October 2, 2020

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Wall and Floor Tiles: What's the Difference?

As a rule, when we talk about tiles in home décor, we mean the wall and floor tiles. However, there are quite a few differences between both. This article aims to provide an easy-to-understand explanation of the differences and similarities between wall and floor tiles. And in so doing, make clear the properties that are most important to look for when choosing tiles for the home.


Differences between wall and floor tiles

Lucerna Acero 45X120 / Lucerna Acero 120X120 (Available in-store)


Everything you wanted to know about wall and floor tiles

The two most basic ways to describe the differences between wall tiles and floor tiles are their slip resistance together with their hardness and durability. This makes perfect sense because the demands on a floor tile are much more rigorous than those on wall tiles. Floor tiles must withstand heavy-duty foot traffic, heavy pieces of furniture being moved, regular cleaning etc. While wall tiles, on the other hand, have to protect the surfaces they clad and look good.


What are the technical differences between wall and floor tiles?

In order to measure these features – slip resistance or friction, as well as hardness and durability –, tiles are provided with ratings. So, you should check the Coefficient of Friction (COF) for slip resistance and the PEI (Porcelain Enamel Institute) rating for hardness and durability.


Understanding the slip resistance rating of tiles

The coefficient of Friction (COF) determines if certain tiles are suitable for humid zones, like bathrooms and kitchens, and areas with heavier foot traffic. The higher the coefficient, the greater the grip underfoot, and hence safer for use in humid environments and outdoors. In this regard, floor tiles must have a COF rating of 0.50 or higher while wall tiles can have any COF rating.


Defining the PEI rating for wall and floor tiles

Similarly, the PEI rating, describes abrasion resistance, i.e. wear and tear. It is therefore a measure of the tile’s durability and hardness. This is a critical rating for both public and commercial buildings, as well as homes. The PEI rating system consists of Class 1 through Class 5; the higher the number the more durable the tiles.

In this sense, PEI 1 tiles can only be used on walls, whether in a residential or commercial project, never on the floor. The other PEI classes, on the other hand, can be used as flooring, but they have varying levels of foot traffic resistance. A PEI 2 tile, for example, is suitable for low-traffic residential areas such as bathrooms, formal dining rooms, etc. PEI 3 tiles, in contrast, can be used in any room of the house, including high-traffic areas like hallways and kitchens. Meanwhile, PEI 4 tiles can be used not only in the home but also in commercial areas with low foot traffic, such as offices or restaurants. Finally, a PEI 5 tile can withstand a significant amount of foot traffic, making it ideal for high-traffic areas such as airports and shopping malls.


►Note: The PEI rating doesn’t take into account the thickness of the tile. This means that just because a tile is thicker does not mean that it is more resistant. Therefore, it is always worth looking at the PEI rating for the durability of a tile or any other surface.


Floor tiles slip resistance

Vela Grey 59.6X59.6 (Available in-store)


Why there are differences between wall and floor tiles?

The main differences between wall and floor tiles are due to the materials used, manufacturing processes, and design and format options. When we consider ceramic tiles vs. porcelain tiles, it is too simplistic, and not strictly correct, to think that ceramic is for walls and porcelain is for floors. Porcelain and ceramic tiles can both be used for walls. However, only porcelain tiles can be used for floors. This is because the raw materials and manufacturing processes for porcelain and ceramic tiles are different.

As a rule, there is more variety in design and format with wall tiles in comparison with floor tiles. The critical areas for wall tiles in the home are the kitchen backsplash, the shower or bath surround, and the area over the Wash Hand Basin. We can afford to be more experimental around these zones. Floor tiles, on the other hand, cover the entire floor of bathrooms, kitchens, hallways and living areas. They are more homogenous; we don’t tend to mix and match floor tiles in the same way as wall tiles.


Ceramic tiles on walls

The manufacture of ceramic tiles consists of pressed clay shaped in a mould and then fired. Wall tiles can be either single or double-fired, lending the tile its moisture resistance and decorative character. The wall tile can be very slender and as such is easy to cut and shape. These qualities are not suitable for flooring but are ideal for wall cladding. The glaze provides an infinite number of decorative options. Wall tiles do not require either a COF or a PEI rating.


Stoneware and porcelain tiles for floors

Floor tiles, clearly, must be made from a more robust material. Certain types of ceramics, called stoneware and porcelain, are the ‘go-to’ choices for both hard-wearing and slip-resistance properties.

  • Stoneware is a type of ceramic tile made with a variety of clays without carbonates that have low water absorption (between 0.5 and 3%), are dry pressed, glazed, and are typically produced in a single firing.
  • Porcelain is also a type of ceramic, in this case with feldspars and silica added to the clay mix. Fired at much higher temperatures, porcelain typically has water absorption of less than 0.5% and is much stronger than normal ceramic. The superior performance of porcelain in terms of density and resistance is explained by its production processes. Porcelain floor tiles can be glazed or unglazed. Glazed porcelain tiles, commonly known as porcelain tiles, are produced by applying the glaze over a white or coloured base using an inkjet printer. On the other hand, unglazed porcelain tiles, commonly known as technical porcelain tiles, are a type of tile that is even stronger, with even lower water absorption (less than 0.1%), and a homogenous consistency. So that even when the floor tile wears thin, the substance is the same throughout its thickness.


Can you use floor tiles on walls?

The short answer is yes, but would you want to? There are certain instances where, for decorative reasons, it is recommended to blur the distinctions (see below). Nevertheless, for financial and efficiency reasons it’s best to keep floor tiles for flooring and wall tiles for cladding vertical surfaces. You should also keep in mind the wall substrate. Skimmed walls with studs have weight restrictions. Masonry walls, on the other hand, can support most floor tiles without any difficulty.


Blurring the distinctions between wall and floor tiles

Now that we have established the differences between wall and floor tiles, we will look at ways in which home décor can benefit from mixing and matching tiles. After all, sometimes rules are meant to be broken.


Using floor tiles on walls
Lucerna Silver 120X120 (Available in-store)

#01 Using floor tiles on walls

A popular trend in tiles that looks like it’s going to be around for a long time to come is using floor tiles on walls. This is also connected to a trend in featuring larger format tiles. We call anything over 60 cm x 60 cm, large format.

The bathroom décor can be radically transformed with this approach, which can help define different zones. The overall effect is to make the bathroom look larger, especially if the tiles are rectified.

Decorative wall and floor tiles
Figure Spiral Light 29.9X29.9×1 (Available in-store)

#02 Combining decorative wall and floor tiles

Another popular trend in contemporary-style bathrooms is the combination of highly decorative wall and floor tiles. Pattern tiles, mosaic tiles and textured tiles in wall panels combined with geometric or patterned floor tiles.

This “more is more” approach helps define different zones within the bathroom. Soften the effect by keeping to a single geometric motif or perhaps two maximum.

Using wood wall and floor tiles
Vancouver Brown 25X150 (Available in-store)

#03 Using wood wall and floor tiles

Nowadays, timber-effect porcelain floor tiles bring the advantages of wood flooring to the bathroom. The warm and organic qualities of timber help convert the family bathroom into a spa-like experience.

A matching feature wall in planks or timber effect porcelain tile helps unify the bathroom décor. The look, feel and texture of wood without the hassle of maintenance.

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