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Tile Buying Guide

Tile is available in endless combinations of size, texture and color, offering something for everyone and every style. Plus, tile is durable and easy to care for, so it's ideal for high-traffic areas or areas where there's moisture or dirt, such as bathrooms or entryways. Our Tile Buying Guide helps you explore the options.

tile floor and mosaic tile wall

Types of Tile

Floor tiles.

Use this reference chart to better understand types of tile and their recommended applications.

Tile Sizes

Mosaic tile backsplash in a modern kitchen.

Floor tile is usually 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick, manufactured in squares measuring 4 inches by 4 inches up to 24 inches by 24 inches. Other shapes are available such as rectangular "subway tile," octagonal and hexagonal shapes.

Wall tile is thinner and comes in squares from 3 inches by 3 inches up to 6 inches by 6 inches.

Mosaic tiles are 2 inches square or smaller and can be installed individually. However, mosaic tiles that are premounted on mesh sheets are easier to install for the DIYer.

Tile Ratings

Wood-look tile in a living area.

Tile hardness ratings help you determine if the tile is suitable for the area where you plan to install it. Entryways need a hard, abrasion-resistant, moisture-proof tile. Baths require a moisture-proof, nonslip material (slip-resistant tile is treated with an abrasive material for safety). Some tiles are rated for indoor or outdoor use only; others can be used in either application. If your home includes ramps for universal design and you plan on tiling a ramp to keep the flooring consistent with the rest of your home, carefully explore slip-resistant tiles.

Some types of tile are harder than others, so tile is rated by a series of standardized tests. These tests evaluate a tile's relative hardness (the Mohs scale), its ability to stand up to wear and the percentage of water absorbed.

The Porcelain Enamel Institute hardness ratings are:

Class I - No foot traffic. These tiles are for wall-only applications.

Class II - Light traffic. Interior residential and commercial wall applications. These are for areas where little abrasion occurs, such as bathrooms.

Class III - Light to moderate traffic. Use these in residential settings with normal foot traffic. They are also ideal for countertops and walls.

Class IV - Moderate to heavy traffic. These tiles are acceptable for all home use in addition to medium commercial or light institutional use.

Class V - Heavy to extra heavy traffic. Approved tile for all residential applications, heavy commercial work and institutional foot traffic.

These ratings serve to help you find the right tile for your application.

Good to Know

Companies are not required by law to publish PEI ratings on tile.

Porosity

Tile on the shower wall and tiled shower floors.

Porosity ratings are important. Porosity is the ratio of voids (or airholes) to solids in a tile, which affects the percentage of water absorbed into a tile. The denser the tile the less water it absorbs, because it has less airholes to fill with water.

A tile's porosity is critical - especially when choosing tile for kitchens and baths, since these areas need moisture-proof flooring. Porous tile shouldn't be used outdoors where cold weather produces freeze / thaw cycles. The classifications for the porosity of tile are: impervious (least absorbent), vitreous, semi-vitreous and non-vitreous (most absorbent).

 

Firing

Wood-look tile in a kitchen

The firing process affects the hardness of tile. Usually, the longer and hotter the firing, the harder the tile will be. The raw tile material, called bisque, is either single-fired or double-fired.

For single-fired tiles, the glaze is applied to the raw material and baked once in a kiln.

Double-fired tiles are thicker. The tile is baked a second time after additional color or decoration is added.