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Choosing Hard Tile Material: A Guide to 7 Popular Types

Tile, a hard, durable material, comes in various geometric shapes and is used for floors, countertops, and walls. It ranges from rustic natural stones like granite to highly processed ones like reflective glass. However, it doesn’t include vinyl flooring tiles, which fall under resilient flooring.

Hard tiles have been popular for thousands of years. Often, all hard tiles are referred to as “ceramic.” Still, there are seven unique types, with clay ceramic being just one. The ideal tile depends on your budget, design goals, and willingness to do it yourself.

Discover how to choose from these seven key materials for hard tiles, perfect for floors, walls, countertops, and backsplashes.

Table of Contents

How to Selecting the Right Hard Tile Material

Hard tile is a fantastic choice for floors or surfaces where you want a durable and upscale finish. Even the most basic ceramic tile can elevate a bathroom more than standard wallboard and vinyl flooring. When choosing from the seven main hard tile materials, consider these factors:

Budget

  • Each tile type comes in a wide price range based on color, pattern, and style.
  • Budget-friendly options: Basic ceramic or terracotta tiles are usually quite affordable.
  • Luxury options: Natural stone signifies prestige and is ideal for a premium look.
  • Mid-range options: There are various materials to fit moderate budgets.

Use of Space

  • Hard tile is ideal for adult areas with high foot traffic.
  • Durability varies: Ceramic tile is thin and can crack easily. Terracotta is brittle and may not withstand heavy impacts.
  • Porcelain, quarry tile, or granite are better choices for high-impact areas.

Staining and Water Penetration

  • Glazed materials like ceramic or porcelain are recommended in spaces prone to spills.
  • Terracotta and some natural stones are porous and can stain easily.

Design

  • Porcelain tiles offer great design flexibility, imitating materials from terracotta to marble and wood.
  • Terracotta fits well with Southwestern styles.
  • Natural stone exudes luxury, perfect for high-end designs.

Maintenance

  • For low maintenance: Ceramic and porcelain tiles with glazed surfaces are ideal.
  • Most other tiles require regular maintenance, often involving sealing.

DIY Suitability

  • Ceramic and porcelain tiles are manageable for most DIYers.
  • More complex tiles, like natural stone, may require special tools and more expertise.

Your selection should balance these considerations with your personal needs and preferences to find the perfect tile for your space.

Ceramic Tile

Ideal for: Cost-effective flooring and wall solutions, suitable for DIY projects.

Ceramic tile is the most popular type for walls, floors, and countertops, making up about two-thirds of all tile installations. “Ceramic” signifies a clay-based product shaped and then fired at temperatures reaching 2500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Most ceramic tiles are glazed during the final firing to create a hard, shiny surface, often with glass or metallic materials. A popular example is the classic subway tile, crafted from traditional ceramic.

Ceramic tile offers a range of prices. While some options are inexpensive, you can find stylish and attractive budget-friendly ceramic tiles.

Pros:

  • Available in many colors
  • Generally the least expensive option
  • Easy to cut and install

Cons:

  • Thinner tiles may crack easily
  • Glazing can scratch
  • Can be slippery, especially on floors

Glass Tile

American_Glass_Tile

Ideal for: Creating striking walls and backsplashes.

Glass tile, often solid-colored and semi-translucent, is usually available in mosaic sheets. It’s perfect for crafting vibrant, noticeable vertical surfaces. While glass mosaic may remind some of early 2000s design trends, it is still a popular choice for areas that need visual impact rather than foot traffic. It’s not suitable for floors because it tends to crack under pressure. However, glass tile’s sparkling beauty is unmatched by other tile materials.

In terms of cost, glass tiles are close to porcelain, averaging about $6 per square foot. However, some designer varieties of glass tiles can be relatively more expensive.

Pro:

  • Semi-translucent, reflective surface enhances light
  • Adds a distinctive decorative touch to walls
  • Mosaic sheets simplify the installation process

Cons:

  • Prone to cracking, not ideal for flooring
  • The distinctive look may feel outdated eventually
  • Requires specific white tile adhesive for installation

Porcelain Tile

tile-that-looks-like-real-marble

Ideal for: Creating stylish, durable floors and showers at a reasonable cost.

Porcelain, a special ceramic, is made from finer clays and fired at higher temperatures than regular ceramic tiles. As defined by PTCA, porcelain must have a lower water absorption rate than ordinary ceramics, making it more suitable for high-moisture areas like near bathtubs and showers. These tiles are generally thicker and more robust than standard ceramic tiles, making them an excellent option for flooring.

A significant advantage of porcelain tiles is their versatility in design. Advanced manufacturing techniques enable them to imitate the appearance of natural materials such as marble, granite, slate, and even wood or metal. Porcelain tiles also offer a luxurious look at an accessible price point.

Pros:

  • Thicker and more robust than traditional ceramic tiles
  • Can imitate the look of natural stone or wood
  • Surfaces are highly resistant to staining

Cons:

  • More costly than standard ceramic tiles
  • Slightly more challenging to cut and install than ceramic tiles
  • Can be slippery on floors

Quarry Tile

quarry-tiles

Ideal for: Flooring, covered patios, and sunrooms.

Unlike the name, quarry tiles are not made from quarried stone. Instead, they are crafted from natural stone minerals like feldspar, clay, and shales. These materials are finely ground, shaped into tiles, and baked at high temperatures. Similar to terracotta, unglazed quarry tiles need sealing to protect them from stains. Their typically rough texture makes them an excellent non-slip option for flooring and patios.

The average cost for quarry tiles is around $5 per square foot, slightly higher than terracotta due to a more complex manufacturing process. Yet, quarry tiles have a wide price range, with some high-end options costing $20 per square foot or more.

Pros:

  • Rough surface provides slip resistance
  • Highly durable and long-lasting
  • More resistant to water than terracotta, making them suitable for entryways and outdoor areas

Cons:

  • Thick and hard, making them difficult to cut
  • Prone to staining without sealing
  • Limited color range, mostly in shades of reddish-browns and beiges

Terracotta Tile

handmade-terracotta-home

Ideal for: Enhancing floors with a rustic, natural style.

Terracotta, a traditional tile type, is made from coarser natural clay. These tiles are shaped and fired without glazing, giving them a natural reddish-orange, yellow, or brown hue based on the local clay. Terracotta is particularly suitable for floors in Mediterranean- or Southwest-style homes, where it adds rustic charm. However, it is high-maintenance and prone to staining unless regularly sealed.

Basic square terracotta tiles are often quite affordable, sometimes under $4 per square foot, and can be as low as $1 per square foot. The price is due to the simple manufacturing process, where raw clay is shaped and fired. However, designer terracotta tiles, made from imported clays or crafted by artisans, can be more expensive, sometimes comparable to natural stone.

Pros:

  • Provides a warm, natural look for flooring
  • Textured surface enhances slip resistance
  • Available in textured and molded styles

Cons:

  • Requires regular sealing to prevent stains
  • More prone to cracking
  • Limited range of colors available

Concrete Tile

tile-living_room

Ideal for: Diverse floor applications and bold designs.

Concrete, while less commonly used, is also a viable material for tile flooring and other uses. Made from a mix of Portland cement and fine aggregate, concrete tiles can be left smooth and gray or be textured and colored during manufacturing to look like natural stone or quarry tile. Concrete is a great option when you’re aiming for bold colors or a dramatic quarry-tile look. Another advantage is that most concrete tiles can be painted post-installation, allowing for easy color changes during redecorating.

As for cost, concrete tiles are relatively budget-friendly, averaging around $2 per square foot for materials, similar to ceramic tiles. However, textured and colored varieties may cost more than high-quality porcelain tiles. Generally, they are more affordable than natural stone and often indistinguishable from it.

Pros:

  • Cheaper than quarry tiles
  • Highly durable with proper maintenance
  • Available in a range of bold colors and textures

Cons:

  • Porous material that stains easily without sealing
  • May crack in frost-prone outdoor areas
  • Difficult to cut due to its hardness

Natural Stone

outdoor-stone-tiles-for-flooring

Ideal for: Upscale floors and showers.

Natural stone tile is a symbol of luxury in tile flooring options. These tiles, made from solid stone quarried in blocks, often come polished for a smooth finish. Popular natural stones for tiles include slate, granite, and marble.

While granite is relatively water-resistant, other stones like marble and slate need regular sealing to resist stains and water absorption. Additionally, some natural stones can be prone to scratching, which is a vital consideration for high-traffic areas. Over time, marble and slate can show wear from foot traffic.

At cost natural stone is generally the most expensive hard tile material. The national average cost is around $6 per square foot, with significant variations. Slate, limestone, and travertine are slightly less costly than granite, while marble, mainly imported varieties, tends to be the most expensive. Natural stone tiles also incur higher installation costs due to their difficulty in cutting and fitting.

Pros:

  • Adds significant value to property
  • Extremely strong and durable
  • Each installation is unique, creating distinctive floors

Cons:

  • More expensive than other tile types
  • Most stones require regular sealing against stains
  • Difficult to cut and install due to material hardness
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