Inventive options and durability make tile a good choice for your floors. Here’s how to get it installed

Project: Working with a tile specialist to get a tile floor installed.

Why: Using tile for flooring instead of carpet or hardwood allows for inventive design options, thanks to the variety of tile choices on the market. And more than ever, tile is being used for floors in rooms besides bathrooms and kitchens, where it’s a popular choice because of its durability and moisture repellency.

Polished porcelain or natural stone tile can add elegance to a living room. Hexagonal mosaic tile is a bathroom floor classic. And of-the-moment faux wood porcelain tile is showing up in living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens.

Cost: The average price range for quality ceramic tile is $1 to $5 per square foot. The size and shape of the tile, as well as the material, influence the cost. For a 12-by-12-inch tile, she says, porcelain costs about $5 to $12, natural stone $8 to $15 and ceramic $2 to $7.

Tile installation is generally priced per square foot. For example, the cost of installing tile in a 100-square-foot kitchen with no subfloor prep work is about $3,200 For a labor-intensive job using intricate mosaics, some installers will charge by the hour. Making sure that a floor is level is important and can take extra time, meaning higher cost. Sometimes prepping the floor to get a job ready for installation will take almost as long as the tile installation itself.

How long will the job take? A typical kitchen takes a two-person crew three to four days to complete. The work includes preparing the substrate (the floor’s base layer), setting the tile and grouting the tile (filling the joints or gaps between tiles with grout).

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First steps: When working with any professional, it’s important to go over everything that will be done during the course of the job before the work actually begins. The tile contractor should be asked to provide details related to products being used, such as membranes, movement joints, type of grout, etc.”

In some cases, the subfloor is inadequate for holding tile and must be repaired or replaced before work begins. A smooth, unbuckled surface is necessary for the tile to sit flat. Subfloors should be examined in the bid process and discussed with the builder-remodeler or homeowner. A level floor is especially important for large-format tile, such as that shown above in a house in Pittsburgh, where 12-by-24-inch tiles with a one-third offset were used to give the home a modern feel.

During the project: Before tiling begins, door entries are covered with plastic to keep dust out of the rest of the house. The existing flooring is then removed and the subfloor is assessed to determine whether it’s suitable to receive tile. Sometimes tile is laid atop existing tile if height isn’t an issue. If the subfloor needs to be removed, that’s usually done by a tile contractor or, during a remodel, the remodeling contractor. In some cases, such as bathrooms, a waterproof membrane is laid atop the subfloor before tiling. Next, adhesive mortar is troweled over the floor, and the tile is placed into the fresh mortar. Grout is mixed and applied into the tile joints (spaces between tiles). A sealant is sometimes applied to the grout to prevent staining.

What to know about choosing tile: In general, porcelain tile is denser and more impervious to moisture than ceramic tile, so it’s more suitable for floors. The Porcelain Enamel Institute rates tile on a scale of 1 to 5 to indicate how it will stand up to foot traffic — from Class 1 tile, which should be used only on walls and not anywhere there’s foot traffic, to Class 5 tiles, which are suitable for heavy-traffic areas.

Many tiles are glazed, or coated with a liquid glass that’s baked onto the surface of the clay. The National Kitchen & Bath Association says glazed porcelain tiles are much harder and more resistant to wear and damage than ceramic tiles. Glazed tiles are also more stain-resistant, and they allow for a variety of colors and designs. Some porcelain tiles are also full-body, which means the color runs through the tile, rather than simply baked onto the surface.

Full-body porcelain is the best type of tile for flooring and outperforms natural stone. “It can be as expensive or more expensive than natural stone, but improved technology has helped porcelain resemble the real deal so closely. The result: There is less reason to use real stone, which requires a bit of care and maintenance,” King says.

A popular tile today is full-body porcelain tile that looks like wood. Many of Westside’s customers are opting for faux-wood porcelain tile, which he says is an easy-to-maintain product that, unlike wood, never needs refinishing. “Porcelain wood-looking tile will never stain, scratch, change color, and is impervious to water.” Keep in mind that wood-like tile looks best installed in long pieces, the floor must be perfectly level, so the tile can be properly laid to avoid breakage during and after installation.

Tile size is also something to think about. Bigger is often better, because there are fewer grout lines. Larger tile and fewer grout joints generally make an area appear larger.

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Design Really Matters

Using floor tile in patterns also makes for an interesting design element. If the tile is the only decorative element in a room, mosaic tile can be a beautiful option, but because it’s made with natural stone, avoid using it in a high-traffic area. Make sure the tile is “dry laid out,” so you can see the look and feel of the pattern before it’s installed.

Though it can give a room a rich feel, there are considerations when using natural stone tiles for flooring. Stones like travertine, limestone, slate, granite, quartz, onyx and marble all perform differently when exposed to moisture. They often need protective sealers, which wear off over time and need to be reapplied.

Marble requires yearly maintenance since it’s prone to staining and etching if not treated or taken care of, Weiner says. If you like the look of marble but not the high maintenance, there are many porcelain tiles that mimic its look while being maintenance-friendly, he says. How is the look of marble attained in a porcelain tile? Ink-jet technology developed out of Italy scans real natural stone and digitally prints it on top of porcelain.