Tile floors, in one form or another, have been with mankind almost as long as fire. Early glazed tiles have been found that date back to Egypt thousands of years ago. More recent tile is seen in a variety of Mediterranean applications from terracotta to mosaics. Notably accomplished in tile design and application were the Middle Eastern Muslim cultures which carried their skill into Spain and from there to Mexico. Parallel to the later Mediterranean tile designs were the Northern European Dutch tile manufacturers who specialized in Delft tile from the 17th to 19th century. Today, we have a huge range of historical design precedent to choose from as well as modern applications for this versatile material.

Tile is available in various sizes, shapes, and materials. So the question becomes, where to start?

Planning a tile floor
You probably know what type of tile floor you want. If you live in the desert Southwest, you may be pondering an indoor-outdoor saltillo floor that stretches from your kitchen through the livingroom and on to the patio. If you're thinking about a tile floor for your vintage bungalow in Chicago, you might be leaning toward the small octagonal porcelain tiles used during the early part of the 20th century. A more modern tile floor might be slate with its textural interest.

The key is identifying the particular aesthetic you're aiming for, selecting an appropriate tile type, and then finding the best quality for your application. Tile comes glazed and unglazed, textured or smooth, as well as with either square or round edges. Materials include ceramic, glass, and quarried rock such as slate, granite, or marble. Each requires a specific type of grout which may be an epoxy, sanded, or unsanded type.

Select tile that is designed for floor installation. The thicker the tile the more durable it is likely to be and the less likely it will be to crack, however, the type and size of the tile plays in big part of its durability.

If you want to add radiant heat to warm that tile floor, the planning stage is the time to figure out what type of systems, tools, and products will work best with the project you have in mind.

Like most building materials, tile comes different levels of quality with prices to match. However, the range of colors, shapes, patterns, and materials is nearly infinite. If you want a tile floor, it is almost guaranteed that you will be able to find a solution in your price range.

There are things to look for when considering the level of quality between different types of tile. If you are looking at tile made in the US, check the box for the tile grade which should say Standard Grade. If your tile is made outside the US, it should say "First Quality". Both adhere to the recognized standards of quality.

Where installation is concerned there are a few key questions which need to be answered. First, you need to know how much tile is required for the project and what the best way is to install it.

To determine how much tile, multiply the width by the length of the room at its widest points. If there are odd nooks and crannies, you can subtract from the total measurement, however, you want to order 10–20% extra because there is always some breakage. Also, if it becomes necessary to replace a tile, you want to have some you can use, because getting a match five years down the road could be impossible.

Tile can often be laid over an existing floor as long as it is smooth, level, clean, and adheres tightly to the subflooring. You may also install new cement backer board to accommodate your tile floor. Keep in mind that the more layers you add the higher the floor will be when meeting adjacent floors in halls or other rooms. The alternative is to remove existing flooring first to prepare your floor for tiling and built it up to the correct level for easy transitions between rooms with different floor coverings.

The tile you choose also determines, at least to some extent, what you will use to set the tile. There are various types of adhesives that include low VOC organic adhesives, epoxies, and a couple types of thin set mortars. The vendor from whom you purchase the tile should provide installation instructions with the recommended adhesive and grout clearly specified. Following the manufacturer's recommendations is important to a successful project.

Actually laying the tile isn't difficult, but it is hard on the knees. Once the floor is prepared, dry fit the tile. At this point, you will see how many cuts will be needed and can plan accordingly.

Care of tile floors
Tile floors are very durable, but depending on their finish and what they are made up may require extra care. Ceramic tile needs little more than a damp mopping and resealing of grout lines every year or so to look just fine. Some floors like saltillo are porous and need to be sealed regularly to prevent stains and wear marks.

Again, follow the manufacturer's instructions for the tile material you selected and your tile floors should look beautiful for decades.

In addition to a huge variety of colors and shapes, tile offers many other advantages. Often, when comparing various floor options, tile can be the most cost effective solution, especially since it's fairly easy to install and many homeowners, if motivated, can manage the project themselves.

Tile is durable, beautiful, and easy to maintain. It's water resistant and impervious to just about anything you could spill or track in as long as it's sealed according to the manufacturer's instructions.

From a design standpoint, there is a tile solution for every design problem. And with a radiant heating system built in, you can even have a warm tile floor that economically helps maintain the ambient air temperature in winter—a particularly nice benefit in a bathroom. And from the standpoint of retaining value, tile is a winner.

Tile can be quieter too than other flooring types such as laminates that can carry sound from room to room.

Tile isn't perfect. It's hard, so if you drop something, it's probably a goner. Tile can be slippery too, especially some of the smooth granites. Unheated, tile can be downright chilly underfoot, too, though arguably this is an advantage if you live in a warmer climate.

Tile is heavy too, so consider the ability of your floor to support the weight before you begin your flooring project.

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