Which Type of Tile?

Advantages, disadvantages and cost comparisons of various ceramic and stone tile options.

Posted by Steve Graham | Jan 31, 2010
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Once you decide to install a tile floor, you're not done: You still have plenty of other decisions ahead of you. Tiles come in a dizzying array of materials, colors, sizes and styles. Here is a quick rundown of the most popular options.

Porcelain Tiles

Porcelain tiles are made of clay fired at extremely high temperatures. They dominate the tile flooring market because they are affordable, tough, durable and scratch-resistant. The porcelain tile manufacturing process has become cheaper and simpler, so a wide variety of relatively inexpensive tiles is available with the strength and cost of ceramics but with all kinds of designs, including styles with the look of natural stone. Porcelain tiles are typically very smooth, so they may not be safe for outdoor patios or walkways. Porcelain tiles start at less than $2 per square foot.

Other Ceramics

Quarry tiles, or unglazed ceramic tiles, are among the cheapest tiles on the market. Glazed ceramic tiles are also popular, but they are more often used for walls or ceilings. They typically are not as tough as porcelain, but they can be glazed and colored in any style or pattern. They can cost as little as $1 per square foot.

Terra Cotta tiles are more expensive, hand-molded ceramic tiles with a rougher, more varied texture. They are often rougher underfoot (which may be safer, but less comfortable), and some varieties are relatively soft and susceptible to stains and scratches.


Marble is the classic upscale tile, and it will endure for centuries. Take care when shopping for marble. Up to 75% of the tiles sold as marble are made from limestone, which may be softer and less durable than true marble. Most marble surfaces will scratch, so marble tiles are not ideal if you are concerned about minor imperfections. Marble must also be carefully treated and cleaned. Marble tiles cost at least $3 per square foot.


Granite countertops are the current must-have kitchen surface, and the granite tile market is also rather large. Granite comes in a range of colors and styles and is extremely resistant to scratches and burns. However, it can stain if not sealed regularly and properly. It is more scratch-resistant than marble, but also has a less classic and formal look. Like marble, granite tiles start at about $3 per square foot.

Other Stone Options

Other stone tile options include slate, quartzite, limestone and travertine. You probably won't find anything tougher than granite, but you can get different looks and save some money with other choices. Limestone and travertine can either be very soft or very hard, but travertine typically has weak spots, and limestone quickly dissolves if coffee or other acids spill. Most stone requires more maintenance, cleaning and sealing than ceramic tiles.


Concrete is probably the cheapest way to get the look of stone for the price of ceramics. It is durable and available in a variety of colors. However, it is prone to stains, and you will need a thick, sturdy sub-floor to keep the heavy concrete from cracking.

Porcelain is the most popular flooring tile, while other ceramics are often used on walls and ceilings. For more upscale applications, various stone varieties are also popular. In addition to these options, there are dozens of other types of tile, including glass, leather, terrazzo, metal and cork. Look at several varieties before choosing a new surface for your home.

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