Ceramic tiles are just thin pieces of clay, usually with a colour or pattern on the face, covered with a glaze and fired to produce a surface that is extremely hard-wearing, waterproof and stain-resistant. The surface may be smooth or textured.
Tiles come in squares, commonly 4-1/4in (108mm) or 6in (152mm) square, oblongs and a small range of interlocking shapes. Some tiles are sold in metric sizes – 100mm, 150mm and 200mm, for example.
Originally, ceramic tiles had unglazed square edges, and special border tiles with one or two rounded edges had to be used to finish off at the edges of tiled areas. Now, square-edged tiles are often glazed on all four sides, or some tiles in a box have one or two glazed edges. “Universal’ tiles have angled edges so that there is no need for spacers – the correct size of gap is left for grouting.
Two sorts of plastic spacer are available for use with square-edged tiles which have no spacer lugs. Both are cruciform in shape and are tilted into the junction between four tiles (or two on a border); one type is removed once the adhesive has set; the other is smaller and left in place. An alternative is to use match slicks positioned between adjacent tiles.
For finishing off the edges of areas of ceramic tiling, you can get a plastic trim, part of which fits under the edge of the last tile. For internal corners (next to a bath, say), matching quadrant tiles can be used, and there is a special trim for sealing the gap between tiles and a kitchen worktop. Flexible silicon sealants can also be used for both these jobs.
Special-purpose ceramic tiles are also available heat-resistant tiles for around fireplaces and next to boilers and frost-resistant tiles for unheated outside WCs, for example.
Fixing tiles is relatively easy, although it can be time-consuming. They should be stuck to the wall with a special ceramic tile adhesive, and the gaps between the tiles should be filled in with hard-setting waterproof compound called grout.
A tiled surface is a cold one, and so in humid rooms it can suffer from condensation.
Cork tiles are made by slicing up pressed layers of the bark of a cork tree to produce thin panels. Most are 300mm square and about 3mm thick, but oblong panels are also available.
The surface of cork tiles is warm to the touch, but unless it is scaled (cork floor tiles, for example) it marks easily and is not easily cleaned. Tiles can be stuck to the wall with cork tile adhesive or contact adhesive, which makes them relatively easy to fix but almost impossible to remove later.
Metallic tiles are made from thin metal sheets and have hollow backs. They can be fixed to the wall with double-sided self-adhesive pads or with an adhesive. Most metallic tiles can be cut to shape with scissors though tin snips may be required for the tougher ones. Metallic tiles can also be bent to shape. The tiles are usually coloured gold, silver or copper and may have a matt or semi-gloss finish. In addition, the metallic effect may be overprinted with a pattern or an individual design. Sizes are 108mm, 150mm or 300mm square. The durability of metallic tiles varies from brand to brand – some are affected by steam. Most are damaged by abrasive cleaners.
Mirror tiles are small squares of silvered glass, usually 152mm or 230mm square. Most are clear glass, but there is a choice of silver, bronze or smoke-grey finish. They are usually used for decorating the backs of alcoves and similar small areas, and are fixed to the wall with small double-sided self-adhesive pads. Unless the surface to which they are fixed is perfectly flat and true, a distorted reflection is produced from the surface of the tiles.
Brick and stone tiles are man-made simulations of real brick and stone. Some are actually wafer-thin pieces of pressed stone aggregate or slivers of brick. Most types are stuck to the wall with special adhesive. A wide range of colours, shapes and sizes is available.
Mosaics are tiny pieces of ceramic tile, usually square, though round and interlocking shapes are also available. The pieces are mounted in sheets, held together by a paper facing material that is peeled off when the mosaics have been stuck to the wall or mounted on a mesh backing. The gaps between the mosaic pieces can then be tilled with grout, as for ceramic tiles. The surface of the mosaics is hard-wearing and easy to clean, although the grouting may gradually become marked.
Mosaics are easy to fix in place, particularly around obstacles, since the sheets can be cut approximately to the desired profile and minor irregularities can be taken up with the grouting, or with cut pieces of mosaic. They are, however, comparatively expensive.