The answer to this question really depends on where the tile will be used. Currently, over 80% of tiles used for flooring are porcelain tiles, while the majority of tiles used for walls, backsplashes and counter tops are ceramic tiles. Exterior surfaces, like patios, are usually pavers, or porcelain tiles.
The reasons have to do with durability in the case of porcelain floor tiles. While price, color, and design choices have a lot to do with the ceramic tiles selected for walls, backsplashes and counter tops.
Ceramic tiles have been around for thousands of years. This is a testimonial to their durability and versatility. The body of the tile (called the bisque) is made up of clay and other minerals. When combined, these raw materials give the bisque its strength and stability.
The quality of the tile has to do with the quality of the manufacturer, density of the clay, and breaking strength of the tile. Porcelain is simply a finer grade of clay and makes a harder tile body.
Porcelain tiles have a lower water absorption rate than ceramic tiles because porcelain tiles are very dense. When baked at 1800 degrees, a surface color is created on the porcelain tiles. But when baked at 2200 degrees, the color goes through the entire body of the tile.
Therefore, if these get a chipped, it will not show as much as on a tile with only a surface coloring. Porcelain tiles can be used outside, even in areas where the temperature gets below freezing. They are considered “frost resistant” (not freeze proof). This makes porcelain suitable for patios since the elements will not damage it.
Ceramic and porcelain tiles are wear rated by the Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI). This system of rating tiles is approved by the American Society of testing and Materials (ATSM). The ratings are as follows:
PEI 1 = Not hard enough to walk on. Use on walls only.
PEI 2 = Use on wall and bathroom floors only. But only use smaller tiles on the floors. Larger tiles (6 x 6 or 8 x 8) may crack with prolonged foot traffic.
PEI 3 = Use on kitchen and bathroom counter tops, walls and floors where foot traffic is not heavy (okay for residential).
PEI 4 = Can be used in residential, commercial and light institutions.
PEI 5 = Use in all residential and/or commercial applications (malls, airports, etc.) This rating means the tiles are very resistant to chipping or cracking.
Many tiles have a glaze applied to the surface. Unglazed tiles have greater slip resistance than glazed tiles and are therefore recommended for areas subjected to water. The advantages of glazed tiles are that you get an unlimited color range, and greater stain resistance. Unglazed tiles will give you better wear, and added slip resistance.
It is possible to find tiles that feature abrasive grit on their surface, which substantially reduces the possibility of slipping. These tiles are well-suited for public areas and the outdoors. There is another testing process just for the glaze. This is called the Mohs test, and it determines the hardness (scratch resistance) of the glaze.
As you can see, there are many levels of quality, which determine the various levels of pricing. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for. However, there’s always the possibility that you are misinformed about the tile you are buying.
It’s important to deal with suppliers who will give you the straight story and have your best interest in mind when suggesting tiles for your home.
Here’s a tip regarding installation. Make sure the sub-floor is dry, stable and sturdy before applying floor tiles. If the sub-floor is “spongy” (in the case of plywood) or damp (in the case of basement concrete slabs) your tiles will eventually crack.
Installing ceramic or porcelain tile in your home adds value, and enhances the quality of your lifestyle. One of the best benefits for a homeowner is the low cost of maintaining tile floors and walls. Relax and enjoy.