Choosing tiles for your home should be a relatively simple job but there is so much choice nowadays that it is not as easy as it could be. Apart from all the different colours, finishes and sizes we now use tiles in a much wider range of applications so need to understand, or at least be aware of, the technical differences and limitations of certain type of tile.
There are many questions you may have to answer. Will the tiles be in a wetroom, for instance and form part of the shower floor? Will they be installed over underfloor heating or in a heavy traffic hallway? And the more straightforward question of whether they will be used to tile walls or floors or both. Many contemporary bathrooms use the same porcelain tiles for walls and floor for a seamless look and if you plan on doing so, this is one of the reasons you need to know what the tile is made of.
If you haven’t bought tiles for a few years you may assume that most of what you see in a tile showroom is ceramic, but, in fact, very little of what you view are now ceramic tiles as manufacturing processes have moved on, prices of porcelain tiles have come down and consequently in many showrooms they have almost entirely replaced ceramic tiles.
Even where you may still find a wider range and a mix of ceramic and porcelain tiles, many people refer to them as one and the same thing, just to add to the confusion.
Both types of tile are manufactured from clay or a clay mixture so how exactly do they differ?
Ceramic tiles are created from a soft mixture of clay and water that is placed in a mould and heated in a kiln until it hardens. Colour and glazes are then applied to the front surface.
Porcelain tiles are made from very fine grains of clay and coloured minerals that are pressed into the mould and then baked at very high temperatures in the kiln.
The differences in these 2 manufacturing processes have a big impact on the final product. It means that porcelain tiles are much stronger so are much more hard-wearing but also harder to cut. They require electric tools to cut them, unlike ceramic tiles which can be cut by scoring them and then snapping along the score line.
But this strength in porcelain tiles makes them ideal for floor tiles in heavy traffic areas, such as kitchens and hallways, and some types are also suitable for outdoors, which provides fabulous opportunities for designing a tiled area outside the home that is the same as the surface inside (a real design statement when used with bi-fold doors). Ceramic tiles can be used on the floor but only really in bathrooms which are not subject to heavy use.
Although the quality of both types of tile varies, in general, porcelain tiles are much more waterproof than ceramic so more suitable for showering areas with high power showers or water jets. And, as already mentioned, for outside paved areas.
Another advantage of porcelain is that the colour and pattern run right through the thickness of the tile so if the tile is chipped it is far less noticeable because the colour and pattern in the damaged area are the same as the surrounding area. This is in contract to ceramic tiles which can show the clay coloured substrate if the surface glaze is chipped or damaged. However, this is not always the case so it is worth double checking whether your preferred choice is “full bodied” if this is a concern for you.
Of course, the benefits of porcelain tiles comes at a price; they are the best choice in terms of strength, water-resistance, choice of effects etc. but many ceramic tiles with a similar look will be much cheaper so, essentially, the best choice for you will depend on your budget.
Whatever type you choose, gleaming new tiles are a great way to create a fresh, new look in your home, whether use on the floors, walls or both.