White Master Bath

With even just a low-end home remodel costing anywhere between $15,000 to $45,000, that’s a big chunk out of anyone’s savings. Big-ticket items like floors and tiling make up much of that budget, so they’re worth thinking long and hard about. Creamy-white subway tiles with black grout for a backsplash? Wood-look tiles instead of planks for the floor? The decisions you need to make when choosing tiles for a home build can seem endless. You need to consider everything from size and shape to color and materials. And things really get complicated when you start to bring tile science into it. Hardness and porosity scales, anyone? Below, we’ve put together a handy tile selection guide designed to help you cut through the confusion.

1. Understanding Tile Hardness

When looking at tile suggestions, one of the most important factors is where a tile sits on the hardness scale. The hardness plays into how durable a tile is–how well it can endure spills, scratches from pets and furniture, and foot traffic–and where it can (or should) be used. Most tile manufacturers use the Mohs scale, which divides the hardness levels into classes from 1 to 5. We can break down the classes like this:

  • Class I: suitable only for wall tiles
  • Class II: best for walls and rooms with light traffic
  • Class III: use on countertops, walls, and low-use rooms
  • Class IV: install in moderate-use areas of the home
  • Class V: heavy-duty indoor-outdoor tiles for residential and commercial spaces

Hardness is critical when selecting tiles for outdoor use because they need to withstand extreme weather and people walking and running on them.

2. What Is Tile Porosity?

How much moisture a tile absorbs is almost as important as how hard or durable it is. If you install tiles with high porosity in a bathroom, for example, they’ll get moldy fast. Alternatively, you may want to install porous tiles–such as unglazed terracotta–in an outdoor patio because they are less slippery than a shiny, glazed tile. Fail to pay attention to the scale, and you might end up throwing your money down the drain. Tile manufacturers all use a porosity scale similar to this:

  • Impervious: < 0.5% water absorption
  • Vitreous: 0.5 to 3% water absorption
  • Semi-vitreous: 3 to 7% water absorption
  • Non-vitreous: > 7% water absorption rate

How vitreous a tile is, is related to its level of porosity. At the highest end of the scale, impervious tiles are perfect for use in wet areas like bathrooms and kitchens. Non-vitreous tiles, on the other hand, need to be used in dry spaces.

3. Considering Color

Research shows that exposure to specific colors can influence our mood, how we perform in a particular situation, how we perceive the size of a space, and, some people believe, even our wellbeing. In most instances, the color of a tile is fixed permanently onto the ceramic. It’s part of the ceramic body, included as a stain during the manufacturing process, or added as a glaze. In either case, you can’t remove these colors, nor will they fade–unless in extreme circumstances. Consider not only your existing color palette when choosing tiles; think carefully about how you want a space to feel. If you have a small bathroom, choose pastel bathroom tile to make it feel more spacious. A backsplash crafted from browns and neutrals will add an earthy feel to a farmhouse kitchen. Don’t be afraid to play with grout colors, either. It’s currently trending to pair white tiles with black grout, for example.

4. Choosing Tiles: The Right Material

While manufacturers make tiles from almost anything nowadays, there are a few common material types you’ll come across while shopping. These include:

  • Natural stone
  • Quarry tile
  • Ceramic and porcelain
  • Glass and mosaic
  • Cork or wood

There are even pretty convincing DIY stick-on vinyl tiles. Note, however, that while these kinds of tiles may be an excellent option for renters, they’re not recommended for homeowners who need something more durable and long-lasting. Natural stone tiles–think marble, slate, and granite–are generally the most expensive option. They’re often imported, costly to transport and cut, and challenging to store. However, they are among the most long-lasting tiles and make great flooring or benchtop tiles. Ceramic and porcelain tiles are standard, come in an enormous variety of shapes, colors, sizes, and finishes, ranging from affordable to pricey. There’s a pottery tile type for almost every situation, indoors or out.

5. Picking Pattern and Texture

While color is an obvious consideration, people often forget how a pattern can add texture and appeal to an otherwise drab room. Outside of the naturally occurring patterns in, say, marble or stone floor tile, ceramic tiles offer an entire world of surface texture options. Include a row of patterned kitchen tile in the center of a block-colored backsplash. Randomly dot artist-made tiles amongst your terracotta floor tiles in your open-plan farmhouse. Mount a band of colorful tiles embossed with baby animals in a children’s bathroom. The key to using a patterned tile is not to go overboard. Use them in a single area–a set of bright tiles on your shower floor–or as a defining border for a tiled floor in the dining area. Patterned tiles tend to be a lot more expensive than their plainer cousins. But because you don’t need to use very many of them, you can afford to splash out. And the personality they bring to space makes it money well spent.

6. Where Will the Tiles Go?

In American homes, traditionally, only kitchens, laundry rooms, and bathrooms had tiles. People preferred carpets for bedrooms and living rooms. Now, however, hardwood floors and tiled floors and walls are increasingly popular. Tiles are easy to clean, much longer-lasting than carpet, and less resistant to wear and tear. As the places we put our tiles expand, so too does the need to understand which tiles go where. You need to consider how you use a room, its size, and whether it’s a wet or dry space. Smaller rooms look better with large, light-colored tiles; they make a space look bigger. Use small tiles in a bathroom because they help with drainage. Choose unglazed tiles for a bedroom to create a soft, satin-like aesthetic. When it comes to floor tiles, the location also matters. Glazed ceramic tiles are slippery when wet, so choose an unglazed terracotta or wood-look floor tile instead. High traffic areas like entranceways, mudrooms, or kid’s play areas need tiles that sit on the highest end of the durability scale–natural or quarry stone, for example.

7. Low and High Maintenance Tiles

How much wear and tear do you need the tile to stand up to? A backsplash tile, for example, gets everything from bright red, highly acidic tomato sauce splashed on it to dings from stainless steel kitchen utensils. Consider the durability of a tile when making your selections. Look for floor tiles that are easy to clean stains from, withstand scratches from pet’s claws or kid’s toy trucks, and can be walked over again and again. Make sure the surface coatings on the tiles won’t be susceptible to the chemicals in cleaning products or the sunlight that streams in from your dining room windows every morning. Texture can also play a part in durability. If a tile has a lot of embossing, it’ll collect dirt far more quickly than a smooth tile would.

8. Work Within Your Budget

As with any part of a kitchen remodeling or home extension, how far your budget stretches will be a significant deciding factor in the tiles you choose. Generally speaking, tiles made from synthetic materials or ceramic are cheaper than those crafted from natural stone. So if you’re trying to shave costs, choose simpler ceramic tiles in smaller sizes. And buy in bulk wherever you can. Consider, too, the cost of installation in your overall tile budget. Unusually shaped tiles, colored grouts, or extra-large tiles are challenging to install, meaning a more expensive installation job. If you’re not sure which tiles are easy or tricky to install, consult a contractor.

DIY It, or Get In the Professionals?

Perhaps you’re renovating your bathroom? Or maybe you’re getting a brand new kitchen installed? Whatever the reason you’re choosing tiles, it’s essential to keep everything from material and size to long-term maintenance in mind. While DIY is undoubtedly the cheaper option, you can make mistakes that will cost you in the long run if you’re not experienced. If you have building or renovation skills, go ahead and get onto the tiling. But if you’re a total newbie to tiling, it might be better to hire a professional tiling company to complete the job for you. If you’re a homeowner in the Tampa Bay area, book a cost-free tile consultation with Yeager Flooring today. We have over seventy years of experience with all aspects of home and flooring renovation.

About the Author: Jim Yeager, Owner

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