Cement tile is a fantastic way of adding color, personality, and excitement to any space. Authentic cement tile is hand poured by artisans from around the globe; no single tile is exactly the same. Big box stores have caught on, and now produce ceramic tile that mimics some of today’s most popular cement tile patterns. Ceramics are less costly and don’t have the same sealing requirements as cement tile, but with mass/mechanized production, the human touch is lost. In terms of durability, cement tile lasts a long time! There are successful installs all over the world, hundreds of years old, that still look impeccable. I saw this personally on my trip recent trip to Italy and France. Historically ceramics of similar age, haven’t held up as well.
Some considerations; cement is “porous” meaning it absorbs water. Sealing the tile before and after grouting (with a manufacturer specified sealer) is absolutely necessary. In some cases, three to four coats of sealer is necessary. Finish sealer options typically include: impregnating sealer (usually more Matte), topical sealer (makes the colors pop, but not recommended outdoors), or diamond polishing (similar to a concrete floor).
If using cement tile in a shower, you may want to design the shower floor in a different color (preferably darker). After showering, water naturally flows down with gravity, drying last at the floor. This can make the floor tile look slightly darker than the rest of the shower tile, until the water dries. Selecting a different color for the floor addresses this concern. While you’re at it, for increased grip, you may want to consider using smaller tiles on the shower floor. Cement tile usually comes in 8″ x 8″ dimensions, so cutting them into 4″ x 4″ can work. Also keep in mind cement tile is normally 5/8″ thick, not a big deal, just thicker than most other tile out there. If you are attempting to have all your flooring the same height, to avoid raised transitions, be sure to factor in the additional height. Cost among other things varies between manufacturers. Fair trade and the working conditions of the tile artisans, also should be considered.
Below are a few online cement tile vendors that ship to United States. Please do your own homework regarding their pricing and practices. By the way, I always recommend purchasing a sample prior to placing any large order, and then jumping on the order assuming you are happy. Stock within each lot of tile changes daily, due to it’s authentic imperfect nature.
Check out the cement tile making process via Mission Tile:
Doug Cameron is a Healthy, High-Performance Builder & Remodeler with EcoSafe Spaces Design+Build in Austin, TX.