Ceramic tiles are thin slabs of clay or other inorganic materials, hardened by oven firing and usually coated with some kind of glaze. Ceramic is best known for its durability, with some installations in the ruins of ancient Rome and Egypt still intact.
Ceramic tile is a great choice for kitchens and bathrooms because it’s easy to clean and doesn’t harbor germs. It’s manufactured in production runs; because of variation among lots, make sure the caliber number (indicating size) and lot number (indicating color) are the same throughout your order.
Ceramic tile is rated from zero to 5 based on hardness. Zero through 2 is suitable for wall tile, 3 is good for most residential uses, and 4 and 5 are hard enough for commercial applications.
Terrazzo is traditionally a flooring material made by exposing marble chips in a bed of concrete and then polishing until smooth. Now, however, you can buy terrazzo in tile form. It’s often used in public buildings because it’s long-lasting and can be refinished repeatedly.
Terrazzo is quite slippery and can cause falls, so it may not be a good flooring choice for families with young children or elderly members. Ask your contractor about applying non-slip additives to the surface.
Concrete is a tough man-made mix of stone, sand, water and cement. It’s long-lasting, water-shedding, hail-resistant and can be made to mimic the look of other building materials. It can be a good roofing choice for harsh climates.
Because it requires specialized tools and knowledge, and because you must ensure that the structure being covered can withstand the weight, concrete tile should be installed by trained professionals only.
Terra cotta is one of the oldest tile materials around, dating back before the birth of Christ, when it was sun-dried rather than oven-fired. It’s often used, glazed or unglazed, to create a rustic, weathered look.
While high-quality terra cotta will last forever, it’s difficult to assess the quality, even for pros. Buy only from a seller whose reputation you trust, though even then you may encounter problems. For practical uses, it should be sealed, particularly in kitchens.
Actually a subtype of ceramic tile, porcelain bears a perception of high quality, but for residential applications its particular toughness is unnecessary. It’s nonetheless popular in the residential market because the manufacturing process makes for unlimited design potential.
The problem is that do-it-yourselfers typically install it with setting material designed for ordinary ceramic tiles, but porcelain’s low porosity means it requires a special compound for setting. Ask the manufacturer—not a salesperson—how to install it.