Easy Guide To Figuring Out Tile Installation Areas

Laying ceramic floor tile



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Ceramic and porcelain tiles cannot be installed everywhere. Some tiles work in water-prone bathrooms, while other tiles are best left "dry and high" as wall tile. Some can be walked on, others cannot.

Mixing tile functions is not just a bad idea; it can be disastrous. To use an extreme example, try installing a tile that is intended to be used as a  wall tile on high-traffic commercial flooring. Before long, that attractive tile will be worn and cracked beyond repair. Given how difficult it is to remove and replace tile, it's wise to purchase the right tile for the right location.

There is one easy and simple way to determine which tile goes where: PEI ratings. Located in an oft-ignored section of tile specifications when you are shopping for tile, PEI ratings help shortcut you to an understanding of the best tile for each location without relying on the manufacturer to tell you.

PEI Ratings

Tile that experiences much foot traffic will be harder and denser than tile that receives no foot traffic. Its coefficient of friction, or COF, make it favorable to walking.

Tile installed on a wall receives no foot traffic and, in fact, almost no wear of any kind. As such, this tile can be thinner and provide less friction, since safety is not a concern. Wall tile can have complicated designs such as reliefs that are not floor-friendly. Not only can wall tile be slippery, in many cases smoothness is a desired quality, as it helps with cleaning.

PEI Rating Usage Level Best Areas
1 No foot traffic. Wall use only in residential and commercial applications. This type of tile should never be used underfoot. Shower surrounds are a typical PEI-1 tile.
2 Light traffic. Both wall use and flooring areas that receive little traffic, such as residential bathrooms.
3 Light to moderate traffic. Countertops, walls, and floors that receive normal foot traffic are best suited for PEI-3 rated tiles. This is a good, general purpose tile for all residential (but not commercial) uses.
4 Moderate to heavy traffic. All residential applications, as well as medium commercial and light institutional, work with PEI-5 rated tile.
5 Heavy to extra heavy traffic. All residential and heavy commercial and institutional foot traffic. Typically this is used only for flooring and is rarely attractive enough for interior residential applications.

Where To Find PEI Ratings

There is no central database of PEI ratings for major manufacturers' tile. Instead, you need to look at each tile's specifications, often drilling down as far as the sales sheet. All companies list tile location in some form, whether it's PEI ratings only, location only, or a combination of the two.

Companies such as American Olean and Ann Sacks omit PEI ratings entirely, preferring to state recommended application areas. Other companies, such as Arizona Tile and Bedrosian's, publish PEI ratings for some of their products, while publishing recommended uses for other products.

PEI ratings may be found in some of these areas:

  • Tearsheet
  • Sales sheet
  • Tech (or technical) specs
  • Specifications

PEI Rating - The Bottom Line

PEI stands for "Porcelain Enamel Institute." PEI ratings help you determine the hardness and durability of tile. PEI ratings act as a kind of one-stop-shop to figure out where the tile can be installed.

While not required to do so by law, many companies will publish PEI ratings for each tile in the specification section of a product tearsheet.

So, even if the tile company does not specify that a tile works for showers or floors or walls, you can still determine a tile's best installation location from the PEI ratings.

Some tile companies in their informational literature do a good job of organizing tiles according to rooms or areas of the house. What the companies are doing essentially is translating PEI ratings for you into their proper installation locations.

More About Porcelain Enamel Institute

The Porcelain Enamel Institute, headquartered in Norcross, GA, is "dedicated to advancing the common interests of porcelain enameling plants and suppliers of porcelain enameling materials and equipment," according to its website.

The PEI has been representing the interests of porcelain enamellers since 1930.