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Tile Basics

Ceramic tile has so much to offer – beauty, durability, variety, always in fashion – and it stands alone when it comes to creative design possibilities. If your ideal flooring (or wall or countertop) project has a custom design component, consider tile.

You’ll want to understand these tile categories: glazed, unglazed, and porcelain.
• Glazed – all tiles are made from a mix of clay, minerals and water, mixed into a dough, shaped dried, baked. Glazed tiles have a topcoat of color applied, and baked onto the tile. A great majority of the tile you encounter is glazed.
• Unglazed – same ingredients as glazed tile, but for the colored topcoat. These tiles have a matte finish, which is porous and must be treated for moisture and stain resistance. Unglazed tiles are selected for decorative purposes, and convey a rustic look.
• Porcelain – Follow the same recipe for tile, except make sure that 50% of the mix is the mineral feldspar, and fire it at a higher temperature, and you’ll get porcelain. It will be extremely hard and dense, more durable and moisture resistant, and suitable for the heaviest traffic (think train station), indoors or outdoors.

Tile Appearance and Designing

Tile can make a bold contribution to your décor, whether you are creating a rustic look or a sleek modern-styled space. Beyond the rainbow of colors, you’ll find a variety of sized, shapes, and textures. These open a world of possibilities of patterns, mosaic effects, and more. Some tiles are created to mimic natural stone, and include variation in the surface texture.

Tile is rated according to several variables, including ability to withstand traffic, moisture absorption and its slipperiness, called Coefficient of Friction (or COF). The following tables will help you sort that out:

Traffic Rating Use
Class 1 Not for flooring. Walls and countertops only
Class 2 Walls and residential bathroom floors only
Class 3 Light to moderate foot traffic. Good all-around residential flooring
Class 4 Moderate to heavy foot traffic. Any indoor residential, light commercial applications (malls, offices, restaurant dining areas)
Class 5 Heavy foot traffic – mass transit stations, grocery stores, etc.

Moisture Rating
Non-vitreous Absorbs 7% or more moisture
Semi-vitreous Absorbs 3% – 7% moisture
Vitreous Absorbs .5% to 3% moisture
Impervious Absorbs less than .5% moisture – this rating means that a tile can be used for outdoor installations without risk of cracking due to water-to-ice expansion in freezing temperatures.

And finally, that Coefficient of Friction we mentioned…the testing is performed according to strict standard protocols, so the ratings are comparable across tile types and brands. Higher numbers indicating better slip resistance.

Tile Sizes
Tile sizes are considered “nominal”…or approximate. Tile shrinks approximately 10% when it is fired in the kiln. So a 12” x 12” tile, nominally, is actually going to measure about 11 7/8” along each side. Other tile sizes include 6” x 6”, 13” x 13” (most common flooring tile size), 16” x 16” and 18” x 18”. Choose a tile size that creates the look you want, based on the size of your room. For a given room, smaller tiles mean you’ll have more tiles, which means more grout lines. 2” x 2” (and smaller) tiles are called mosaics. In floor or wall designs that use multiple tile sizes, the predominant tile is referred to as the field tile.

Tile Color
Color variation, from tile to tile within a style, is graded: low, moderate, high, and random. You may have seen some tiles in which the body (beneath the glaze) is white, and some with a reddish brown color. This has nothing to do with quality. It is a function of the clay available in the region in which the tile was produced.

Tile Installation Factors
Often, tile installations require specialty trim pieces.

Sub-floor preparation for tile installation is important. Frequently, a water-resistant backer-board is affixed to the subfloor, providing a secure, stable surface for tile installation.

Tile Installation Tips
Installing tile is a job for professionals, or for the very advanced DIYer. It requires special tools, advanced skills and expertise. We recommend that you have Macco’s Floor Cover Center installers do this work for you. But, there are some things you should consider about installation regardless of who installs it. Find out more in our Tile Installation section.

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