Floor Tiles for Home 101

Everything You Need to Know About Tiling & Home Design

The use of tile as a building material has been a popular selection for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Italian tile still intrigues tourists in the famous buildings in Italy. French use of tile, has provided incredible works of art, that happen to be located on walls, ceilings and floors. Spanish and Mexican tile has been used in some of the most outstanding homes and buildings in the world. Tile is a universal product that will provide durable and aesthetically pleasing finishes in several different applications within your home.

The use of tile is an art form, which requires not only the skills of a good contractor, but the artistic abilities of true artists and craftsman. Although continually shown on the DIY every popular channel as well as talk programs, good tile work takes years of practice, experience and artistic ability.

Tile, in my opinion, is a wonderful material that can be creatively used throughout the residential home, in many applications. There is no limit to its use and tile will provide longevity and beauty to your home for as many years as you decide to keep the tile in-place. What is wonderful about the material is that for all intents and purposes, it never wears out. Yes, it may outlast its aesthetic appeal as individual preferences change, however, the tile does not simply wear out, you will need to remove it.

The term tile is a basic term that is used throughout the construction industry. Listed below are a few of the most popular uses of the term tile.

Ceramic tile / In most instances the term ceramic tile will refer to tile that is baked in an oven and glazed, creating a tile with a smooth surface that is both durable and aesthetically pleasing. Ceramic tile is available in several different shapes and sizes for various applications. The typical 4 X 4 inch tiles are normally used for bathroom walls and shower enclosures. Smaller tiles are many times used for flooring applications in bathrooms and locker rooms. Very small tiles are many times used to create pictures and designs in floors and walls. I will suggest this several times within this webpage regarding tile, the best and most practical method of researching available tile and determining what is best for your application is to visit your local tile supplier for information and hands on samples of the tile that they may carry or are able to order. Tile selection should not be done over the internet or by the photos in a magazine or product catalog. Go and see the products available, discuss the application and you will be much better educated when it is time to make the final selection.

The majority of ceramic tile has accessory pieces that provide finish applications, for each of the various conditions that will be encountered when installing ceramic tile. These accessories include edge pieces that have a finished edge for termination along the edge of the field of tile, base pieces that provide, what is referenced as a cove, for the interface of wall and floor tiles, as well as several other specialty pieces. Be careful in their selection, due to the expense of specialty pieces. I have performed extremely large tile projects where some of the specialty pieces are well over 10 times the cost, or more, of the standard field tiles. The cost of the specialty tiles should be considered when determining the design and the layout of the tile project. Specialty pieces are also special order, so in many instances the tile installation will be delayed due to the delivery of some of the specialty pieces. So judge the importance of each specialty piece accordingly.

Ceramic tile can be used as a finish surface in any situation within the home, depending upon the creativity of the homeowner, or the interior designer. Countertops can be tiled to accommodate the desire for a specific aesthetic presentation as well as a durable surface. The back of the counters, known as the backsplash, is in many times designed with ceramic tile. Ceramic tile can be used to protect the rear wall at a wood, coal or pellet stove. The use of ceramic tile can be considered as an entry detail in foyers or can be installed in the exterior floor area of an open porch or entryway.

A very creative method of ceramic tile usage, as well as the other tiles we will discuss on this webpage is the interaction of other materials with the tile. I have installed several creative combinations of wood and ceramic tile, or stone and ceramic tile. Creativity can be demonstrated by interfacing each material with the tile creating some very interesting and aesthetic finishes.

Ceramic tile is normally installed with joints, in lieu of a butted installation. The difference is that with a joint application, each tile is separated by a common size joint that is eventually filled with what is called grout. Butted installation is the technique of butting the tiles together with no grout joint. This technique is very rarely used with ceramic tile, most designers and home owners prefer a joint installation. The width of the joint, as well as the type of grout, is dependent upon the type of ceramic tile being used. The installation of ceramic tile with spacing between the tiles is controlled by specific size spacers between the tiles. These spacers are available in different widths, dependent upon the application of the tile, as well as the aesthetic requirements of the homeowner, or interior designer. The grout is available in different colors as well as textures. Both smooth grout as well as sanded grout is available, once again, based upon the application, as well as the aesthetic requirements.

I stress that the best method of learning more about ceramic tile as well as the other tile discussed on this webpage is to visit the local supplier. In this case one visit is worth a thousand webpages. Go and discuss your applications with the experts, they will have the product for you to touch and feel as well as the local flavor of what is currently trending in your location.   In addition, the supplier of the material will be able to recommend a local installer who will be able to provide the installation of the tile. Any recommendation from a supplier, regarding an installation contractor, is normally a good recommendation due to the need for the supplier’s material to look good after installation as well as the importance of his customer’s satisfaction.

Floor tile / The use of tile as a flooring material is extremely popular. Clay tiles are used in many cases for a general flooring material throughout heavy traffic areas of the home. Floor tile is available in many different styles, shapes and finishes, very similar to the selection of ceramic tiles. Dependent upon the application, large floor tiles can be used, especially if the application is directly on a concrete slab. Floor tile is constantly pounded by foot traffic and the preparation of the sub-base, for floor tile, is extremely important. The larger the pieces of tile, the more tendency the tile has to crack or break. Therefore, the proper and successful floor tile application will be totally dependent upon the ability of the sub base to provide a firm, and even support throughout the field of tile. Any unevenness within the floor’s sub base will cause the larger tile to crack and break. The use of a larger floor tile requires a special consideration regarding the jointing of the tile. Due to the larger pieces, the ability to easily recognize tile joints that may not properly line up or joints that vary in width is easier and more obvious. Although larger tiles cover more area, their installation requires a very precise layout and installation procedure. Improperly installed larger floor tiles do not get lost in the myriad of joints and tiles that smaller tile installations provide. A misplaced large tile will be extremely obvious and will ruin the overall presentation of the entire floor.

The use of tile as a floor finish is a very durable solution within heavily traffic areas. However, the incorrect selection of floor tile can also produce a very dangerous and slippery condition, especially when wet. In many instances, especially in the foyer, the tracking of moisture from the exterior, will cause the surface of the tile to become covered in water. The choice of tile for this application must be carefully considered to avoid a slippery condition. The incorrect selection of tile can produce a very dangerous and slippery condition, if the tile is wet. Special surface applications and processes are available to ensure that this condition does not occur.

Once again, it is recommended that you visit your local tile supplier for guidance on the proper type of floor tile to be used in various applications. Based upon each location, the individual suppliers of the tile will be the best source of nonslip material for that region of the country.

A new product that has just been introduced on the market is ceramic tile applications that mimic the look of wood, or other common flooring products. These floor tile applications are generally longer and narrower than conventional floor tiles, and once installed, will appear as though a wood floor has been installed. A wonderful characteristic of this type of product is the ability to aesthetically blend the look of wood with the durability and moisture resistance of a tile floor. This application is gaining popularity, and is especially convenient for kitchen and bathroom designers looking to introduce the look of wood, but concerned about the moisture and water exposure in the kitchen environment.

Floor tile can be installed with or without joints. If the tile is installed with joints, like the ceramic tile, the widths of the joints are a custom selection, based upon the application as well as the required aesthetics. Floor tile joints, are in most cases, larger in width than wall tiles, and the grout selected is normally a sanded grout to provide a rougher and more slip resistant application.

Stone tile / The use of stone tile is becoming an increasingly popular aesthetic application for both walls and floors. These tiles are made of slices of actual stone or synthetic materials created to stimulate a stone appearance. These tiles are available in several shapes and sizes as well as special condition pieces, to properly allow the termination of the stone tile field. Stone tile is aesthetically popular in the entry foyer, or as the kitchen or bathroom floor.

Stone tile is also used to stimulate a stone face for a wall in the family room, living room, etc. The use of this product, by interior designers can be very creative and can produce a finish surface that appears to be a full stone wall. The use of this application is popular as a backdrop for a wood, coal or pellet stoves or used to simulate the appearance of a stone fireplace, without the craftsmanship required to construct the entire fireplace in stone.

Stone tile veneer has become popular as a finish, for even the exterior of the home. Detailing, using the stone tile as the façade of the home can provide a beautiful aesthetically pleasing appearance, without the need for a full stone applied façade.

The jointing of a stone tile application is dependent upon the application as well as the aesthetic appearance desired. Stone tile is produced in all applications and dependent upon the look, the jointing can be different for each type of stone tile.

Installation of the stone tile on a wall varies, dependent upon the manufacturer. In some instances the use of a highly adhesive mastic, buttered on the back of each stone tile will be adequate to adhere the stone tiles to the vertical wall surface. In other applications, a metal support system is manufactured to allow the resting of the tiles on this metal retention system.

Once again, it is highly recommended that your local suppler of this stone tile be visited to discuss the application, view the product, and witness the installation techniques that various manufacturers have developed for installation of their stone tiles.

What are some of the common considerations, terms, or observations that should be understood, when selecting tile for your application?

  • Sub-base / The importance of providing a proper sub-base for the application of tile is extremely important. If the sub-base is not properly prepared, the tile will crack and the grout in the joints will loosen up and pop out. Tile is a very rigid and non-flexing material that does not adjust to an instable base. It is extremely important that all voids beneath the tile are filled with floor mastic, and that the tiles are properly installed by an application that ensures the entire underside of the tile is supported. It is recommended that, if the tile application is over a plywood subfloor, the plywood be doubled up, consisting of two layers of plywood sheathing installed in opposing directions. It is recommended that if tile is going to be applied as the surface finish, the floor be constructed of a layer of 5/8 inch, tongue and groove plywood or floor sheathing, in a direction perpendicular to the floor joists. This initial application of sheathing should be installed with both glue and screws. The glue will ensure a common bond between the sheathing and the top of the floor joists and the screws will not back out. On the top of this initial application of floor sheathing, another layer of ½ inch sheathing which is plugged and sanded be applied perpendicular to the first layer. This layer of sheathing should also be glued and screwed to ensure full and complete adhesion to the initial layer. Plugged and sanded is a term used for plywood that has one side evenly sanded, with all imperfections plugged, to produce a clean and smooth surface.

If this technique is used for a floor tile sub-base, there should be less cracking of the tiles as well as grout deterioration.


  • Concrete sub-base / The application of tile on a concrete sub-base is preferred. If the concrete slab is placed on grade, which means on the earth, the integrity of the slab should be structurally supportive for the tile application. If the concrete slab is filled with voids or cracks, these voids and cracks should be cut out and refilled with non- shrink grout. The importance of providing a firm, structurally sound base, for the tile application, is important to prevent cracking of the tile or deterioration of the grout. If the concrete slab has had any type of finish coating, such as a paint application or a clear and dominant sealer, the slab must be scarified to ensure that the tile mastic adheres properly to the slab. Scarifying is the technique of etching the top of the slab to remove any foreign elements on the surface.   There are scarifying machines, sand blasting techniques as well as chemical scarifying techniques that can be applied, to ensure the surface of the concrete will accept the tile mastic.

If the concrete slab has dominant cracks, or is breaking up in specific areas, these areas must be evaluated.   Any application of a rigid tile over a deteriorating sub-base of concrete, that is cracking or deteriorating, will simply translate through the tile and the same deterioration will become evident on the tile surface. All issues under the tile must be resolved, prior to the application of the surface tile. Tile will transfer any problematic issues in the sub-base directly up to the tiles surface.


  • Slippery tile / Once again, although commented previously within this webpage, the slippery conditions that can occur on the surface of some floor tiles, must be addressed. There is nothing as slippery as a tile surface, which has not been properly prepared, or is the incorrect tile for the application. Care must be taken to ensure that the proper tile is selected, the proper non-slip surface is used, and the grout in the joints is a non-slip product.
  • Color / Tile installation is a permanent application, and not easily changed, like a coat of paint or a wood application. The removal of tile is normally, if the installation was correct, a large and costly project. Select a color of tile, or a pattern, that you will be happy with for several years. Tile is permanent, yes, it can be removed, but with tremendous effort and once removed, will require substantial remedial work to re-install another flooring surface. Careful with the color and the style, do not make a dated selection, similar to the pinks and blue bathroom tiles used in the 60’s. Make sure that you are happy with the selection, and in most cases, the less dominant the color or the pattern, the more easily accepted, for a longer period of time. Of course I am speaking as a contractor and not an interior designer.


  • Hardness / Tiles are hard and non-flexible. If the tile is used as a flooring material in the kitchen and a dish or glass is dropped, it will break. The material is non- forgiving, when it comes to dropping items from the kitchen counter or during the food preparation and cooking. In addition, if someone should fall and hit their head injury can result. Tile is not the best selection if children will be running and playing on the surface if slipping and falling is to be considered.


  • Temperature / Tiles are cold. If tile is used in an area that you commonly walk around, with bare feet, the tile will be cold. Tile is not a warm and inviting flooring application such as carpet, it will retain the cold of the morning, unless other techniques are used to warm the floor tile such as a radiant heat application.


  • Radiant heating / Tile is perfect for the installation of radiant heat below the tile. To solve the coldness or the tile, radiant heat can be installed below the tile to produce energy efficient, and very inviting flooring surface. Ceramic tile, floor tile and stone tile are all perfect products for radiant heating and this application should be considered on the majority of tile installations.


  • Layout / The layout and pattern of tiles are significant to the aesthetic look of the application. A professional contractor that is experienced in the application of tile is recommended. The proper layout of the tile is important to the general, overall impression of the entire installation. Improper layout of the tile, requiring uneven or unsymmetrical distribution of the tile sizes, will ruin the overall impression of the entire application. Layout is extremely important.


  • Cost / Normally tile will be a more expensive application than most wood, vinyl or carpet applications. For the wall application, the installation of tile is much more costly than simply painting the surface of the wall. However, once the tile is installed, the durability and longevity of the material will far exceed other applications.


  • Schluter Strips / The use of termination strips called schluter strips is a common method of transitioning the field of tile with carpet, wood or other dissimilar material. Schluter is a manufacturer of the strips, however, any type of metal or dissimilar material is, in many instances referred to as a schluter strip, whether it is actually made by schluter or not. Schluter strips are normally installed with the leg of the strip installed under the tile installation. The strip is in most cases formed like and L and the finish surface is positioned out from the tile installation. This will allow other material such as carpet or wood flooring to abut to the edge of the schluter strip.

The term tile is used in construction to describe many other types of materials. Ceiling tile which are normally manufactured out of gypsum or other synthetic product are called tiles. Vinyl tile is a synthetic tile material that has resiliency and flexibility and is not installed, normally with a joint, but is butt jointed, one piece immediately against the other.

The use of ceramic, floor or stone tile is highly recommended due to its ability to provide a very durable surface as well as it’s longevity and ease of maintaining.

Visit your local tile supplier, and ask questions. Your local supplier will understand your needs, identify the proper material, and recommend an installer that will install the tile you have selected in a professional and experienced manner.

Remember, tile is basically forever, so be comfortable with your selection and enjoy the beauty of a material that has been available as a construction material for generations.

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