Whether you opt for hard tiles, such as ceramic, marble, terra cotta, or stone, or the softer finish of vinyl or cork, you’ll find that tiled surfaces offer many decorative and practical advantages over other forms of wall and floor covering. Tiles are divided roughly into two categories:
Hard finish includes ceramic, terra cotta, quarry, slate, stone, marble, and terrazzo, offering a vast choice of color, texture, and finish. On the whole more expensive and trickier to lay than soft finish tiles, these are nevertheless the most durable options – some, such as terra cotta, will last a lifetime and more, and even improve with age.
Soft finish includes vinyl and cork tiles, all softer and warmer underfoot than most hard tiles and generally less costly. These tiles are easy to clean and lay, and, in the case of vinyl, available in an extensive range of designs. Although they are hard wearing, they don’t offer the same strength and longevity as most hard tiles.
Before you decide on a particular type and style of tile, you need to make sure it is suitable for its intended position and application. For example, not all floors are strong enough to bear the weight of quarry tiles, and not all ceramic tiles may be used on kitchen countertops or in showers. If in doubt, always ask the tile retailer for advice.
Most tile suppliers will send you samples of your chosen tiles, so you can see how they look in the intended setting before you buy. Check how the tiles look in both natural and artificial light before making a final decision.
If buying several boxes of tiles, check that they are all from the same batch – this is indicated by a code number on the box. Colors sometimes vary between batches. If tiling a large area, you may need to buy from two or more batches and mix them together.
Always allow a few extra tiles in case of mistakes in measuring or laying. Ask the tile retailer if they have a return policy, in which case you will be able to get credit for unused boxes of tiles.
Floor tiles need to be laid on a sound, dry, and level floor, or they are likely to lift or wear unevenly.
On a plank floor, secure loose boards and make sure that protruding nails are firmly punched below the surface. For a perfectly flat finish, nail sheets of plywood or hardboard to the floorboards before laying the floor tiles.
Note that some types of floor tiles – generally heavy, hard flooring, such as quarry, stone, and terra cotta – should always be laid by an expert. Your retailer will advise you.
Hardwearing, water-resistant, and easy to clean, ceramic tiles are a practical as well as an attractive finish for walls, floors, and other areas in the home, such as countertops and fireplaces. Prices range from budget to expensive, depending on whether you opt for a mass-produced or handmade tile. The tiles are sold singly, by the square yard (meter), or in boxes of various quantities.
Ceramic wall tiles are available in a vast range of designs, shapes, sizes, and finishes. In addition to basic plain and patterned wall tiles (known as “field tiles”), many coordinated designs offer matching individual decorative tiles with smooth or relief designs; tile panels or plaques to create a feature; border tiles; listello or slip tiles; and wainscoting and cornice tiles to give a well-finished look. You can also buy stronger, heat-resistant countertop tiles and fireplace tiles.
Ceramic floor tiles are thicker than ceramic wall tiles, and fired at a higher temperature to make them stronger. Like wall tiles, they are available in an extensive range of types, shapes, and styles, mass-produced and handmade, glazed and unglazed (unglazed tiles must be sealed before use). Border and inset floor tiles are available to add interest to the main floor tiles.