Flooring tile includes a variety of natural and manmade hard materials cut or formed into uniform flat shapes that can be used to create elegant and long-lasting flooring surfaces. Hard flooring tiles generally add real estate value to any home when compared to carpet, laminate, or vinyl flooring.
But there is an amazing amount of diversity among tiles, and not all tiles are appropriate for use as a flooring surface. Learn about eight different types of tiles that are used for flooring and how to distinguish wall tiles from flooring tiles.
Most hard tiles for indoor applications have a similar installation profile. The tiles are usually installed using a cement-based thin-set adhesive over an underlayment of cement board that is screwed down to the subfloor. The joints between tiles are then filled with a mortar-based grout, allowed to harden, then sealed to make them resist water penetration and stains. The process is similar for all types of tile, so in theory most DIYers with a moderate to advanced level of skill and experience can tackle installation of any of these flooring materials.
But the different tile materials vary greatly in their thickness and hardness, and many require a powerful wet sasw to effectively cut pieces for fitting around borders and obstacles. Some tiles are so heavy that special subfloor preparation or reinforcement may be needed. Thus, while just about any DIYer with even a small amount of experience can succeed at installing basic ceramic tile, terra cotta tile, or even porcelain tiles, other tiles are best left to professionals. Natural stone tiles, for example, are very heavy and brittle, and installing them is best left to a pro who is experienced with subfloor preparation and the use of powerful welt saw to minimal breakage and waste. Depending on your region and on the level of preparatiwork required, professional installation adds $3 to $7 per square foot to the overall cost of a tile floor.
Before choosing to DIY, it's wise to do some research on each type of tile and make sure your experience and skill level are up to the challenge.
01 of 08
- Best for: Any floor surface.
The term "ceramic tile" is sometimes used to describe all types of hard tile materials, but it more accurately refers to a particular type of tile created by molding earthen clays into flat shapes and firing them under high temperatures to harden them. Usually, ceramic tile is given a glossy glazed top surface to make it impervious to water, but this glazing can also make the tiles slippery underfoot, especially when wet.
Not all ceramic tiles are appropriate for use on floors. Many tiles are rather thin materials that are rated only for wall use. When choosing a ceramic flooring tile, select a variety rated for use on floors, and one that has some texture to make it less slippery. Pay attention to the Coefficient of Friction (COF) rating, which determines how much slip resistance the tile has. Higher numbers provide better resistance to slipping. A COF of .50 (dry) is recommended for flooring.
Prices for ceramic tiles vary widely, but it is possible to find basic ceramic floor tiles for as little as $1 per square foot (materials only)—or as much as $15 per square foot for imported designer tiles. Professional installation costs can also vary widely, depending on what kind of removal or subfloor preparation work is necessary. Many DIYers find ceramic tile installation to be a great project for saving money—the process is time-consuming, but not exceptionally difficult.
02 of 08
- Best for: Any floors where a luxury look is sought.
Porcelain tile is a particular type of ceramic tile, made from finer clays that are fired at higher temperatures than standard ceramic tiles. Technically, porcelain tiles typically have a slower water-absorption rate which makes them a good choice for bathrooms, kitchens, and showers, where water resistance is critical. Porcelain is also preferred in situations where a premium, luxury look is desired, as the manufacturing process allows for porcelain to take on the look of a variety of materials—including natural stone, wood, or even metal.
Porcelain tiles are typically thicker than standard ceramic tiles, and most are suitable for flooring as well as walls. Because porcelain is a thicker, harder material, cutting tiles is a more difficult process that requires a motor-driven wet saw. Still, many DIYers can and do install porcelain tile floors themselves.
Costs of porcelain tile floors tend to be somewhat higher than standard ceramic tile, though there is considerable overlap. Materials alone start at about $2 per square foot and can range up to $20 per square foot or more for special-order designer porcelain tiles.
03 of 08
- Best for: Flooring borders, bathrooms.
The term mosaic tile refers to a particular type of ceramic or porcelain tile that uses small tiles preattached to a flexible mesh backing. Individual tiles can be as small as 1/2 x 1/2 inch in size, though larger mosaics using 1 x 1 to 2 x 2 tiles are more common in flooring applications. The mosaic sheets themselves are usually 1 x 1 foot or larger in size. Using mosaic sheets provides an easy way to achieve the look of a custom tile installation that was once accomplished by skilled installers setting tiny individual tiles in a wet mortar base, one by one.
Mosaic sheets are more typically used for backsplashes and are generally not a very good material for entire floor surfaces, due to the many grout lines. But they are sometimes used in bathrooms, or to create decorative borders or accent areas on a floor that is laid with larger ceramic or porcelain tile.
Mosaic sheets are installed in much the same way as standard ceramic or porcelain tiles, with material and professional installation costs similar to that of porcelain tiles.
04 of 08
Terra Cotta Tile
- Best for: Rustic, natural-looking floors, patios, and sunrooms.
The term terra cotta is an Italian term meaning "baked earth." These are tiles made from porous clay with a high iron content that gives them a brown-to-reddish color. When compared to standard ceramic tiles, terra cotta tiles are fired at a relatively low temperature (1,000 degrees Fahrenheit), and they generally are not glazed wth a shiny surface. They are typically used in homes with Southwest or Mediterranean decor or architecture, where they lend a rustic, natural look. They are also used for sunrooms, patios, and in outdoor settings, especially in arid climates. In addition to standard square or rectangular tiles (usually at least 1 x 1 foot in size), there are designer medallions and accent tiles available.
Because they are naturally porous, terra cotta tiles can prone to staining unless they are regularly sealed. Terra cotta tiles are usually installed using the same methods as ceramic and porcelain tiles. Cutting is usually done with a motorized wet saw. DIY installation is entirely feasible for a do-it-yourself with moderate skills and some previous tile experience.
Thanks to the relatively simple manufacturing process, terra cotta is a relatively inexpensive form of tile. Many types are available for around $1 per square foot, though there are also hand-painted types that are considerably more expensive. DIY installation is feasible, though most people will want to rent a wet saw do do the cutting.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
- Best for: Entryways, patios, kitchens.
Quarry tile can best be thought of as a more engineered version of terra cotta. Rather than being formed of pure clay, quarry tiles are comprised of a blend of clays and pulverized rock, such as feldspar and shale, that is molded, then fired at a relatively high temperature to form tiles that are harder and more impervious to water than terra cotta. With a COF of .8 and greater, quarry tile provides excellent slip resistance. Tile sizes range from 3 x 3 to 12 x 12, and rectangular and other geometric shapes are also available. While many quarry tiles are brick-red in color, there are also tan and gray versions available.
Terra cotta tiles are installed much like other forms of clay-based tile. But because they are thick tiles that include hard minerals, cutting is more difficult and must be done with a fairly powerful wet saw. Unlike terra cotta, quarry tile generally does not require sealing—though adding a seal coat does not harm them.
Because the manufacturing process is more complicated clay-only products, quarry tile is somewhat more expensive than terra cotta. Basic red square tiles start at about $3 per square foot.
06 of 08
Natural Stone Tile
- Best for: Floors where a luxurious look is desired.
Another category of floor tile includes several types of quarried natural stone that can be cut into uniform shapes for application as a flooring material. Granite, marble, slate, travertine, limestone, and soapstone are all commonly available as flooring tiles, though you'll usually need to shop as specialty tile retailers rather than big-box home improvement stores. Natural stone tiles are available in both textured forms, as well as highly polished tiles, but glossy tiles tend to better suited for countertops, where the smoothness does not pose a slipping hazard. Tile sizes begin at about 6 x 6, but larger tiles simplify installation and reduce the number of joints.
Natural stone tile makes for a very luxurious floor that generally adds real estate value to my home, but these will be somewhat high-maintenance floors. Be aware that many types of stone are naturally porous and will require regular sealing to guard against water penetration and staining. Natural stone tiles are cut products with rectified (sharply sawn) edges. This can make them somewhat uncomfortable underfoot, especially to bare feet. Careful grouting is necessary to keep the grout seams flush with the tile surface, and to keep them from trapping dirt.
These are fairly expensive flooring tiles. At the low end, basic travertine, granite, and slate tiles start at about $5 per square foot. At the high end, marble tiles start at about $10 per square foot but can range up to $30 or more. Moreover, natural stone tiles are not a very DIY-friendly product, and professional installation is almost always required. This will add another $3 to $7 per square foot.
07 of 08
- Best for: Modern decor.
A fairly recent hard tile flooring product includes pure concrete paver tiles, made from Portland cement and fine aggregate, often colored and textured to resemble quarry tile. Traditionally, these are more commonly used for exterior walkways, pool decking, and patios; indoors, they have been usually restricted to mudrooms, furnace rooms, work areas, and other areas where aesthetics are of little concern. However, concrete pavers are now available in forms more suitable for general indoor use, especially in homes with modern, industrial architecture and decor.
These are relatively thick (3/8 to 1/2-inch-thick) tiles, with dimensions ranging from 4 x 4 to 12 x 12, with rectangular shapes also available. Look for a COF rating of .60 or greater, which will make these tiles safe underfoot. Cement pavers are quite hard to cut, and are thus normally installed by professionals.
Cement pavers are among the cheaper flooring tiles, with basic tiles starting at about $2 per square foot, though specialty tiles with unique colors can cost more.
08 of 08
Encaustic Cement Tiles
- Best for: Designer look for high traffic entryways, borders, and accent surfaces.
So-called encaustic cement tiles look very similar to glazed ceramic or porcelain tiles, but rather than being based on clay, they are manufactured using a mixture of Portland cement, sand, pigment, and mineral powders that are poured into molds then allowed to harden. They are not fired under heat. These are generally highly decorative tiles with notable patterns, with excellent durability and water/stain resistance. The pattern and color is not a glazed surface layer, as they are with ceramic or porcelain tiles, but instead is created by the pigments and minerals integrated when the tiles are molded.
Because the manufacturing process is quite involved, these tend to be among the more expensive tiles, but the unique elaborate designs can be a good choice for accent surfaces, such as stairway risers. These are very hard tiles that hold up well in high-traffic areas, such as entryways and hallways.
Costs of encaustic cement tiles start at about $5 per square foot, but you can easily pay $15 per square foot or more, even at big-box home improvement centers. These tiles are not difficult for DIYers to install, but because concrete is a very hard material, these tiles will need to be cut with a powerful wet saw.
Choosing a Type of Flooring Tile
Several criteria come into play when choosing the right flooring tile for your project:
- Budget: From a pure budget standpoint, the different types of tiles have different average costs. The common tile types follow this order of average cost (least expensive to most costly): terra cotta tile and ceramic tile; porcelain and concrete tile quarry tile; encaustic cement; and natural stone. This is somewhat deceiving, however, since within each tile type you can find a wide range of product costs. For example, there are designer ceramic tiles that cost more than basic natural stone. So rather than relying on average cost rankings, carefully examine the costs of individual styles in each category.
- DIY aspirations: While experienced, skilled DIYers have been known to tackle the installation of any of these types of tiles, the reality is that most DIYers will find basic ceramic tile and terrra cotta tiles to be the easiest to cut and install. Porcelain, concrete pavers, and encaustic cement tiles are also moderately easy to install, though you'll fare best if you buy or rent a powered wet saw when working with these. Quarry tile and natural stone are relatively thick, hard materials that are best installed by professionals, though there's nothing preventing an ambitious DIYer from taking on the work with special tools.
- Aesthetic goals: Some tile products are best suited for particular architectural styles or home decor goals, while others are available in such diversity that you can find a style to match almost any aesthetic goal. Terra cotta, for example, lends itself best to Southwest or Mediterranean-style homes. Quarry tiles tend to work best where a fairly informal look is desired. Concrete pavers are a natural fit for modern, industrial decor looks. Natural stone lends an upscale, luxury look to any home. But with ceramic, porcelain, or encaustic cement tiles, you can find a style to match whatever goal you have.