfloor that is smooth, flat, rigid, and clean. Depending on the existing subfloor, a cement tile backer board may be required beneath the tile.

The Lowdown

Tile comes in a range of shapes, sizes and colors and can be ceramic, stone, glass or metal. Cutting-edge styles of tile mimic the textures of leather, stone, grasscloth, and linen. Tile is resistant to fire, stains, scratches, water, bacteria, and odors. Stone tile gains "character" with age and can increase resale value. However, tile can also be cold on bare feet and uncomfortable to stand on for long periods of time. In addition, tiles can crack, grout can become stained, and dropped dishes are likely to break on it.

Ceramic tiles tend to cost between $1 and $8 per square foot, uninstalled; and stone tiles run between $2 and $15 per square foot, uninstalled. Installation is moderately difficult and can be hard on the back and knees.

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