Similarities and Differences Between Floor & Wall Tile

Tile is a great way to add the perfect finish to a home design project, but there are several important factors that homeowners should consider when deciding to use this product, including which type of material to use, and whether a particular tile will look and function better as floor or wall tile.

It’s possible to use a wide range of materials when it comes to tile. But it’s important to know that while most types of floor tile are also suitable for use as wall coverings, not every tile that works on a wall will work for flooring. Here are some helpful pointers to guide designers as they try to figure out which tile to use, and where.

If the homeowner wants to use porcelain or ceramic tile, then thankfully these products have some guidance on their packaging for whether they’re suitable for wall or floor use. The labels should include a term known as Coefficient of Friction (COF) that will help explain whether the tile can withstand foot traffic. Another term known as Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) uses a sliding scale of 1 for tiles designed solely for walls and not feet to 5 for tiles suitable for lots of foot traffic.

The COF and PEI ratings have been around for a long time and are perhaps the best guide for whether to use porcelain or ceramic tiles on the floor or the walls. For example, a tile that has a PEI rating of about 1 to 2 and a COF of less than 0.42 should only be used for wall tiles. If used on the floor, the COF means it could be unsafe when wet and the low PEI means it might crack under weight from foot traffic in heavily used rooms like the bathroom or kitchen.

Some materials are also simply impossible to use as floor tiles even though they look great on the walls. For example, glass floor tiles would be a terrible idea – they’d shatter underfoot. But they can look wonderful as wall tiles. Same goes for other materials that might not work great on the floor but can create great visual impacts on walls, such as stacked stone ledgers or metal tiles.

Another distinction is that floor tiles tend to be larger in area per tile and also thicker than wall tiles. But this doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to use the same design on floor tiles on smaller wall tiles. Bathrooms, kitchens, and other rooms can look great when the pattern flows from larger floor tiles up to walls that are covered in the same design but smaller-sized tiles.

The explanations above help underscore some of the similarities and differences of floor versus wall tile. It’s important to know the right approach to take when using tile in a room either on the floor or wall, and the details above can help homeowners to make the right design decision.