Ceramic tile may be the only flooring material that truly works in any room of the house. It's most often used in kitchens and bathrooms as well as foyers, mudrooms, and other high-traffic areas. But many homes, especially in warm climates, use tile to great effect in living areas and bedrooms, too. In other words, you really can't go wrong with tile. What you can do is wish you had something softer or warmer in certain areas, and you might want to spring for professional installation.
Glazed ceramic flooring tiles have a hard protective top layer that makes the tiles impervious to water and most stains, making them naturally resistant to the ravages of high humidity conditions. This is the main reason why tile is preferred for wet areas like bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms.
While most ceramic floor tile is glazed, there are unglazed ceramic tiles, such as traditional Saltillo tile. These must be sealed to protect their surface from liquids and stains. And with all types of tile, the grout in between the tiles are susceptible to moisture and stains and should be sealed regularly for protection.
Ceramic flooring is extremely tough, and the tiles are difficult to crack. A quality installation can last for hundreds of years if the floor is well-maintained. If a single tile does crack due to a severe impact, the process of replacing a tile is relatively simple.
Ceramic flooring is fairly easy to care for. Dirt, stains, and liquids all rest on the surface, allowing you to easily wipe or mop them away. Regular maintenance consists of sweeping or vacuuming with a soft brush attachment to keep the floor free of dirt and loose debris. If set-in stains do occur, you can use most heavy duty cleaners without having to worry about damaging the material.
Modern manufacturing techniques allow ceramic producers to make materials that can be printed in numerous ways. Solid tiles can be mixed-and-matched in patterns or accented with custom designs or motifs. They can also be printed to reproduce the look of many hardwoods and natural stones. Finally, the tiles themselves can be cut and shaped into triangles, rectangles, and planks.
Ceramic tile can be one of the more affordable flooring materials, starting at well below $5 per square foot for budget tile and DIY installation. However, as you move into better-looking tile and professional installation, tile flooring can easily cost as much as hardwood or high-quality carpet. It all depends on the tile and the difficulty of the installation.
Ceramic tiles have a hard, solid surface, that does not attract or hold onto dirt, dust, pollen, or other allergens. When these small particles do land on a ceramic floor, they stand out against the surface, making it easy to wipe them away with a mop or sponge. This helps to keep the air free of irritating materials that can be harmful to asthma and allergy sufferers.
Ceramic is extremely hard, which makes it easy to clean and maintain. Unfortunately, this can also make it difficult and uncomfortable to stand on. Unlike resilient floors, hard ceramics cannot be softened using padded underlayments. This means that these materials may not be suited to environments where people will be forced to stand for long periods.
The hardness of ceramic can, of course, be offset by using throw rugs or area rugs in strategic places where people tend to stand for long periods, such as in kitchen work areas.
While some tile holds heat fairly well, all tile gets cold in cold weather, which can be a shock to your toes first thing in the morning or an unwelcome reality on bare feet in the bathroom. The only way to counteract cold tile is with in-floor heat, either electric mats under the tile or radiant heating in or under the subfloor.
Ceramic tile is labor-intensive and somewhat tricky to install. Amateurs can certainly do it, but tile is not as DIY-friendly as laminate or vinyl. Proper installation of floor tile starts with a layer of cement board (or "tile backer") over wood subfloors (concrete floors don't need tile backer), adding cost, time, and labor to the project. Homeowners who want to install their own tile should be careful to choose tile for relatively easy installation and avoid tricky tiles, like large "rectified" tile, polished stone tile, or natural clay or saltillo tile, all of which are best left to professionals.
Some ceramic floor tile can be quite heavy, and all tile needs a stiff, strong floor to prevent cracking. This means that tile may not always be appropriate for upper-story installations or floors with inadequate floor structures.