How to Select Porcelain Tile


Porcelain tiles are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. They are superior to ceramic tiles in many ways. They are stronger and their colorant is throughout the entire tile, rather than just on the surface. Their manufacturing process also makes them more resistant to the effects of weather when installed outdoors. Depending on the type and style, porcelain tiles are suitable for any type of tile installation, indoors or outdoors, private or commercial.

  • Determine, based on where it will be installed, whether the tile needs to be waterproof and if so, the extent to which it needs to be waterproof. One way porcelain tiles are classified is by the level of their water absorption rate. Porcelain tiles classified as "impervious" to water have an absorption rate of 0.5 percent or less. Porcelain tiles classified as "vitreous" have an absorption rate of 0.5 percent to 3 percent. Semi-vitreous porcelain tiles have a water absorption rate of 3 to 7 percent. Non-vitreous porcelain tiles have a water absorption rate in excess of 7 percent. Porcelain tiles with a smaller percentage absorption rate perform best when submerged, such as in a pool. Porcelain tiles classified as non-vitreous--those with water absorption in excess of 7 percent--are not recommended for installation on a floor. Porcelain tiles classified as "impervious" are recommended for installation in swimming pools while those classified as non-vitreous are only recommended for use on walls in areas where water is not present.

  • Determine whether the tile will be installed on the floor or on the wall. Again, the absorption rate is a good indicator of whether the tile will perform well in the area you are installing it. For a shower or tub surround, choose porcelain tile with water absorption rates of 0.5 percent to 3 percent, either impervious or vitreous. For bathroom walls not in a tub or shower, absorption rates of 3 to 7 percent, or semi-vitreous tiles, are the best choice. Non-vitreous porcelain tiles, with water absorption in excess of 7 percent, are not recommended for use in rooms with high water usage, such as bathrooms and kitchens.

  • Decide whether you want to install non-slip tile, especially in a bathroom or a kitchen. For safety reasons, it is recommended that your porcelain tile have a "coefficient of friction" of not less than 0.6 for flat surfaces. This is a measurement of how much effort it takes to move an object across a porcelain tile. Measurements are taken using both wet and dry tiles. Choose a tile with a larger coefficient of friction for areas where water and moisture are present. For bathrooms choose a tile with a coefficient of 0.6 or higher.

  • Assess the amount and type of foot traffic in the area where the tile will be installed. One way that the Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) classifies porcelain tile is by measuring the durability of the tile's glaze. An abrasive pad is ground against the tile for a specific period of time and the amount of damage to the surface is recorded and assigned a PEI rating of #1 to #5. This test is somewhat subjective, but is a good indication of a porcelain tile's durability. Tiles assigned to Class #1 are not recommended for floors. Class #2 is recommended for areas with normal foot traffic on soft-soled shoes, such as home bathrooms and bedrooms. Class #3 is recommended to use in living areas of homes other than kitchens, entrance ways or other areas of high foot traffic with Class #4 recommended for these high traffic areas. PEI Class #5 is recommended for all commercial or residential areas subject to high traffic. Choose the tile with the PEI Class number applicable to the area you are installing your porcelain tile.

  • Evaluate whether the tile will be subjected to large changes in temperature, such as freeze-thaw cycles, or the possibility of chipping from everyday use. Choose porcelain tile for all outdoor installations. They are strong enough to withstand temperature variations and nicks or chips are not readily apparent because the tiles are colored throughout, not just on the surface like ceramic tiles.

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