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Cement Tile: For Walls & Floors With Character!

Cement Tile: For Walls & Floors With Character!
Stylish tile feels modern and sleek.
When it comes to design, we often look to the past for inspiration. Today, many people are looking for authentic materials that give a space character, wear with a natural patina, and give the home a unique look. Cement tile is a great example of a finish material that has been around forever, but is enjoying a recent surge in popularity. If you want a floor that looks like a 200 year old Spanish villa or Cuban cafe, cement tile may be for you. Though installation is similar to tile or stone, it is not the same thing, and there are important things to know before selecting this material and before installing it. This is not intended to be a guide for installing cement tile, but rather an informational piece designed to inform you, the homeowner, in making selections, so that you choose the right tile for the intended application, and are aware of possible installation pitfalls that could come up. When it comes to installation methods and materials though, the manufacturer's word is gospel. Below is some general information. Always read the fine print before purchasing tile for your home.

Manufacture
Cement tile, also known as encaustic tile, is a handmade product. Layers of cement are used, in which the top layer is a fine white cement with colorants poured into a mold to make the attractive patterns that are available. Some are contemporary and some are based off designs that have been around for centuries. Because of how it's made, the pattern is not just on the surface of the tile, and there is variation between tiles. These characteristics give a space instant character, and allow it to wear over time like a pair of jeans. More on the jeans comparison later.

Layout and prep
Many cement tile patterns include designs to create a rug and border look. You may have a rectangle in the center, with a different border around that, and a solid color field tile at the perimeter. This presents an added challenge to the installer, but even before you get to install, think about whether your room is suited to this look. If you are going to have cabinets in the room, how will the pattern interact with these fixed objects. If it seems like you are forcing the look on the room, choose a consistent pattern for the whole floor. There are many beautiful patterns that will add pizzazz to your floor without the "rug" look. Preparation for install is similar to other tile floors, with a couple caveats: If you are installing over cement, make sure it has fully cured. Moisture escaping through the surface could show up as efflorescence on the surface of the tile. Make sure your floor can handle the weight. Cement tile is thicker than most other tiles: 5/8" - 3/4", so make sure adjacent floors will line up without awkward transitions.

Sealing
Cement tile is more absorptive than other tiles. This can cause some installation issues. It does not come pre-sealed, so it must be sealed, not just before grouting, which is pretty common, but before installation. Seal not only the surface, but also the edges. Manufacturers recommend using a grout no darker than the lightest color on the tile. The color from the grout can be absorbed by the tile and stain it. The moisture from the grout can also be sucked out too fast by the tile, resulting in hairline cracks in the grout.

Maintenance
A porcelain tile floor is going to wear very little. 10 years after install, the tile is going to look basically the same, and the grout is going to be dirtier. A cement tile floor will age significantly more. Surface cracks will appear, a patina will develop in areas that get heavy wear. You can arrest this aging process somewhat with regular buffing with a white 3M pad and regular sealing with a manufacturer recommended product, but ultimately, you should not choose this floor unless you are interested in it at least partially for the character it will bring to your home. When choosing countertops I often ask people if they are blue jeans people or slacks people. If you like a pair of new, pressed slacks - cement tile may not be for you. If you love a pair of blue jeans the older they get and the more holes and wear patterns that develop, an encaustic floor could be just what your looking for.

One more thing: I keep talking about floors because this is the traditional use for this tile. Let your imagination be your guide. I have a cement tile backsplash in my kitchen.

Cement Tile: For Walls & Floors With Character! Inspiration

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