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

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 (habitat.org/restore) 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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