By Byron Buchanan

So, you have determined that you need a floor that will stand up to very heavy wear, one that is pet friendly, cleanable and can be scrubbed free of dirt and grease, and will not be degraded by the chemicals used to sanitize it. You may be concerned that an industrial grade finish will result in a cold, institutional look.  If you are thinking that such a durable product will compromise your home fashion sensibility, then it is time to look at current trends in tile.  If this sounds like a major compromise you will be surprised to see that tile is no longer limited to the solid color one-foot squares that we once used for entries, kitchens, bathrooms and poolside cabanas.  Manufacturers now offer a wide variety of woodgrain patterns and natural stone looks to enhance any décor, whether rustic as barn wood, grandiose as a palace, as well as every look in between those extremes.

With so many possibilities the shopping should be fun!  It should also be easy, but, beware, this is the point where information and misinformation meet and conspire to confuse. Because there are multiple processes and products that offer better choices in certain applications, what follows is a guideline to help clarify and simplify what you may be told about tile.

In broad terms tile is classified as ceramic, porcelain, concrete, Saltillo, and natural stone.  For use in home interiors, and for the purposes defined above we will look at ceramic and porcelain products.  Each of these is made from clay that is kiln fired.  Because porcelain is composed of specific and finer clay products, and is fired at higher temperatures it can be subjected to moisture absorption testing, rated, and specified for outdoor use where it is resistant to the effects of moisture in freezing temperatures.  If your application is to be out of doors, this is the better choice in our climate.  It is not uncommon to hear the generalization that porcelain tile is more expensive, but this is not always true.  There are many other factors that contribute to the price that the consumer pays.

With tile produced around the globe today, the country of origin, current monetary values, and freight factors can affect the price of a product to a greater extent than the materials used to manufacture or the manufacturing process itself.  This globally based supply chain has brought innovations and breadth in approach to design and style that were heretofore unavailable.  Many fashion-forward products are produced in China, which should come as no surprise since the first successful attempts to produce fired clay products was in this region of the world.

While the science and formulae of clay has advanced greatly, there is still great art that goes into every tile produced.  It is not unusual to find variations in size among products mixed and fired at the same time.   In order to achieve greater uniformity some tiles are trimmed, or rectified, to very close size specifications. Often this will result in a slight premium, but the greater uniformity allows for smaller grout lines and a far greater consistency in overall installation.  It is also important to consider that, since variations are inherent in production lots, you should be certain to order enough to complete your project as planned, as well as some extra “attic stock” for unforeseen future issues.

Now, armed with information to make the best choice for your home, the only wild card is installation, where the combination of experience and art combine to achieve the effect you desire.  The craftsman chosen is of no less importance than the material itself.  Suffice it to say that no material is any better than another if not installed properly.  Often your general contractor may have installers with whom they work, if not rely on the surface professional through whom your product is purchased.  Typically following this avenue has the added benefit of guaranteeing the installation for two years.  As always, when in doubt: ask!   Since flooring and surface professionals stake their reputation on the final result in your home we are your allies.