Bathroom floor tile is available in a surprising number of materials. Ceramic, porcelain, and vinyl tiles are what come to mind first, and for good reason: They are the most popular choices and perhaps the most practical. But there are many options available today, from wood and cork to stone and glass. Here is a quick guide to help you determine the best floor tile for your bath.
Vinyl is the most popular bathroom flooring material, because of its low cost and high degree of practicality. It is well-suited for every bathroom in the house, from the master bath to the powder room. Hands down, it beats other popular choices for safety, comfort, and durability. Almost as important, vinyl tiles have come a long way in aesthetic appeal and ease of installation. The material is self-adhering and can be cut with a utility knife. Prices start at $.95 per square foot.
CERAMIC AND PORCELAIN TILES
Nothing looks better than ceramic or porcelain, whether your tastes run to stone or wood lookalikes or brilliant colors and surprising patterns. Ceramics score high with regard to maintenance, too, but they are not nearly as comfortable to the bare foot as vinyl. Installing radiant floor heat helps to change that, but a hard surface is hard whether or not it's warm. Ceramics are not as easy to install as vinyl, though it is a job the adventurous do-it-yourselfer can tackle. When protected with a high-grade glaze, ceramic will resist wear and scratches. Porcelain tiles are harder than clay-based tiles and may have through-body color, an advantage if chipping occurs. Prices start at around $1.09 per square foot.
PLASTIC LAMINATE TILES
Plastic laminate tiles (more commonly available as planks) are also a good choice, especially if you're remodeling. Similar to the laminate material that covered kitchen countertops for a generation or two, the tiles don't significantly raise the height of the existing floor, which makes it easier to plan transitions from room to room. While durable and easy to keep clean, laminate falls short when it comes to moisture. Standing water can infiltrate the fiberboard core, causing the material to expand and buckle. With laminates, it's critical to caulk gaps along the walls, around the tub, and surrounding other fixtures to prevent water infiltration. Another con: Laminates don't come in the same variety of styles you'll find with ceramics and vinyl. From $.49 per square foot.
Stone tiles were once confined to the foyer. In the past decade, however, they have become popular in other rooms as well, bathroom included. Made from limestone, marble, granite and slate, stone tiles are available in colors that range from creams to blues, reds, greens and golds. Available textures are nearly as numerous and include cleft, tumbled, sandblasted, etched and flamed variations. Stone requires more maintenance than ceramic tile; regular cleaning and sealing are recommended. Plus, stone is typically more expensive than similar-looking ceramic or porcelain tiles. Prices vary.
WOOD FLOOR TILES
Wood is only for the fearless. Once water penetrates the finish, it will stain—probably for good. During installation, the wood parquet tiles must be carefully sealed around the room perimeter and at all other joints. Two coats of polyurethane must then be applied as protection. Use it in a powder room but avoid wood floor tile in full baths that get a lot of use. Prices vary.
LINOLEUM FLOOR TILES
Linoleum is made of linseed oil, cork powder, wood flour, ground limestone and pigments. It is at home in contemporary or retro settings and well-suited to the bathroom. It's touted as naturally inhibiting the growth of microorganisms and being able to repel dust and dirt, all while retaining its color. In my experience, that's hype. Click-in-place plank designs make it easy to install, and there is no doubt that the stuff looks great. The look comes at a cost, however, as linoleum is relatively expensive. Average cost per square foot: $4.
Cork is warm to the touch and very easy on the feet, and the tiles come tinted in a variety of colors. Installation is not difficult, but if you purchase unfinished tiles, expect to protect them with two coats of polyurethane. Generally, cork tiles are installed with a troweled-on adhesive, but click-in-place floating floor products are also available. Average cost: $2 per square foot.
Glass floor tile is about as different as you can get. Installed properly, this type of tile holds up well and if textured, it can resist slips. Small glass tiles with lots of grout joints are also slip-resistant. The aesthetic appeal is twofold: Covering the floor in a thin layer of glass creates the illusion of depth, and if the glass is tinted, you get a lovely stained-glass effect. Prices vary.
Tips: When buying glass, ceramic, or porcelain tile, be sure it's rated for use on floors. Choose ceramic tile with a grade of 1 or 2 for floors. Ceramic tile also comes with a coefficient of friction (COF). For safety, choose one rated .50 or greater. The Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) rating system counts the other way; opt for tiles that are at least PEI III.
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