Choosing Flooring: Tile

Tile continues to grow in popularity as a floor covering, with good reason.

  • Tile has a natural, handcrafted look that's durable and easy to care for.
  • Tile works well in areas with high foot traffic, and it's especially suited to entry areas where water and dirt enter the house.
  • Design patterns are limitless when using all of the possible combinations of size, texture and color.
  • You can further expand your creative toolbox with hand painted tiles and colored grouts.

By combining various geometric layout and numerous trim tiles your design options are practically limitless.

Selecting Tile

Finding a tile you like is easy. Just make sure it's the right one for your floor and choose a tile that's rated for the area you where you plan to install it. Entryways need a hard, abrasion-resistant, moisture-proof tile. Baths require a moisture-proof non-slip material. Slip-resistant tile is treated with an abrasive material to "rough up" the smooth surface for safety. Some tiles are rated for indoor or outdoor use only, others can be used in either application.

Floor tile is usually 1/2" to 3/4" thick, manufactured in squares measuring 4"x4" up to 24"x 24". Other shapes, such as octagonal and hexagonal are available. (Wall tile is thinner and comes in squares from 3"x 3" up to 6"x 6".)

Mosaic tiles are two inches square or smaller and can be installed individually. Mosaic tiles are also available in pre-mounted paper or fabric mesh sheets.

Tile Ratings

All tile feels hard, but some types of tile are actually harder than others. Tile is rated by a series of standardized tests. The tests evaluate a tile's relative hardness (the Moh scale), its ability to stand up to wear and the percentage of water absorbed.

The Porcelain Enamel Institute hardness ratings are:

  • Group I - Light Traffic: residential bathroom floors where bare or stocking feet are the norm.
  • Group II - Medium Traffic: home interiors where little abrasion occurs. Don't use in kitchens or entries.
  • Group III - Medium-Heavy Traffic: any home interior.
  • Group IV - Heavy Traffic: homes or light to medium commercial areas.
  • Group V- Extra Heavy Traffic: use it anywhere.

These ratings are important, but don't get too bogged down in analysis — they serve to help you find the right tile for your application.


Pay closer attention to the ratings test that measures the percentage of water absorbed, or porosity. A tile's porosity is critical especially when choosing tile for kitchens and baths, since these areas need moisture proof flooring. Porous tile should not be used outdoors where cold weather produces freeze/thaw cycles. The classifications for the porosity of tile are: Impervious (least absorbent), Vitreous, Semi-vitreous, and Non-vitreous (most absorbent).


The hardness of tile is affected by the firing process. Usually, the longer and hotter the firing, the harder the tile will be. The raw tile material, called bisque, is either single-fired or double-fired.

  • For single-fired tiles, the glaze is applied to the raw material and baked once in a kiln.
  • Double-fired tiles are thicker. Raw material is baked a second time after additional color or decoration is added.

Installing Tile

On the do-it-yourself project scale, installing tile ranges from easy to challenging. Tiles usually require some cutting to fit. They're applied with mortar or other adhesives, followed by a final application of grout.

As with all types of tile, areas that require precision cuts may be more difficult. Flooring presents its own set of concerns. Since tile is not a resilient material, it requires a very stable subsurface. Subfloors frequently have to be built up to the thickness required for tile flooring.

See the chart below for some common (and some less common) floor tile.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Splash and dazzle

Backsplashes can be both fabulous and functional

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2009 AT 2 A.M.

Make a big splash with the backsplash design in your home’s kitchen or bathroom. Backsplashes have evolved from standard-issue ceramic squares to stellar glass, metal and stone tiles.

A wipable surface above the countertop and sink that protects the wall from splashed liquids, a well-designed backsplash form follows its function, says Clay Lyon, board member of the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) and owner of Lyon Construction and Design in the Kansas City area.

“The backsplash can be haute design or a simple surface that is easy to clean and contains the mess,” he says. “It all depends on the materials you use and the look you’re going for.”

Before creating a rear-splash revolution, Lyon says to first consider the overall style of the house and design of the room in which the backsplash will be installed.

“Especially in the kitchen, the 18-inch space between the cabinet and countertop is prime real estate for the eye,” he says. “Homeowners have to decide if they want the backsplash to become a visual accent or simply fade into the background.”

Many homeowners get back to basics when considering which materials to use for their backsplash, Lyon says. Ceramic tile still remains one of the most popular materials for backsplashes, with uninstalled prices starting around $2 per square-foot. With glazes that create a nearly unlimited array of colors and designs, fired ceramic tiles have smooth surfaces that are stain-resistant and easily cleaned with a nonabrasive cleanser and soft cloth.

“A sleek, clean-lined backsplash has a contemporary feel,” Lyon says. “But, brick-shaped tiles also can have a traditional look.”

Subway or brick-shaped tiles are a popular design trend. The typically 3-by-6-inch, solid-colored tiles are named for the old ceramic found on the walls in subway stations.

Today’s subway tiles aren’t just ceramic; some are made of glass. Like gems in a kitchen or bathroom backsplash, glass tiles can be iridescent, frosted, tumbled, polished, textured or handblown.

Glass tiles also come in a variety of colors and sizes, starting around $10 per square-foot, uninstalled. Ranging in size from 1-inch squares and larger, to handblown pencil-shaped tiles, cleaning glass requires a soft-touch, as abrasives may etch its surface.

“A metal backsplash complements a more modern-style home,” Lyon says. “While a stone backsplash can fit a more rustic space.”

Popular choices for metal backsplashes include stainless steel and copper, which range from accent tiles to professionally fabricated 18- inch, full-height pieces. A matte, satin or verdigris finish on metal can help hide fingerprints and water spots.

Slate, marble, travertine and granite are popular stones for backsplashes. Part of these natural products’ appeal is the variation from one stone to the next. Stones that are honed don’t reveal scratches or create a glare. While a full-height 18-inch backsplash needs to be professionally fabricated, individual tiles can start around $5 per square foot uninstalled.

For some homeowners, there’s no holding back in their backsplash design. Mixing materials to create a backsplash’s unique look can make it a focal point in the kitchen or bathroom. A stone backsplash can have metal accents, while differently colored glass can complement a predominantly ceramic-tiled area.

“In a kitchen, the backsplash behind a cooktop is usually a larger area, which can be an opportunity to make a style statement,” Lyon says.

By contrast, Lyon says most bathrooms are one-quarter the size of a kitchen, so the backsplash is often simple — “light, bright and white.” To create a washroom wow-effect, consider installing small, contrasting colored tiles from floor-to-ceiling on one wall by the tub, sink or toilet.

Creating a personalized mosaic backsplash can match any color scheme, show off any style or be made from recycled materials, such as broken dishes (also called picassiette, which is French for “broken plate”). A mosaic is a pattern that is made by inlaying small colored, textured pieces (also called tesserae), and gluing them into place.

A mosaic first needs to be bonded to a sturdy substrate, such as backer board, so pieces will not pop off when it is affixed to the wall. When the design is finished, the mosaic is then mounted and grouted in the same way one would finish a conventionally tiled installation.

Whether you’re trying to create an ubercool or understated backsplash, Lyon says it should be an integrally planned part of any kitchen or bathroom design, not an afterthought.

“A backsplash can unify and bridge the gap between the upper and lower parts of a kitchen or bathroom,” he says. “It can be the element that unites the countertop, cabinets, paint, flooring and plumbing fixtures.”


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