Natural Stone and Porcelain - Tile and Stone by Villagio

Natural Stone and the Reemergence of Porcelain Tile

What are the differences between stone and tile, and which one should I choose? In my many years of working in the tile and stone industry, this is a question I have heard frequently. Most tile on the market today is glazed porcelain tile, which is a durable type of ceramic tile. Stone, on the other hand, is natural and is generally limestone, travertine, or marble. While both tile and stone have pros and cons, the answer truly lies in what you as a customer need for your home or business space.

Many people hear “porcelain tile” and immediately assume that it is fragile or delicate. In fact, porcelain tile is very different from a porcelain doll or vase. Porcelain tile is significantly more durable than other types of ceramic tile on the market. Glazed porcelain tile consists of a clay body with an overglaze. The clay body is a sturdy base for the tile, which is then covered by the overglaze. The overglaze is a glass-like coating that goes over the clay body and is fired at around 2000 degrees. Because the glass-like glaze is fired on, it does not have to be resealed and the glaze will stay for the life of the tile. The only maintenance needed is basic housekeeping—sweeping and mopping—to keep the tile clean.

Natural stone is just that—completely unaltered. Glazing is a man-made process, so a glazed stone would, by definition, no longer be natural stone. However, in order to preserve the stone, it must be protected by a sealer after installation. Each stone requires a specific sealer based on its density or texture. Limestone, travertine, and marble all consist of the same basic ingredient and therefore generally require the same sealer. Because sealer for natural stone is not fired on, it does not have the same lifetime durability as porcelain tile, so the stone must be resealed approximately every five years maintain its quality.

Glazed porcelain tile consists of two portions—the clay body and the overglaze—which means that the clay body is generally a different color than the overglaze. Though its durability means it is difficult to chip a glazed tile, a chip or crack would usually reveal a secondary color underneath. Because stone is natural, a chip or crack made in stone will show that the color goes all the way through—there is no other color or material underneath.

More and more today, tile is being made to look like natural stone, to the point where a single tile placed next to a piece of travertine could look almost identical. However, the tile is still manmade, meaning eventually the pattern will repeat. An inexpensive stone-look tile could repeat the pattern every tile. Meanwhile, a more expensive tile could have such a wide degree of variation that you may never see the pattern repeat. However, at some point with every manmade tile the pattern will repeat. With natural stone, a repeat pattern is not possible because it is completely one-of-a-kind.

The technology of creating manmade tile has advanced greatly in the last few years. Porcelain tile, which was usually only used in less expensive homes, is now being used in high-end homes. Homeowners no longer feel like they are compromising the overall look and quality when choosing porcelain tile over natural stone. Today we actually sell more porcelain tile than natural stone, whereas a few years ago we sold far more natural stone than tile.

As price goes, both tile and stone have a wide range depending on quality. Floor tile starts out much less expensive than stone, and stone will go much higher in price than tile. There is a wide middle ground where the cost of tile and stone overlap. However, stone costs far more to install. It requires a more difficult installation and must then be sealed. This means that even if you buy stone at the same price as tile, it will end up costing more.

If you want something completely natural in your home, then you will never be happy with porcelain tile. Stone is truly natural; all we have done is cut it into conveniently sized squares for installation in your home. However, if you aren’t concerned with having a completely natural stone, porcelain tile has greater durability, easier maintenance, and can be far more practical. With all of the benefits of both tile and stone, it truly comes down to a decision on your part based on your budget and the needs of your home or business space.

HISTORY-OF-TILE - Tile and stone by Villagio

Tile History

Part 1: From the beginning of recorded history

The story of ceramics first began in Anatolia, a land which has been home to countless civilizations over the millennia; and where modern Turkey comes into being; in whose fertile soil different cultures have flourished; and which has witnessed the most important turning points in human history.

Part 2: Early uses of clay

Ceramic tile is made from similar clays found in pottery, statues and objects of art and religion. Clay objects have been found in many archaeological discoveries. The earliest pottery was primarily functional in character, in the form of vessels to hold the grain and other foodstuffs, which they produced, but clay was also used to make objects of religious significance. In time people learned to control the firing process better, and so produce ceramics of finer quality.

Invention of the potter’s wheel

While potters experimented with new forms, a new style of decoration consisting of the basic geometric motifs that were to be used for hundreds of years evolved. The discovery of the potter’s wheel in Mesopotamia and its introduction into Anatolia around 3000 BC opened a new era in ceramics production.

Early uses of tile

The use of tiles for wall and floor coverings existed in Egypt as long ago as 4000 BC and by 900 AD decorative tiles had become widely used in Persia, Syria and Turkey. As transport and communication developed, the use and manufacture of tiles spread across Italy and Spain and exports were made into the rest of Europe by the end of the 12th century.

Modern processes

Gradually the industry developed into a modem, highly mechanized process, becoming more concentrated in the Staffordshire Potteries (England) area where the established skills and processes of the traditional potters greatly fostered the development of the present ceramic tile. Tunnel kiln firing cycles were measured in days.

The turn round time of a tile bottle oven was at least ten days. In the latter half of the 19th century the forerunners of the present tile manufacturers began to patent a number of different processes for producing ceramic tiles. By the end of the century it was said that no home, public building, hotel or institution was complete without ceramic tiles.

During World War ll many companies were closed and a very different industry emerged. The market- place in the 50’s and 60’s demanded near- perfect quality, sizing and shading.

Tile manufacturing today

A technology known as “roller hearth” now provides the latest generation of kilns. Tiles are conveyed through the kiln as a single layer on a bed of rotating rollers. Only the tiles need to be heated, there are no kiln cars and no supports. Clean natural gas enables burning to take place immediately adjacent to the ware, both above and below, with very precise temperature control. This precise control, together with powerful hydraulic presses, has made possible the manufacture of a new product: the “homogeneous” or “porcelain” fully vitrified tile. Homogeneous tile is impervious, very strong and suitable for very heavy-duty purposes. Roller hearth single layer technology necessitates much shorter firing cycles to achieve required output. One hour, or less, is now typical. Today’s products are mostly mass-produced, to extremely high standards of design and quality.

Types of Tile - Tile and Stone by Villagio

Types of Tile

Glaze is “liquid glass” that has been sprayed or poured onto the surface of the tile. Extreme heat causes the tile to be fused together and harden. Glazed tile must meet the same criteria as unglazed tiles, with two additional tests: thermal shock and crazing.

Common sizes
1″x 1″, 12″x 12″ and larger.

First quality tiles are manufactured with up to 5% visible facial defects. However, the installer is allowed 0% defects. It’s important for the installer to discard the defective product or use the tile for cuts.

– Standards: Glazed tiles have ANSI standards for determining facial defects, sizing, warping, wedging, etc.
– Function: The following factors may affect the hardness, strength and wear resistance of glazed ceramic tile:
– Temperature: Higher kiln (oven) temperatures typically produce a harder glaze.
– Color: Dark colors (such as blacks or blues) are typically more prone to scratch than lighter colors.
– Gloss levels: Shiny glazes are not usually as abrasive resistant as matte finish glazes.

When specifying or installing glazed floor tile, consider these characteristics
– Slip resistance
– Wear resistance
– Maintenance requirements
– Chemical and stain resistance

Be sure to determine the function, limitations, and suitability of the product. Do not make your selection based solely on color, style or appearance.

Shade Variations - Tile and Stone by Villagio

Shade Variations

1. Environmental variation

Color IS light. The color that you “perceive” consists of both the surface of the tile, and the reflection off the tile of its environment (lighting, furniture, large fixtures, cabinets, wall color or furniture). This is why it is so important for the customer to either see the tile in their environment or for them to understand that their tile will look different than it did in your showroom. If they paint their wall dark blue, their tile will look different. If they have incandescent or natural light, the tile will look different than under those cool blue fluorescents in your showroom.

2. Variation from shade to shade (die-lot)

This is the toughest shade variation to anticipate. This variation is the “die-lot” or “shade” variation is inherent in producing a “unique” product. The best way to handle this type of variation is to keep a range of “acceptable” shades of tile in a bin. As each new shipment is received, the new tile is compared against these “key” tiles. If it is distinctly similar, the tile goes into stock. If new colors have been added or deleted or if the tile is questionable at all – it goes to the sales manager for approval. If the difference is significant – the sales manager should have all showroom samples changed out, including all customer samples on display.

3. Variation from tile to tile

“Ceramic tile bodies and glazes are created from elements of the earth – clay, water, sand, minerals. Just as these materials vary in the natural world, the end result of their combination will also produce variations in the surface color and texture of ceramic tile. These natural color variations and markings enhance the individuality of each tile and result in a sophisticated but understated design sensibility that characterizes each tile and is designed to provide maximum performance and classic good looks.”

Porcelain Revealed - Tile and Stone by Villagio

Porcelain Revealed

There isn’t really any secret as to what a porcelain tile is: it’s a ceramic tile with an absorption rate of .5% or less. Incidentally, a .5% rating is also classified as “impervious”. This means impervious= porcelain, porcelain=impervious, impervious=< .5% absorption. However, all porcelains are not created equal. There are three general categories of porcelain tiles.

Natural porcelain tile
A.k.a. “technical porcelain”, “unglazed porcelain”, “unpolished porcelain”, or “through-body porcelain”. Natural porcelain is, as the name implies, porcelain that has not been glazed nor polished. These tiles are made of porcelain through and through. They can have surface treatments (soluble salts), have a different face and body (double loaded), or the face of the tile simply be a different color or texture than the body of the tile, yet it’s still classified as through-body “natural” porcelain. Most natural porcelain tiles have absorption ratings of less than .1%. Keep in mind that absorption has nothing to do with the facial surface being stain resistant. Unless the tile manufacturer has treated the porcelain to close up the surface (micro) porosity, you’ll need to seal natural porcelain tile before grouting.

Polished porcelain tile
Polished porcelains are natural porcelains with a polished surface. The polished surface isn’t a glaze, but actually comes from within the stone and it’s polished in a fashion similar to granite. It’s important to note that the polishing process on a porcelain tile actually opens up the pores of the tile. This means polished porcelain tiles must have a penetrating or impregnating sealer applied before grouting in order to increase resistance against staining and make them easier to keep clean.

Glazed porcelain tile
Many glazed porcelains are right at .5% absorption. However, if the bisque (clay body) of the tile is used as part of the visual design on the face of the tile the absorption should be under .1%. Glazed porcelains can be partially glazed, they can use glaze elements used in the manufacturing process or they can be completely glazed. There are even some glazes that can be polished!

Any type of porcelain tile has the following benefits when used residentially:

Design capabilities
When the manufacturer allows the bisque to show through the face of the tile, they can get a deeper, more realistic dimensions than ever before. To be honest, I would challenge any industry “expert” to correctly identify some porcelain tiles when compared to their natural stone counterparts once they’ve been properly installed.

Chip resistance
Through-body color porcelain tiles offer chip resistance in two ways. First, porcelain tiles have high mechanical strength and are extremely chip resistant. Second, if a through-body color porcelain tile does chip, the chip is the same color as the tile, so it doesn’t have to be replaced (unless the homeowner insists.)

Stain resistance
In the case of manufacturers who use glazes or use a process to close up the micro-porosity, the finished product will be extremely stain resistant, especially when compared to their natural stone counterparts.

Moisture resistance
If a tile has greater than .5% absorption it ISN’T porcelain. This means that all true porcelains are very dense and are ideally suited for use in high moisture settings. Whether you’re concerned about tile able to withstand freeze-thaw cycles or for use in swimming pools and spas, porcelain tile is a great choice.

Wear resistant
Natural porcelain is simply the hardest, most durable surface for high foot traffic installations. In floor areas in malls, grocery stores or banks, you just can’t beat the durability and beauty of natural porcelain.

Chemical resistant
All porcelain tiles are going to be much more resistant against citric acid, wine, mustard and other household chemicals than virtually any type of natural stone, including granite. This makes porcelain an ideal choice for kitchen counters and floors.

You can buy porcelain for less than natural stone; however, there are many porcelain tiles that will cost more than natural stone. However, keep in mind, that most porcelain tiles are technically superior overall to granite (the hardest of all natural stones) and many are virtually identical in appearance to natural stone.

Over the past 25 years porcelain tiles have a well-earned reputation as having the highest overall durability of all ceramic tiles or natural stones. The more you understand the features of this outstanding product, the more you can relay the benefits of owning porcelain to your customers.