What You Need to Know When You Buy Outdoor Flooring

By Sam Ferris
If you?re a homeowner looking to primp and polish your patio this year, you might be considering totally new flooring. And if you?re wanting to buy flooring, you?re probably wondering where to start. Like we suggested in our kitchen cabinet buying guide, it?s always wise to have a framework for what you want: light or dark, black or white, large or small, and so on. But there are additional factors you have to consider for outdoor flooring that you don?t have to contemplate with indoor flooring.

That?s where we can help. What should you think about before pulling the trigger? Durability and slip resistance, for starters. There?s much more to it than that, though. The perfect patio is within grasp with this comprehensive guide to buying outdoor flooring:

Common types of outdoor flooring

In general, outdoor tile consists of the following:

These are broad categories. We answered what the difference between porcelain and ceramic is here. Natural stone includes travertine and limestone (if it has a brushed, rough finish). Saltillo tile has a terra cotta-colored design; it?s often used in Spanish-style designs.

About 99 percent of outdoor flooring is one of the four options above ? there may be an exception or two that we haven?t seen firsthand. Outdoor tile isn?t limited to a certain size, shape, color, or brand, so finding a style that matches your preferences shouldn?t be too difficult.

As we explain throughout this blog, there are certain types of outdoor tile that we?ll recommend over others. It?s also important to understand that not all types of outdoor flooring are suitable for every household. If you have pets or older residents, for instance, you?re not going to want Saltillo tile because of its propensity to get scratched or its low slip resistance.


When you?re installing outdoor flooring, it has to last. Outdoor tile is exposed to all types of weather elements, especially if it isn?t installed in a covered patio. You?ll want to make sure your tile won?t fade or scratch easily. Opting for outdoor flooring that isn?t durable enough can lead to broken and cracked tile, visible wear and tear, and the need to replace your tile sooner than you?d like.

So what?s durable?

Porcelain tile and natural stone are the most reliable options. Natural stone has an advantage because it?s, well, part of nature. It?s built to withstand heat, cold, rain, and snow. Tumbled travertine especially has wear-and-tear woven into its design.
Porcelain tile is made from stronger materials than ceramic tile is and absorbs less water than ceramic tile. A color-body porcelain will also show less scratches than a ceramic or Saltillo tile because its glaze goes throughout the entire tile body.

But not all porcelain tiles are created equal.

Some porcelain is more durable than other porcelain, so it?s important to find out if the tile you?re interested in is suitable for outdoor use. How can you find out? The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) recommends that porcelain tiles be tested using the Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) abrasion test. The test measures durability on a five-level scale:

  • PEI I: suitable for light traffic areas, i.e. residential bathroom floors
  • PEI II: moderate traffic, i.e. most residential floors. Avoid kitchens, external entryways, stairs, and pivot points, areas where sand and gravel may come into contact
  • PEI III: moderate to heavy traffic, i.e. all residential interior spaces and light commercial interiors
  • PEI IV*: heavy traffic, i.e. all residential spaces and most commercial spaces, including public areas like shopping malls
  • PEI V*: heavy-plus traffic, i.e. all residential and commercial spaces
You can normally find a tile?s PEI rating on the back of the sample board inside your local flooring store?s showroom, or on the tile manufacturer?s website. A flooring salesperson will be able to provide you with the PEI rating if it?s not available on the back of the sample board.

The best bet for outdoor flooring is a porcelain tile rated as a PEI IV or V due to the fact that it?s constructed to last in high wear-and-tear areas. That?s not to say that you can?t use tile with a lower PEI rating outdoors. In fact, we?ve seen numerous customers use ceramic and Saltillo tile outdoors. But we don?t recommend it. They might wear out and fade quicker than you?d like, and as you?ll see in the next section, they?re not as slip resistant as porcelain and natural stone.

Slip resistance

Before you buy outdoor flooring, you need to get a grip on what?s safe. There?s always a risk of slipping when outdoor flooring gets wet. But you shouldn?t be sliding all over your patio when it rains. It?s a safety issue for all homeowners, but especially ones with older residents or younger children. Certain types of tile are less slippery because of their grip and texture.

So what?s safest?

Porcelain tile and natural stone, such as travertine and brushed limestone, generally provide the most slip resistance. It has to do with their textures. The more grip a tile has, the less slippery it is. A simple way to figure out a tile?s grip is to run your hand over it. Tiles that feel smooth and glossy are going to be riskier in wet outdoor settings. But if a tile feels rough and more matted, it should offer better slip resistance. Tumbled natural stone will always have a decent amount of grip.

But there?s another way to check slip resistance.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) tests a tile?s coefficient of friction (COF). The COF is frictional resistance that?s closely related to slipperiness and traction, according to the Tile Council of North America (TCNA). In other words, the COF will tell you how slip resistant a tile is. Each tile is given a COF rating. According to BuildDirect, here?s how the rating system works:
  • COF greater than or equal to .60: slip resistant
  • COF .5 to .59: conditionally slip resistant
  • COF less than .5: questionable
Flooring with a COF of at least .6 is ideal for outdoor settings. Like the PEI rating, you can usually find the COF rating on the back of the tile?s sample board. It?s not always located there, though, so you may have to ask your local flooring salesperson, or visit the manufacturer?s website.

You can install tile with a low COF rating outdoors if you?re more concerned about style rather than slip resistance. There isn?t a rule that states otherwise. Numerous homeowners use Saltillo tile outdoors, despite the fact that it?s incredibly slick when wet. Decide what your priorities are for your outdoor flooring before you make a decision.

The weather

Live in a colder climate? Ceramic tile is an absolute no-no for outdoors. It absorbs water at a higher rate than porcelain tile, so when there?s freezing weather, ceramic tile will crack and break because it absorbs moisture from the atmosphere. If you?re located in a warmer climate (like South Texas), you?ll probably be OK with ceramic tile due to the fact that freezing weather isn?t common. However, for the best insurance against weather elements, you?ll want to buy a porcelain tile or natural stone. Porcelain tile is manufactured to absorb less than .5 percent of moisture.

Patio size

How big is your patio? It?s a small detail, sure, but it can offer insight into what tile size you should be buying, how you should install it, and how much you should spend. If your patio is on the smaller side, buy bigger tiles (i.e. 20x20 and larger) that make the area seem spacier. If your patio area is larger, opt for smaller tiles to break the space up, or install it in a Versailles pattern for an added visual effect. And if you?re on a budget, knowing how many square feet of outdoor flooring will help you figure out a ?per-square-foot price that?s right for your wallet.

Is the price right?

The price of outdoor flooring depends on several different factors, such as brand and how it?s manufactured. But since we like rule of thumbs, know this: natural stone is usually the more expensive flooring option. Porcelain tile is in the next highest price range, with ceramic tile and Saltillo tile being the inexpensive options. The price of porcelain tile will vary between brands, whether it?s a color body porcelain, and the quality of its glaze. If you?re on a limited budget and not too concerned with slip resistance or durability, or if your heart is set on a particular design, ceramic tile and Saltillo tile may be the best option for you.
Quick tips

Natural stone lasts forever.?
Tumbled travertine is durable and slip resistant, and it?s primed to endure any type of weather elements. It?s our go-to recommendation for outdoor flooring.

Install your outdoor flooring during good weather.?
If your patio isn?t covered, you?ll want to pick a sunny day. Your thin set and grout each need at least 24 hours to dry.

Make sure you have access to your home during installation.?
Because it takes time for thin set and grout to dry, you need to be able to enter your home and retrieve things through an entrance different from your patio.

Saltillo tile doesn?t work with pets.
It scratches easily, so it?ll wear out even quicker with the help of paws and prints.

Picking out flooring for your outdoor patio is a tough order, but we?re up to the challenge. Let us help you! Click here to set up a free consultation with one of our designers.