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We spend a lot of time on this site speaking about natural stone, but today I wanted to step away briefly to dive into a related, but altogether different subject:

Ceramic tile

Tile is wonderful. It is relatively affordable, generally reliable, and it is unparalleled in its versatility. Advances in tile manufacturing over the past several decades have made it so that tile can be produced to mimic almost any look, even those of other materials such as wood, glass, metal, and even stone. And because it is manufactured in sets, it is much easier to find replacement tiles for the ones that become damaged.

There is a misconception surrounding tile that I would like to address, however. Many people assume that because tile is often glazed, that makes it impervious to the wear and tear you might expect from other, less “resilient” materials.

Although it is true that ceramic tile is very resilient, and an excellent choice if low maintenance is your priority, it is still susceptible to undue damage if treated recklessly.

So, please allow me to go over a few points that will, I hope, better inform your decision to invest in tile for your home.

Glazed Tile and P.E.I

  1. Ceramic tile may be glazed or unglazed. Unglazed ceramic tile tends to have a rougher finish, and a more rustic look. Because it is unglazed, however, you can expect it to face many of the same challenges we so often discuss with natural stone; as such, it will need to be sealed and maintained in much the same way. Glazed tile is much more resilient, and is less demanding to maintain.
  2. Ceramic tile comes with a Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) rating that measures its resistance to abrasion, or its resistance to foot traffic. This is not to be confused with it’s grade, which measures quality:
    • PEI 1 is the weakest of all ceramic tiling, and is only really suitable for walls.
    • PEI 2 is next, and is also excellent for wall tiles, but may also be used on floors in areas of very light traffic, such as a restroom.
    • PEI 3 is the sweet spot for residential use. Excellent for floors that expect light to moderate amounts of foot traffic, as well as for countertops and other areas that experience a lot of use.
    • PEI 4 tiles, as I’m sure you can deduce, are a level of toughness greater than PEI 3 tiles, and only need to be used residentially in areas that expect unusually large amounts of foot traffic or heavy, constant use. This is better suited for use in a commercial office, especially ones invite a lot of movement.
    • PEI 5 tiles are the macho man where ceramic tiles are concerned. They don’t get tougher than this, and are totally overkill in a residential setting. These are for use in places that see excessive amounts of use or traffic, such as a shopping mall or an airport.

Grade and W.A

Now for most of you, the information we’ve just shared is more than enough to help you select the right tile for you. But our mission here at SBSM is to provide as much information as we can to help you make the most informed decision possible.

So, I’m going to quickly go over some additional information that you might find useful, especially if you’re anything like me in your doing of diligence.

We mentioned above that a tile’s PEI rating shouldn’t be confused with it’s grade. That’s because it’s grade measures its quality, which will be reflected in its durability and cost:

  • Grade 1 tiles are of the highest quality, and useful for all floors and walls.
  • Grade 2 tiles are sturdy, but will likely have some imperfections, especially when compared to Grade 1 tiles. These are still good for walls and floors.
  • Grade 3 tiles are thinner than the rest, and of lower overall quality. May be used on walls, but should not be used on floors.

You might come across a label indicating the Water Absorption (W. A.) of a particular tile in the form of a percentage. It is telling you the weight of water absorbed as a percentage of the tile’s weight:

  1. 7%+ is non-vitreous, meaning it absorbs water at a relatively high rate, making it unsuitable for outdoor use or in places that experience a lot of moisture, such as in a bathroom.
  2. 3%-7% is semi-vitreous, so it still absorbs at a high enough level that we would recommend against installing it outdoors or, though now to a lesser degree, in the bathroom.
  3. 0.5%-3% is vitreous, and so is fine to use in places that experience a lot of moisture, even outdoors.
  4. <0.5% is impervious, and is suitable for use anywhere, but is probably overkill, especially when expense is considered.

C.o.F and More

Further, depending on your needs, you might consider the tile’s Coefficient of Friction (C.o.F.), which basically tells you how slippery the tile is.

It is always measured on a range between 0 and 1; the lower the figure, the more slippery you can expect it to be. If you’re considering tile for commercial applications, the Americans with Disabilities act requires a C.o.F. of greater than .60.

You may see a snowflake label on a type of tile, which just indicates that the tile is frost resistant, or is treated to resist cracking in extreme cold. This doesn’t need to be factored in for indoor applications.

Well there ya have it: the long and short of it.

I hope this has helped you find the information you need before investing in tile. If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out; we’re happy to help. And if you’re in the Santa Barbara area, and you’re experiencing some difficult with your existing tile, give us a call, we’d love to serve you!

Skip Jankoski

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