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Types of Tile & Where to Best Use Them

Posted October 14, 2020

Guest post by Jamin Mills of The Handmade Home

Hey, I’m Jamin from The Handmade Home here today to help simplify all those options when it comes to choosing a tile. 

A lot of people feel overwhelmed by all the choices once they begin looking at tile. There is field tile, mosaic tile, glass tile, ceramic tile, large format tile, natural stone, metallic, bullnose… wait what? This is before the entire install process even begins, so it helps to have a little knowledge of the basics. With a lot of choices, understanding them helps you know what tile to use where, and avoid a costly mistake.

It also makes you sound รผber-smart at a dinner party when the topic of your bff renovating their bathroom comes up, and they want to use marble, but aren’t quite sure. #partytrick

So let’s dive in…

Here are the basic tile materials and some helpful info about them.

CERAMIC + PORCALIN

These aren’t 100% the same, but I lump them together because they’re both clay-baked tiles. Generally speaking, these are your most common tiles, with more pattern options. They’re often easier to work with, which is a definite pro when it comes to choosing what you want for your project. Both are commonly used for both flooring and wall installations.

The difference:

While their base is the same {clay} and both are fired in a kiln, porcelain is actually made of a denser clay and fired at a higher temperature. The material and temperature make a difference in the product, and knowing the difference helps you decide which tile you want to use. 

Because of the way the porcelain is made, it’s generally smoother and the same color all the way through. It’s slightly stronger than ceramic. Small chips on solid porcelain tile will not be as noticeable and its durability is better than ceramic. So heavy traffic areas might benefit more from porcelain. Porcelain is more water-resistant at a rate of less than 0.5% absorption, which can be beneficial in certain applications.

Ceramic is a great option though and is not to be thought of as inferior. Just different. Some of those differences are pluses when it comes to installation. Ceramic tile is easier to cut and can be accomplished with basic tile tools. So, for the DIYer, it is a perfect choice. Whereas it’s normally advised for porcelain to be cut with a wet saw. Ceramic is also generally, less expensive

NATURAL STONE

 Is exactly what you’d think. It’s tile made from natural stone. In other words, it is not synthetic. It’s considered more luxurious and elegant by some, but we believe it all depends on the application of the tile.

Natural stone tiles are generally made from slate, limestone, marble, travertine, granite, and sandstone… amongst others.

Its absorption rate varies by stone, so you’ll want to pay attention to each product. For instance, sandstone is considered very porous, while granite is near impervious. {Back to geology 101: It was not, in fact, rocks for jocks as all my friends in college promised.} 

Benefits:

One of the biggest benefits to natural stone tile is that each piece is unique, so there are no two tiles that are alike, anywhere. It’s truly one of a kind. They’re also generally harder and more durable than other tiles, and often help increase the value of the home over other tiles. They’re considered more hygienic because they do not store dust, pet hairs, or skin particles, providing an easier surface to keep clean. And if you’re considering heating your floor, they make a great conductor to transfer heat.

Some of the stones can be a little more challenging to cut and most will need to be cut with a wet saw. 

GLASS TILE

 Made of glass with a translucent glaze fired on the back of the tile. They come in single pieces or as designed mosaic pieces.

These are accent or wall pieces, not for the floor. Their slippery nature leads to one of their advantages: they’re easy to clean and there is no water absorption.

Maybe one of the best advantages, is that glass tile has endless color varieties.

As noted, one of the disadvantages is that it can be slick, less durable, and harder to install. They need to be cut with a clean proper blade and installed by someone who’s had a little experience in cutting tile. 

METALLIC TILE

Share some of the same advantages and disadvantages of glass tiles.

Metallic tile is also very reflective, so depending on your design this can be an advantage or a disadvantage.

Once you understand tile materials, you’ll want to understand tile patterns

FIELD TILES

Are more commonly used in the main areas of a room. You’ll find all kinds of applications, but floors are their most popular use. These are larger than the standard subway tile size of 3โ€ x 6โ€. 

MOSAIC TILES

Inlaid sheets of tile that contain smaller tiles to create a specific design. These can be used as floor tile (penny tile sample above) or wall tile, as well.

ACCENT PIECES

There are accent pieces that are used on the borders of the floor or walls to create contrast. They can also act as a divider between design similar to wainscot. 

FINISHING PIECES

Then there are all your finishing pieces, and it’s all about the details. You have crown, bullnose, dome molding, pencil tile, base molding, and a variety of finish pieces to help you polish off your design. Which one you use depends on the design you want and the tile you’re using. For instance, some subway tile lines offer finished edge pieces, while others don’t and would need a pencil tile or something similar, to finish it off on the exposed ends.

The bottom line: when you’re planning your tiling project, you don’t want to forget your trim pieces, even if it’s just a simple piece of metal edging like Schluter. This will give it a more professional look with clean edges.

A few of our best tips for tile use: 

Understanding all the types and materials of tile can help you make a decision about what you want to use. Spend that extra bit of time understanding your options and planning out the project.

If you’re a beginner, starting out with ceramic is a great way to learn how to cut and work with tile. Not only is it generally less expensive, but it can also be cut with a variety of tools.

If you’re looking for outdoor application, porcelain along with natural stone is probably your best bet. You won’t want to use anything that will absorb much water, because freezing water will crack or displace your tiles.

For an easy to clean option, glass and metallic tile are great. But only use these in appropriate locations. Floors are out.

Field tiles are great for open expanses. These tiles can come in larger formats and allow you to take up more space with one single tile, making your materials cost lower.

Mosaics are perfect for shower floors to offer that extra grip with the grout lines. They are also great for the walls to bring character into a room.

There’s a lot to know about tiling and tiles in general but understanding the basics will help you achieve a beautiful tile project. 

I hope this breakdown of all the basic materials have helped you today! Happy tiling with all things Jeffrey Court, and have an inspired day!

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