Ceramic & Stone Tile Selection & Installation Advice for Bathrooms & Kitchens
This article series discusses current best design practices for kitchens and bathrooms, including layout, clearances, work space, and accessible kitchen and bathroom layout, clearances, turning space, grab bars, controls, etc.
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We include advice on choosing and installing kitchen countertops, cabinets, and kitchen or bathroom flooring, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures and fixture controls such as faucets. A list of kitchen and bath product manufactures and sources is included.
The substructure must be stiff enough to support
the tile without excess movement or deflection, and
the tile, backerboard, adhesive, grout, and any waterproofing
membrane must be compatible with one another.
If all these products are installed following the
manufacturer’s instructions as well as the specifications
of the Tile Council of America (TCA), the result should
be an attractive and durable job.
Finally, it is critical that
the installer leave the required expansion joints at the
room perimeter, tub lips, and other places the tile is
restrained—the source of many tile callbacks.
Selecting Tile for Kitchens & Baths
A wide array of tiles are readily available. In addition to
aesthetic concerns, tiles vary in strength, water absorption,
scratch resistance, ease of cleaning, and slip resistance.
In general, look for harder tiles for floor and counter
applications, and tiles low in water absorption for wet
applications. Beyond looking at the specifications, it is a
good idea to test a sample of tile for scratch resistance,
scuffing, and ease of cleaning, using real pots and pans,
shoes, and household cleansers.
Strength and Water Absorption of Ceramic Tiles
The body of a ceramic tile,
also called the bisque, is made by heating a mixture of
clay and other additives in a kiln. In general, the longer
the clay is fired and the higher the temperature, the denser
and stronger the tile will be and the more impervious
to water absorption.
Nonporous tiles that absorb little
water will perform better in wet applications than porous
tiles. The tile bisques manufactured according to ANSI
standards are rated from nonvitreous to impervious (see Table 6-4).
[Click any image or table to see an enlarged version with additional detail, commentary & source citation.]
Comparison of the Properties of Glazed vs. Unglazed Ceramic Tile
With the exception of
quarry tile, terra-cotta, and some porcelains and mosaics,
most tiles come glazed. The glaze consists of a mix of silica
and pigments that is fused to the surface of the tile at
high temperatures, creating a glasslike coating.
provide decorative color and protect the surface of porous
tiles from absorbing water and stains. How well a glaze
resists abrasion and shows scratches depends on several
Temperature: Glazes fired hotter and longer tend to be
harder and more scratch-resistant.
Color: Light-colored glazes tend to be harder than
dark colors and conceal scratches better.
Gloss level: Matte-finished glazes tend to be harder
than high gloss and also conceal scratches better.
Unglazed tiles show the natural color of the clay,
although some unglazed mosaics have pigment added to
Unglazed tiles may need to be sealed to prevent
staining during grouting or in use on floors, counters, and
other applications prone to staining. Sealing is generally
done before grouting. If used on a counter, make sure the
sealer is suitable for use around food.
Many manufacturers now rate the abrasion resistance
of their tile using the guidelines of the Porcelain Enamel
Institute (PEI). The PEI system rates tiles from 1 to 5 as
shown in Table 6-5.
Select Grade 3 or higher where scratching
of the tile surface is a concern.
Slip Protection vs. Use of Glazed Tiles in Baths or Kitchens: Coefficient of Friction
Many glazed floor tiles become dangerously
slippery when wet. This is a concern wherever
floors are subject to wetting, but particularly on shower
floors and bathroom floors near tubs and showers.
unglazed tiles or textured patterns will be less slippery.
Some tile has a special nonskid surface made by
adding an abrasive grit to the tile face or glaze. The downside
is that nonglossy surfaces are somewhat harder to
Many tile manufacturers use a coefficient of friction (COF) to rate the traction a tile provides.
While there are
no national standards that specify a required COF, the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recommends a
minimum COF of .60 on accessible walking routes.
also recommend a minimum COF of .60 for shower stalls,
wet bathroom floors, and other wet areas.
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