The World of Ceramic Tile

What you will learn: how ceramic tile is made; attributes of ceramic tile; the difference between "single fired" and "double fired" ceramic tile; which substrates are the most suitable for ceramic tile; how to prepare substrates; what a "PEI" rating means.

Because ceramic tile looks like a fairly simple flooring solution, you might think that your decision ends there. However, when you examine if ceramic tile is the right flooring material for your project, you may find there are more options open to you than you thought.


Ceramic tile is made from clay which is baked at very high temperatures, resulting in an attractive and very hard surface. Ceramic tile is a varied material, some types glazed with a layer of liquid glass, others left untreated for a more natural, rustic appeal. It is worthwhile learning about the right kind of ceramic tile to ensure that the type you choose is the one that is most appropriate for your installation. Overall, ceramic tile is very low maintenance, particularly in terms of keeping the surface clean. Ceramic tile retains virtually no dirt and can be kept clean with water and a damp cloth or mop. Ceramic tile is also naturally fire resistant and can actually help to maintain a structure in the event of a fire, making it popular choice of flooring material by the safety conscious.

It used to be that it took several days of "firing," that is, baking the clay in a kiln to produce a ceramic tile durable enough for use as flooring. Now, thanks to a process called monocottura (an Italian term meaning "single fired") by which individual tiles are fired and glazed at the same time, the production time on ceramic tile has been reduced to a matter of hours. Another advantage is a denser and therefore more durable tile with a flat back allowing for an easier installation. A similar process called bicottura ("double-fired") breaks the process in two. The clay is fired a first time and then again with a glaze added to the layer of ceramic. Tiles in this case may be fired several times, and are generally a little less durable than monocottura ceramic tiles. Bicottura tiles should really be restricted to an indoor application, mostly as wall tiles and backsplashes because of their softer body and their glaze.


Substrates: Things to consider before you floor it.


A substrate is a catch-all term which refers to the subfloor or the sub-countertop on which you will be laying your flooring or countertop, whether it is ceramic tile, granite or any other type of material. Much like other options, it is important that the substrate be suitable for the type of ceramic tile you have chosen to install, and it is often necessary to make sure that the substrate is adequately prepared. This is particularly true if the substrate is a newly laid surface itself. Newly poured concrete needs to be cured for 28 days before your ceramic tile is laid down. Despite the type of substrate, an overall characteristic of subfloors or subcounters should be their structural rigidity, not being given to expansion or flexing.

Another important factor when you are preparing to lay down your ceramic tile is whether the substrate is level. An uneven substrate could cause the ceramic tile to become easily loosened, and may also cause the grout between the tiles to pop. To prepare your substrate, the first thing to take care of is clearing away any dirt or dust that has built up on the substrate. Also, it is important to remove any other substances – like peeling paint – from the substrate to be sure that the tile will adhere.


Ceramic tile grading


Much the same as other types of flooring, some of the considerations to be taken into account for ceramic tile are hardness, slip resistance, resistance to abrasion, and impact resistance. Generally, these are judged in terms of application. The decision you make as to the proposed location of your installation, and the likelihood that the type pf ceramic tile you’ve chosen will stand up to the conditions it will need to endure there should be carefully considered when choosing your ceramic tile. To aid you in making an informed decision, there is a system of ceramic tile grading which standardizes the durability of ceramic tile from the Porcelain Enamel Institute. This is what is called the PEI (or sometimes just "PE") rating, which outlines all ceramic tile into groups according to suggested usage, specifically with the factor of foot traffic in mind. The PEI rating will be a valuable tool for anyone looking to install ceramic tile, but is unsure of which type of tile is most appropriate.

Ceramic floor tile offers a wide variety of choice and a unique aesthetic effect for your space. Due to its natural make-up and texture, ceramic floor tile can serve many of your practical requirements as well. As such, choosing ceramic floor tile is actually a very balanced choice.

A Guide to PEI Ratings for Ceramic Tile

The following information is based on the Porcelain Enamel Institute’s guide to rate the overall durability of ceramic tile:

  • • Group 1 ceramic tile: light residential use, where only softer footwear is worn; for example, a bathroom

  • • Group 2 ceramic tile: general residential use, with the exception of entrance ways, kitchens and other areas subjected to high traffic

  • • Group 3 ceramic tile: all residential use, as well as light commercial applications, such as reception areas and boutiques

  • • Group 4 ceramic tile: medium commercial use (e.g. restaurants, hotels) and light institutional use (e.g. hospital lobbies)

  • • Group 5 ceramic tile: heavy foot traffic, areas likely to sustain high amounts of moisture, and areas where safety is the prime concern; for example, shopping malls, swimming pools, public building entrances)

It should be mentioned that the above scale does not measure the market value of ceramic tile, and is only meant to measure durability and appropriate usage.:

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Ceramic Tile Pictures