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Paul Bianchina, Tile is a great choice for floors

When you’re looking for a flooring material that combines strength and durability with timeless good looks, it’s hard to beat all the virtues of tile.

Tile is one of the oldest and longest-lasting flooring materials known — intricate mosaics on the floors of homes in Pompeii survived the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD — and one look in a tile showroom will give you enough colors, patterns, sizes and ideas to delight any decorator.

Ceramic and natural stone tiles are appropriate for any floor in your home, but they are especially well-suited for such areas as entryways, bathrooms, kitchens, hallways, and other areas where high traffic and exposure to water and dirt are an ongoing problem.

Natural stone tile

Natural stone tiles are cut from hard, construction-grade stone materials that are durable enough for use on floors. These include such materials as slate, granite, marble, basalt, travertine, limestone and, to a lesser degree, sandstone.

For many people, the primary advantage to natural stone tile is just that — it’s natural stone. Nothing man-made is really going to accurately duplicate the sheer beauty of what Mother Nature has created. There also can be a lot of color variation in natural stone that enhances its beauty, and again it is very difficult to duplicate. However, for those seeking a more uniform look, that color variation can be a drawback.

On the downside, natural stone is typically porous, which means it requires more maintenance to keep it from becoming stained and dirty, especially in high-traffic areas. That usually means the application of a sealer on a regular basis. Some natural stone can also be more brittle, with a tendency to chip at the edges.

The other drawback can be the cost. Natural stone flooring, depending on the type, can run anywhere from slightly more to significantly more than ceramic tile of the same size.

Ceramic tile

Ceramic tile is manufactured from natural clay, sand and water, sometimes with the addition of other minerals. The mixture is shaped into tiles, then baked in a kiln to remove most of the moisture and harden the tiles, which are then glazed.

Ceramic tiles come in an amazingly wide variety of colors, sizes and textures, from bright solid hues to subtle variations that very closely mimic natural stone. It can even be made to look like hardwood flooring planks, which is a nice option for those wanting a wood floor look in a kitchen or bath without the worry of water damaging natural wood.

Ceramic tiles also come in a wide variety of hardness, and that’s something to pay attention to. Harder tiles are better suited for use on floors, while softer tiles are better left for wall applications.

Finally, there’s the glaze. You can purchase unglazed tiles such as terra cotta, which have a warm, rustic appearance but present the same maintenance issues as porous stone. From there, you’ll find a variety of soft and hard glazes on the tiles, which offer advantages and disadvantages.

Harder, glossier glazes are better at preventing absorption of dirt and stains, but can become slippery when wet; be sure to discuss the glaze with your tile dealer when making your selection, and let them know the tile will be used for flooring.

Purchasing tile

Both natural and ceramic tiles are most commonly sold by the square foot. To figure out what you’ll need, first multiply the length of the room by the width, then divide by the size of the tile. For example, say you have a 10-by-12-foot room. That’s 120 square feet. If you’re using 12-by-12-inch tiles, each tile is 1 square foot, so you would need 120 tiles.

However, you always want to allow for cuts, breakage and other waste, so you always want to figure an additional 10% to 20%. If the room is pretty square without a lot of cuts and obstacles to work around, you can probably figure on the lower end. For odd-shaped rooms, rooms with a lot of cuts, or if the tile you’re purchasing is a close-out or a special order, I’d suggest figuring on the high side of the waste allowance.

Here’s another, slightly more complicated example. The room is 11 by 17 feet, and you’re using 18-by-24-inch tile, which you found on a close-out sale, that is no longer available: 11 feet by 17 feet = 187 square feet; 18 inches = 1.5 feet, so 1.5 by 2 = 3 square feet per tile; 187 divided by 3 = 62.33, rounded up to 63. Allow 20% waste because the tile’s discontinued and you can’t get any more: 63 x 20% = 12.6, rounded up to 13. So you’d want to purchase 76 tiles.

Both ceramic tile and natural stone tile can be purchased from specialty tile stores, which typically have the best selection and most knowledgeable sales staff, or from many larger home centers. Ask to borrow a sample board of the tile to take home so you can view it in the actual setting and light conditions in which it will be installed.

In the case of natural stone, it’s also important that you make sure that any samples you’re given will be a close match to the actual material you’ll be purchasing, because of the tremendous color variations that can be present in these products.

Have a home repair or remodeling question for Paul? He can be reached by email at