Florida Tile’s Berkshire porcelain tile in Walnut installed in a bathroom. Photos courtesy of Florida Tile.

Porcelain tile is one flooring product that will quickly build your reputation for quality workmanship. The keys to success, of course, are the materials going into the installation and your knowledge of how to install them. So, the more you know about porcelain, the more expert you can become. That translates into more jobs for better money, perhaps including those lucrative walls and countertops.

Porcelain’s popularity is based on two things: construction, which translates to ruggedness and resistance to environmental stresses like moisture and temperature; plus authentic looks, especially in stone.

At its core, porcelain tile is a refined cousin of ceramic tile. There are significant differences, however. Porcelain is crafted of finer, denser clay and other natural materials, then fired at very high temperatures well beyond those of standard ceramic tile. It is this process which makes porcelain tile tougher and resistant to scratches and stains, and, when correctly installed, moisture.

In fact, porcelain tile is harder than most stone, including granite, which allows for porcelain to be installed both indoors and out, including installations that flow from indoors (such as a family room) to a patio and then to a pool, even in the environmentally unfriendly Northeast.

Since porcelain tile is harder than traditional ceramics, the tools used to cut the tile must be rated for porcelain and extra time must be allowed for making cuts and holes. A wide variety of installation recommendations can be found in the Handbook for Tile Installation published each year by the Tile Council of North America. (Reference - www.tileusa.com/publication_main.htm)

Porcelain is favored for moisture-prone areas because it is virtually impervious to water with a water absorption capacity of no more than 0.5 percent, according to the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) testing labs. Because porcelain’s surface absorbs very little moisture, spills that could otherwise stain are easily wiped up with a damp cloth. Regular cleaning involves water or a mild detergent. Some tile is marketed as porcelain but does not meet technical specs for real porcelain tile. Look for the Porcelain Tile Certification Agency (PTCA) certification mark, an initiative of the TCNA and Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA). (Reference: www.tileusa.com/PorcelainCert.htm)

Due to its low moisture absorption, porcelain shrinks more than traditional ceramic tiles during production. As manufacturers, we assign tiles a caliber that represents a range of sizes that should go well together. It is important to use a grout joint that is large enough to accommodate this range of sizes; 1/8” is a minimum.

Horizon porcelain tile from Florida Tile, in Plateau Beige.

Flexible design choices

Porcelain can be manufactured to look like virtually any stone imaginable from flint to marble in a host of finishes from matte to gloss. Porcelain got a major boost within the past couple of years with digital printing technology, as featured in Florida Tile’s HDP (High Definition Porcelain) line. This type of technology is a huge leap forward in both resolution and pattern variation, creating a porcelain tile that is virtually undistinguishable from natural stone. Digital printing is done without direct contact with the surface of the tile. The glaze is sprayed on.

This technology also removes the unprinted edges known as “framing” and the unglazed valleys often created in older processes, allowing for low relief patterns, handmade effects, fabric looks and mosaics. From an installer’s standpoint, the finished job is much better, since trim shapes like cove base and chair rails can be made with the same process as the floor and wall tile.

The digital process can also reproduce the look of wood, rustic stones, marble and slate without the cost and complexity of filling, honing or double pressing. This can result in a whole new world of installations including the plank look of wood and Old World stone in porcelain tile.

Most of our porcelain products are produced in our world-class manufacturing facility in Kentucky, and all contain at least 40% recycled content. With our products now carrying Green Squared certification, customers can rest assured that they are selecting some of the most sustainable flooring on the market today. (Reference: www.greensquaredcertified.com)

When installing, check with your contractors or customers to ensure that the line they have selected is an appropriate format (porcelain comes in sizes ranging from small mosaics to up to 48”), and that the line contains a complete selection of trim, listellos and accessories. A design line may not have exactly matching trim, but rather “coordinating or complementary.” However, digital printing has helped with the trim-to-field match. The same graphic can now be used to print complex shapes like chair rails and cove base – something that would have been impossible with older technology.

by Dan Marvin, Director of Quality Assurance and Technical Services for Florida Tile