Ceramic marquetry is environmentally sustainable, fireproof, requires no refinishing, sealers, waxes or stains, does not absorb odors, and will not dent. Photo Teka Miel courtesy of Porcelanosa.

Swimming pools, fountains and ponds as well as other areas submerged in water must use a very low porosity tile. Photo courtesy of Reviglass.
It is amazing to look at just how dramatically lifestyles have changed in the past twenty-five years. A family photo taken of a backyard barbeque in the ‘80s would likely show a vast expanse of lawn, the trusty hibachi, a picnic table, and Dad's hammock. Fast forward to 2005 and backyards have evolved into seamless extensions of a home's interior. Yards have been replaced with el fresco havens resembling the grounds of five star resorts. Landscape architects commonly refer to "exterior rooms" on their design blueprints and define specific areas to include a rapidly growing list of must haves. The ultimate outdoor dream list includes: fountains; spas; pools; dinning terraces; summer kitchens; covered decks; fire-pits and koi ponds.

Use a combination of sizes. Using smaller tiles increases the number of joints, which increases slip resistance in specific areas. Photo Marmara Adalar courtesy of Keramia.
It's all about requiring more out of life; more time, more return on investment, more enjoyment and more personal style. Families, with both adults working, high levels of stress, hectic schedules and global concerns, are creating private getaways, on their own properties. Tropical plants, outdoor "room-scapes" and lush foliage mimic exotic destinations and help us re-charge our batteries and find balance in a day otherwise filled with work and commitments. To say we have blurred the boundary between the interior and exterior is an understatement. Going beyond bringing "the outside in," America has thrown open the French doors and brought sophisticated interior finishes, accessories and furnishings to their elegant outdoor living areas, literally, bringing "the inside out."

Candelabras, silk cushions, upholstered furniture, area rugs, tiki torches and hundreds of flickering candles add magic, serenity and luxury to an evening under the stars. It is not just furnishings that have gone through a dramatic evolution, but all outdoor surface materials. Rough aggregate, concrete patios and gray stucco no longer make the grade. Utilitarian floor and wall finishes are being replaced with rich terra cottas, hand-painted fresco tiles, sparkling glass mosaics, and textured slate floor tile. In fact, ceramic tile is one of the only finishes that can seamlessly flow from family room to patio, adding style and function equally well in either environment. With this growing trend, new ceramic programs often feature tile with a variety of surface textures and functional properties. While two tiles may appear identical, each is uniquely designed to enhance practical features, which are beneficial to the specific type of use. Successfully integrating interior and outdoor rooms with spectacular, lifelong tile depends on choosing the right type for each location.

Ceramic tile is no longer square. Fantastic geometric and Escher-like shapes grace any surface. Photo Cometa Mare courtesy of Natucer.
Isolate Quality First
How can you tell if a tile is good quality? "All stone-like tiles look basically the same, but one is $.69 a square foot and another is $4 a square foot; I can't see any difference," you might say. Quality tile is produced by state-of-the-art manufacturers dedicated to producing tile that: will last for life; is easy to maintain; is hygienic; environmentally friendly, safe, aesthetically realistic, and fashionably current. These factories test every tile exported to North America using International Standards tests for tile. Quality distributors and retailers have a single page data sheet, showing the test results, for every tile they sell. Quality salespeople use the data sheets to guide consumers in selecting the proper tile for every application, environment and type of use. Informed consumers only purchase tile that is backed by this series of manufacturing tests, which define the factory warranty and recommended type of use. Quality tile cannot be easily recognized or distinguished by the consumer when comparing single tile samples or even when viewing a carefully crafted tile display board or vignette. However, as soon as several tiles are put side by side or an entire area is installed, the quality of: the screening; decoration; pattern; natural flow of the tile and its variation; consistency of dye lot and calibration; flatness and capacity of the tile to bond correctly; are painfully or joyfully obvious. Ask for the single page International data sheet for every tile under consideration! If the data is not available, you are likely getting a great price and very little value or service.

Almost all quality floor tiles will be appropriate for interior residential use. Inside a home, glazed tiles are the most popular because of the ease of maintenance, high resistance to staining and the plethora of color, design, pattern and texture available. Many tile intended for indoor environments can be carried outside as long as continuous moisture, extreme temperature fluctuations and freezing temperatures are not present. In applications that are exposed to frost, thermal stress and high moisture, the specific technical qualities of the tile need to be assessed. Designers and industry experts should use the Water Absorption percentage (WA) of the tile as a guide when selecting tile for these adverse conditions. The test for water absorption is always clearly indicated on the data sheet for each specific series of tile. Typically, tile designed for outdoor environments will have an absorption rating between 0 percent and 3 percent WA.

In some regions quality tile programs can be used on both interior and exterior applications. Photo Palmira Thar courtesy of Keramia.
Rule of thumb:
0% - 0.5%
-Very Low absorption tile. Use this type of tile in any area which will be submerged in water, constantly saturated or soaked. Examples are: inside a swimming pool, including the tile used at the skim line; inside a fountain or pond; on a tiled shower floor, interior or exterior. Whenever water is going to sit on the tiled surface and penetrate into the setting bed, a very low absorption tile is required. This type of application also demands proper waterproofing membranes as well as minimum sloping on all horizontal surfaces.

>0.5 - 3%
-Low absorption tile. Use this type of tile in any area subjected to intermittent or occasional water exposure, like rain. Examples are: patio decks; balconies; outdoor countertops, furniture and benches; any exterior wall such as outdoor* shower walls. This type of application also demands proper waterproofing membranes as well as minimum sloping on all horizontal surfaces. *(Interior shower walls are not subject to environmental stresses and do not require low porosity tile and are often high porosity to enhance adhesion.)

Above 3%
-Tile with absorption above 3 percent is not normally recommended for exterior use. However some tiles, made by the extrusion method, having WA above 3 percent easily pass the international tests for frost resistance and are made specifically for outdoor use. The frost resistance compliance of this tile will be clearly marked on the tile data sheet. This group of tile can be used anywhere other low absorption tile would be used.

Textured panels of narrow ceramic stone are combined with large format honed floor tile to create a tactile experience. Photo Rock and Rock courtesy of Roca.
Frost Resistance

It either is or it isn't! Tile tested to withstand repeated cycles of freeze and thaw temperature fluctuations will always list one of the international test standards on the data sheet. A rating level of "passed" or "resistant" certifies the tile to be frost resistant. The ceramic tile industry recognizes the following three standardized tests.

EN 202
"Passed" -Tile is chilled to -5 degrees C (-23F) and then heated to +5 degrees C (41F). The tile is subjected to 50 cycles of this rapid change of temperature and must survive unscathed.

ISO 10545-12
"Passed" -Temperature fluctuation is identical to the European Norm, EN 202 standard above. However, for this test the tile is subjected to 100 freeze/thaw cycles.

ASTM C1026
"Resistant" -Tile is chilled to -18 degrees C (-40F) and then rapidly heated to between +10-16 degrees C (50-60F). This rapid change in temperature is done 15 times and the tile must withstand this thermal shock without showing visible change.

Frost resistant tile is available in glazed and unglazed formats. Choosing between the two is normally determined by the level of safety or slip resistance required and the practicality of the stain resistance and required maintenance suggested for these two different surface finishes.

24-by-48-inch slabs of ceramic corten can create a dramatic backdrop to a garden waterfall, feature wall or patio terrace. Photo Corten A courtesy of Tau.
Unglazed Tile Facts:
Unglazed tile has a natural level of slip resistance. Texturing the surface with stone like clefts, bush-hammering, or a relief grid pattern adds friction or greater slip resistance to the tile.

Natural matte finishes are more slip resistant than honed or polished formats. Textured or relief surfaces can catch and hold debris and dirt. Power washing or brushing may be required. Maintenance increases exponentially as the slip resistance or grittiness of the tile is increased.

Unglazed tile with any porosity, even if it is very low (0.5%), can stain. Sealing the tile may be necessary depending on what type of soiling is expected. Pre-sealing low absorptive tile (prior to installation) may also be necessary if a highly contrasting grout color is chosen. Always do a small test area prior to installation to ensure the pigmented grout will not stain the tile surface. Unglazed tile is homogeneous, or the same color throughout its entire thickness. Therefore, scratches or chips in a tile do not expose a different layer or color or necessarily detract from the tiles decorative value.

Swimming pools, fountains and ponds as well as other areas submerged in water must use a very low porosity tile. Photo courtesy of Reviglass.
Glazed Tile Facts:
Glazes can be enhanced to provide any degree of slip resistance by using minerals such as corundum, or by texturing the tile with a relief pattern. Enhancing the slip resistance of the glaze will provide good friction in dry areas. However, because glaze is impervious, (non porous) water cannot absorb through the surface and must dissipate through evaporation. Therefore, glazed tiles can remain slippery when moisture is on the surface.

Glazed tile are the easiest to maintain and are the least likely to stain because of the impervious glass glaze protecting the surface and body of the tile.

Deeply textured or relief tile may require power washing or brushing to remove surface soiling. Maintenance increases exponentially as the slip resistance or grittiness of the tile is increased.

If chipping occurs on a glazed tile and the body of the tile is exposed, it will be noticeable as the body and glaze are rarely the same color.

Glazed tile can wear and abrade prematurely if heavy, abusive traffic or sharp gritty contaminants are present or left on the surface and not swept away. Glazed tile does not need sealing, ever. Glazed tile has the greatest array of colors, patterns, and variation.

Floor and wall finishes are being replaced with rich terra cottas, hand painted fresco tiles, and sparkling glass mosaics. Photo courtesy of L’Antic Colonial.
Facts for Glazed and Unglazed Tile:
Increasing the number of grout joints will increase slip resistance. This can be accomplished by using a smaller sized tile. Or, vary the size of tile depending on the traction desired in a given location. For instance use a combination of eight inch square and four by eight inch tile from the same series. Increasing the width of the joint will also increase slip resistance.

Slip resistance for either type of tile is greatly diminished if the tile is not clean. Soil, grease and debris prevent the foot from reaching the friction enhanced surface of the tile.

Traction and friction are better in bare feet than with footwear.

Very low absorptive tile whether glazed or unglazed, interior or exterior requires a two part polymer enhanced mortar as low porosity tile requires a more elastic, tenacious bond. Mortar coverage should be at least 95 percent on the back of the tile. Back buttering is recommended with this very dense tile as de-lamination can occur at the tile to bond layer if the mortar is not forced into the tight pore structure of the tile.

Any tile that is chipped, damaged, or pre-maturely worn can be easily replaced as long as the consumer purchases some extra tile with their original order (approx. 10-15percent). This "insurance" tile is rarely needed -unless of course you didn't buy any extra! Prudent consumers know this is one of Murphy's Laws. If you are lucky enough to find the six replacement tile you need, current dye lots rarely match the original shade.

Yards have been replaced with al fresco havens resembling the grounds of five-star resorts. Photo StonKer Caucaso courtesy of Porcelanosa Group.
Find a Trained Salesperson
If your eyes have glazed over (no pun intended) with the technical dos and don'ts, have faith. The above information is second nature to an experienced, trained salesperson. Once they know the areas to be tiled, the type of traffic and soiling that is likely to occur, your maintenance expectations and safety concerns, they will hone in on every technically suitable tile to meet your budget, style and schedule. After that it is all about fashion and the pleasure of picking an architectural theme, color, size, and pattern from the many decorative choices. This year, new choices have been added that complement garden elements and will be striking additions to any outdoor space.

Weathering Steel:
Also known by the trade name Corten, this oxidized steel finish, in an array of gradient colors from muted rust to patina rich gray is a perfect compliment to wrought iron, garden sculptures and stainless steel. In a variety of sizes for floor and wall applications, the largest 24 -by-48-inch monolithic slabs are destined to be the focus on feature walls or used as a stunning backdrop to a dramatic waterfall. Natural weathering steel has great allure to sculptors and contemporary architects, but can be prohibitive due to the staining caused by the oxidization process. Ceramic corten glazes skillfully replicate the bubbling steel texture, dull metallic sheen and the flowing color variation within a stable permanent finish.

Ceramic renditions of hard wood flooring have been in development for the past several years. This year wood finishes have combined a number of technological advances and achieved ceramic lines of unparalleled beauty and realism. The programs are narrow elongated planks of 3-, 4-, 6- and 12-inch widths by lengths up to 36, 42, and 48 inches. The tiles are rectified or cut after firing to create identical sizing allowing for a next to butt joint installation. Multi-screen and mould relief patterns are capable of creating the variety of grain and textures found in natural wood flooring. There are many areas both inside and out where wood cannot be used due to moisture. As well as overcoming this obstacle, ceramic marquetry is environmentally sustainable, fireproof, requires no refinishing, sealers, waxes or stains, does not absorb odors, and will not dent. Designers will no longer need to limit the use of a wood finish in any of these sensitive circumstances. One look at the exotic wood finishes and the inlay décor tiles may even convince the most steadfast purist.

Artisanal, translucent, gem-like - glass and the mosaic form have experienced a meteoric rise in popularity. Clear jewel colors, soft hued glazes, Venetian gilts and shaded blends from one color family are just a few of the choices for creating murals, classic friezes, opaque screens or one of a kind water features on walls, spas, swimming pools or fountains. With hundreds of colors available from a single line, conceptually it is like dipping a brush into a painter's palette with no limitation other than your imagination.

America is bringing the ‘inside out’ and demanding more refinement in their gardens. Photo courtesy of Alcalagres.
Stacked Stone:
Technology, texture and the variety of rectangular shapes gave birth to ceramic programs that mimic this classic masonry technique. Mounted on mesh, these highly textured panels of ceramic stone can be combined with areas of honed tile to create a wonderful tactile experience. With ceramic programs boasting more than ten different sizes, in four finishes complete with mesh mounted borders, mosaics, geometrics and trim pieces, the professional designer is greatly favored. For it is the ability to combine several sizes and shapes from these modular programs that accentuate the architectural merit of a space and capture the unique vision of every client.

New innovations such as this roofing tile emerge as applications of ceramic tile expand. Photo courtesy of Trans Hitos, Cevisama.
All of these new finishes have in part been developed in response to the growing trend in residential landscape design. Pushing beyond fashion, manufacturers have invested millions of research dollars in technical quality. One manufacturer has developed an anti-slip glaze that is smooth to the touch and easy to clean when dry, yet incredibly skid resistant in wet conditions. Domotic technologies or "smart" tile are also currently in development. Ceramics with interactive devices such as motion detectors for alarms and security systems as well as photo sensitive glazes that change color in response to the weather in order to capture solar energy and reduce energy consumption are all in the works.

New areas of application are continuously championed by homeowners. Each new challenge presents the ceramic industry with an opportunity to enhance technical characteristics and optimize exciting style solutions. For years the quality of tile has enriched the investment value of a homes interior and now, with little effort, families can benefit from the magic it creates in the garden.