How to Choose the Right Tile for Your Home


Whether you’re building a home or renovating the one you currently own, choosing the right tile can be a stressful task. Not only are there different types and qualities, but there’s also an array of colors and textures. Which is right for the bathroom? What about the kitchen? How do we select tile for the laundry room? You don’t realize you even have these questions until you’re in the store sifting through the various selections.

Consider the Room

The first thing you have to realize is that not all tiles are created equal. There are different colors, sizes, materials, textures, and strengths. There are many details I am going to discuss but, you have to remember that it comes down to the room. What works in the bathroom may not work in the kitchen – and vice versa.

Ceramic vs. Natural Stone

The very first thing you have to think about is the material. Generally speaking, tiles are separated into two major classifications: ceramic and natural stone.

1. Ceramic Tiles

The majority of tiles you see in average homes are made from a clay mixture and referred to as ceramic. This larger classification is then split into two subcategories: porcelain tiles and non-porcelain tiles.

Porcelain tile is typically made by pressing porcelain clays together, which creates a dense, impervious, smooth tile. Porcelain tiles have a much lower water absorption rate, as a result of this high density, and are therefore much more resistant to moisture.

Non-porcelain ceramic tiles are typically made out of red or white clay that’s fired in a kiln. These tiles are easier to cut than the porcelain alternatives and are very easy to install.

When looking at ceramic tiles, you’ll notice that they’re classified by a grading system. This rating system was developed by the Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) and is recommended by the American Society for Testing and Materials. There are five different ratings on the scale:

  • PEI Class 1 Rating. No foot traffic. Only recommended for wall use.

  • PEI Class 2 Rating. Light traffic allowed. Recommended for wall use and some bathroom floor applications. (Ideally not a child’s bathroom).

  • PEI Class 3 Rating. Light to moderate traffic allowed. Recommended for walls, countertops, and floors where regular and normal foot traffic is expected.

  • PEI Class 4 Rating. Moderate to heavy traffic allowed. Recommended for any residential application, as well as some commercial applications.

  • PEI Class 5 Rating. Heavy to intense traffic allowed. The strongest ceramic tile you can buy. It’s ideal for any situation, whether residential, commercial, or institutional.

Keep this rating scale in mind as you shop. In most cases a PEI Class 2 or 3 rating will be fine, but it’s best to think about all situational factors.

2. Natural Stone Tiles

The second major classification of tile refers to natural stone tile. There are dozens of different stone materials available – and each can differ significantly when it comes to durability, color, texture, and water absorption. Those most commonly used are slate, granite, and marble.

  • Slate. Commonly derived from sedimentary rock shale, slate is generally composed of chlorite, micas, and quartz. It’s ideal for floors, walkways, wet bars, and kitchen countertops. The high density and strength – as well as neutral coloring – makes it very flexible.

  • Granite. This very dense stone is incredibly durable. It’s known as the second-hardest substance on earth, just behind diamonds. While the strength of granite is one of the biggest selling features, the appearance is also revered. Granite often comes with unique patterns and colors.

  • Marble. One of the most popular stone tiles is marble. Formed from fossil sediment deposits, marble is rather soft and porous. However, it has beautiful coloration and is great for bathrooms. It should only be used in the kitchen if it’s properly honed and sealed.

Other common materials for tile include travertine, limestone, and even glass. Just remember that you have options when choosing tile, so go into the design process with an open mind.

Practical Considerations

1. Budget and Price Point

For most people, the price of tile will be a determining factor. Keeping this in mind, you should know that ceramic tile ranges from $2-$20 per square foot; natural stone ranges from $7-$20 per square foot; glass tile ranges from $7-$30 per square foot; and porcelain tile ranges from $3-$25 per square foot. Just know that ceramic is the cheapest and higher end porcelain or glass will run you the most.

2. Color Palette

Another practical consideration is color. While color is largely a personal choice, there are some basic design rules and concepts to keep in mind. Lighter colors will make spaces appear larger – which is often good in small bathrooms. Neutral colors afford you design flexibility when it comes to appliances and paint colors. And lastly, dark colors provide a sophisticated and warm look, but will also make spaces appear smaller.

3. Grout Type
While most don’t realize it, there are numerous types of grout. By going with a color that matches the tile, you can make lines and seams blend in. By choosing a contrasting color, you can give your tile a more dramatic look. You should also consider how grout responds to moisture, stains, mold, and mildew.

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