by Kelsey Flores
​Tile’s many applications, from accents and backsplashes to floors and shower walls, are well-known. Its technical details, not so much. You’re probably not familiar with things like tile’s coefficient of friction rating or the difference between color body and through body tile. You may not even know that porcelain and ceramic are two different products. No matter what you don’t know, it’s OK: This insider’s guide will have you speaking tile’s language in no time. 
Porcelain vs. Ceramic Tile
There are two types of tile: ceramic and porcelain.

According to the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), ceramic tiles are made with clay, minerals, and water. The tiles are then fired and glazed (which is where the color and look come from) because the ceramic is porous. Ceramic tile is also easier to install and, according to the National Kitchen + Bath Association (NKBA), has a higher water absorption rate of about ½ inch of water, which makes it less frost resistant. 
Diagram of ceramic vs. porcelain tile
Photo courtesy of Mohawk Flooring.
Porcelain tiles, on the other hand, are made from sand-like material and porcelain clays and then formed with pressure and heat. As a result, it’s denser and absorbs less water than ceramic tiles. In fact, porcelain tile is defined by water absorption. If a tile absorbs less than one half of a percent of moisture, it’s classified as a porcelain tile.

Due to its low moisture absorption rate, porcelain tile can be installed outdoors whereas ceramic tile generally cannot. Porcelain tiles are stronger than ceramic and require special tools to install.

Despite their differences, both porcelain and ceramic are durable, easy to clean, and available at all price ranges. 
Color Body vs. Through Body
According to Ragno, through body porcelain, also known as unglazed porcelain tiles, is produced using colored raw materials that permeate the entire tile. This incorporates uninterrupted color and pattern features seen on the surface all the way through the tile body. 

Color body porcelain tiles, on the other hand, are created with continuous colored stains from the glaze surface throughout the body of the tile. This lessens the visibility of chips and scratches that may occur. The color remains consistent throughout the tile, but the surface design doesn’t extend throughout the tile’s body. 
Tile living room floor
Photo courtesy of Daltile.
Tile Ratings
When shopping for tile, it’s very probable that you’ll hear the acronym “PEI” at some point. PEI, which stands for Porcelain Enamel Institute, is the only reliable gauge consumers can use to determine wear expectations for a certain tile application. According to the NKBA, here are the PEI ratings that are recommended by the American Society for Testing and Materials.
  • PEI Class 1 Rating (No foot traffic) – Recommended for wall use only in residential and commercial applications.
  • PEI Class 2 Rating (Light traffic) – Recommended for both wall use and bathroom floor applications.
  • PEI Class 3 Rating (Light to moderate traffic) – Recommended for countertops, walls, and floors where normal foot traffic is expected.
  • PEI Class 4 Rating (Moderate to heavy traffic) – Recommended for all residential applications as well as medium commercial and light institutional.
  • PEI Class 5 Rating (Heavy to extra heavy traffic) – Recommended for all residential as well as heavy commercial and institutional applications.  
*It’s important to note that most porcelain tiles have a PEI rating of 5, making it the hardest tile on the market. 
Glossary of Terms
What kind of insider’s guide would this be without a glossary of some of the terms that you might come across when discussing tile? (Not a good one, mind you). The WFCA has a comprehensive list of tile terminology. Keep an eye and ear out for these terms:
  • Bullnose – a ceramic floor or wall tile trim that features a single rounded finished edge.
  • Bisque – the larger of a tile’s two layers. The top layer is called the glaze.
  • Ceramic – a natural product extracted from the earth that is shaped into tiles and then fired in kilns at extremely high temperatures.
  • COF – coefficient of friction. The higher the COF, the more slip resistant the tile is.
  • Corner Bullnose – a ceramic floor or wall tile trim with two rounded finished edges, used to complete a corner.
  • Extrusion – the process in which clay material is forced through a mold for the desired shape versus pressing the tile.
  • Field Tile – in a pattern, the tile that is most prominent across the largest area.
  • Frit – a glass derivative that is applied to ceramic tile as part of a glaze liquid, along with colored dyes, by a high pressure spray or is poured directly onto the tile.
  • Grout – type of cement used to fill the space between and provide support for ceramic tile.
  • Moisture Absorption – as the weight or density of a tile increases, it becomes a stronger tile and absorbs less moisture.
  • Mosaics – intricate patterns of ceramic tile, often created with 2”x2” tiles or smaller.
  • Porcelain – tile comprised of 50% feldspar and fired at a much higher temperature than ceramic tile, which results in a harder and denser product that is resistant to scratches and can withstand extreme temperatures.  
  • Sanded Grout – grout with sand added to provide additional strength to the tile joint.
  • Shade Variation – inherent in all fired ceramic products. Certain tiles will show greater variation within their dye lots. Typically listed on the back label of each sample with a low, moderate, high, or random rating. 
    • Low – consistent shade and texture                                                        
    • Moderate – average shade and texture variation
    • High – extreme shade and texture variation
    • Random – severe shade and texture variation
  • Tile Density – the weight of a tile. As it increases the amount of moisture that tile can absorb becomes less. 
Rectified Edge vs. Non-Rectified Edge
​According to Build, rectified tiles are porcelain or ceramic tiles that have been precisely ground and machined to give them a near-perfect straight edge and exact dimensions. Along with a clean look, rectified tiles allow for smaller grout joints. Though it has a symmetrical look to it, rectified tiles are sharp and prone to chipping.
Living room tile floor
Photo courtesy of Daltile.
​Conventional non-rectified tiles are called cushion-edged, soft-edges, or pillow-edged, and given the various names, it’s obvious that they aren’t as sharp and don’t chip as easily as rectified tiles.  
Installation Pattern
After you have chosen the tile that you want in your space, the next step is to install it. There are actually several options when it comes to the pattern you chose for installing your tile, according to Houzz.

Brick is a classic pattern that will work for any rectangular tile. Each row of tile is typically offset by half a tile width, which results in long and horizontal lines that can subtly widen a room. A third or fourth of a tile width offset may be better and provide a more stable installation for some tiles. You can use this installation pattern anywhere, especially in spaces where one simple tile is used throughout the space. 
Bathroom shower brick installation pattern
Photo courtesy of Houzz.
​Vertical brick is basically the same as the brick installation pattern except that the tile is rotated vertically. In turn this pattern emphasizes the height of the space instead of the width. If you’re looking to elongate the height of a room, such as with a compact bathroom, you may consider a vertical brick installation pattern. 
Bathroom shower vertical installation pattern
Photo courtesy of Houzz.
​Large brick is another installation pattern that is technically not different from a standard brick pattern. It helps to minimize the visual impact of the grout which in turn allows the tiles to have a more seamless appearance. You can use this installation pattern when you want to create the appearance of a continuous plane of unbroken material. 
Large brick installation pattern
Photo courtesy of Houzz.
​Another option for installation patterns that is the simplest layout is known as stacked pattern. Basically the tiles are aligned to create a repeating grid which results in a modern look that works well with clean shapes and crisp angles. This installation pattern is best used in modern spaces with rectilinear forms, especially with beveled-edge tiles or bright grout.     
Kitchen stacked installation pattern
Photo courtesy of Houzz.
​Herringbone is a pattern that you’ve probably seen more of in the last five years. Tiles are installed at right angles in zigzag formations. This installation pattern is common in traditional and transitional spaces, but is more recently seen in contemporary and modern spaces too. 
Bathroom herringbone installation pattern
Photo courtesy of Houzz.
​Basket weave installation pattern looks like the stitching of a woven basket. This pattern has alternating vertical and horizontal tiles, which creates the impression that the tiles are being woven both over and under each other.
Bathroom basket weave pattern
Photo courtesy of Houzz.
According to Mohawk, patterns work best when used in proportion to the room. A general rule of thumb is, if you can’t repeat the pattern at least four times in a room, choose a smaller pattern or tile.

The size of the tile you choose will work best in proportion to the size of the room. For instance, smaller tiles will help to make small rooms feel less constricted while larger tiles will keep big areas from feeling overwhelming.   
​Tile is water resistant and generally easy to clean. It tends to last a lifetime, but with the right maintenance routine you can make sure it’s in tip-top shape for decades. 
Tile care and maintenance of tile flooring
Photo courtesy of Mohawk Flooring.
t’s important to sweep or vacuum floors in order to remove any dust or debris before using any cleaning products. You should also damp-mop your tile floor at least once each week (more frequently for heavy traffic areas) to decrease wear and abrasion from grit and soil. 

Here are a few tips for preventing damage to tile: 
  • Test scouring powders and sealants on a small area before cleaning the full area.
  • Use a sealer on grout joints shortly after installation and make sure to use products that are compatible with cleaning grout joints.
  • After cleaning, make sure to rinse the entire area with clear water in order to remove any cleaning solution residue.
  • If you do ever have tile that has been damaged or broken make sure to get it removed and replaced by a qualified tile contractor.   
Another important aspect of maintaining your tile is what kinds of things to avoid: 
  • Cleaners that contain acid or bleach shouldn’t be used for routine maintenance.
  • Wax-based cleaners, oil based detergents, and harsh cleaning aids like steel wool should be avoided.
  • Unglazed tile should not be cleaned with an agent that contains color.  


Though ceramic tiles generally cost less than porcelain tiles, the price of tile varies greatly. Cost depends on the size of the tile, the brand, the quality (color body or through body), and the tile’s pattern. 

Standard tile can cost anywhere from under $1 per square foot to $10-12 per square foot. Tile mosaics usually cost at least $8-10 per square foot and can exceed $20 per square foot. 

Most ceramic tile costs between $1 and $4 per square foot, but there are exceptions to this price. Porcelain tiles cost between $2 and $6 per square foot. Wood look tile is relatively expensive, especially if it’s porcelain. Expect a wood look to cost anywhere from $4-12 per square foot. 

Floor installation will cost anywhere from $2-5 per square foot depending on the company, size of the tile, the installation pattern, and the local market. 

 Tile Trends

The tile trends that were popular in 2016 will most likely carry over into 2017. According to Modernize the following were last year’s top tile trends: 

  • White tile – clean white and cream colored tiles have made their way to the forefront when it comes to home décor. Light colors make rooms feel more open and a crisp white backsplash works seamlessly with both contemporary and rustic décor.
  • Herringbone – offers a clean cut look while still drawing the eye and standing out.
  • Mosaic – became popular a few years ago and is still going strong. However mixed square tiles are becoming less popular, now it’s all about rectangular tiles. They create more of a subtle streaked look that is more in style now.
  • Extra Large Format Tile - makes a small room feel bigger and a large room feel positively expansive.
  • Natural Look – wood look laminate and stone like porcelain are perfect ways to get the earthly feel that is popular right now.
  • Cool Colors – Light blue, green, or gray tiles are a perfect way to make a room feel open and airy while the color will catch your eye.  
White tile laundry room
Photo courtesy of Modernize Home Empowerment.
Now for the tile trends for the New Year. According to Tile Mountain, here’s what’s predicted to dominate 2017:

  • Patterned Tiles: it doesn’t matter what color tile just as long as they’re patterned. Most bathrooms and kitchens are full of straight lines and hard surfaces and a patterned tile can bring in some softness.
  • Creative Layouts: they can happen when you arrange rectangular metro tiles vertically instead of horizontally, in straight lines as opposed to a brick pattern.
  • Colored Tiles: they’re becoming a growing trend as you will be seeing wall tiles with a more saturated color.
  • Hex and Shaped Tiles: these can be used both on floors and walls and are a great way to create style and design with limited effort.
  • Return to Terracotta: it’s making a comeback, believe it or not. This trend is all about the quality of handmade items and their raw materials in a clean and simpler way.
  • Black is the New Black (again): black is making a comeback, although when did it ever really go out of style to begin with? 
Terracotta tile patio area
Photo courtesy of Tile Mountain.
Now you should be better equipped to make decisions regarding which type of tile is right for you and your space. If you need more information or have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment or send a tweet to @tukasacreations. 

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