With a price generally comparable to wood flooring and a stylish elegance similar to that of stone flooring, tile floors can be a good compromise. Priced between $8 and $15 per square foot, tile comes in an array of styles and types, with well over a dozen varieties available. Ranging from handmade Mexican saltillo tile to porcelain to cement, tile can adapt to nearly any decorating style.
Ceramic tile is by far the most popular type. It is made from a clay mixture that is baked at over 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. During the baking process, liquid glass is applied to the tile, creating a clear or colored glaze that enhances the hardness and resistance of the tile surface. Ceramic tiles range in size from ½" to ¾" thick and from 4"x 4" to 24"x 24". Tiny ceramic mosaic tiles, measuring 2"x 2" or smaller, can be used to create flooring patterns and intricate designs.
All tile is made from some form of natural or manmade clay or stone mixture. Cement tiles are poured in molds, sometimes with color added, then fired or dried naturally. Porcelain tiles are fired at very high temperatures and can use photographic technology to mimic stone or other flooring materials. Bricks and paver tiles give a rustic look and can be used indoors or outdoors. Mexican saltillo tiles and terracotta are naturally dried and require sealants, especially for indoor use.
Floor tiles are rated for durability, porosity and wear. Hardness, durability and absorbency are rated using the Moh scale, a series of standardized tests. Porosity - the level of absorbency - is rated as impervious (least absorbent), vitreous, semi-vitreous and non-vitreous (most absorbent). Wear suitability is determined on a grading scale established by The Porcelain Enamel Institute. The ratings range from "Light Traffic," for tiles best suited for bathroom floors or areas that will often be walked upon with bare feet or sock feet, to "Extremely Heavy Traffic," for tiles that are suitable for any commercial areas or home interior areas, regardless of use.
With a variety of style and color options, tile is very versatile and can be installed in nearly any room in the house, including bathrooms and kitchens. Glazed tiles resist wear and dirt and repel moisture and stains. Naturally beautiful, tile is also unlikely to scratch or dent and can be manufactured with a mildly abrasive finish to prevent slipping. Tile floors are durable, easy to maintain and allow for easy repair or replacement of chipped or cracked tiles.
While it has many advantages, tile also has some basic disadvantages. It requires a specific type of subfloor - usually concrete - as a base for installation. Tile is also very hard, making it noisy underfoot and likely to shatter any breakable object that is dropped on it. It can also be very cold and, like stone, may require under-floor heating in cold climates. Tiles are also prone to chipping and cracking, and the grout between tiles can become stained or cracked.
Tiles are generally installed individually, attached to the subfloor with adhesive and separated from one another with grout. Mosaic tiles are the only exception; due to their small size, they can be installed individually or on a pre-made design sheet of attached tiles. All types of tile are best installed by a professional due to cutting and other installation requirements, but consumers with appropriate experience and tools may be able to handle a do-it-yourself installation of ceramic or mosaic tiles. Major manufactures of tile include Dal-Tile, American Olean, Ply-Gem, Ceramica Del Conca and Florim, among others.
Overall, tile is a good mid-priced choice for style and durability. It is versatile in both appearance and usage and, unlike wood, is suitable for high moisture areas, such as kitchens and bathrooms. It is long-lasting and generally holds up well to foot traffic, even in high-traffic areas such as entryways.