Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tile "FACTS" — Are They Real Facts or Really Fiction?

Consumers and design professionals are bombarded with lots of tile information. This makes selecting the right tile for a particular residential * project more difficult than it should be. Let's face it, we live in an information age and information is a sales tool. It can be, and often is, used in a self-serving manner. As a consumer or specifier, you must consider the source of the information and use common sense in applying the information provided.


So how DO you know what tile is right for your residential* project?
It all depends on where and how the tile will be used.

Use clothing as an example: if you need to buy a pair of long pants you have to clarify a few things in order to get what you need:

  • Who will wear the pants — you or someone else? Male, female, kids, adults? Makes a difference.
  • Where will the pants be worn? Hiking? At an elegant party? In the mountains or on the beach? Makes a difference.
  • How will they be used? Worn all the time? Worn only for special occasions? Is maintenance a consideration due to use? Makes a difference.

*Please Note — different criteria will apply for non-residential or commercial, public use.


  1. Do you need the same kind of tile for wall use as for floor use?
  2. Do you need the same kind of tile for a family room floor as for a guest bath floor?
  3. Do you need the same kind of kitchen counter tile for a retired couple who eat out often as for an active family of 6 or one who has dinner parties often?
  4. Is it important to have a very "hard" or "frost proof" tile for bathroom wall use?
(See answers at the end of the post).

stacked books

There are 3 basic types of tile bodies — standard ceramic, stoneware and porcelain. Where the tile will be used in the residence and how it will be used will determine the best choice.

Porcelain or stoneware would be the superior choice for exterior applications, such as pool waterlines or B-B-Q's in freeze-thaw climates and areas, particularly floors, that will get heavy residential traffic.


All three are typically suitable for light traffic floor use in the residential bathroom. All three are suitable for any wall or vertical residential use.


  • Porcelain is a dense, hard (more easily resists abrasion) ceramic tile body that is fired at very high temperatures (higher than for standard ceramic tile), melts and re-solidifies. Porcelain is often called vitreous or frost-proof.
    • Good for exterior use in freeze-thaw climates.
    • Good for interior residential uses that will get heavy wear and foot traffic or be subjected to lots of surface grit.
      • Heavy foot traffic = not your average family — a very big family, or one that entertains on a large scale 6 times a year minimum. Unless everyone in the family crowds in all at once several times a day, residential bathrooms do not get heavy foot traffic.
      • Heavy counter use by "pot bangers" = see same users as above.
      • Entry ways in areas were lots of dirt, grit and/or sand will be tracked in.
    • Not necessary for, but certainly can be used for, all residential interior vertical surfaces (walls).
  • Stoneware, like porcelain, is a dense, hard tile body that is fired at very high temperatures, melts and re-solidifies. It too is frost-proof or vitreous.
    • Good for — see porcelain
    • Not necessary for, but certainly can be used for — see porcelain.
  • Ceramic tile has a less dense tile body that is fired at lower temperatures that will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. It is not frost-proof.
    • Monocotturra ceramic tile — the tile body and glaze are fused together in one firing.
      • Good for interior residential use.
      • Good for residential floor use (always check with the manufacturer regarding heavy residential foot traffic).
      • Good for residential kitchen and other counter use.
      • Not necessary for, but certainly can be used for, all residential vertical surfaces (walls).
      • May be used for exterior applications in sub-tropical and tropical climates.
    • Bicotturra ceramic tile — traditional ceramic tile made in two firings.
      • Good for all interior vertical surfaces (walls).
      • May be use for some residential floor use:
        1. Very light floor traffic such as found in bathrooms where 50% of the foot wear is slippers or bare feet.
        2. May be used as inserts with other floor tile.
      • May be used for light counter use such as in guest baths or rarely used kitchens.
      • May be used for exterior vertical applications in sub-tropical and tropical climates.
  • Most all of the popular handmade or decorative tile lines are basic, non-vitreous ceramic tile. 

So when that sales associate says that you can't use the ceramic tile you love on your guest bath counter top or floor that will only be used maybe two times a year by your fastidious friends and family — do you accept that as fact or is it, in your case, really fiction? What does your common sense tell you?

ASK ME: If, once all the facts are in, you still aren't sure if what you've been told is a real fact or really fiction, ask me and I'll help you find an answer.

  1. Not unless you are Spider Man and can walk on walls. Abrasive foot traffic causes much more wear than any wall tile will get.
  2. Hmmmm.... If your family consists of only you and your neatnik spouse /partner and you have a house rule that shoes are removed at the door , all chairs have non-abrasive covers on the leg bottoms, well maybe the guest bath floor tile could be used in the family room.......
  3. I definitely think that the family with the pot-banger cook and a bunch of kids who routinely use a sharp knife to cut food directly on the tile counter top needs a stronger tile that doesn't show abrasions easily. The retired couple whose idea of cooking is dialing for take-out, not so much.
  4. Not unless your bathroom is outside in Montana — or in an igloo. As for hardness, I'm having a hard time visualizing how a wall tile would be subject to abusive abrasions. Flailing the loofah in the shower?

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