Installing Ceramic Tile

Combine an adventurous spirit with a careful, methodical approach and even an amateur can achieve success installing ceramic tile.

| March/April 1989

In a metamorphosis that approaches alchemy, clay heated to between 1,900° and 2,500°F becomes one of the most attractive, enduring building materials known — ceramic tile. Few will deny that a well-done tile installation borders on art, but it has much more than aesthetics to recommend it.

Ceramic tile is practically immune to wear in any but the most abrasive environment, and no common household substance will dissolve it. NASA has faith in tile. At a cost of something over $1,000 each, tiles protect the space shuttles from the heat produced on entering the earth's atmosphere.

Because of its durability, tile is an ideal floor, wall, or counter covering for damp areas, such as bathrooms, kitchens, and entries. It is also superb for sanitary installations. In fact, when set with special adhesives and grouts, it is tolerated by even the most chemically sensitive people. Tile is also the finish of choice for concrete floors meant for solar storage.

True, quality tile is more expensive than many other finish materials — mass-produced pieces range from a low of about $1 per square foot to well over $5 per square foot — but it compensates by being easy to keep clean and by outlasting all the alternatives. And when it comes time to sell a home, tile's reputation for permanence and easy maintenance pays back its cost many times over.

Selecting and installing ceramic tile is really no more difficult than mastering any other building trade, but the practice does have an aura of mystique — simply because its tools, materials, methods and jargon are unique. Fluency in the language of carpentry, or even that of masonry, will do you little good at the tile store.

Tile Grades

In theory (and according to the American National Standards Institute), there are four grades of tile — nonvitreous, semivitreous, vitreous, and impervious — as determined by the amount of water the body (or bisque) will absorb. (This is mainly a function of the temperature and duration of firing.) In actual practice, however, most manufacturers and retailers refer to tile by application, taking into consideration characteristics of both the tile and the glaze that protects it. Tiles are approved for use on walls, floors, and occasionally counters.

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