How To Buy Kitchen and Bathroom Tile

Kitchen countertop

Tiling--to many in the profession, it is an art. While there is certainly a learning curve for advanced tiling techniques, an average Joe can lay tiles if he knows how to do it and, perhaps more importantly, what to buy.

If you are thinking of embarking on a tiling project in your kitchen or bath, here are some tips on what kind of products you should buy.

  1. Size Matters. Size matters when you are talking about tiling. Larger tiles will take less time to hang. Smaller ones require more precision in general, and, in most cases will cost a little more. Many consider smaller tiles to be more elegant, although everyone has his own tastes-do what you think will look good.
  2. Weight. Size will generally correspond with weight. Weight comes into play when you are talking about backsplashes. If you are sold on a style of tile for your kitchen backsplash that is very heavy and your support wall is flimsy paneling, you may be setting yourself up for disaster. Tiling for backsplashes should be as light as you can go without compromising your taste. This makes for an easier application (less adhesive) and it will prevent any future disasters involving slipping tile.
  3. Shape. There are many different shapes of tiles. The most popular shape is the square, although the subway rectangular has become quite popular as well. These are rectangular tiles that when used as a backsplash in a shower stall, look a bit like the tiles you see at subway stations. It is more of a retro look, but some people have adapted it in white for showers or a funky kitchen backsplash in a bold color. Some people prefer to mingle triangles in their design as well.
  4. Color. Tiles come in a great variety of color. Many people like to use white in the bathroom because of its clean appearance. Others like to add a splash of color or a mosaic design to spice the sterile room up. Kitchen backsplashes can be bold against your cabinets, or can be a subtle transition into the countertops. Similarly, you can tile your countertops in any color you want. Before you choose your tiles, make sure the colors will coordinate and create the effect you desire.
  5. Vitreous vs. Non-vitreous. Ceramic tiles can be non-vitreous, semi-vitreous and vitreous. The longer and hotter you fire the ceramic batter, the denser and more vitreous the tile will become. Before you choose your tile, make sure it is suitable for the location where you will place it. For instance, non-vitreous tiles are not a good choice for kitchen floors since there is a potential of moisture (in the form of spills and cleaning products) as well as heavy traffic.
  6. Glazing. Glazing helps block water absorption to a degree. These tiles are coated on the surface with ground glass and pigments and re-fired in the kiln. The glaze acts as a sealer and protects the ceramic underneath the surface. These make up more than half the tiles sold in the United States per year. They are slippery when moist, so use a rougher glazed tile for bathroom flooring. Tiles with a friction rating of at least .70 are optimal. Generally speaking, glazed ones are best used for countertops and walls.
  7. Mosaic Tiles. These tiles are 1 inch square and smaller. These are decorative and allow you to make a geometric design, border, or special arrangement. They can be glazed or unglazed.
  8. Pavers. Pavers are vitreous floor tiles. These are at least 3/8 inches thick and 6 inches square. They come in all types-glazed or unglazed-porcelain, stone, and ceramic. Their surfaces tend to be a little uneven, so they are not good choices for countertops. They can be used in bathrooms and in the kitchen on the floors or walls. Some people like the rough look inside a shower or around the vanity and toilet. It is a more rustic look that some people prefer.
  9. Porcelain tiles. These are good for all floors, walls, and counters. They tend to be vitreous and can be in most sizes (although mosaic size is the most popular). These are very popular in bathrooms because they give a very clean feeling due to their high gloss and shine.
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  11. Quarry. Quarry tiles are vitreous and unglazed. They are usually at least ½ inch thick and are great matches for floors. They stain easily so they are not great for kitchens (unless they are sealed). They are not particularly good choices for bathrooms either.
  12. Other Tiles. Marble, slate, granite and limestone are some of the other options for tiles. Some of these are specialty items, and therefore cost more money. Make sure you have a realistic budget for your project-one that matches your aesthetic needs is preferable! These can be good for kitchens and bathrooms if they are sealed.
  13. Durability: Manufacturer Tile Ratings. Tiles are rated according to the European Group Standard. Tile in Group I is suitable for walls or bathroom walls and floors (where the foot traffic is generally barefooted). Group II tiles are rated for general use in residential areas except in the kitchen, foyers, and other locations where there is a good amount of foot traffic. Group III is the optimal choice for most any residential use-including countertops, walls, and floors. Group IV and Group V are extra-durable tiles made for commercial buildings, factories, malls, and other public places.
  14. Sealing. Your tile project must be accompanied by a good waterproofing agent-particularly in the bathroom where there is a constant flow of water hitting the surface. Grouting seals the tiles to each other, but you will need sealer for the areas around the bathtub and on the floor to prevent water from getting below the surface.
  15. Accessories. You will need tools and material to complete your the installation. At your local hardware store, pick up a large sponge, some grout (in the color you desire), some tile adhesive, grout and grouting tools. You may need a tile cutter if your surface is not perfectly square.
  16. Accessories: Grout. Grout comes in a variety of colors and can be high-contrast or much lighter. Decide on what you want out of your design--a bold appearance or a subtle one? Make your grout choice accordingly.
  17. Where to Buy. The best place to get kitchen and bathroom tile ideas is from a tile store, but this is not always the best place to buy them. Tiles at a specialty store will probably be a little more expensive than those at a hardware store, online, or at a bargain store that is selling remnants. Buying online can be risky unless you are familiar with the product you are ordering, especially the color. Some stores run remnant sales or bulk rates if you are making large orders.

Hopefully the above will give you a starting point for your project. If you are doing this job yourself, it is smart to get ideas and designs at other people's homes, from magazines, and at your local tile supply store. Look at the displays at stores and don't be shy about asking the employees questions.


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