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How to Choose the Correct Tile

When choosing tile for your project there are a couple of things you should take into consideration. Noting the following will ensure you have a better understanding of which tile is correct for your particular application and why.

The most important thing to consider is the location of the tile. Where are you installing the tile? Will it be installed on a floor, a wall, in a shower, on a countertop? Certain tiles are made only for certain applications. While tiles made specifically for floors can be used on a wall the reverse is not true.

After you’ve determined where the tile will be installed you must make sure the surface of the tile you’ve chosen is durable enough for that area. This is determined by what is called the PEI wear rating of the tile.  PEI stand for Porcelain Enamel Institute. This is a scale of 1 – 5 with a rating of 5 being the most durable. This is a measure of the durability of the ‘face’ or glazed surface of the tile.

For most indoor flooring applications you want a PEI rating of 3 or higher, although a rating of 2 may be used for light traffic areas. Ensuring a proper PEI rating will guarantee you’ve chosen the proper tile durability-wise. .

Another thing to consider is the absorption rate of your chosen tile. Absorption rate is the amount of water a particular tile will absorb and is defined by a weight percentage. Porcelain tile has the lowest absorption rate which is why it is usually the preferred type of tile for wet areas such as showers. In fact porcelain tile is simply a ceramic tile with a particularly low absorption rate.

The last factor I’ll discuss is what is called the static coefficient of friction, the SCOF or simply COF. This is a measure of the friction, or slip resistance of a particular tile. This is (usually) a number between 0.1 and 1.0. The higher the number the less slippery it is. Every tile has two COF numbers – one for when it is wet and one for dry. This number becomes important in applications such as shower floors or on a porch.

While it is absolutely possible to simply walk in somewhere and pick your tile without taking any of this into consideration, for purposes of durability and practicality it is always best to choose the correct tile for your application. I will always check the above points to ensure the tile my client has chosen is acceptable for the area in which it is being installed. By doing this I make sure there are no surprises or disappointments lurking down the road.

On a closing note don’t forget to consider the most important factor – does your wife like the way it looks?

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Laura June 21, 2010, 2:26 pm

    My husband and I want to select the correct tile composition to use on the lower level floor of our walkout home. This floor was newly remodeled with laminate wood a few months ago after taking out the carpet for a new fresh look.
    We’ve recently had numerous rains and our laminate wood flooring sustained a great deal of damage from water after heavy rains. (I would NOT suggest laminate wood flooring in locations where any type of liquid could be dropped on, seeped up through, or rushed over the floor!) The laminate wood cannot handle any moisture as its partical board base warps immediately. We wish we had researched this product before using it. Also, this was the first water damage to this floor in the twelve years since we have built our home.
    We aren’t sure which to use for this area of the family room: a light, medium or dark shade of tile, coordinating nicely with the Dutch Boy paint: walls in “Naturalist Stone”, ceiling and trim in “Alabaster Frame”, abundant southern sunlight through a very large picture window with connecting side windows that roll open, french doors to the large cement patio. The lower level has a 9′ ceiling height.
    We’re wanting to use a larger tile, 20″by 20″, on the larger family room floor. The lower level has infloor heat so the tile will not be cold in the winter and we plan to use soft, pile area rugs for comfort. We’re thinking it’s best to continue the same tile to the bedroom with 2 large south facing windows, but not sure about the tile for the large back room with hardly any natural light as the small window has bushes growing in front of it.
    If you have further ideas, suggestions, or comments about the brightness, color, design or size of the tile, it would truly be appreciated?
    Thank you for your expert advice in helping us avoid future damage to our floor, and selecting a quality product that will add beauty to our home.
    P.S. We are hoping the sump pump will handle heavy rains in the future, but these situations do happen even with using the neccessary precautions. We have been amazingly good spirited through once again tearing our lower level apart again. Our dog and cat have been watching us through both projects this year and we wonder what they must be thinking: “Why are they doing this all over again ?! :)

    • Roger June 22, 2010, 5:51 pm

      Hi Laura,

      I can help you out with correct installation procedures and the best way to prevent the same type of problems in the future in regards to flooding. The size, color, and pattern of your chosen tile, however, lies ultimately with what you think looks best.

      As far as the best material with what you are describing my suggestion would be porcelain. It is more stable than ceramic and more durable than most stone. The main concern with the size is not so much the tile itself as the substrate. The larger the tile the flatter the substrate must be for a proper installation. For a 20 x 20 tile you would need a very, very flat substrate. Because larger tiles span a larger area any inconsistencies are multiplied. A small dip or hump in the floor can look like a mountain.

      I would also use a good membrane below your tile such as Schluter Ditra. This will serve a couple of purposes. It will separate the movement in your substrate from the tile installation above it. This means that when your floor moves due to humidity, temperature, etc. (and it will) the movement will not be transferred through to the tile and grout. Ditra can also be waterproofed by using the kerdi band over the seams so that if this does happen again the water will not soak through to your substrate, framing, etc. but can remain on top of the tile installation (or more specifically, on top of the membrane) until the sump pump can eliminate all of the water.

      I think that if you choose a good porcelain tile and install it over Ditra you would have a solid installation which will last a very long time and be able to handle any of these types of problems (water) with ease.

      Just as a small side note: With a space the size you are working with you need to ensure that requirements for control joints are taken into consideration and followed by your contractor or you guys(if you are doing it yourself). A control joint or ‘soft joint’ is simply a grout joint that is filled with a flexible caulking or silicone rather than grout. This allows movement in your installation without cracking grout or tile. Interior applications require a soft joint every 20′ – 25′ in each direction unless exposed to direct sunlight – in that case it is 8′ – 12′ in each direction. A soft joint must also be installed directly above (or within 3″ of) any control or expansion joints in your concrete. If the concrete expansion or control joints fall within the above requirements for the tile you can simply use a soft joint above them without additional soft joints to honor those measurements. Usually honoring the concrete joints will suffice. (Proper tile installation techniques actually have rules. :D )

      Hope that helps.

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