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Wall Tiles vs. Floor Tiles

While many assume that the main difference between wall tiles & floor tiles lies in their appearance and shape, the reality is far more complex. Understanding the nuanced differences between these two types of tiles is crucial.

Each type of tile is engineered to meet specific challenges over its lifespan. Wall tiles are generally lighter, smaller, and thinner, featuring a textured backing to enhance adhesion to vertical surfaces. In contrast, floor tiles are built for durability, being thicker and larger to withstand heavy foot traffic and weight.

We also have an article about Rectified Tiles vs. Non-Rectified Tiles.

Table of Contents

Porcelain Tile vs. Ceramic Tile

Serenity White Porcelain Tile

Porcelain tiles have long been the go-to choice for flooring due to their exceptional durability and resistance to stains and water. Their robust nature allows them to withstand the heavy foot traffic and loads commonly associated with floors. The PEI rating, which measures a tile’s durability, often serves as an additional factor to differentiate between wall and floor tiles.

Conversely, ceramic tiles are better suited for wall installations because of their lighter weight and softer composition. These characteristics make ceramic tiles easier and quicker to install, reducing labor time and costs. While they may lack the water and stain-resistant properties of porcelain tiles, their ease of installation makes them a more practical choice for wall applications.

Durability & Maintenance

In maintenance aspects, wall and floor tiles share similarities. Both types can be easily cleaned using soap and water, and their grout lines also require periodic cleaning or replacement.

However, the two diverge markedly in terms of durability. Wall tiles are generally thinner and lighter, making them ill-suited for handling foot traffic or high pressure, as they are prone to cracking. On the other hand, floor tiles are designed for resilience; they are thicker and more robust, capable of withstanding greater pressure, as indicated by their higher PEI ratings.

Weight Tolerance

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Wall and floor tiles are designed considering different challenges, which is evident in their core properties. Factors like potential loads, placement, and resistance to wear and tear are considered during production.

Wall tiles are free from the stresses of foot traffic or weighty loads. They need to resist the constant tug of gravity. As such, they are typically lighter thinner, and come in smaller sizes. Choosing thicker wall tiles would increase their weight, risking displacement or detachment over the years.

On the other hand, floor tiles endure the daily demands of foot traffic and the weight of furniture or appliances. This necessitates a thicker and sturdier design. Since they aren’t limited by gravitational concerns in the same way wall tiles are, floor tiles often come in larger sizes. This choice enhances the visual appeal and reduces the number of grout lines.

PEI Rating

The PEI (Porcelain Enamel Institute) rating serves as a standardized measure of the durability of ceramic and porcelain tiles. This system aids consumers in selecting the appropriate tile for their specific needs. 

Wall tiles can possess a wide range of PEI ratings. Manufacturers commonly designate tiles with lower PEI scores as suitable for wall applications. In contrast, the PEI rating is vital for floor tiles because it measures their ability to withstand loads. A tile must achieve a PEI rating of 3 to 5 to be considered apt for flooring.

COF Rating

Large Floor Tile, Extra Large Ceramic Tile

The COF (Coefficient of Friction) rating serves as an objective measure of a tile’s slipperiness. Each ceramic and porcelain tile comes with a specified COF rating.

Wall tiles have the flexibility of featuring any COF rating as they don’t need to provide slip resistance, while floor tiles must have a COF rating of at least 0.50 to ensure they are safe for walking. The requirement for outdoor paver tiles can be even more strict, with ratings rising to 0.60. This ensures that floor tiles provide an adequate level of friction, making them secure for foot traffic.

Water & Heat Resistance

Both ceramic and porcelain wall tiles offer a similar level of water resistance as their floor tile counterparts. However, their thinner composition makes them less adept at resisting heat, a factor to consider in countertop applications. 

On the other hand, the thicker design of floor tiles affords them superior heat resistance, making them a better choice for countertops.

Water Absorption

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Wall tiles typically have a water absorption rate of about 10%, notably higher than the 1% observed in floor tiles. While they often originate from similar materials, the distinct processing methods determine their respective water interactions. Given their lower absorption rate, floor tiles are preferred for home areas frequently exposed to water.

Installation

The installation procedures for wall and floor tiles are generally similar, yet critical differences exist. Wall tiles, being thinner, are easier to cut and quicker to install. Due to their greater thickness, floor tiles pose more of a challenge in cutting. A power-wet saw is often needed to shape them precisely.

Cost

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Regarding cost, both wall and floor tiles start at around $1 per square foot. However, it’s not uncommon for high-end designer tiles to cost up to $50 per square foot, whether for walls or floors. Ultimately, the price is most influenced by the tile’s quality and the manufacturer.

Finishes

Wall tiles usually have three main components: the body, bottom glaze, and surface glaze. These tiles are primarily glazed to achieve their final finish. Contrarily, floor tiles are crafted from clay and undergo specific firing processes. They come in various types based on composition, including glazed tiles, through-body tiles (also known as anti-slip tiles), polished tiles, and vitrified tiles.

Is It Okay to Use Wall Tiles on Flooring?

Using wall tiles on the floor is generally a poor choice because they aren’t built to handle the stress of foot traffic or heavy furniture. Plus, they lack slip resistance, posing a safety risk. Opting for wall tiles on the floor also compromises the overall look, given their smaller size and increased joint lines.

Conversely, applying floor tiles on walls isn’t recommended either. Due to their larger dimensions and heavier weight, they are susceptible to gravitational forces that could result in their detachment over time. Moreover, their size often requires significant cutting to fit wall dimensions and may need to adhere better to vertical surfaces.

Therefore, when you’re in the market for tiles, it’s crucial to understand the specific roles and features of wall and floor tiles. Be mindful of ratings and labels to ensure each tile is used in its appropriate setting, ensuring their durability and your satisfaction for years to come.

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