Quarry Tile, Saltillo Tiles, Granite and More
The first thing to look for when selecting outdoor tile, for safety, is a slip-proof surface. The second thing is freeze-resistance. Will the tile withstand the winters where you live? The third standard the tile must meet is durability. Can it weather the hard use of an outdoor patio or walkway?
A complication you'll encounter is that not all tiles within a category have the same characteristics. For example, some terra-cotta tile is machine made and serves well outdoors (in some climates). Other terra-cotta tiles simply are not strong enough for outdoor use. Ceramic tiles are not equivalently dense and waterproof, either. Before making a selection, be sure the tile you choose is suitable for outdoor use in your area. Your tile dealer can tell you which tiles are suitable. All tile must be set in mortar on a smooth concrete slab over a gravel base. Set properly, tile needs little or no maintenance.Here are some tiles to consider:
Terra-Cotta tile is a low-density, nonvitreous (absorbs moisture) tile suitable for dry areas in some moderate climates. It is not a true ceramic tile because it is fired at low temperatures. Surface defects are common and admired as part of its look. It is sold in pieces from 3 to 12 inches square and in other geometric shapes.
Porcelain tile, made of highly refined clay and fired at extremely high temperatures, is vitreous (it absorbs little or no moisture). Sizes range from 1x1-inch mosaics to big 24-inch squares. Some have stonelike textures. Tile with an absorbancy of 5 percent or less is suitable for use in freezing climates.
Quarry tile, extruded and fired at high temperatures, comes as a semivitreous (somewhat absorbent) or vitreous product. Made in 1/2- to 3/4-inch thicknesses, it is fired unglazed in many colors, sizes, and shapes such as 4- to 12-inch squares and hexagons and 3x6-inch or 4x8-inch rectangles.
Cement-Bodied tile, made of a cured mixture of sand and mortar, is a nonvitreous tile with excellent durability. Cement tiles are available in squares or rectangles ranging from 6 to 9 inches and in mesh-backed paver sheets (up to 36 inches square) that give the look of cleft stone.
Saltillo tile is not a true ceramic tile because it is dried, not fired. It enjoys wide use in rustic and Southwestern designs. Available in squares, rectangles, octagons, and hexagons in sizes that range from 4 to 12 inches, it is a low-density, nonvitreous product suited only to warm climates.
Stone tile is increasingly popular. Natural stone materials cut into uniform tiles include marble, granite, limestone, sandstone, slate, quartzite, and shellstone (granite with embedded fossilized shells). Ask your tile dealer to recommend a stone tile that's suitable for outdoor use. Most are best used only in moderate or warm climates. For tile with a rough, rustic character, seek out tumbled tile which has been acid-treated and tumbled in sand.Designing with tile
Tile is an excellent choice for formal landscapes, but it's not limited to them. Tile's modular dimensions fit almost any design scheme. Many varieties for outdoor use are available in earth tones (subtle tans, reds, and browns). Make sure all the tiles you buy come from the same lot. Check their lot number to ensure consistent coloration. Tile suited to the outdoors usually has a slightly roughened surface and its high density will support heavy loads and hard use. Quality tile is more expensive than other surface materials, and it's susceptible to cracking on uneven surfaces.Pro Tip: Buying tile
Purchase tile at tile retailers, ceramic suppliers, home centers, and floor covering outlets. Some retailers may sell individual tiles, but tile is almost always sold in cartons to cover a specified area. Compute the area of your patio or path in square feet (multiply length by width in feet). Order enough cartons to cover the tiled surface and add 10 percent for waste, mistakes, and cutting.