Porcelain Tile vs. Ceramic Tile Comparison Guide

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Porcelain vs. ceramic tile: Is this a war between two vastly different types of materials or is it simply a war of words? For consumers, the terms porcelain and ceramic are often used interchangeably as if they were the same thing. And this is understandable since ceramic and porcelain tiles are used for the same applications, are installed the same way, and have largely the same merits and drawbacks as a flooring or wall surface material.

At the same time, tile shop salespeople often claim a world of difference between the two, probably to justify porcelain’s cachet and its higher prices.

Is there really a difference between porcelain and ceramic tile?

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Porcelain and ceramic tile are both are part of the larger category of tiles that can generally be called ceramics—a category that includes all rigid tiles shaped from natural earthen clays and hardened by heat. In the modern tile industry, however, porcelain tiles occupy their own category, assigned there because they meet certain specifications.

Porcelain vs. Ceramic Tile: Major Differences

According to the industry group that decides whether a tile is a porcelain or ceramic, everything boils down to whether the tile can meet a set of highly controlled water absorption criteria. Both ceramic tile and porcelain tile usually receive a surface glazing that makes them hard to distinguish from one another.

Porcelain Tile

Porcelain tile has a water absorption rate of 0.5 percent or lower as defined by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) section C373. To test this, the fired tile is first weighed, then it is boiled for five hours and left to sit in water for 24 hours. Then it is weighed again. If the tile weighs less than half of one-percent more as a result of water-absorbing into its surface, it is considered porcelain.

To achieve this density, a special kaolin clay mixture is used, which is finer and purer than most ceramic clay. It usually contains notable levels of quartz and feldspar mixed in. Porcelain tiles are fired at temperatures ranging from 2,200 to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. To the consumer, it generally suffices to say that porcelain is a dense, fine-grained, smooth tile that is more impervious to water than ordinary ceramic tile.

Porcelain tile virtually always receives a surface glazing treatment—a coating of liquified glass material—while some forms of ceramic tile are left unglazed. As a rule porcelain tile is more impervious than ceramic tile and is thus subject to less water infiltration.

Ceramic Tile

Tile defined as ceramic uses a coarser clay with a smaller ratio of fine kaolin clay, and it generally lacks some of the additives used in porcelain clay. Ceramic tile is fired at lower temperatures, generally no more than 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit. Ceramic tile can be slightly more prone to water infiltration than is porcelain tile, though these differences are fairly minimal if the ceramic tile is glazed.

 Ceramic TilePorcelain Tile
Composition Coarse clayFine kaolin clay
Water Absorption> 0.5 percent0.5 percent or less
Cost$.50 to $35 per square foot$3 to $35 per square foot
Typical UseIndoor floors and wallsIndoor and outdoor floors and walls (in mild climates)
HardnessSofter than porcelainHarder, more brittle than ceramic
Resistance to WaterGoodExcellent

Appearance

Ceramic tile and porcelain both are often manufactured with a glazed surface coating, and at a glance, they may be indistinguishable.

Porcelain Tile

One recent innovation with porcelain tile is the ability to manufacture them to resemble different materials. While ceramic tile generally has solid color and pattern, porcelain tiles are available that are remarkably good at mimicking natural stone such as marble or even wood grains. This makes porcelain tile an excellent choice where you want the look of wood without wood’s susceptibility to water damage.

Ceramic Tile

Most ceramic tile that is not categorized as porcelain is a solid color, and simulations of wood grains or natural stone are not common with basic ceramic tile.

Best for Appearance: Porcelain Tile

Porcelain tile has the edge when it comes to appearance, for the simple reason that it is available in more colors, patterns, and surface finishes, including tiles that resemble wood grains and natural stone.

Water and Heat Resistance

Both ceramic and porcelain have very good resistance to heat and are sometimes used on countertops.

Porcelain Tile

Porcelain tile is denser, heavier, and more impervious to water, and thus is a better choice than ceramic tile for outdoor locations, although outdoor use is recommended only in mild climates. Porcelain tile has excellent resistance to heat, making it a good choice for countertop surfaces.

Ceramic Tile

Ceramic tile is somewhat more susceptible to moisture infiltration, though the differences are minimal if the tile is glazed. Ceramic tile has excellent heat resistance, making it a good choice for countertops.

Best for Water and Heat Resistance: Porcelain Tile

Porcelain has slightly better water resistance, making it possible to use it in outdoor locations in regions with mild climates. Ceramic tile is generally not recommended for outdoor locations in any environment.

Care and Cleaning

Porcelain Tile

Porcelain tile is very easy to clean up by damp-mopping with a mild water-soap solution. The cementitious grout filling the joints between tiles needs to be periodically sealed to guard against stains and mildew.

Ceramic Tile

Ceramic tile has the same care and cleaning needs as ceramic tile—routine damp-mopping and period sealing of grout joints.

Best for Care and Cleaning: Tied

Porcelain and ceramic tile have the same needs for care and cleaning.

Durability and Maintenance

Porcelain Tile

Porcelain clays are denser and thus less porous than ceramic clays. This makes porcelain tile harder and more impervious to moisture than ceramic tile. Due to its through-body composition, it is considered more durable and better suited for heavy usage than ceramic tile. Chip a porcelain tile, and the color continues all the way through; as a result, the damage is nearly invisible. Porcelain is an easy material to maintain, requiring only period sealing of the grout lines.

Ceramic Tile

Chip a ceramic tile and you find a different color underneath the top glaze, which means that chips are likely to be quite visible. The clays used for ceramic tile are less dense than porcelain clays, which means ceramic tiles are somewhat more prone to cracking and breaking. Unglazed ceramic tiles may also need to have sealers applied to the entire tile, not just the grout lines.

Best for Durability and Maintenance: Porcelain Tile

As a harder material that has solid color throughout, porcelain tiles are stronger and more durable, and chips are less likely to be visible.

Installation

Both forms of tile are installed using similar methods. Tiles are adhered to an underlayment of cement board using a mortar-based thin-set adhesive. Once the tiles are set, the joints between tiles are filled with mortar-based grout, which is sealed against moisture once it dries. There are slight differences in how ceramic tile and porcelain tile are handled, based on their differing densities.

Porcelain Tile

Porcelain tile is more brittle and may require the experienced hand of an experienced tile-setter to cut properly. A wet tile saw is the recommended tool for cutting porcelain, while an inexpensive snap cutter generally works fine with ceramic tile.

Ceramic Tile

While ceramic tile is less dense than porcelain tile and thus less durable, it is also a far easier material for do-it-yourselfer homeowners to cut manually, by wet tile saw, or with a snap tile cutter.

Best for Installation: Ceramic Tile

Although techniques are very similar, ceramic tile is slightly easier to install, since it is a softer material that is easier to cut.

Cost

Porcelain Tile

Porcelain is more expensive to manufacture than ceramic tile, resulting in higher retail prices. Porcelain tiles begin at about $3 per square foot, running to $35 per square foot.

Ceramic Tile

With all other factors equal, ceramic tile is cheaper than porcelain tile. Ceramic tile tends to run about 60 to 70 percent of the cost of porcelain tile, on average. Ceramics can be purchased for as little as $.50 per square foot or as much as $35 per square foot.

Best for Cost: Ceramic Tile

As a general category, ceramic tile is less expensive than most porcelain tiles. But there is a surprisingly large range of prices for both types of tiles. Note that the very highest quality designer tiles tend to cost roughly the same for ceramic and porcelain.

Lifespan

Both ceramic and porcelain tiles are very durable building materials, provided they are well cared for.

Porcelain Tile

Porcelain tile is a harder substance and wears better than ceramic tile, but its hardness can also make it more susceptible to cracking under structural shifting in a building.

Ceramic Tile

By some estimates, a ceramic tile floor can last from 75 to 100 years if the grout is maintained properly and sealed regularly. While it theoretically is softer and doesn’t wear as long as porcelain tile, it also tends to resist cracking due to structure shifting somewhat better than does porcelain tile

Best for Lifespan: Tied

Both materials can be lifetime surfaces if they are properly maintained.

The Verdict

There is not a clear winner when it comes to choosing ceramic tile or porcelain tile. Both are similar building materials, and most forms are equally suitable as a flooring material, wall covering, or countertop surface. While you should make sure that the tile is rated for the use (tiles rated for floor use are typically thicker and the product will specify that this is an allowed use), your choice of ceramic or porcelain tile really boils down to what particular tile style appeals to you visually.

Top Brands

Most companies that manufacture ceramic tiles also offer a good selection of porcelain tiles. Some popular brands include:

  • Marrazzi: This Italian company has a broad distribution in the U.S., and it’s products are even available at big-box home improvement centers.
  • Daltile: Owned by flooring giant Mohawk, Daltile is an upper-end manufacturer who sells both ceramic and porcelain tiles at specialty tile stores and at its own showrooms.
  • AmericanTile: This company offers one of the broadest selection of ceramic and porcelain tiles available, ranging from tiny mosaic sheets to expansive floor tiles. There are many affordable options available.
  • American Olean: Offering many lines of ceramic and porcelain tile, American Olean sells mainly through specialty tile and flooring shops, as well as through contractor sales.

In addition, many of the giant flooring corporations, such as Shaw and Armstrong, also offer porcelain and ceramic tiles.

How Porcelain Is Certified

For years, tile manufacturers and tile distributors did not see eye to eye on the issue of how to define porcelain vs. ceramic tile. By 2008, the debate had reached such a fevered pitch that the manufacturers, represented by the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), and the distributors, represented by the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA), formed a third-party organization to settle the differences and come up with a standard definition for porcelain tile. They called this new group the Porcelain Tile Certification Agency (PTCA).

According to the PTCA, it is not simply enough for a tile to be “impervious” (a favorite tile term, meaning that it is good against water). The tile has to meet those ASTM C373 standards of water absorption by sending in five tile samples for testing, paying a fee, submitting a participation agreement, and renewing certification every three years. After certification, a company may use the PTCA Certification Mark branding. At last count, 28 North American tile companies had received certification as producing authentic porcelain tile.

The PTCA’s fight did not end with the establishment of water absorption criteria. Today, about 70 percent of the tile purchased in North America is imported. The PTCA indicates that much of the imported tile that is prominently labeled as being “porcelain” is not porcelain.

In one independent blind test conducted by the TCNA, 1,466 tiles were tested for the water absorption criteria that would qualify those tiles for porcelain status. The conclusion was startling. Close to 23 percent (336 total) of the tiles tested that were labeled as “porcelain” were falsely labeled. In other words, they absorbed water over that 0.5 percent benchmark. In some cases, the so-called porcelain tile had an alarming 3 percent absorption rate.

This is an on-going fight for the PTCA, especially since more and more tiles are being imported. As a self-policing, self-funded organization, the PTCA lacks the resources to test every single tile that crosses the international border for water absorption criteria.

One way to determine if a porcelain tile is truly porcelain is to check the box for the PTCA Certification Mark. Currently, this is the distinctive green and gray logo that reads “Certified Porcelain Tile 0.5% water absorption,” with a diamond-shaped tile forming the “O” of “porcelain.”

However, the PTCA mark is subject to change. Plus, dishonest tile companies may fraudulently mislabel their boxes. That being the case, the only way to know for certain if that tile is truly porcelain is to check it against the PTCA’s on-going database of tile makers and their series of porcelain tiles. 

The PTCA’s sole interest is in assuring that tiles that are labeled as porcelain meet or exceed water absorption rate standards. But it can also be helpful to look at standards defined by American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A137.1, which says in part that porcelain tile can be defined as tile that is produced with a “dust-pressed method of a composition resulting in a tile that is dense, impervious, fine-grained, and smooth with a sharply formed face.” It is important to note that ANSI A137.1 also references those important ASTM C373 standards of water absorption rates.

11 Reasons Why You Might Want to Work With a House Finishing Professional

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When people consider hiring an interior design professional for the first time, they often don’t know what to expect. Television can make it seem as though designers are magicians.

This can create the illusion that designing, purchasing for and executing a vision can happen in a day; that concepts cost next to nothing to achieve; or that these professionals do nothing but shop, cause drama and have the time of their lives spending clients’ money.

That’s good entertainment, but it’s not reality.

In the established design industry, the career is serious business. It takes years to master the art of interior design. It is complex, calculated and practical. 

A design professional is often part creator, part project manager and sometimes even part therapist, helping homeowners to determine their dream design and bring it to life while helping them to breathe through the complexities from start to finish. Design professionals have learned over the years to wear many hats to benefit their clients.

Here are some of the top reasons for entrusting your project, whether it’s big or small, to a professional designer/Design Agency

1. Designers Keep It Real

It’s important to have big design dreams, but it’s also important to have a good idea of your design limitations. Television shows can make it seem as though anything is possible, no matter your space or your budget.

In reality, every project has limitations, whether from the physical structure (like immovable walls and support columns) or other factors.

Design professionals can help you determine which of your goals are realistic for your project and warn you of potential issues before any work or buying begins. This ensures that your plans are achievable within the budget you’ve set.

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2. Designers See Potential

When it comes to your space, design professionals see not only the limits, but also the potential. It’s easy to get used to a furniture plan or functional layout in your space, or to think that there are no other options.

But trained eyes can help you see possibilities you might not have considered. Whether you’re planning a major renovation or just refreshing your style, a design professional can help you get the best from your home

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3. Designers Use a Time-Tested Process

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Knowing your project’s limits and potential is just the beginning of a process that design professionals use to make sure a project stays on track from start to finish.

Each designer may have a unique way of doing things, but ultimately an experienced professional will have a tried-and-true method that will help guide the project and make sure nothing gets missed.

4. Designers Can Save You Money

Yes, bringing in a pro to help manage your project can even save you money. There are financial considerations that you might not see upfront, including the considerable potential cost of mistakes.

That said, while professional design can prevent expensive errors, it is still a luxury. But it’s one that can be considered an investment in the enjoyment of your home.

5. Designers Speak Many Languages

Some design professionals may actually speak many foreign languages, but all speak languages you might not be aware of, such as “contractor,” “architect” and “permit approval officer.” Communication is key in any design project, and mistakes and hiccups usually occur when a seemingly simple conversation or request is misinterpreted by one or both sides.

An experienced professional will know how to properly communicate your design vision to the relevant tradespeople and suppliers, with detailed drawings, documentation and follow-ups to make sure your design dreams don’t get lost in translation.

6. Designers Bring the Best Tools

Design professionals use a range of software programs that produce accurate drawings and 3D visualizations of a space.

Whether you’re moving walls or ordering furniture, you might find it tough to picture in your mind exactly how things will fit and look.

Proper drawings will ensure that the pieces come together the right way, and in good proportions, so you don’t have to return items and start again.

Professionals can also give you access to a wide range of samples and materials that have been preselected from their favorite providers. A trusted designer with knowledge and taste will greatly simplify the process of browsing materials and finishes by showing you the best of the best, rather than an overwhelming array of options.

Designers may look at hundreds of stone samples, fabrics or plumbing fixtures before showing the best three or four choices to their clients.

Most designers have access to exclusive products, paint colors, hardware or other go-tos that they have used before and know work well. These recommendations from an experienced pro are invaluable.

7. Designers Save You Time

Designing, building and furnishing a home is a bit like planning a wedding: You don’t realize the incredible number of decisions that need to be made until the process is already underway and the to-do lists start to pile up.

Designers are also trained to anticipate obstacles, which pop up in virtually every project. A professional with years of practice overseeing complex projects will be able to spot the ways things could go off course and then plan ahead to avoid issues.

Coordinating the ordering and delivery of materials, the different tradespeople and installers, and your personal schedule can be hectic, but it’s important to make sure these moving parts coordinate smoothly, or the project can see serious delays.

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With every project, not everything goes according to plan. Things come up that require quick reactions. Designers are there on hand to make the crucial decisions on the spot so you can focus on life’s more important things.

8. Designers Think Creatively

It’s easy to go into a store, buy a furniture set from a display, have it delivered to your home, set it up and call it a day. But will that set from a showroom floor suit your unique space?

A design professional can think creatively about your goals for your space and come up with solutions and ideas that you would never have thought of.

Clients often tell me, “I never would have pictured that piece or color in my home, but now that I see it, it’s perfect.”

9. Designers Know How to Edit

While it’s important to be able to think of creative features to add to the space, it’s equally important to know what to leave out. An interior design professional can guide you through the intricate process of knowing when to stop adding new elements — and how to get rid of old clutter.

Ultimately, it is good editing that gives a home a collected sensibility while remaining personal, unique and true to the people who live there.

10. Designers Offer a Range of Services

Hiring a designer isn’t just like handing over the keys to your home and letting someone take over.

While some designers specialize in full-service offerings, others will tackle smaller one-off jobs like helping you pick paint colors, find the right furniture, select materials or simply plan a space.

Of course, with different offerings comes different fee structures, which is something you’ll have to discuss with your design professional.

11. Designers Find the Wow Factor

Finally, this brings us to the reason people often begin a design project in the first place: the wow factor.

Clients may find it hard to take risks, and that makes sense. Nobody wants to gamble with hard-earned money and lose. However, it’s important to take at least some design risks to find the dazzling, showstopping moment that makes a project feel as though it was worth undertaking in the first place.

A design professional can help you figure out where to add elements of drama, whether that be in the scale of a light fixture, the mix of different metals, the tone and finish of a beautiful hardwood floor, a darker shade of a wall paint, a generously sized area rug, the right appliances, the perfect pieces of art or another area where it could be too easy to take the safe route.

With all this in mind, results will be more spectacular than you ever could have imagined.

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11 Questions to Ask an Architect or a Building Designer

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Before you make your hiring decision, ask these questions to find the right home design pro for your project

So you’ve found an architect or building designer whose styles you love, maybe on the popular platform Houzz, via an offline recommendation.

You have studied their projects, read their reviews and even saved some of their photos in your own ideabook. You’ve whittled down your list to two or three who can work within your budget. Now it’s time to set up a few interviews.

But what should you ask?

For ideas, we asked three architects, each with more than 20 years of experience in residential design: Annie Chu of Los Angeles’ Chu + Gooding Architects, Hamid Kashani of Minneapolis’ Habitat Architecture and Kansas-based Rebecca Riden.

We also gathered insights from dozens of other home design pros on Houzz discussion boards.

Here are 11 questions they suggest:

1. If I hired you, how would we go from this meeting to my family moving into our new or remodeled home?

Why: If remodeling or building is new to you, ask the pros you’re meeting with to explain exactly what services they provide, the timeline in which they typically provide those services, how long each phase might take and other benchmarks you should expect along the way.

Not only will this provide necessary information for your own planning, but the pro’s response also will likely give you a sense of his or her priorities and working style.

2. Who from your firm would be involved in the project, and how involved would they be?

Why: While you may initially meet with a principal of the architecture firm, he or she won’t necessarily be the person you’ll be working with most — or at all.

Will you be making initial plans with a principal and interacting with a project manager day to day?

Will a junior associate be a better fit for your smaller project (and will that bring down the cost)? Find out who will be doing what, and what that might mean for you.

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3. When does the builder join your projects, and how do the contracts work?

Why: When builders get involved early in the process, it might affect cost estimates and design schemes since they will be able to contribute insight and pricing expertise from the start.

There are also a few ways contractors can be selected. If you get a great recommendation for a builder from a friend, for instance, you may choose to decide on a builder before deciding on an architect.

If not, the architect or designer you’re talking to may have a preselected contractor he or she likes to work with or recommended contractors that you’ll need to green-light.

Will there be a traditional bidding process — that is, when an architect creates a set of drawings and puts them out to several contractors to bid on the project?

If so, that also could mean more competitive pricing. In many cases, the builder provides the contract for the client to review.

4. Is what I’m describing feasible within my budget?

Why: Let’s face it — our design dreams can sometimes venture a little (or a lot) beyond our price range. And construction prices vary widely.

Asking this question could help you gauge how frank the pro will be with you throughout the process, and how he or she communicates and finds solutions that help get you as close to the result you dream of.

It also can reveal whether the project might be a better fit for someone at that pro’s firm who may specialize in smaller-budget projects — or another firm altogether.

It also may be a wake-up call that your wish list just isn’t realistic with your budget right now.

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5. What are three of the top obstacles you could see us running into in this project? How would we work through them?

Why: There’s a reason a version of this question pops up in so many job interviews. It gives interviewees a chance to show their experience and how they approach problem solving.

It also gives you a peek into what challenges may realistically lie ahead, and a sense of whether you’re confident that this pro could get through them with you.

6. When can we request changes, and what might changes during construction mean for the project?

Why: You’ll want to understand the ground rules for how a change request would impact the project’s schedule and cost.

Architects and home designers may have language addressing this issue in their contracts, but it’s always best to talk through it first.

7. What specific drawings should I expect from the complete set of construction documents?

Why: Generally speaking, an architectural project is split into phases with corresponding plans or drawings.

In the earliest phase, the pro may produce some initial sketches and then a few schematic designs. These address the big-picture design goals and options, such as how the house complements its landscape, or the way natural light will impact certain rooms.

From there, sketches in the design development phase can start to get into the specifics, such as how the designs will work with plumbing, heating or electrical systems.

More formal construction drawings that contractors and builders will be following are usually made from there. A basic construction drawing set will likely include all needed floor plans, elevations and a couple of more detailed section drawings. (This is sometimes called a permit set.)

Some architects or designers will charge an additional fee for a more complete construction drawing set that can include elements like interior elevations, cabinetry design details, system layouts, appliances and built-in features.

8. How do you charge, and what fees will be involved?

Why: Architects or building designers need to know what financial expectations you’re operating under just as much as you need to know what they have in mind.

Make sure you understand how the fee schedule is set up, what’s included in that schedule and what other fees (city submittal, engineering, project management and so on) you should expect.

9. Why do you think you would be a good fit for my project?

Why: This question gives your candidates yet another chance to lay out concrete examples of the value they’re bringing to the table. Ask for specifics.

10. Do you have references I could reach out to?

Why: Talking to clients the pro has worked with before can bolster your confidence in the pro you’re considering and help you envision what the process may be like as you hear about another client’s experience.

If possible, try to see projects your pro worked on in person.

11. A getting-to-know-you question of your choice

Why: Again and again, architects, building designers and homeowners talk about how the chemistry between pro and client can make or break a project.

Maybe learning that your top candidate loves The Wizard of Oz won’t actually sway you one way or another, but getting a sense of this person’s personality, temperament and communication style is always smart.

Do your homework but trust your gut. You’re going to be spending a lot of time together throughout the project and interacting on a regular basis, so feeling comfortable with your pro and being able to communicate easily will make all the difference.

Piece By: Gwendolyn Purdom
Lover of architecture, history, dogs, the Chicago Cubs, crowded bookshelves, and homes with a story. Former editor at Preservation mag and Culturess.com.

Tell us: What questions do you always ask before hiring a pro? Share your suggestions in the Comments.