When ceramic or clay tiles were first made, they used a very simple system that involved cutting or molding the clay into a desired shape and then drying it in the sun until it was hard enough to use. They would then paint it or use it plain. Today the clay is fired, or baked, in a kiln at very high temperatures (above 1000 degrees centigrade) before it is further processed for it’s final use. You can get a plain tile, which has been baked only once, or you can get a glazed finish in plain colors or patterns, which has been baked a second time to fix the liquid glass to the tile surface; making it virtually stain resistant and much stronger. There is another method of making ceramic tile today that produces a smoother, harder, less porous tile, and it involves baking a clay and dust mixture, compressing it between two plates and then firing it in a kiln. This process produces “porcelain tile” and it is the tile primarily used in commercial applications.
There is a rating system for tile that allows the end-user to choose the right tile for the job. It is called the PEI system and it stands for the Porcelain Enamel Institute rating system. This system rates tiles between 0 and 5 based on the amount of wear it will take. For instance, a 0 rating tile cannot be walked on and is used on the walls only, while at the other end of the rating system, a 5 can take heavy foot traffic and is recommended for residential, commercial and industrial use. A tile with a 3 or 4 rating will satisfy most home use applications.
The most popular use by far for ceramic tile today is as a floor covering though you can find it being used in many kitchens and bathrooms as a custom countertop finish, or for wall finishes in the bathroom; especially in the shower area where the entire shower can be custom finished with ceramic tile. As a floor covering, the tile can be installed in straight rows with no pattern; it can be prepared in a diagonal pattern, or you can make a custom design using many different shapes and colors. The really adventurous have made circular patterns with custom finished tiles mixed in. You’ll also find ceramic tile in the kitchen on the wall above the countertop as a backsplash area. It’s important when using it as a countertop to use the bull nosed tiles at the edges for a smooth finish, and cove shaped tiles for 90 degree transitions from the countertop to the wall. Ornately finished tiles are being used in restaurants and other public buildings as accent wall coverings or as ceramic chair rail. Unglazed ceramic tiles are used in baking and can be found lining bread and pizza ovens as well as being used as a cooking surface themselves, instead of using a pan.
For those with an artistic flair, decorating with hand-made custom tiles is also an option. You could have an artist paint a picture on a set of unfinished hand-made tiles using glazing paint, and then have the whole thing baked in a kiln and hang the finished tiles on your wall as a mural. Still some people will place them in plate holders as wall hangings or sit them on tables as decoration. As you can see, only your imagination will limit what can be done with ceramic tile.
Why not do-it-yourself! The installation process is fairly easy to learn and has become a DIY project at one time or another for most households. If you are going to do the work yourself you should start with a small floor area where any mistakes that are made can be easily removed and replaced without great expense. Laying ceramic tile on the walls and ceiling, or doing elaborate pattern work, is not usually a job for the beginner, but requires the skills and talent of an experienced tile person.
Pros/Cons of using it in the home
While ceramic tile is beautiful to look at there are few things that should be considered before making a decision as to which rooms to use it in. First, it is very hard and most glass or fragile items that are dropped on the tile will break. Second, there is a chance that the tile itself may break if something heavy is dropped on it as it can be brittle; and replacing the tile after it has been grouted is not a simple task. A third consideration is that tile is permanent flooring. Unlike hardwood flooring which can be sanded down and refinished in a different color, or laminate flooring which can be easily removed, ceramic tile will have to be torn up to be replaced. This is a major task, especially if it was installed properly to begin with. These reasons are not given to deter you from using ceramic tile, but to ensure that proper planning comes ahead of the installation so that it is installed in an area where it can be enjoyed for years to come without worry.
What rooms should it go in
Ceramic tile is best used in areas that get a lot of floor traffic such as kitchens and bathrooms and even game rooms. The benefits are obvious: resists water damage, resists staining, and it is easy to clean and maintain. Another good reason for using tile in these rooms is that a plain colored ceramic tile floor gives a large single-colored area to accent against when it comes to decorating.
If you are on a budget and don’t like the looks of vinyl flooring, consider using ceramic tile in your foyer. It’s a very small upgrade for the amount of square footage but it carries great benefits. It’s a good place for easy-to-clean flooring and its beauty will enhance the look of your home for your guests as soon as they arrive.
Cost of tile versus other types of flooring
Ceramic tile is very competitive in price when compared to other upgraded flooring options. Regular glazed tiles run as little as .99 a square foot at most home centers and there is usually a decent selection of colors at that price. Laminate flooring is sometimes available for .99 a square foot, but that is for an inexpensive grade of flooring that will not take heavy traffic very well. A decent laminate flooring will run 2-5 dollars a square foot. When looking at the price of carpet, you have to consider the additional cost of the pad and since very few people can put their own carpet in you will also have to include installation in your cost comparison. That puts carpet at about 3 dollars a square foot at the low end and 5 dollars a square foot or more for a better grade. Hardwood flooring will run 4 dollars a square foot and up. As you can see, ceramic tile is a genuine value in quality floor covering that will give years of service with low maintenance.