By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon

Flooring is one of the most inexpensive and least invasive renovation options. For the past two weeks, we have devoted columns to carpet and hardwood floors. This week we are focusing on another popular floor covering: tile.

Tile has a natural, handcrafted look that is durable and has easy care. It is a great project for the brave do-it- yourself homeowner and is limitless when it comes to design, size, patterns and texture.

Finding a tile that you like is the easy part. But make sure that it is the right tile for the right application. All tile feels hard, but some types of tile are actually harder than others. Tile is rated by a series of standardized test, which evaluate a tile’s relative hardness (the Moh scale), its ability to stand up to wear and the percentage of water absorbed.

You often hear of two types of tile — porcelain and ceramic. However, the official definition of tile by the Porcelain Enamel Institute does not actually distinguish tiles based on these categories but on the hardness of the tile.

The hardness of tile is affected by the firing process. Usually, the longer and hotter the firing, the harder the tile will be.. The raw tile material, called bisque, is either single-fired or doublre-fired. The hardness ratings help you choose the right tile based on the function of the space.

Tile is almost limitless
While we often see tile in mudrooms and entryways, this type of floor covering is becoming increasingly popular all over the house.

The hardness ratings are: Group I — Light Traffic: residential bathroom floors where bare or stocking feet are the norm; Group II — Medium Traffic: home interiors where little abrasion occurs. Don’t use in kitchens or entries; Group III — Medium-Heavy Traffic: any home interior; Group IV — Heavy Traffic: homes or light to medium commercial areas; and Group V — Extra Heavy Traffic: use it anywhere.

To choose the correct tile for your application, you should also pay attention to the ratings test that measures the percentage of water absorbed, or porosity. A tile’s porosity is critical especially when choosing tile for kitchens and baths, since these areas need moisture-proof flooring. Porous tile should not be used outside 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). The term “porcelain” generally refers to impervious tile, meaning it is on the high end of the hardness scale and the low end of the porosity scale. These ratings are important, but don’t get too bogged down in analysis; they serve to help you find the right tile for your particular application.

Floor tile is usually 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick, manufactured in squares measuring 4 inches x 4 inches up to 24 inches x 24 inches. Other shapes, such as octagonal and hexagonal, are available. (Wall tile is thinner and comes in squares from 3 inches x 3 inches up to 6 inches x 6 inches). Mosaic tiles are 2 inches square or smaller and can be installed individually. Mosaic tiles are also available in pre-mounted paper or fabric mesh sheets for ease of installation.

Tile can be finished, or glazed, for decorative effect. Glazing allows for brighter colors to be used and adds stain resistance. Because of their slick, glassy surface, glazed tiles are used mostly on walls and countertops, rather than floors. Quarry tile is a broad classification for any tile made out of a mixture of clays. They are usually deep red or orange in color and are left unglazed. These tiles are used mostly for interior floors because they’re usually porous and irregular in shape, making them unsuitable for wet areas. Unglazed tile needs sealing for stain and moisture resistance.

Saltillo or Mexican tile is a variation that is air dried rather than kiln dried. Drying outdoors in the sun makes this tile a little softer and less durable. The exposure to the elements also gives the tile a unique look.

People also choose brick tiles for informal or rustic decor. Floor brick is usually used outdoor in areas such as a patio. Pavers resemble brick, but are thinner. Shale based pavers are used for patios as well as interior floors. Like quarry tile, pavers needs sealing for moisture and stain proofing.

Another hot trend is natural materials such as slate, marble, granite and limestone cut into thin pieces and installed like tile. The hardest part about designing with tile is the practically limitless choice you have; it is hard to narrow the field and make a final commitment! And we haven’t even mentioned choosing the grout color to go along with your new tile. It is worth the effort, however, for tile will give you a great new look that will bear up under maximum use for years to come. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at

Tiles almost limitless in their variety and uses in home