Porcelain, ceramic and travertine tiles provide a decorator with durable, beautiful and economical options. When comparing tiles, buyers must take into consideration both the initial cost and the long-term maintenance needs of the product. Each of these tile types has its own benefits and drawbacks. Individual preference will determine which properties are most appealing.
Ceramic tile has been manufactured for at least five millennia. The ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans were all familiar with ceramics. Clay is moulded and fired at extremely high temperatures to make ceramic tile. The tile can be glazed or left unglazed. A glazed tile is often glossy, but it may have a matt or metallic finish depending upon which glaze was used. A colourant is added to the glaze, making it possible to achieve a varied colour palette. Unglazed tiles are hard, earthy, dense and feature fewer colour choices.
Porcelain tile is a type of ceramic tile that is made with pure clay. It is strong and vitreous, or "glass-like" in appearance. Vitreous porcelain absorbs very little water and can be used in settings where moisture is problematic for other types of tile. Mosaic tiles made from porcelain are usually less than four inches square and may come in rectangular, oblong or other shapes.
Unlike ceramic or porcelain, travertine is a natural limestone material. Stone tends to have a uniform structure and colour tone. This makes it easy to hide or repair scratches or damage. Natural stone is durable and can last for generations. One of the disadvantages of travertine is its high initial cost. However, when comparing travertine to cheap vinyl composition tile, travertine is actually less costly over the life of the material. The upkeep and maintenance expense for vinyl is more than twice the annual cost of travertine. Natural stone contains no VOCs (volatile organic compounds, which may be harmful to health.) Although stone is sometimes sealed with products that are high in VOC's, other options are available.
Which to Use?
For a glasslike, high gloss wall tile, porcelain mosaic may be chosen. It is particularly useful in kitchens and bathrooms, where it comes into contact with moisture.
If allergies and mould are a problem for household occupants, travertine and porcelain are sometimes chosen over semivitreous or nonvitreous ceramic, which holds more moisture.
Natural stone tile, like travertine, may be salvaged and used again and again. It is a good choice for high traffic areas.
Ceramic tile is a lower-cost and durable option for floors and other applications. Quarry tile, an unglazed floor tile, may be used in both interior and exterior settings and is quite resistant to staining.
If you will be standing for long periods of time, a floor made of travertine might be less comfortable than one made with softer materials.
Natural stone is an environmentally friendly product, since it is not manufactured. New ceramic tiles, however, may also qualify as environmentally friendly. Some ceramics are now made of recycled glass. Green glass and multicolour glass, in particular, are often difficult to recycle. By using recycled glass ceramic products, homeowners may protect the environment while at the same time meeting their standards for beauty and utility.
- University of Hawaii School of Architecture: Interior Finishes
- Dictionary: Vitreous
- U.S. Department of the Interior-National Park Service: 40 Preservation Briefs
- Natural Stone Council: Case Study--Durability of Stone Flooring in High Traffic Areas
- U.S. Department of Energy Office of Industrial Technologies: Glass Project Fact Sheet