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Helpful Tip When Selecting Tiles

When you begin looking at tiles, there are many considerations to select the right tile for the proper application. Appearances are everything, so the size, material and pattern are fundamental to the outcome of the final installation. Here are some facts and information that may help you understand the common materials available to develop good tile designs.

Items that are underlined, have photo samples to view.

Glossary of Tile Terms

Accent Tile: Tile(s) that is the central focus of a tile composition. Greater visual emphasis may be created for an accent tile by surrounding tile(s) or field tiles.

Field Tile: Tiles that surround an accent tile. Field tiles or background tiles make good design sense when trying the emphasis other tiles within the composition. Field tiles are usually flat to low-relief.

Vitrification: When the tile material has been heat-treated, usually in the case of heat work done to glass and ceramic work, this will cause the tile to repell water.

Grog: Beyond the natural material of clay, grog or many kinds of filler material are added to the clay to create the tile body. The grog may be as coarse like stones, straw and pebbles. The grog may be extremely fine such as a silicate sand. The purpose of the grog is to help the clay maintain it's flat form when it's fired.

Tile Materials and Composition

Stoneware: Tiles that are generally a high-fire ceramic tile. The body of the clay is coarse and contains much aggregate filler in the form of grog. The tile are generally more durable as they reach vitrification during the fire.

Porcelain: Generally a white clay with a grog comprised of very fine silicate sand. That creates the porcelain's smooth and non-porous texture. Common uses are bathroom tub enclosures.

Terra Cotta: A common tile used for mosaic work and the handmade tile. It's deep red color is a common characteristic of terra cotta. The tile may be of a coarse or fine texture.

Stone: Generally a thicker tile, stone tiles are fashioned out of many natural materials such as marble, granite, travertine and sandstone. The colors vary as much as where the stone is quarried, coming from around the world.

Glass: Cut and fused glass tiles have made the most recent appearance in the design world. The tiles are versatile and can offer watery and iridescent hues not available in other materials.  Fused glass tiles are heat-treated and may be slumped or casted to create a three-dimensional appearance.

Rock Mosaic and Mixed Media: The photo linked shows an example of a tile installation comprised of materials of stone, glass and colored mortar. There are many creative ways to make and install beautiful and durable works of art.

Considerations for Applications

Environment: Tiles serve a very utilitarian purpose when covering floors, wall, countertops and furniture. The environment in which the tile is installed must be conducive to it lasting for many years. Therefore, a wet environment, such as a bathroom tub enclosure, should only use highly vitrified tiles like porcelain, stoneware, fused glass and some stone tiles. Tiles installed outdoors, can be very difficult in climates where freezing and thawing take place. Before you decide what tile to install, it's imperative you consider the environment.

Backing of the installation: Tiles require a solid, non-flexible, surface to mount the installation -- otherwise tiles will break and grout will crack. Particularly, tiles installed on the floor are especially sensitive to having a good backing of either cement or cement board. Other backings include hardi-backer. Tiles installed on green-board, drywall or plywood, may have a limited life-span depending on the environment.

Size: A consideration that's simple in concept, but many times overlooked. For small spaces, you can either use small tiles or oversized large ones. In larger rooms, rarely does a small tile work.

Pattern: Tiles NEVER have to be laid on a square-plain-boring grid pattern. Usually what happens when tiles fall into this pattern, it can truncate the space. Simple inter-locking patterns such as a "tumbling brick" or a diagonal orientation expands and defines the space.

Accent tile: Use thoughtfully and sparingly. A little design goes a long way. Subtle additions of color or spice can add charm. But that's where the eye will be drawn. So if you use a horizontal border, then place it evenly with other architectural elements in the room.

Grout: You better believe this is important. The grout will add or detract from the tile installation just as much as it will enhance the design. Shifting colors can effectively create "lighting" patterns. It can draw portions of the installation into the room as well as drop it back. Consider this, grout is very porous. When installing in a wet or outdoor environment, a minimal grout line of less than an 1/8-inch is preferable.

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