Specifying Style and Durability with Ceramic Tile

Nov. 17, 2020
Ceramic tile’s high-performance features offer once-considered “behind-the-scenes” benefits that have now taken center stage.

The reason ceramic tile is the reigning surface material specified for kitchens and bathrooms is because—it lasts. In these high-traffic areas of the home, ceramic tile’s durability repays homeowners with decades of low-maintenance service. End of discussion? Hardly.

As our homes become more and more a canvas for expressing our personal style, ceramic tile surfaces offer an unlimited array of options for color, shape, size, pattern and layout that can be used both inside and outside.

The aesthetics of ceramic tile have blurred the lines of traditional use with a creative palette appropriate for every surface, making ceramic tile also an ultimate style choice.

The ideal union of smart and stylish, ceramic tile’s high-performance features offer once-considered “behind-the-scenes” benefits that have now taken center stage.

Health and Hygiene Benefits

Traditionally considered a place to rest and recharge after work, school and socializing, homes are now our makeshift offices, classrooms, gyms, studios—you name it. This increased use furthers the marketplace’s growing demands for hygienic surfacing materials like ceramic tile that support easy sanitization and contribute to cleaner settings. Ceramic tile has advantages that make living in a hygienic world easier, including:

  • Easy to clean: Wiping with soap and water is all that’s needed to clean up most messes, no harsh chemicals are necessary.
  • Disinfectant-friendly: Occasional use of stronger cleaners and disinfectants will not dull or damage ceramic surface materials.
  • Antibacterial: Ceramic tile is inhospitable to the growth of bacteria.
  • Antimicrobial: Ceramic tile options with antimicrobial properties are available that can suppress and even destroy harmful microorganisms, such as mold, fungi, bacteria and viruses.
  • Hypoallergenic: Ceramic tile contains no allergens, and allergens in the environment such as dust, dirt and pollen are easy to remove and can’t penetrate tile’s hard-fired surface.

Environmental Benefits

The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) is leading an industry-wide collaboration to provide a transparent and comprehensive Material Ingredient Guide. This guide will highlight ingredients used by the tile industry—materials that building occupants can feel comfortable using and living with day after day.

Some nonceramic surface covering options contain harmful pollutants that we may be especially wary of when we spend more time at home. Ceramic tile helps create a healthy living environment and contains none of the following four contaminants:

1. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) 

Some VOCs emitted by nonceramic building products can contribute to a wide variety of health problems, including “sick building syndrome.” Because ceramic tile is produced (fired) at extremely high temperatures, removing all organic content, it is an “inorganic” material and has zero VOCs.

2. Formaldehyde

Some wood products contain formaldehyde and certain levels of formaldehyde can irritate medical conditions such as asthma and other respiratory disorders. Have a client concerned about indoor air quality? Specify ceramic tile. Ceramic tile does not contain formaldehyde.

3. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

PVC is a resin used in some vinyl flooring and is regularly a subject of concern among health experts and builders. Ceramic tile is free of PVC.

4. Plastic

Ceramic tile contains no plastic and has none of the health or environmental concerns associated with plastic. Designers and architects can help reduce plastic use by specifying ceramic tile.

Interface Sponsor Break: 

This episode of “How to Specify” is brought to you by Interface, a worldwide commercial flooring company and global leader in sustainability. 

Looking to make an impact on your next design? Start from the ground up. Interface makes modular carpet, LVT and rubber flooring that’s as durable as it is sustainable, all thoughtfully designed to:

  • Reduce noise
  • Improve air quality
  • Minimize installation waste 

Impactful for your space. Impactful for the planet. Learn more.

Green Building Benefits and Transparency

One of the major considerations for specifiers when a “green” product is desired is transparency, or giving honest information about the environmental and health aspects of a product. 

The 2020 North American industry-wide Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) for ceramic tile, certified by UL Environment, provides transparency in six major environmental impact categories.  

When comparing to the environmental impacts reported by EPDs for other flooring types, the EPD for ceramic tile reports significantly lower impacts.

“Not only does the North American industry-wide EPD for ceramic tile show it has the lowest global warming potential and fossil fuel depletion (i.e. lowest carbon footprint), it also shows ceramic tile to have the lowest overall impacts in photochemical oxidant creation (smog), ozone depletion, acidification and eutrophication potential when compared to publicly available EPDs for other flooring materials,” says Bill Griese, TCNA’s director of Standards Development and Sustainability Initiatives. “Ceramic tile is the proven green choice for the good of the environment.”  

In addition to directing people toward sustainable construction materials, EPDs can help meet transparency requirements and achieve green building points. Participating in green building programs is ideal for any number of reasons, from creating greater energy- and cost-efficient buildings to catching tax breaks.

[Related: How to Specify Sustainable Furniture]

Specifying ceramic tile covered by the ceramic tile EPD can help meet requirements of many leading green building programs, including:

  • LEED v4.1
  • Green Globes ANSI/GBI 01-2019
  • NAHB National Green Building Standard
  • International Green Construction Code (IgCC) powered by ASHRAE Standard 189.1
  • Collaborative for High-Performance Schools (CHPS)
  • CALGreen
  • GSA P-100 Facilities Standards

Mortar and grout manufactured in North America are also covered by EPDs, and most green building standards provide additional credit for each product used, so you can likely achieve additional points with the mortar and grout in your project in addition to the tile. The ceramic tile industry EPD “package” (tilemortar and grout) provides triple ingredient transparency and recognition in green building programs.

Innovation Benefits

Aside from time-tested examples of ceramic tile’s beauty and durability (e.g. historic examples dating back thousands of years), Lesley Goddin, editor of Tile Letter, points out that the ceramic industry continues to evolve.

“New applications have arisen as the technology of these products, and the skills to install them, have evolved,” Goddin says. “Enter COVID-19, and these options are gaining ground, not simply because of their beauty, but also due to more-important-than-ever considerations like durability, easy maintenance, disinfecting and—in some cases—inherent antimicrobial qualities.”

Innovations in ceramic tile manufacturing have led to new sizes and thicknesses of tile, broadening the scope to include more outdoor use, as well as furniture applications (tables, countertops, built-ins). Gauged porcelain tile panels/slabs can be as large as 15-by-5 feet, and as thin as 3.5 millimeters, and gauged porcelain pavers can be as thick as 2 centimeters.

Manufacturing innovations have been matched by style innovation to produce endless design possibilities. In addition to size developments, you’ll see creative designs featuring transitional installations that mix surface materials as one surface transitions into another surface, delineating different spaces.

Conversely, ceramic tile options can allow the same tile design to be used for both indoor and outdoor spaces, forming a unified aesthetic that integrates indoor-outdoor living spaces.

The Benefit of Industry Standards

Virtually every category of ceramic and glass tile has standards—defined criteria for identifying and specifying the material that will suit a particular use based on its material properties, such as water absorption, breaking strength, coefficient of friction, etc.

[Read next: Take the Guesswork Out of Carpet Specifications]

Tile installation products (grouts, mortars and underlayments) also have standards guiding their appropriate use and standards exist for how ceramic products should be installed. The industry’s stringent standards for this product category result in standardized and reliable performance.

Additionally, there is the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone Tile Installation which contains quick reference details covering most common installation methods and their service rating from “Residential” to “Extra-Heavy” and everything between. It also includes helpful guides for selecting products (various tile types, setting materials, membranes, backer boards, etc.), installation requirements, specification writing, and installer and contractor qualifications.

Specifying Qualified Labor for a Successful Installation

To ensure ceramic tile is installed correctly, according to both the design and industry standards, specifying qualified labor is essential to the success of the installation. Installers who are committed to their craft, who stay up-to-date with new materials and techniques, and who regularly upgrade skills are key to an installation realizing the designer’s original intent.

Scott Carothers, head of certification and training for the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), stresses that making sure tile installers understand industry standards and methods is critical “for a quality installation that’s going to stand the test of time.” CTEF, as well as The National Tile Contractor’s Association (NTCA), provide national search tools to help locate recognized installers in your area.

Performance Value

All of ceramic tile’s benefits add up to significant value, from the value of how we choose to spend our dollars to the value we place on caring for our family and our planet. In terms of dollars and “sense,” ceramic tile pays off in the lowest life cycle cost for flooring options compared to other flooring materials, according to the Scharf-Godfrey Life Cycle Cost Study.

Because ceramic tile lasts significantly longer and requires less upkeep, it costs less to install and maintain per square foot than other (nonceramic) flooring options over the lifetime of the building.

When specifying to meet a project budget, additional costs of maintenance and replacement are factors to consider for every client. Choose a surface covering that’s long-lasting, saves money and time, benefits the environment and maintains its original appearance for decades.

Ceramic tile delivers health benefits for the occupants of a space, as well as artistic value. Additionally, because each tile is hand-laid, ceramic installations provide customization opportunities simply unattainable with other surface options. Its stain resistance, scratch resistance, and fade resistance keep ceramic looking appealing and clean long after other surface options have failed.

Before your next project, explore WhyTile.com—the tile industry’s inspirational and educational resource. For more information on ceramic tile standards, visit TCNAtile.com.

*This article was sponsored by our partner Interface.

About the Author

Roxanne Morris

Roxanne Morris is with the Tile Council of North America and writes about product development and design trends in the tile industry.

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