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Let’s Talk Tile: An Alphabetical Guide to Tile Terminology

Don’t know your terra cotta from your travertine, your bullnose from your bicottura? All trades have their jargon — a language that professionals understand but that can bewilder consumers — and the tile industry is no exception. Although buying tile doesn’t require a degree in tile talk, it’s a big bonus to know some basic vocabulary. Bone up here.

Abrasion resistance: A tile’s ability to withstand foot traffic and friction. The Porcelain Enamel Institute’s abrasion scale goes from 0 (not recommended for floors) to 5 (heavy commercial) to help you determine how well a tile will wear.

Absorption: The amount of moisture a tile absorbs, expressed as a percentage. Vitrified porcelain rates low (less than 0.5 percent), semivitrified tiles absorb 3 to 6 percent, and standard glazed wall tiles absorb 10 to 20 percent. This figure dictates where tiles should be used and affects their durability with temperature fluctuations.

Batch: A lot of identical tiles from the same production run. Colors vary from batch to batch. For a consistent look, use tiles with the same batch number in one area, especially with plain tiles.

Body: The primary structural part of a ceramic tile, excluding the glaze.

Bullnose: Trim tile with a rounded finished edge, often used on kitchen counters. Also known by its Italian name, battiscopa.

Cement tile: A pressed, not fired, tile. Handmade cement tiles, such as the ones in this kitchen, are trending because of their natural look that mellows with age. With their diverse range of classic and modern colors and patterns, they are popular for indoor and outdoor floors.

Ceramic tile: Classified as nonporcelain and porcelain. Nonporcelain, usually with a decorative glaze, is softer and less durable than porcelain, which has a slightly different composition and was fired at higher temperatures. For the tile shopper, “ceramic” usually refers to nonporcelain ceramic. It’s suited to walls and floors and lighter wear than porcelain.

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