Before You Buy Ceramic Tile Flooring
Tile is not just a flooring option--ceramic, glazed and porcelain tiles can provide a whole new look for your home.
Atlanta Flooring Design offers a broad selection of all product types and styles, including floor tile, wall tile, mosaics and decorative tiles. From glazed floor to Colorbody™ to porcelain tile, Atlanta Flooring Design Centers has a product to suit virtually any use throughout the home.
Since color and design are so important in creating the right look, Atlanta Flooring Design has taken special care to select products that offer the right blend of colors, sizes, textures and finishes to express your homes individuality.
And for the do-it-yourselfer, Atlanta Flooring Design provides the step-by-step procedure to installing ceramic yourself with plenty of handy tips to care for your tile so it will last a lifetime.
No matter your budget or taste, whether designing a villa or a contemporary loft, our selection of ceramic tile offers an incredible array of design opportunities that work together to create your very own inspired and amazing space.
Consider the following when selecting the tile your home.
- Identify the room and its application
- Select the type of tile
- Select the color and shade
- Select the texture and size
- Design a layout or a decorative pattern
- Select the grout color and type
Many of today's ceramic tiles are designed to look and feel like natural stone, emulating their rugged surface and color variations. These tiles are intentionally designed to show variations in color and texture, just like the real thing. Since the composition of a tile's glaze can vary, different tile styles will also exhibit different gloss levels. Solid color tiles create a consistent look, but shade variation is inherent in all fired ceramic products and certain tiles will show greater variation within their dye lots.
Color consistency or shade variation is typically listed on the back label of each ceramic tile sample with a low, moderate, high or random rating. What's the difference?
- Low Consistent shade and texture
- Moderate Average shade and texture variation
- High Extreme shade and texture variation
- Random Severe shade and texture variation
You'll notice color variations between a manufacturers' sample and the same color installed on countertops, wall tile or ceramic floors.
The color of the clay available in a manufacturer's geographic region determines the color of the body of a tile. Look at the tile to see if its color is red or white. The quality of a tile is more about the manufacturer than the color of the tile, itself.
In the same way that the composition of glaze can vary, different styles of tile exhibit different gloss levels and surface textures. For example, in areas that get wet, like a shower or bathroom floor, the tile should have low moisture absorption and good slip resistance. By moisture absorption, we mean that as the density of a tile increases, the amount of moisture it can absorb becomes less. Similarly, by tile density, we mean that as the weight or the density of the tile increases, it becomes stronger.
- Non-Vitreous Tiles absorb 7% or more moisture. They are best for indoor use.
- Semi-Vitreous Tiles absorb from 3% to 7% moisture. They are best used indoors only.
- Vitreous Tiles absorb less than 3% moisture. They are referred to as frost resistant tiles but can't be used in exterior areas where freeze-thaw conditions might cause tile cracking.
- Impervious Tiles have less than .5% moisture absorption. These tiles are frost proof and can be used outside or on building facades. If you have serious winter weather, these are the tiles for you.
Grout is usually mixed on site, but slight color variations can occur within different areas of the same installation. In fact, grout color can vary from the manufacturer's sample you saw in the store. This is due to variations in temperature and humidity at the time of grouting. It's also common to see grout variations when comparing the grout color in a tile floor with the same grout color on a tile countertop or wall.
When choosing grout color, it's a good idea to select a color that blends in with the overall color of the tile to minimize the appearance of the grout. Though if the tile is installed in a high traffic area, then it may be wise to select a darker grout to hide dirt.
Exact layouts, types of grout and grout joint widths are determined by a tile setter at the time of installation. These decisions are governed by the actual size and shape of the tile you chose and the exact dimensions of the area to be covered.
Once your tile has been laid and grouted, it's up to you to guard all caulked areas against water damage. Grout may darken over time in areas with heavy water use. Also, weather can cause surfaces adjoining the tile to expand and contract, causing the grout to crack and separate.
No subfloors are perfectly level. As a result, you may hear hollow sounds where your subfloor's surface dips and ridges. This won't affect the integrity or installation of your ceramic tile. Hollow sounds are normal and aren't considered a product or installation defect.
How Tile Is Made
At the onset, ceramic tiles were made by hand. Wet clay was shaped, sometimes with a wooden mold, and then left to dry in the sun or fired in a small brick kiln. While a handful of artisans still craft ceramic tiles by hand, the majority of ceramic tiles now go through a process called "dry pressing" or "dust pressing." This process requires far less labor and time, which is why ceramic tile is not just for Middle Eastern kings anymore!
Ceramic tile begins life as a clump of earth — everything in the final product is a natural product. Each manufacturer has its own time-tested recipe for ceramic tile, but clay is typically the main ingredient, along with such other items as sand, feldspar, quartz and water. The ingredients are mixed and ground up into a ball mill to create what's known as the "body slip." Body slip is used to differentiate the body of the tile from its glazed topping; it's the bagel to the cream cheese.
At this point, the body slip contains about 30% water. That moisture helps adhere the ingredients to each other, but as soon as its job is done, it's gone. To accomplish this, the body slip is put into a dryer and heated; the moisture content is then reduced to about 6%.
After drying out, the body slip becomes essentially powder or dust. The dust is placed into a large press powered by electricity or hydraulics. The press pushes the dust into a set size and shape with a force ranging from a few hundred pounds per square inch to 100,000 pounds per square inch.
The extreme pressure provides the finished project with its tensile strength. While square or rectangular ceramic tiles are most common, presses may have shaped imprints to create ovals, diamonds and other unique forms. The shaped body is called the "bisque." After the body is formed, it's dried out to remove all of the final traces of moisture.
Glaze is the shiny substance typically applied to one side of the tile. The word comes from the Old English word for glass. Glaze can be sprayed or silkscreened onto the tile, finished in matte and high-gloss. To give the tile its color, pigments are mixed into the glaze. Though glazing is a standard step for ceramic tile, it's not essential. Not every tile has to be glazed to be considered ceramic.
There is one qualification, however, that ceramic tiles do have to meet. They all have to be baked. Before a tile goes in the kiln, it goes by another name: "green tile." After the glaze has been applied, it's time to fire the tiles in the kiln. Traditionally, ceramic tile baked for several hours in what's known as a periodic kiln, such as a beehive kiln. Over the last century, however, it's the continuous kiln that has made the production process of ceramic tile more efficient. Continuous kilns include tunnel kilns and roller-hearth kilns.
These new types of kilns are like the conveyor belt pizza ovens you've seen at less-than-authentic Italian eateries. Rather than sitting in the heat for hours, the tiles roll through the contraption. The heat inside the kiln is precisely monitored and controlled by computer. In the first half of the tile's journey, things start to get warm. At the center point, maximum temperature can get as high as 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371.1 degrees Celsius). The higher the temperature, the stronger the tile.
As the tile makes its way to the opposite side of the tube, it gradually cools down. The cooling period isn't as passive as it might seem — tiles are still changing color. With these continuous kilns, the baking process has gone from hours to less than one hour. This allows the manufacturer to make a lot more tile at a reasonable price.
This process was expedited by the resurgence of the "monocottura method." Monocottura, an Italian term meaning "fired once," gives ceramic tile much greater strength. This additional strength is what allows tile to go from a product best suited for walls to one that is strong enough for floors. After just one trip through a hot kiln, tile made with the monocottura method is ready to be sorted and distributed.
Colors & Patterns
If firing a tile just once makes it so much stronger, why fire it again? Well, if the goal is a tile with many colors or elaborate patterns, then that tile will be baked using the "bicottura" method. Though the prefix of the word indicates that the tile is fired twice, it can actually be fired as many times as desired. Before each firing, a different colored glaze is applied to the tile and the process is repeated until the chosen design is complete.
Slippery When Wet
Depending on the finish, a wet tile will be slippery. Most manufacturers have a rating system that is based on or supported by the American Society for Testing & Materials (ASTM). Many times you can find these ratings on the tile sample or in the product catalog. The most common system rates ceramic tile abrasion, resistance and the overall durability of the tile.
There are 5 classes in this rating system:
- Class 1: No Foot Traffic
These tiles are suggested only for interior wall applications — not for flooring.
- Class 2: Light Traffic
These tiles are suggested for interior wall applications and residential bathroom floors only.
- Class 3: Light to Moderate Traffic
These tiles can be used for residential floors and wall applications, including bathrooms, kitchens, foyers, dining rooms and family rooms.
- Class 4: Moderate to Heavy Traffic
These tiles are recommended for residential, medium commercial and light industrial floor and wall applications, including shopping malls, offices, restaurant dining rooms, showrooms and hallways.
- Class 5: Heavy/Extra Heavy Traffic
These tiles can be installed anywhere. They will work for both floor and wall applications in airports, supermarkets and subways.
The ceramic tile you choose may also carry a rating for Slip Resistance, which is measured by its Coefficient of Friction (COF). The higher the COF, the more slip resistant the tile is. Consider selecting a high COF tile for areas that get wet, such as your shower or bathroom floor.
Other ratings listed by manufacturers may include: scratch resistance, moisture absorption, chemical resistance and breaking strength.