Solid hardwood floors are on the wish list of most people that I know who are planning to build a home. Wood floors are warm and welcoming, but they’re also expensive and they don’t hold up well to moisture and humidity, pets, rowdy children and heavy foot traffic.
Fortunately, wood flooring alternatives have now entered the residential market in the form of wood look tile and wood look luxury vinyl flooring. They provide the warm look of wood, without many of the downsides that go along with hardwood flooring.
What gives these alternatives the look of hardwood is an high definition wood image that’s applied to the surface of the tile or vinyl. In this week’s mini lesson, I’ll give you the pro and cons of wood look tile, plus some buying tips. Last week we went over the pro and cons of luxury vinyl flooring. Take a listen to episode 65 if you missed that.
Ok, moving on to some Pro Terms.
PRO TERMS: Glazed tile, color body tile and through body tile.
Wood look tile is available as either ceramic or porcelain tiles. Both ceramic and porcelain tiles are made of clay, but the clay used to make porcelain tile is more refined and purified. Porcelain tiles are harder, more durable, more water resistant and more expensive than ceramic tiles. Ceramic tiles are easier to cut and work with, and more budget friendly.
Ceramic and porcelain tile come in several varieties. Let’s define 3 of those varieties.
1. Glazed tile
Glazed tile has a wear layer on its surface that’s made of liquid glass. Beneath the glaze is the tile's clay body. If the clay is not dyed to match the glaze, the tile’s clay body is usually white or gray. That white or gray body will show through if the tile is nicked or chipped.
Typically wood look tile is glazed. The surface glaze protects that high definition wood image that’s applied to the surface of the tile.
2. Color body tile.
With color body tile, the color from the surface glaze continues throughout the entire body of the tile. The clay body is dyed to match the surface glaze. Matching the color of both the surface glaze and tile body lessens the visibility of any nicks or chips that you might get on the tile.
With color body tile, the color is consistent throughout the entire body of the tile, but the pattern does not go all the way through the entire tile. There are lots of color body, wood look tiles on the market.
3. Through body tile
You won’t find many wood look through body tiles. With through body tile, also called full body tile, the surface color and design pattern go all the way through the body of the tile. The surface design is evident in a cross-section of the tile body. Like with color body tile, it’s difficult to detect a chip or nick on a through body tile because the color on the surface of the tile goes all the way through.
As you can imagine, color body and through body tile cost more than tile with plain clay bodies.
So, to recap…
Glazed tile has a surface wear layer made of liquid glass. The glaze goes over a dyed or undyed clay tile.
With a color body tile, the color goes all the way through the tile, but not the pattern.
With a through body tile, also called full body tile, the color and pattern go all the way through the tile. A through body tile is exactly the same, through and through.
Most all wood look tile is glazed and some wood look tile is color body tile.
Alright, before we move on to the mini lesson. I wanna give a Shout out to SBR20. Thank you so much for your 5 star rating, and the kind words that you wrote in your review. The first line of the review says “This podcast is a great tool to become an informed home builder.” Thank you SBR20, that’s my goal. I’m really happy that you find the show helpful. And I appreciate you for taking time to let iTunes and potential listeners know this podcast is worth a listen.
Ok, up next, our mini lesson on wood look tiles.
Now, for some people, only the real deal will do. They would never even consider anything other than real, genuine solid hardwood. And I get it. That’s kinda how I felt too…until I had the opportunity to actually see the alternatives up close. And recently I saw them installed in homes ranging from 800K to a million dollars. That made me realize that people who can afford almost anything are intentionally choosing wood look luxury vinyl or wood look tile over solid hardwood flooring. That’s because these wood look alternatives give you the classic beauty of solid hardwood floors, but with much more durability.
Let’s talk about the pros of wood look tile.
PROS OF WOOD LOOK TILES
1. Wood look tile is easy to maintain. Most tile requires only sweeping and mopping with a water, and maybe a mild soap. Since wood look tile is typically produced with a protective glaze, it doesn’t need to be sealed or resealed.
2. You can get the look of reclaimed wood, even if live in an area where reclaimed wood is not readily available. Many brands have tiles that have an aged, distressed, barn board appearance.
In fact, wood look tiles come a huge variety of styles, from sleek and glossy to hand scraped and rustic, and everything in between.
3. Not only does the tile look like wood, but high quality brands also have a wood grain texture, so they feel like real wood.
4. No fading. Wood tile typically doesn’t fade in sunlight like real hardwood floors and luxury vinyl flooring can.
5. Wood tiles are highly water resistant, so you can install them in places where real hardwood can’t go, such as basements. Wood look tiles are also perfect for moist areas like bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms and mudrooms. They can even be installed outdoors since they’re resistant to damage from rain and other natural elements.
6. Wood tile can be significantly cheaper than real hardwood. You can find it for less than $2 per square foot at online retailers. But, be aware that wood look tile can also be as pricey as real hardwood. It can cost upwards of $30 per sq foot
7. It’s long lasting and durable. Tile, if installed properly, can last for several decades before it shows signs of wear and tear.
8. Tile works very well if you want in-floor radiant heat. Porcelain and ceramic are very good heat conductors. That means it takes less heat to warm them up.
9. Tile floors are great for warmer climates because they keep your home cooler in hot weather.
10. Tile floors are stable in damp, rainy climates like Seattle. They’re not prone to warping like real wood floors are.
11. It easier to find, and cheaper to buy, larger, wider tile planks as compared to larger, wider hardwood planks. Wide plank wood floors are all the rage right now, but they can be difficult to find in certain wood species and stain colors. They’re also more expensive than standard width wood floors. But wood look tiles give you a larger, more budget friendly selection of wide planks.
So, that's the good stuff. What about the downsides of wood look tile?
CONS OF WOOD LOOK TILE
1. Tile cannot be refinished and scratches cannot be sanded out like they can with hardwood. If a tile is damaged, you’ll need to replace it.
Also, if you want to change the colors in your home in the future, you won’t be able to change the color of your floors. The color you select is the color you’ll be stuck with.
One of the benefits of real hardwood flooring is that it can take decades of abuse and be returned to its original condition with some sanding and refinishing. That’s not possible with wood look tile.
2. Although tile is durable, it can chip, scratch and nick. But so can solid hardwood. Plus, hardwood can dent and warp, which are not problems seen with tile.
3. Grout. If you install wood look tile floors, you’ll have a bunch of grout that may need cleaning or resealing. But honestly, I’ve heard that with the darker grout that most people use with wood tiles, you don’t see many stains, so most people don’t worry about resealing the grout. And if you are able to use epoxy grout with your wood like tile, the grout will never need to be resealed. To learn more about epoxy grout, take a listen to episode 61.
4. Wood tile floors are hard, and if you drop breakables on the tile, they’re almost always gonna break. So, If you often suffer from butter fingers, you may want to rethink tile flooring.
5. Tile floors are not only hard on breakables, but they’re also hard on the body, causing your feet, legs and body to tire and ache if you stand for extended periods of time, while cooking, for example. That hard tile floor may also be hard on the bodies of older pets, crawling babies and clumsy toddlers. To help with this problem, you could strategically place rugs in different areas in your house.
6. Without in-floor radiant heat, tile floors feel cold underfoot. This is especially uncomfortable in chilly climates.
7. Individual tiles are more difficult to repair than luxury vinyl flooring. A single tile can be replaced if damaged, but it should be replaced by a professional since removing the damaged tile can be challenging.
8. Large format wood look tile can suffer from lippage. Lippage is the “variation in the height of adjoining tiles”. That means the corners of a tile pop up above the rest of the surface of the tiles. That makes for an uneven, unattractive floor. It takes a knowledgeable, experienced tile installer to put in large format tile that won’t have a lippage problem.
That leads into my first tip for buying and installing wood look tile.
TIPS FOR BUYING AND INSTALLING WOOD LOOK TILE
1. Get a professional to install your wood look tile. Because the tiles are long planks, they’re much more difficult to handle and install than standard square tiles. They have a tendency to break in half during shipping and installation, so leave the installation to an experienced professional.
2. Choose rectified tiles with the smallest grout lines recommended by the manufacterer. Rectified tiles have very smooth, uniform edges. This allows the tiles to butt up very snugly next to each other, so very little grout is need between the tiles. Minimal grout lines make the floor look more like genuine hardwood. Avoid tiles with rounded corners or dented edges as they’ll show more grout when installed.
3. Choose Color Body Tiles so nicks and chips won’t be noticeable. Color Body Tiles are more expensive, but your floors will stay looking beautiful for longer.
4. Get slip resistant tile for wet areas like the kitchen, mudroom and bathrooms.
5. Choose the highest quality tile that your budget can handle. Just like luxury vinyl flooring, and genuine hardwood, you get what you pay for with wood look tile. More expensive tile usually has a more realistic grain pattern and texture. Quality tiles feel a lot like real wood when touched.
Cheaper tiles are made with poorer quality wood images and they look flat and monochromatic. Cheap tiles show discernible dots or pixels from low-quality ink-jet printing. As you can imagine, this makes the floor look fake.
6. Choose tiles with numerous faces and few repeated images. Some wood-look tiles only have a few face images that are repeated multiple times. That means you’re not going to get that natural wood variation that you’d get with real hardwood. However, higher quality wood-look tiles will have 50 to 100 faces or pictures, giving the floor a much more natural wood look.
7. Choose a tile with a PEI rating of 3 or greater. The PEI rating, which stands for Porcelain and Enamel Institute rating, tells how well glazed tiles resist abrasions. Tiles with a PEI rating of 1 or 2 is best for walls because they’re not very resistant to abrasions. For floors, look for a PEI rating of at least 3. A PEI rating of 4 or 5 can take 15 years or more of heavy foot traffic before the glaze wears off.
8. Choose a grout color that closely matches the darkest tones in the tile. Go as dark as possible so that as the grout ages and stains over time, the stains won’t be obvious. Darker grout also gives the floor a more realistic wood look.
9. Choose variably sized tile planks and insist that your tile be installed in a random pattern. This will better simulate real hardwood flooring.
10. Go for a matte or satin finish, instead of a high gloss finish. A super shiny wood floor looks fake.
11. Order samples or take a look at the tiles in the showroom before you place a large order so you know exactly what you’re getting. And when it’s time to place your order, get a few extra tiles in case you need to replace damaged tiles in the future.
Well that’s it for the mini lesson. I challenge you to take a look of some wood look alternative flooring samples in person before you completely write them off. I still love real hardwood flooring, but the wood look alternatives offer some benefits that are just too good to completely dismiss.
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Let’s finish up with a couple of quiz questions.
1. True or False: Wood look tiles are usually glazed.
That’s true. The glaze protects the wood image that is applied to the face of the tile.
2. True or False: You should request thick, whitish grout lines for your wood look tile floor.
That’s false. Thick, white grout lines will make the floor look fake. To make a wood look tile floor look more like genuine hardwood, you should choose rectified tiles with the thinnest grout lines recommended by the manufacturer and choose a grout color that matches the darkest color in the tile.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete, it’s subject to change and it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.
That’s it for this week. I hope learned as much as I did. And I hope you’ll join me again next week for another edition of Build Your House Yourself University—BYHYU.