Floor Tile Types Pros and Cons

One of the most important decisions you’ll make when tiling your room is the type of “rock” you choose to use.

Most tiles are a base material with added fillers, and the material used has a big impact on…

  • hardness, scratch resistance, and overall durability
  • porousness or water resistance
  • cost
  • ease of DIY/installation cost

Below I’ll cover the pros and cons of each type of floor tile. I’ll start with the most popular tiles and lower in the article you’ll find types of tile you may not be as familiar with.

You’re welcome to skip straight to the tile you’re interested in, but I think it’s worth learning about all of your options.

Ceramic tile

Ceramic is the most popular type of tile. And to be specific, I’m talking about non-porcelain ceramic (more on porcelain tile next). Ceramic is a clay-based tile that is known for its affordability and can be found anywhere that sells tile. Choose ceramic if you want an inexpensive way to tile your room, just don’t be surprised if you have a chip after dropping a heavy pan.

Durability: Ceramic is a below average strength tile. It can crack and chip easier than other tiles. Also, it has larger pores that may make it not great for the wettest environments: outdoors and possibly bathrooms (although usually okay here).

Typical cost: $2 to $5

Ease of installation: Many tile floors are a difficult DIY but ceramic is possible because it’s easier to cut than other tiles such as porcelain. And if you don’t DIY, you’ll still benefit in lower installation costs.

Porcelain tile

Porcelain is technically a type of ceramic tile. It is clay based, but it is denser and set at a higher heat, which makes it more durable. Basically, porcelain is just an upgraded version of ceramic. The difficulty is there is not a technical uniform definition of what differentiates standard ceramic tile vs porcelain, so sometimes manufacturers will label a floor porcelain even though it doesn’t meet what many major certifications would consider porcelain. If you like the ceramic look but have a high traffic or high moisture area, porcelain is a good choice for a tile that will last the life of your home.

Durability: Porcelain is a durable tile that is less prone to chipping and cracking than ceramic. It also has the benefit of improved moisture resistance.

Typical cost: $4 to $7. Usually about twice as much as non-porcelain ceramic

Ease of installation: Ceramics durability is a drawback when it comes to installation because it’s more difficult to cut. This requires experience if you DIY and will add some to installation costs

Granite

Granite is a type of natural stone formed when igneous rocks are exposed to high heat. Its structure and durability are very similar to porcelain tiles. Granite is also attractive looking with glittering quartz and feldspar in some pieces, and natural coloring that varies depending on the region where the granite was quarried. Granite tiles can be used on the floor of several rooms including the kitchen and bathroom, or high-traffic areas. Since granite is a natural stone, both the tile and the grout should be appropriately sealed.

Durability: Granite’s crystalline structure gives it an added strength compared to other types of natural stone tiles so it is often used in rooms where the floor is likely to be stained or scratched.

Typical cost: $7-15, although some premier granite tiles can be even more expensive.

Ease of installation: Granite floors should be installed professionally. The subfloor will need to be smooth and level. An uneven subfloor can cause your tiles to crack or break. Also, granite tiles are difficult to cut successfully and cutting them requires the use of a diamond wet saw.

Marble

Marble tile floors are one of the most high-end choices. They are very beautiful and come in a swirl of vibrant colors, grays, whites, pinks, greens, and even purples. Many people consider their marble floors to be a work of art. Marble floors require regular sealing and maintenance and can easily stain from contact with water and other liquids. There are different grades to marble tiles. The higher grades are more expensive, with complex patterns, and are often used to give contrast in large areas while lower grades with a more uniform surface make up the majority of the floor.

Durability: Not very. Marble floors are easily scratched and stained.

Typical cost: $5-15/sq. foot but can go as high as 50 dollars for special pieces

Ease of installation: Tricky for DIYers. The complex patterns on each tile will usually need to be laid out ahead of time to find out the best full picture on your floor, then re-arranged for the best look. Marble also requires a sturdy subfloor and careful cutting to fit the tiles into place.

Limestone

Limestone is an organic sedimentary rock made out of the calcium carbonate left behind by coral and shells. Its textured surface usually comes in lighter colors such as beige and ivory, which means they blend easily into many homes and decorating schemes. Some limestone tiles come in darker colors, specifically browns and reddish hues. It’s more versatile than other natural stones and easier to cut so you can even find limestone tiles that form into patterns and mosaics.

Durability: Easily chipped or scratched without regular maintenance and sealing.

Typical cost: $4-11

Ease of installation: Limestone is a soft stone that is relatively easy to cut and install.

Quartzite

Quartzite is a metamorphic rock that originated as sandstone but transformed under intense heat and pressure. That process makes quartzite a very durable and solid stone, ideal for floors in high traffic areas because it is difficult to scratch or damage. They are also noted for their sparkly look, which is caused by the recrystallization of the sandstone during the formation process. These tiles are different from quartz tiles, which are man-made out of compressed small stone chips.

Durability: Quartzite is even harder than granite and very durable.

Typical cost: $5-20 dollars

Ease of installation: Quartzite’s hardness and durability can make installation difficult, especially if you need to cut any pieces down to size.

Slate

Slate is one of the most common types of stone floors that you’ll see. It’s both stain and water resistant, especially higher quality slate which has been mined from underground. Lower-cost slate usually was nearer the surface so it was less expensive to extract, and exposed to the elements for far longer, which is why these slate tiles will be porous or less durable. One drawback is the lack of color variety. Most slate tiles are dark gray, green, or a soft red.

Durability: Varies, but most slate tiles are difficult to scratch or chip.

Typical cost: $5-20

Ease of installation: Depends upon the cut. Can be as easy as ceramic to lay down and install, but other cuts are more involved and require extra work.

Travertine

Travertine tiles are beloved for their warm earthy colors, which typically range from creams and ivories to reddish brown and shades of gold. They require regular maintenance and care but with that care, the floors can last for decades. It is made out of a limestone that is naturally deposited around mineral springs and has been used as a flooring material for thousands of years.

Durability: Travertine is a heavy, strong tile that can resist scratches but will be very porous without the right sealant.

Typical cost: $5-25/sq. foot

Ease of installation: Can be difficult and costly to install. The subfloor will need to be strong enough to hold up the stone tiles and the density of each piece makes them hard to cut.

Terrazo

Traditional Terrazzo floors are made out of small chips of other natural stones or glass set into a cement base for a dazzling effect. The same technique is used when making terrazzo tiles, but the pre-made tiles can then be laid over the existing concrete subfloor instead of pouring out the cement then adding the extra mosaic pieces by hand. The terrazzo tiles come in a myriad of colors and designs.

Durability: The cement base to a terrazzo floor is very strong and difficult to damage. Some traditional terrazzo floors have lasted for centuries.

Typical cost: $15-40/sq. foot

Ease of installation: Terrazzo tiles are easier to install than terrazzo floors but still require a smooth concrete subfloor, grout even with the tops of the tiles, and the right tools and materials to cut and set the tiles into place.

Glass

Glass tiles may be more often used for a bathroom wall or kitchen backsplash but some homeowners choose to make a statement with beautiful glass tiles on the floor as well. Mosaic glass tiles are usually used in bathrooms since they are mold and mildew resistant, waterproof, and easy to clean. In the right setting, they transform a room into a luxurious, high-class spa. Otherwise, their cost and low durability are a disadvantage in high traffic areas of the home. Another neat feature is that most glass tiles, except for the darkest colors, will glow in the dark.

Durability: As long as the glass tiles have passed the standards required to be on the floor, they should be able to resist damage, although a sharp blow from a dropped object may crack them. Glass tiles are easily scratched so they should not be placed in areas where kids or pets may accidentally mark them.

Typical cost: Varies more than most tiles. Bargain tiles may be $7-8/sq. foot but most colorful tiles are $30-40/sq. foot and the complex mosaics may be up to $100/sq. foot.

Ease of installation: Due to the cost, most homeowners will have an experienced glass tile installer handle the installation. Special care needs to be taken so the adhesive isn’t visible through the tile.

Captain’s parting words

Now that you are all read up on the different types of tiles, I hope you have a new or better idea of which one will be right for you. Each has their own unique charm and beauty, as well as different levels of price, durability, and ease of installation.

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Cristina
7 months ago

Regarding natural stone: Marble is sensitive to acid and will etch if you spill anything acidic: coffee, lemon juice, etc. This is a chemical reaction that sealing will not protect against, although there are products that can help remove the etching after it happens. Limestone and travertine to some extent are also acid-sensitive. Granite is not acid-sensitive, neither is slate. This will be true for any natural stone material, tile or slab (countertop). Marble is a popular choice for shower pans but it is prone to change color and hue over time as it ages, and a lot of people… Read more »

Dean Phillips
1 year ago

I had no idea that porcelain floors for less prone to chipping and cracking than ceramic. My wife and I just moved into a new home, and we want to change the floors of the kitchen and the bathrooms to make them feel more modern. It sounds like to would be a good idea to hire a professional to come and help us install tile floors. [link removed]

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