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Tiling for Dummies

Trendy backsplash

How to select the best tiles for the floors, walls, and backsplashes in your home.

Can you pick the wrong tiles for a surface?

Yes! Absolutely!

As ubiquitous and common tiles are, many tiles are not appropriate for every surface. In this guide, you'll learn which tiles are suitable for certain surfaces, environments, and rooms. So, when it comes to tiling a shower, or installing floor tiles for your kitchen, be sure you know that you've chosen the appropriate product.

So, why are tiles so commonly used in the home?

It's because they can be made out of practically anything (clay, metal, glass, stone, and more); they can be economical; they can be tremendously durable; and they can make beautifully striking surfaces. But, the trick to using tiles properly is knowing a lot about the product. It's very easy to choose the wrong tile based on impulse and appearance.

Post your project for free and hire a pro if you know everything about tiling!

You can tile pretty much any surface or room:

  • Bathroom
  • Backsplash
  • Ceiling
  • Countertop
  • Hallway
  • Kitchen
  • Patio
  • Shower
  • Wall

But, you can't just use any tile without considering traffic volume, traffic type, moisture in the room, stain susceptibility, and surface purpose. Some tiles work well for a backsplash but cannot be used on a floor because they are too delicate.

Although your contractor may know what types of tiles are appropriate for your project, it's always important to double check and make sure that you've made the right choice. Try your best not to set your heart on a product before you know whether it's suitable for your project (this goes for DIYers too!).

artistic tile

Tiles need not be laid as a grid! They can be made into a colourful mosaic abstract. Just remember: mosaics and small tiles are expensive to install.

Diverse Options

Tiles are diverse. This is a solution as much as it is an issue! Here's a breakdown of the most loved tile products on the market to date.

Do you have a question about your tiling project? Ask our professional community!

subway tile

Subway tiles are a contemporary favourite.

Tile type About the Product Best use Price per square foot (no installation)
Ceramic tile Ceramic tiles are clay-based tiles that are molded, (sometimes) glazed, and fired.

The glaze reduces porosity, and increases strength. Some ceramic tiles are just as strong as stone!

Regular ceramic tiles are quite strong and moisture resistant.

Biggest drawback: It is not uncommon for ceramic tiles to chip and crack. When this happens, the tan or orange clay beneath the finish will be exposed.
Indoors.

Best for low traffic areas to reduce chipping.

Use ceramic tiles in bathrooms, or on walls.
Wall tiles
Low:
$2.40 - $2.90
Medium:
$3.00 - $4.85
High:
$5.50 - $5.90 Floor tiles

Low:
$0.50 -$0.98
Medium:
$1.18 - $1.98
High:
$2.25 - $7.21
Glass Glass tiles are a loved for their beauty, colour, and imperviousness to water. Some tiles are coloured on the back or front. Others are coloured throughout. Tiles that are coloured through and through hide scratches and chips best.

Glass tiles are very versatile. Some may be slippery, but anti-slip options do exist.

Biggest drawback: Glass tiles can get quite expensive, especially come time for installation.
Indoor and outdoor use.

Recommended for any surface (invest in anti slip products for wet floors).
Low:
$3.10 - $7.00
Medium:
$8.10 - $9.60
High:
$10.75 - $17.70
Granite A dense, durable mineral composite stone that is loved for its rich colours and unique profile. Granite can come in a polished, honed (matte) and flamed (rough) finish. You can also seal the granite for extra protection from stains and scratches.

Biggest drawback: granite may crack under significant weight (most common in slabs).
Indoors and outdoors.

Granite tiles are commonly used as flooring, but are also appropriate for surfaces. Tiles are more affordable than a full slab. Polished granite can get quite slippery, so it isn't suitable for wet environments (unless flamed)
Tiles
$2.00 - $9.00 +
Linoleum Linoleum is a processed material made from organic materials such as wood and cork dust, dried tree oil and resin, and various minerals. The flooring can be coloured with colour pigments. Linoleum is loved for it's durability (quality-dependent), affordability, and eco-friendliness. It can be installed above a variety of different sub floors.

Biggest drawbacks: linoleum is porous. It may get damaged if it gets too wet, or comes in contact with acid. Although durable, linoleum may nick.
Indoor use.

It's best to use linoleum dry environments that experience regular to heavy traffic. The surface and edges must be sealed properly to avoid water damage.

Linoleum is a great option for hallways, kitchens, laundry rooms, and basements. It is not recommended for bathroom use.
Up to $5.00
Marble A strong type of metamorphic rock that can come in one or multiple colours. Marble can be polished to a shine, or honed for a more matte/satin finish.

Biggest drawbacks: Marble is delicate. Scratches and etches will appear. These tend to show more on polished marble. Marble is porous, and can easily stain. It's best to seal the marble for protection and easy clean up.
Indoor or outdoor use.

Ideal for floors due to staining. Lighter colours can be used for backsplashes. Darker colours can be used for countertops, as lighter colours may stain.

Suitable for kitchens, bathrooms, and hallways.
Low:
$2.20-$5.00 High:
Up to $15.00 +
Porcelain Porcelain tiles are a type of ceramic tile made from porcelain clay. They are fired at a higher temperature than ceramic tiles.

Porcelain tiles are known for their density and hardness, thereby making them less porous and more stain resistant than most tiles.

You can find glazed and unglazed porcelain tiles. Glazed tiles are much more water resistant than unglazed tiles.

Biggest drawback: price.
Indoors

Regular traffic areas: kitchens and bathrooms for walls, floors, and countertops (if sealed).
Floor
$2.00 - $5.00 Wall
$2.41 - $14.30
Quarry Tile Quarry tiles can be made from quarried stones or clays. They are manufactured, kiln-fired, 1 " thick, unglazed tiles. They are extremely durable and natural looking.

Biggest drawback: they look very industrial for a home setting.
Indoor and outdoor. Quarry tiles should be sealed for wet environments. These rough tiles are best used on floors. Floor
$3.00 - $4.00
Slate A natural rock known for its color variation, stain-resistance, versatility, and anti-slip qualities.

Slate can have a flat or honed finish. Keep in mind that honed slate can be uneven and unleveled.

Biggest drawback: slate tiles can chip. However, chips are not noticeable on honed tile.
Indoors and outdoors.

Slate is perfect for wet environments such as bathrooms.

It is a good flooring option for kitchens. It can be used for backsplashes as well.

Honed slate countertops may be difficult to use given their uneven nature.
$1.00 to $5.00 +
Terra cotta An unglazed and fired clay that is known for its deep earthy red colour.

Biggest drawback: terracotta is extremely porous. It stains easily. This tile ought to be sealed annually for protection.
Indoor use only

Recommended for dry conditions only. Best suited for walls to avoid stains. Terra cotta can be used for flooring as well.
$7.60 - $15.00 depending on style and colour
Terrazzo A composite of marble pieces embedded in concrete. Terrazzo can come in a variety of colours. It is strong, hard, and durable. Terrazzo is lauded for it's sustainability.

Biggest drawbacks: slipperiness, price, and hardness. Concrete can be uncomfortable to stand on for long periods of time.
Indoors

Use Terrazzo on floors (bearing in mind it's slipperiness), walls, and countertops.
$7.00 - $10.00
Travertine Travertine is a type of natural, porous, very strong limestone. Travertine comes in a variety textured finishes. These include polished (smooth and shiny), honed (matte), brushed (textured, matte, surface holes), and tumbled (more roughly textured, deeper holes the most natural finish).

Biggest drawback: travertine absorbs stains quite easily. One may be able to remove these stains. It's best to seal travertine.
Indoor and outdoor use.

Be sure to seal the material and have the holes filled if you plan on using travertine outdoors.

Recommended for any surface (depending on finish).
Low to medium:
$2.00 $3.00 High:
$6.00 - $7.20
Vinyl Vinyl flooring is made from petroleum-based chemicals, which makes it extremely heat resistant. It is manufactured quickly and cheaply. It is coloured by a top layer containing patterns and pigments. Vinyl is loved because it's affordable, easy to install, and water-impermeable.

Biggest drawbacks: vinyl is known to emit Volatile Organic Compounds, which are a health hazard. It can easily scratch and scuff under moving furniture. It can also warp if installed atop a dirty subfloor.
Indoor use.

Vinyl is versatile and durable for inside the home.

It's a great flooring option for light to medium traffic (it can scuff easily). Use vinyl tiles in kitchens, bathrooms, and basements.
Low:
$0.59 - $2.00 Medium:
$3.00 - $4.00

High:
$5.00 +

true linoleum tiles

True linoleum tiles or rolls are made from organic and biodegradable materials. They are an eco-friendly choice!

Durability

People often say, "tiles are durable". This isn't necessarily true. Durability depends on material as well as finish!

Hardness

Ceramic tiles are measured by hardness (by the Mohs scale and The Porcelain Enamel Institute's class rating). The hardness of a tile will determine where what surface, and where a tile should be used. You can find out hardness based on the manufacturer's information on the box. Below is the hardness rating scale from The Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI).

quarry tiles

Harder than ceramic tiles, quarry tiles are a great option for heavy-traffic or industrial areas.

Keep in mind that harder tiles are uncomfortable to stand on for long periods of time. However, harder tiles are more resistant to chips and cracks if something drops on them.

Hardness level Strength Best suited for
Group 0 Delicate. Cannot withstand foot traffic. Walls that have little traffic or disturbance: kitchen backsplash or ceiling.
Group 1 Delicate. Can withstand light, infrequent foot traffic (no shoes). Mostly walls, or areas that are suited for barefoot traffic and little abrasion: bathrooms.
Group 2 Moderately delicate. Residential, light traffic. Walls and floors that experience limited abrasion: bathrooms. Not suitable for high traffic hallways or kitchens.
Group 3 Moderate strength. Can withstand light, moderate, and normal residential traffic. Floors, walls and countertops: kitchens, hallways and bathrooms. Can be used in a commercial setting, but not recommended for entranceways.
Group 4 Moderate to heavy. Can withstand normal traffic in a residential, commercial, and light industrial setting. Walls, flooring, countertops that experience normal and heavy traffic: hallways, bathrooms, kitchens, floors public spaces.
Group 5 Heavy traffic on an industrial level. All purpose, highly durable and safe under numerous environmental conditions. These ties are best for floors.

polished travertine

Polished travertine has a beautiful earthy appearance. Travertine works well in bathrooms as it retains traction when wet.

graph

Porosity

Tiles are rated on their moisture resistance (porosity), or how much water fills up tiny spaces in the material. Believe it or not, but all (if not most) tiles are porous!

pebble inset stones

Pebble inset stones are great for showers because they retain traction when wet.

Porosity level will indicate what type of environment the tile will work best in. For example, a very porous (non-vitreous) tile such as terracotta is not good for a shower stall. Terracotta absorbs a significant amount of water, which can damage drywall, joists, and subfloor. Thus, it's best to use vitreous or impervious materials within a shower stall.

terra cotta tiles

Terra cotta tiles are beautiful. But, they are extremely delicate. Buyer beware!

Level of porosity (least to most) Material examples Suitable for
Non-vitreous (absorbs more than 7% water) Terra cotta Vertical use, backsplashes in dry areas (indoor use only).
Semi-vitreous (absorbs between 7% - 5% water) Some indoor ceramic and porcelain tiles Vertical uses such as back splashes, and some surfaces (indoor use only).
Vitreous (absorbs between 0.5% - 0.3% water) Polished marble, some ceramics, Travertine (honed and filled), some porcelain. Surfaces and floors (mostly indoor use, can be used outside)
Impervious (absorbs 0.5% or less water) Dense porcelain (some types), glass. Any surface, indoor and outdoor use

Installation and Labour Cost

Did you know that installation costs vary depending on the tile project and material? While the average hourly wage for tile setters in Canada (Statistics Canada) ranges between $12.75 - $38.90 per hour, various factors affect the price of a tile laying project. Installation costs usually include grout. Sealing the tiles (and grout) is usually an additional charge. Consider the following:

How much will your project cost? Post your project for free and local pros will send quotes right over.

setting joints


Setting joints in between tiles.

  • Size. Small tiles tend to cost more to lay because they take more time to lay.
  • Material. Some materials are more difficult to work with, and thus require more expertise and time to handle. For example, some materials are more difficult to cut than others. Or, some tiles are more challenging to lay than others, such as small glass tiles in comparison to large ceramic tiles.
  • Location. Wall tiling projects usually cost more than floor tiling projects.
  • Area. Some contractors charge more to lay tiles in spaces with a smaller area.
  • Style. More complex styles that include patterns, mosaics, boarders, and tile cutting will add to the cost of the project.
  • Demolition. Don't forget that a contractor may have to remove the existing floor, wall, or countertops before tiling the space. This adds to labour costs.

About the Grout

Grout is a necessary part of most tiling projects unless you choose peel and stick tiles. There are two types of grout: epoxy and cement. All grout keeps tiles together and sealed to a surface. However, these products are vastly from one another.

grout

Grout helps strengthen and bind tiles. The colour of the grout can also affect the entire appearance of a room!

Cement grout:

Cement grout is a combinations of Portland grout with some other fillers. Unsanded grout is appropriate for smaller, narrower tile joints (under 1/8th an inch). Sanded grout is appropriate for larger, wider tile joints (above 1/8th inch). If used in the wrong context, Portland, grout can crack, shrink, and chip.

Cement grout is not waterproof and has a tendency to stain. One go-to solution is sealing the grout. There are two types of sealants:

  • Membrane sealants are applied as a coating atop cement grout. These sealants tend to peel under significant moisture exposure.
  • Penetrating sealants tend to be more durable, and are usually favoured for wet conditions.

Cement grout is easier to work with, and can be handled by DIYers. It is a cheaper option than epoxy grout. It can be easily removed for a future renovation.

Epoxy grout:

This grout is made with epoxy resin and fillers. It is waterproof and does not stain. It is much more difficult to handle in comparison to cement grout. Thus, it's recommended that you find a professional to install it. Epoxy grouts are more expensive than cement grouts. They tend to be more difficult to remove when the time comes.

Colour

Don't forget, grout comes in a variety of colours! Keep the following in mind:

  • Darker colours will hide stains much better than white or light colours.
  • Coloured grout will create the appearance of a frame around the tiles, which will bring a whole new pattern to a surface. Choosing similarly coloured grout to tile will preserve a smooth, even appearance. Grout colour will draw more (or less) attention to the surface within the room.
  • There are brightly coloured grouts on today's market. Do your research and don't be afraid to try something new.

cleaning tile

Final Things to Consider

  • Don't forget that tiles (including the compound beneath them) vary in thickness. Factor in extra space for trim, baseboards, door height, and countertops.
  • The golden rule of tiling is to use big tiles for big spaces, and small tiles for small spaces. Of course, you can experiment!
  • Floors must always be properly leveled. Bathroom floors must also take grading into account for proper water drainage.
  • Tiling may seem like easy and fun job, but it may be more complicated than it looks. Wall tiling can also be strenuous on the back.
  • Tiles are a great option to lay atop most existing flooring except carpet.

Posted by: Nicole Silver
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