A Look at the Evolution of Ceramic Tile for Commercial Projects


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According to some historians, the earliest usage of decorative tile dated back to the Egyptians, roughly6,000 years ago. Soon afterward, there is a belief that similar products also were produced by the Babylonians and Assyrians. Of course, we have ample proof that the Romans and Greeks also chose decorative tiles. You will find examples of beautiful tile work in their ancient floors, wall murals and other applications from a long time ago.

There is no doubting that ceramic tile has been around for eons—and this includes for commercial construction projects.

Why? Travis Wilcox, VP of National Accounts at Louisville Tile, one of America’s oldest and most successful distributors of ceramic tile, says it is because certain tiles are best for certain commercial plans. And make no mistake about it—porcelain tiles are the absolute best for commercial applications. 

“The porcelain material should be called the ‘Swiss Army knife of tiles,’” Wilcox says. “To begin with, porcelain tiles have 0.5% water absorption rate. That is really an advantage over traditional ceramics, because porcelain is an appropriate product for both indoor and outdoor applications. In the tile world, engineers really knocked this product out of the park. And it’s a smart decision, too. Why limit your products to only indoor applications when they are engineered to perform outdoors, as well?” 

Wilcox says it is imperative that the buyer/specifier know about installation and eventual maintenance. For the installation aspect, you need a good and totally flat substrate. You may want leveling clips, and if the tile is rectified, you’ll then have all the ingredients for a superior installation and finished product. “Porcelain is pretty much maintenance-free—a ‘pick it and stick it’ kind of product. Depending on the application, there may be cleaning required on a regular basis. That really depends entirely on the environment where the application must perform—and what it must endure to prove performance.” 

The buyer/specifier must know about tile being a long-term investment. Plus, tile does not go bad. Here’s the best example that Wilcox can think of. In 79 AD, a volcano in Italy (Vesuvius) erupted, and ash from that eruption covered the entire city of Pompeii. In 1748, Pompeii was rediscovered and when the archeological team started removing the ash, they found undisturbed beautiful mosaic tile floors. 

“Tile is designed to last a lifetime,” Wilcox says. “And to reflect a deliberate personal design choice. Make it unique, make it yours and enjoy it as long as you wish.” 

From his vantage point, Dan Clark says gauged porcelain thin tile panels are one of the more innovative products over the past 20 years in the commercial construction market. Clark, Northern Regional Sales Director of Louisville Tile, says the unique product category pulls the best traits out of both slab and tile. Couple that with installation techniques not unlike regular tile setting processes, and you have a product category that is a win-win for all involved. 

As of today, some panels stand as tall as 12 feet, with thicknesses that range from 1/8 inch (3 mm) to 3/4 inch (20 mm). “Some unique characteristics these large format gauged porcelain tile panels bring are first, their large size, which eliminates the amount of grout joints with which one must contend,” Clark says. “These panels are now available in different finishes, such as textured, honed or polished. And another characteristic I like is their ability to book match the panels from one to the other, which continues the appearance of natural stone.

On the other hand, Clark believes its most important characteristic is that it can be installed right over a previous installation, saving on demolition cost and time. That knowledgeable contractors can install porcelain panels horizontally and vertically helps provide the same finished look on any plane. In addition, it is UV-safe and will not break down on exterior applications the way a natural stone might. 

“What makes tile really stand out is how it can be used in several different wall applications due to its light weight,” Clark says. “It does not present the load on a building wall that does quartz, granite and marble. Also, it is great for residential installs, shower walls for instance, for which one can eliminate grout joints in a typical ‘wet setting.’’’ 

Are thin gauged, large porcelain panels here to stay? 

Clark believes so, stating it could be a missed opportunity if a commercial installer does not embrace porcelain panels. As more and more of this material gets specified, he says it ultimately will become a must-do. “This reminds me of when natural stone fabricators were hesitant to start cutting quartz surfaces, and they delayed getting certified as long as possible. Today, that is second nature to all of them. I understand there is an upfront cost for the equipment investment. But, it is small enough that it could be absorbed in the first install. With single coat application setting products, (such as Bostik’s Bosti-Set™) the process of panel installation is more and more simple. I believe it is more a change in mindset than technique.” 

As we forge ahead, it looks as if tile will continue to be a player in construction solutions. With the ceramic tile industry far from being stagnant, when it comes to new, even more fashionable and higher-performance product intros, who knows what will be next.

Written by Ron Treister

Ron Treister is a marketing communications specialist. For three decades, he has worked with major accounts in the

commercial construction sector. He can be reached at rontreister@gmail.com.