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We meticulously consider shape, size, colour and pattern when selecting different tiles for home renovation projects, but often we overlook the type of tile that is best suited for the job at hand. With dozens of different types of tiles, from ceramic and porcelain through to metal and resin, the material a tile is composed of can make or break a project.
Some tiles are more durable and better suited for high-traffic areas in the home, whilst others may be more porous, making them less suitable for wet room installations. Some tiles are better suited for behind a fireplace, as they are formed and treated in such a way that prevents the tile from cracking when exposed to heat. Others are better for use outdoors, as they are more resistant to temperature fluctuations.
Choosing the correct tile for the job is key to the longevity of your finished installation. Choosing specific tiles based on their natural strengths and qualities ensures that you not only get the most out of your tiles, but that they will look beautiful for many years to come.
Depending on your budget, there are dozens of different tile types to choose from, from exquisite natural marble tiles to durable, purse-friendly ceramic options. Here we delve into the numerous types of tiles, discussing everything from cost and durability, to care and maintenance.
Composed of natural clay, sand and water to create a fine cement, ceramic is one of the most common materials used for tiles. It is durable, low-maintenance, easy to clean and with the right tools, it can be cut, installed and finished by even the most novice DIYer. Ceramic tiles come in many different shapes, sizes, colours and finishes. The wide variety of colours and patterns available is attributed to their glazed finish - pigments and patterns are added to the surface of the glaze before
the final “top coat” of glaze is added. Their “raw” or un-glazed finish is growing in popularity, with many flat/matt versions of different designs appearing in interiors. When purchasing ceramic tiles, ensure the batch number for each box is the same, as the colour and glaze can vary between batches. (If you’re looking for uniformity, make sure you order more tiles than you think you will need!)
Encaustic tiles are cement/ceramic tiles which the pattern is inlaid into layers of the tile and not a product of the glaze itself. The tile is inlaid with two or more colours of clay before firing, so the design and pattern of the tile remains even as the tile is worn down. Similar to ceramic tiles, they are built to withstand wear and tear, and their longevity is improved by their multi-layered finish.
Made from fine clay that is formed and fired at high temperatures, porcelain tiles are naturally strong, dense and extremely hard-wearing. Their unique composition is able to mimic more closely the effect of wood and natural stones, creating tiles that closely resemble more expensive options such as marble or limestone. Available in a vast selection of designs, porcelain is particularly suited to walls and floors where the heavy weight of porcelain is not an issue for installation. Unaffected by temperature fluctuations, porcelain tiles can also be used outdoors, creating a seamless finish when transitioning from indoor to outdoor spaces such as patios. Their natural water-resistance makes them a great choice for muddy boot rooms and wet rooms. If using porcelain tiles for high-traffic areas or commercial flooring, ensure that they are marked with a PEI rating of at least 5.
Cement tiles have increased in popularity over the years due to their versatility in being used both indoors and outdoors. Cement tiles are usually in two finishes, they can be polished for a smooth, satiny finish or left in their raw, natural state which adds a rougher, more rugged quality to the finish. Although hard-wearing, cement tiles do tend to change in appearance over time as they develop a patina in areas of high-traffic which are well-worn. This patina can enhance the natural colour variations and patterns in the cement, but this change can be slightly unpredictable. If you prefer your tiles to remain uniform in appearance, these are better installed in lower-traffic areas and away from repeated moisture exposure due to their higher porosity.
With their scintillating finish, glass tiles are perfect if you would like to add an eye-catching, shimmery finish to your bathroom or kitchen. Glass mosaic tiles in particular have remained popular over the years due to their ease of installation, numerous smaller glass tiles are glued onto a mesh sheet like a mosaic. This sheet can be easily measured, cut to size and then affixed into a bed of adhesive to be grouted later, saving time on cutting larger tiles and potential issues when fitting tiles around tricky edges. Glass tiles are more resistant to staining than some natural stone tiles, but they are prone to being chipped if they are knocked. They make perfect kitchen wall and backsplash features, but best kept away from floors that are high-traffic or areas which are prone to being knocked.
An unusual alternative to the more common ceramic and porcelain tiles, resin tiles come in large sheets composed of acrylic, which are slotted seamlessly together to provide a smooth, continuous finish. Available in a myriad of patterns and colours, they are well-suited to shower installations which require the highest level of water-resistance, making great accent pieces inside enclosed spaces which are exposed to high levels of moisture.
Metal tiles, although not overly popular, make a striking choice for a tiling project. Often used commercially in bars and kitchen areas, they make a great statement piece behind a cooker or around a kitchen island. Although stainless steel is the most common choice, both copper and brass are gaining in popularity. Due to their natural finish, metal tiles will oxidise over time and develop a natural patina, which can change the original colour and texture of the tile. If you desire a more warm, lustrous finish, copper and brass tiles are a wonderful choice for a Moroccan-inspired scheme.
Often overlooked as just a building material, terracotta has a diverse range of uses in the home, from roofing to counter tiles. Durable and strong, terracotta tiles maintain their earthy, chalky appearance beautifully over time. Created from a type of ceramic clay, terracotta has a distinctive colouring due to its high iron oxide content, ranging from burnt reddish-oranges to softer tans and beiges. Although terracotta is hard-wearing, it is extremely porous and absorbs water easily. To ensure the longevity of terracotta, it needs to be glazed or sealed well to preventing a build-up of moisture which can lead to cracking in colder temperatures.
Created from ground minerals such as shale and clay, traditional quarry tiles are perfect for adding rustic warmth to traditional and vintage interiors, with their versatility suited for use in a wide range of rooms, from kitchens, utility rooms, sun rooms and even greenhouses. Similar to bricks used in housing, quarry tiles are stronger and longer-lasting than many other commercial tiles due to their finish - the clay is mixed and fired at extremely high temperatures to produce a denser tile with a lower rate of water-absorption and natural non-slip qualities. With their distinctive reddish-brown colouring, they hide visible staining better than other tiles and can be restored more easily to their original state.
The perfect tile for an authentic rustic finish, limestone tiles are found in numerous natural colours and textures, from soft greys and mottled browns to tumbled and brushed finishes for an aged appearance. Often used for farmhouse floors, limestone tiles are durable, but quite soft. With a similar porosity to cement, they do require sealing to prevent moisture and stains from damaging the tiles. Their natural, authentic finish is also prone to cracks and scrapes, but their cut edges and uneven appearance do tend to hide scratches well, adding to their rustic charm.
A form of limestone, travertine comes in many neutral colours with a beautiful antique, mottled surface. Often left unfinished with chipped or brushed edges, travertine tiles are well-suited to rooms with lower levels of traffic, such as conservatories and utility rooms. Often sandblasted or polished to create a smoother surface, travertine tiles are loved for their raw, rustic finish that adds character to any interior.
With unique variations in colour and texture, no two slate tiles are ever the same. From charcoal grey to blue-black, slate tiles are durable and add serious wow-factor to a room. With their natural heat-resistant qualities, slate tiles are perfect for fireplaces. Although slate is durable, it can be difficult to repair if damaged and expensive to replace.
Gaining in popularity over the years, mosaic tiles are smaller ceramic or porcelain tiles which have been pre-glued onto separate mesh sheets. They are often used for kitchen backsplashes as they are easy to cut and install, although harder-wearing options for flooring have also become available more recently. They come in an array of colours and textures, from natural, raw stone finishes to glossy ceramic options, making intricate accent pieces for both kitchens and bathrooms.
Highly sought after, marble tiles evoke elegance with their glassy, polished surface. Although costly, marble tiles add a feeling of luxury and grandeur to even the humblest of spaces with their beautiful veined appearance. Due to their smooth, glassy finish, marble tiles are more susceptible to scratches and scrapes and are prone to staining if spills are not wiped up immediately. Requiring more maintenance than average, marble is better suited to use as a decorative feature in the home, such as an accent feature or as a decorative wall or column in a bathroom or entryway.