Choosing the Right Tile for the Room

Sep 15, 2011 | Kevin Stevens

Custom Surface Design, Inc. via Hometalk.comTile work is one of my mainstays. I have installed thousands and thousands of square feet in just about every room of a home except the garage. So when a customer asks, “What kind of tile should I get?” the answer can be a bit complex. Tile types vary widely. You can choose from a wide variety of natural stone products like marble, granite and slate. These can be had in many shapes and sizes as well. There are also hundreds of ceramic and porcelain varieties. Add in mosaics in glass, metal, etc., and you can quickly see that this is going to take some thought.

Where is this being installed?

The first consideration for choosing tile should be where this tile is going to be used. Some tiles are more wear-resistant than others. The other big variation is how easy it is to keep clean. For example, slate or Saltillo would be poor choices for a kitchen counter. Slate, with all its nooks and crannies, would be an ideal breeding ground for lots of nasty things people don’t want in a food preparation area. Saltillo, by comparison, would be a little easier to keep clean but traditionally is used exclusively for tile floors. So it would be perceived as a “wrong” install. Glazed tiles (ceramic and porcelain) are great choices for wet areas; they also are quite durable from a wear standpoint. Most granites also fall into the highly durable group; proper sealing can make them “cleanable” and water- and stain-resistant.

Cost and scale

Tile prices vary widely by material and availability. I have seen many types of ceramics and porcelain tiles selling for a few bucks to as little as 60 cents a square foot. I have also installed exotic marble and granites that were well over $20 a sq foot. If you want stone tile but don't want to pay for marble or granite, consider travertine, which can be less expensive. "Travertine can transform any bathroom or kitchen backsplash into something amazing and with its neutral colors, there are dozens of color schemes you can pull off -- even dark colors like oil rubbed bronze fixtures with dark brown walls," comments Majestic Home Improvement (a Virginia Beach, VA contractor) on Hometalk.com.

Designer mosaics in hand-made glass and metal can approach $50 a sq foot. If your plan is to tile the 1000s of sq feet of a large home, then these considerations need to be addressed.  Fancy or pricey tiles can be used as accents or borders to add a little flair without breaking the bank or making the tile work look too busy. If your budget is fatter than most, this may not be an issue. Anecdotally, I stayed in a 5 star resort once where the bath was as large as my kitchen and was covered floor to ceiling in exquisite marble -- it was very memorable, and if you can afford to pull it off, enjoy!

Thermal mass

One common complaint is that tile can be cold underfoot. While this may be good or bad, it is not always the case. In the heat of the summer, our Husky mix loves to sleep on the cool granite tile of my home office floor. By comparison our Dachshund seeks out the sun-warmed black granite tile along the border of our living room. Because tile of natural stone is dense, it retains its thermal energy longer than a hardwood floor. When you combine it with radiant heating installation or with proper under-slab insulation, tile buffers temperature somewhat due to its thermal mass. Tile used as hearths and fireplace surrounds provide the needed combustion clearances, but can also add heat storage. I have done a number of these with very pleasing results.

Kevin Stevens is a Networx writer.

Updated August 28, 2018.

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