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Tiles are one of the earliest ways humans protected their structures. With a history going back over 6000 years, and perhaps much longer to the origins of fire, you might be surprised by the mundanity of the tiles on offer at some DIY stores. In the UK plain tiles are preferred wheras abroad intricate patterns are made up as tiles are used for more purposes such as walls and wet rooms.
Perhaps some over-baked bread became the first tiles. There is a famous 'house of tiles' in Lerna, Greece that goes back to 4000 BC.
Tiled surfaces are present in the Pyramids in Egypt, in Babylon, and old Greek cities. In fact on holiday in Corfu, a Roman building was being renovated and the beautiful and 2000 year old mosaic tiles were strewn all over the place, no-one taking much notice and certainly no security.
Tiles were hand-made, and initially expensive, and so were used on royal, state or church buildings. Peasants still covered their shacks with dung - but even dung can be fired (heat-treated) to give a tile-like appearance. We recommend this as an 'eco' hobby. Get planning permission first, or at least ask the neighbours what they think.
Tiles are hard-wearing and waterproof, and so are used for bathrooms, kitchens, roofs, cladding, decoration, flooring, outdoor paving, and also the surfaces of tables and worktops.
Tiles are easy to work using a tile cutter, either manual or powered, and easy to lay (with a bit of practice). See links at bottom for other Building DIY pages on these subjects.
Tiles are very strong, easy to fix, easy to clean, and decorative. They are also waterproof and so the desired finish for bathrooms and often kitchens.
Tiles are attached by cements, glues or nails (on a roof) and are tessellated, which means fitted together in a repeating pattern.
Above: kitchen sink splashback with circular tiles which come in sheets
Above: bathroom shower tiling with odd tiles in gold in a light design, and borders in contrasting black
Above: tiles used as protection behind cooker and wall in kitchen
Above: custom designed tiles for a wet room in Sydney
Most tiles these days are made by machines, although it is good to add in a few hand-made 'designer' tiles to a standard tiled surface to make it look interesting.
Islamic architecture makes extensive use of tiles and tessellation as Islam does not allow depictions of forms, or metaphorical constructions. It is a form of anti-Gothic architecture. Of course Gothic architecture is a form of anti-Islamic architecture. Modernist western architecture is a move away from the Gothic. That is an interesting topic for a debate!
A fantastic range of tiles is available. APart from the usual squares, mosaic tiles are available in large squares made up of many tiny mosaic tiles glued to the backing.
Water absorption characteristics of tiles give the basic types:
Physical caharacteristics which control where they are used, and how they are fitted are:
Ceramic tiles are made of clay, usually containing a high amount of a mineral kaolinite or 'china clay'. Other constituents are talc (hydrated magnesium silicate), minerals, some sand, for example feldspar and quartz sand. Plus varying amounts of water depending on the firing process (see later).-->
Incidentally, we have used slate composite tiles and cement composite tiles for roofing and outdoor paving as they are recycled (from waste material) but they are not technically tiles as they are not fired.
Porcelain is a form of ceramic tile.
Stone tiles can be made from anything, marble, granite, limestone, slate, quartz stones… and more.
For more info on materials see our other pages see links at bottom.
Firing is a heat treatment that makes the clay very strong and rigid.
Many methods of making tiles exist as follows:
Kilns - firing the tiles