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A Guide to Sustainable Tile

Available in recycled glass, ceramic and clay, today's varied sustainable tile options offer beauty and durability.

| September/October 2011

  • Bungalow Bill offers a wide variety of vintage and antique tiles. Antique tiles can be expensive—these range from $5 to $150 each—so it’s best to use pieces like this Celadon Green Art Nouveau tile as accents to complement less-expensive field tile.
    Photo Courtesy Bungalow Bill
  • This funky Ogee Cloud pattern is from Clayhaus Ceramics, a Portland, Oregon, company run by a young husband-and-wife team and powered by 100 percent renewable energy. They offer fun shapes and sizes in 45 lead-free glazes.
    Photo Clayhaus Ceramics
  • Award-winning California artist Ellen Blakeley uses discarded tempered glass and found objects to create stunning mosaics such as Grecian Spa in Gold. The high-end tiles have been used to create sophisticated backsplashes, fireplaces and more—rock musician Carlos Santana even used them for a fountain in his driveway.
    Photo Courtesy Ellen Blakeley
  • Powered exclusively by wind and solar energy, Encore Ceramics recycles all of its clay, glaze and water waste back into its manufacturing process to produce beautiful tiles like the Circles pattern in Dune, Toffee, Thatch, Honey and Autumn. The wastewater recycling process saves more than 39,000 gallons of fresh water each year.
    Photo Courtesy Encore Ceramics
  • Almost all of the scraps in Florida Tile’s Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, factory are diverted from landfills and used to create new tiles. Their proprietary technology allows them to crush and reuse porcelain, one of the hardest materials on earth. All of their products, including Rosa from the Cotto collection, are Greenguard-certified.
    Photo Courtesy Florida Tile
  • This cork mosaic tile from Habitus Collection is recycled from the winestopper industry. The circles come on sheets and can be installed on floors and walls using mortar and grout.
    Photo Courtesy Habitus Collection
  • Ontario by Monocibec is a glazed porcelain tile that resembles wood and is suitable for indoor and outdoor use. Although it’s made in Italy (as many ceramic tiles are), it contains 40 percent recycled content and is manufactured using a cogeneration system—meaning the byproduct heat is used to generate electricity instead of being released into the environment. Monocibec also contributes to an annual carbon offsetting program.
    Photo Courtesy Monocibec
  • In Huntsville, Texas, salvage-building renaissance man Dan Phillips creates unique, fantastical, customized homes using almost exclusively rescued building supplies through his company, Phoenix Commotion. Many of his homes feature handmade mosaics made with broken tile shards, arranged into creative patterns, often by future homeowners and untrained volunteers. Get Dan’s homespun, accessible instructions for making a tile mosaic by visiting and selecting “Tile-Shard Floors” under the “Info” tab.
    Photo Courtesy Phoenix Commotion
  • Oceanside Glasstile recycles more than 2 million pounds of post-consumer glass each year to create stunning mosaic tiles. Available in every color of the rainbow, some shades are more sustainable than others. For example, Midori (Iridescent shown) contains 30 percent pre-consumer and 64 percent post-consumer recycled content, whereas Red contains 55 percent post-industrial content but no post-consumer.
    Photo Courtesy Oceanside Glasstile
  • An active member of the U.S. Green Building Council, the Trend Group offers nine tile collections that contain post-consumer recycled glass and contribute to LEED points; Liberty (shown in pearl) contains up to 75 percent.
    Photo Courtesy Trend Group
  • Fireclay’s Debris Series graces the kitchen backsplash in this renovated 1902 Colonial Revival home. Available in 112 lead-free colors, the ceramic tile is made in the United States and contains more than 60 percent locally sourced pre- and post-consumer content.
    Photo By Michael Keeny/Courtesy Fireclay
  • Even big-name companies such as Walker Zanger are beginning to offer more sustainable options. The Waterfall collection, shown in Rain Pattern, combines naturally honed slate with up to 70 percent post-consumer recycled glass.
    Photo Courtesy Walker Zanger

Graphic, colorful, translucent, luminous—the right tile can bring new energy to an entire room. Tile is versatile, durable, stain and heat-resistant, and easy to clean, making it a good choice for lasting style. Covering kitchen countertops or bathroom floors with gorgeous colors and patterns, ranging from modern to classic, can make over a space all on its own. Most tile isn’t cheap. The good news for those of us on a budget is that eye-catching choices make a statement even in a small space, such as one bright backsplash or a bathroom accent wall.

What’s more, eco-friendly tile manufacturers are transforming reclaimed, recycled material into fabulous décor, and more options become available all the time. Consider the depth and complexity of recycled glass, the tradition and durability of upcycled ceramic, the individuality and craftsmanship of handmade clay, and the ingenuity and comfort of cork. Today’s tile manufacturers combine beauty and sustainability, giving conscientious homeowners plenty of options. Those who want to do the upcycling themselves have options, too; check local salvage yards, scheduled-for-demolition homes and Habitat for Humanity ReStores ( for old tiles you can rescue and reuse.

The Right Tile for the Job 

The first consideration when choosing a tile is where you’re planning to use it, which will help determine the level of durability and waterproofing you need. Nearly all tiles are safe for use on walls or as backsplashes. For flooring and showers, you need extra durability. Most manufacturers recommend using matte finishes for floors, because glossy finishes scratch more easily. For countertops, choose acid-resistant glazes. For bathrooms, make sure tiles are water-resistant. You might plan to use tile for an outdoor application; if so, it’s best to contact the manufacturer to ask about water- and frost-resistance.

Once you’ve determined that your tile choice is suitable for your application, it’s time for the fun stuff: size, color and pattern. Tiles come in a range of styles and sizes, and while some may be more suitable for certain applications, size and style is, for the most part, a matter of preference. Consider the size of your tiles in relation to the size of the space you wish to cover—large tiles in a small space can help make the area feel larger; small tiles covering a large area can look busy.

To determine how much you’ll need, first measure the area you wish to cover in square feet. Then take a look at how many tiles fit in one square foot and multiply. For example, if you choose a 1-inch square tile, you’ll need 164 tiles to cover a square foot, whereas 16 3-inch tiles fit in a square foot. Most manufacturers offer size charts and recommend ordering 10 percent more tile than you need to cover unforeseen mistakes or miscalculations.

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