Which tile to choose depends mostly upon where you plan to install it and, of course, whether or not is has the look you want for that specific application.For the former I will explain several things to take into consideration. The latter is entirely up to you (unless you’re the husband, in which case it’s up to your wife). So before you choose your tile you need to consider a couple of things.
Where are you installing the tile?
If it will be installed on a wall in a non-wet area, you do not need to worry about much except whether or not you like the way it looks. A non-wet area is defined as an area that is not regularly exposed to a significant amount of water. Wainscots, backsplashes, and fireplaces are examples on non-wet areas.
If it will be installed in a wet area, such as a shower, you need to take into consideration the absorption rate of the tile to an extent. Although it is not that dire to consider this, the lower the percentage of absorption, the better it will be for your application.
You can install travertine in a shower but porcelain will be easier to take care of. An application such as a steam shower or exterior patio would suggest a lower absorption rate. A good rule of thumb is the higher the chance of exposure to moisture and temperature, the lower the absorption rate you want.
If the tile will be installed on a floor you will also want to consider what is called the Static Coefficient of Friction. That’s just a big phrase to describe how slippery a tile is.
This number will (usually) be below one. Just consider this number to be between 1 and 10. For instance, consider a SCOF (Static Coefficient of Friction) or COF of 0.5 to be a 5. This is the number which most standards consider “slip resistant”.The higher the number, the less slippery it will be.
Tile will have two COF numbers – one for wet and one for dry. You may want to consider both numbers for an application such as a bathroom or shower floor or a patio. Consider a 1 (0.1) to be akin to ice and a 10 (1.0) to be sandpaper.
Other factors to take into consideration include the size of the tile as well as the size of the grout lines (to a smaller degree). If you have 2 inch by 2 inch tile with fairly large grout lines, such as a shower floor mosaic, it will have more friction than 18 X 18 inch tiles with 1/16 grout lines. The grout lines add friction because they are uneven and break up the flat, continuous surface of the tile.
What will be walking or rolling on top of the tile?
For floors that will have all nature of things walking and rolling on them you need to consider what those things will be. The thing you need to look at is what is called the “point load”. A Corvette tire actually has a smaller point load than a woman in high heels (but don’t tell her I said that).
Point load is basically the surface area of the object atop the tile divided by the weight on top of it. How much pressure is something going to put on the tile in any given area? The more dense the tile the better it will withstand a point load.
Notice high end hotels have a dense tile such as porcelain or granite in their lobbies? It’s because of the durability of those types of tile for that application. You won’t find limestone tile in a Hilton lobby and you won’t find travertine in a car showroom. Those tiles will simply not stand up to the abuse.
While this is less of a concern with residential applications, you may want to keep it in mind. If you’re installing an entryway in Siberia on which people will constantly be stomping snow off their boots, you don’t want to put in a fragile tile.
Is the application realistic?
Some tile has a soft surface area. Tiles such as travertine or slate are not suited to things like a countertop. They scratch easily. Common sense is the best measure of this. The simple way to figure it out is if your tile choice will not stand up to the rigors of the application, don’t put it there. Simple enough, yes? It still doesn’t stop people.
If you’re unsure, just ask someone. Walk up and say something like “hey, I’m gonna put glass tiles on my garage floor, what do you think about that?” If they look at you like you’ve grown a third eye, you may want to rethink that.
There is more that goes into picking your tile than most people think. While it is not absolutely critical that you follow these guidelines, at least let common sense dictate your choice rather than price. If installed properly tile will last for many, many years. Don’t regret your decision because Home Depot had a sale.
And do not install glass tiles on your garage floor.
Hi Roger. I’m reading through your Tile Design book, and I’ve discovered that it’s largely a collection of these blog posts. That’s a Good Thing, because I can come to the blog version and ask questions!
I’m doing some tiling in a new (straw bale) construction. I fell in love with some sandstone at Home Depot. Having read all the reviews and comments there, I know it’s hard to work with, but I only want to put it in two very limited places. One is under the woodstove, 31’x50″, and the other is in the entryway, maybe 36″ x 72″. My question concerns the entryway. In your experience, is this stone a poor choice for that location? Manufacturer says there’s no PEI rating for natural stone. It’s very absorbent, but I would use a penetrating sealer, plus I live in the desert, so while it does rain, it doesn’t happen very often. https://www.homedepot.com/p/MS-International-Rainbow-Teakwood-12-in-x-12-in-Gauged-Sandstone-Floor-and-Wall-Tile-10-sq-ft-case-STEKRAIN1212G/202508253
One more question. I only have enough tiling experience to be dangerous, but thankfully I don’t have a dog. Will I be endangering the cat or the chickens?
I so want to put large slate stones up the side of our shower. My fear is pulling off the wall and sliding (DIY – first timer, bought the book). Kerdi membrane over Hardiebbacker. The stuff is beautiful but it is close to an inch thick. Some of these are about three square feet. When I see stone wall installations it seems people go from the top down to minimize splatter. It seems to me that even the thickest thinset I have mixed would not hold these pieces from sliding down before it cures. Any helpful advice?
Yes, work from the bottom up.
Hi Floor Elf!
I totally dig your site. It has been super helpful so far with planning my bathroom renovation project. I do have some questions. After purchasing and reading your Schluter Kerdi bundle and te Schluter installation PDF’s I am still trying to figure out what tile I can and cannot use with the Kerdi Membrane. Can thin slate tiles be adhered to the membrane with unmodified thinset (laticrete 317) without falling off? Or can I use a modified thinset to adhere heavier tiles and not compromise the integrity of the membrane? For reference, I will use something similar to the “Allen and Roth Natural slate tiles” carried at Lowe’s. Thanks for all your help!
You can use anything over the kerdi membrane. You can also use modified thinset if you want to (it won’t compromise the membrane at all, it’s simply a matter of curing time for the thinset). You will lose your warranty if you do that, but it will not affect the membrane itself.
planning on tiling my garage, as I work on building cars out there. and prefer a clean smooth surface for maintenance and appearance. So much information here to take the right direction, as opposed to the wrong choices, such as type of tile, grout and grout lines. Thank you for taking the time to post this
I am so glad I stopped to this sight. We are in the beginning stages of building a home and have to pick out flooring. We want the Brazilian pecan floors but have to pick out a tile for the wet areas. My parents are going to move in with me so I can care for them and one is already using a walker so I have to be very careful of what I use for the bathrooms and kitchen. Would you recommend wood floors throughout the whole house or a specific type of tile for the wet areas
The wood will be fine in the main areas. For wet areas such as a bathroom I would choose a tile with a higher SCOF (Static Coefficient of Friction), as I’ve mentioned in the post above. It will be much less slippery.
Thank you. I just have to figure out who carries them and find a color. Thank you so much for your help.