Choosing a garage floor comes with a unique set of challenges. You want the floor to be beautiful, but that’s not enough. Since the garage is a high-traffic area filled with automobiles, tools, chemicals, and a variety of other hazardous liquids, features such as durability and stain resistance are also significant factors. There’s only one garage flooring choice where beauty, performance, and return on investment all align: porcelain tile.
When it comes to garage flooring, nothing approaches the features and value of porcelain. Porcelain tile has the sought-after appearance of marbles, granites, and other quarry stones, but its technical attributes are far superior to these materials. Porcelain tile is unmatched in features such as uniformity, shine, strength, low absorption, abrasion resistance, stain resistance, and ease of cleaning. Simply put, there is not a stronger or denser tiled surface, especially one that offers the stunning aesthetics of porcelain. And maybe most important – if cared for properly, porcelain tiles can last a lifetime and beyond.
Let’s take a closer look at the features of porcelain tile, and then at some helpful tips for porcelain tile installation for your garage design project.
WHY YOU SHOULD USE PORCELAIN FLOORING IN YOUR GARAGE
IT’S PERMANENT. Many homeowners and designers are making choices about garage flooring with an expectation of longevity – but that expectation simply isn’t being met. The most popular garage flooring options range from DIY-level epoxy floor coating (about $2-$3 per foot2) to professionally installed, multi-layered floor coating ($8-$10 per foot2). At these prices, these inferior garage-flooring options are approaching the cost of laminate or solid hardwood flooring in a home’s living area.
Someone who spends to install a hardwood floor in the home is doing so because they expect that floor to last the entire life of that home. They know that the alternative – carpeting – will wear out and have to be replaced in five to fifteen years. When it comes to the garage, though, people are still dropping “permanent solution” money for what amounts to temporary flooring. In a manner of speaking, they’re paying for hardwood and getting carpet.
Porcelain tile is to the garage what hardwood flooring is to the rest of the home. It has an exceptional long-term return on investment because it will last for the entire life cycle of the home. It’s permanent, and because of this simple fact no other flooring option can approach its value. Simply put: porcelain lasts. You can’t make the same case for other coatings that look like freshly minted pennies upon installation, but immediately start to age though constant wear, cracks, and stains. Tile not only lasts a lifetime, but it ages beautifully over the course of that life.
IT’S STRONGER THAN STONE. Fact: porcelain is stronger than granite. The high temperature used to fire porcelain tiles produces an extremely dense product that is resistant to chipping and cracking. This often comes as a surprise to customers who examine a 3/8-inch piece of porcelain tile – it looks thin enough you could just snap it over your knee. But, in fact, when porcelain tile is mortared to concrete it takes on the same strength characteristics as that concrete.
As far as how it compares to popular kinds of stone flooring, porcelain has a breaking strength that is 2X-3X times greater than granite and 7X-8X greater than marble. Porcelain tiles are incredibly rigid – you can drop heavy tools on them without any chipping. Essentially, what will damage concrete will also damage the tile. And it takes a significant impact to damage concrete. And the added beauty of tile is that if you do catastrophically damage the porcelain flooring – by, say, accidentally dropping an engine block – you can simply replace the damaged section.
IT’S NON-POROUS AND IMPERVIOUS. Porcelain is stronger than stone, but it has another major advantage, too: it’s non-porous. It has an impervious surface that nothing can penetrate. Porcelain is comprised of finely ground glass crystals fired in a high-temperature kiln that results in a product much like glass in its composition. Just like glass, nothing can stain it or penetrate it.
Because it’s an impervious surface it’s going to resist any staining from auto or motorcycle fluids (such as oil, grease, brake fluids, anti-freeze, and other chemicals) that frequently come into contact with a garage floor. These fluids can be catastrophic to natural stone because they can seep into the pores of the stone and can stain it permanently. For that reason alone, you should not use quartz, marble, or any other type of natural stone in a garage environment.
The dense composition that extends throughout the entire body of the porcelain tile pays other dividends, as well. It shows no visible effects from chemical attack or from ultra-violet light, meaning the tiles’ brightness and color will not be affected by these external environmental factors. As such, an impervious tile will be ideally suited for high-moisture environments and can withstand freeze/thaw conditions; this is why you will often see them used in exterior applications or as cladding on buildings, as well. In short, porcelain is stain-resistant, it’s wear-resistant, it’s not going to discolor, and it’s not going to fade. In a word: it’s impervious.
IT OUT-PERFORMS CERAMIC. Our customers often ask about the difference between porcelain and ceramic tiles. Porcelain is a solid-through product, meaning it’s entirely comprised of one material. As a dense impervious tile, the manufacturer does not need to apply a glaze to the tiles in the firing process. It’s comprised of one material through and through, so if it does have a chip or crack nothing is exposed or compromised.
Ceramic-based tiles, on the other hand, have a base medium with a glazing atop it. These tiles are limited by the fact that the glaze on the surface of the tile can wear off with use. Ceramic tiles offer a broader selection of colors and may look great once they are installed, but over time, once the glaze has worn off or is damaged, they can stain easily.
But it’s more than just time you have to worry about. Something as simple as a car tire with a stone in it or a dropped hammer can scratch or chip that ceramic glazing off, leaving it ready to be stained by everyday garage fluids. Bottom line: ceramics are appropriate for a kitchen, a bath, and certain other interior environments, but you don’t want to put a ceramic tile floor down in your garage. It simply doesn’t have the strength or stain-resistance of porcelain.
IT’S EASY TO MAINTAIN AND THRIVES IN HIGH-TRAFFIC AREAS. Porcelain wears incredibly well, so it’s an excellent choice for high-traffic uses. It’s no secret the garage is a high-traffic environment that takes continuous abuse: heavy car tires, road salt from winter driving, water puddling up on the floor, and a variety of dripping automobile fluids. As such, a well-maintained garage floor will need frequent attention. Along with polished concrete, porcelain has an advantage over every other type of floor option: it’s not going to show any visible signs of being attacked by salt, chemicals, and automobile fluids. The dirt, grime, water, chemicals, and other fluids are simply going to float upon the surface of the porcelain, making it very easy to clean.
Big picture: it’s very easy to maintain porcelain tiles. As long as you use porcelain tile cleaner on these surfaces, they’re going to look great forever. In fact, this is a secret that another industry that deals in heavy traffic – the malls of America – has known for decades. Drive to any mall in America and you’ll see miles and miles of porcelain tiles, still standing strong after millions of feet, strollers, and carts and all the dirt, water, and grime that they have tracked in. American homeowners, interior designers, and builders are just beginning to catch on to what many malls, restaurants, and automobile showrooms have long known: that the durability of porcelain is unmatched.
IT’S BEAUTIFUL AND CUSTOMIZABLE. We’re probably saving the most obvious quality for last here, but porcelain tile is simply beautiful. There’s a reason that porcelain tile is the flooring of choice in the showrooms of Ferrari and Maserati, and countless other elite luxury automotive brands. Porcelain tile not only represents an unrivaled blend of beauty, value, and performance, but it comes in a wide range of aesthetic options. There is a truly vast portfolio of available colors, textures, finishes, and sizes, meaning that the porcelain tile flooring can be customized to fit with any individual style, space, or brand.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT USING PORCELAIN TILE
UPFRONT COST VS. LIFETIME VALUE. The only aspect some might see as a disadvantage to porcelain is that the upfront cost (tiles + installation) might be higher compared with other flooring options. But when you consider that properly maintained porcelain will literally last a lifetime, its overall value, along with polished concrete, is unrivaled. Non-impervious flooring options, as noted in the section above, are far more likely than porcelain to be damaged or stained and to need partial or full replacement.
MINIMAL SPECIAL INSTALLATION REQUIREMENTS. There are really no major special components to installing porcelain tile in a garage. There are, though, a couple of things to keep in mind:
First, any major cracks in the foundation of the cement garage floor will have to be dealt with before the tile is installed.
Second, make sure to specify that the grout used in the installation be an epoxy-based grout (also know as a “stainless grout”). If you don’t use a stainless grout, the grout lines can potentially be stained by grease, oil, chemicals, cleaners, and other typical garage fluids. An epoxy-based grout, on the other hand, will resist staining. Epoxy grouts are a little bit more difficult to trowel, so it’s important to make this grout preference know to the tile installer so they can factor it into the quoting process.
USING APPROPRIATE CLEANERS. You can only use porcelain tile cleaner on porcelain tiles. Porcelain is similar to windows in this sense. If you put floor cleaner on a window instead of glass cleaner, it will smear. That’s because the cleaner remains atop the window, and if you don’t remove it the dirt and grime is going to stick to the non-appropriate cleaner and make the window appear dingy. The same thing applies to porcelain – if you use an oil-based or other non-porcelain cleaner on it, that cleaner is simply going to sit atop the tile and attract grime. So stick to porcelain tile cleaner, and don’t use bleach, ammonia-based cleaners, or other types of all-purpose cleaners. You might think these are appropriate since you use them on kitchen or bath tiles, but remember you’re not going to have much or any oil or grease in those spaces. The garage is just a different environment altogether, and porcelain is a different kind of surface.
DESIGN TIPS FOR A VISUALLY INTERESTING PORCELAIN TILE LAYOUT
If you do choose porcelain for your garage flooring, we’ve got a few tips that may help you use tile to maximize aesthetics and create visual interest in your space.
TIP #1: MATCH TILE SIZE TO SPACE SIZE. It is appropriate to use a smaller format tile in a smaller space, and a larger format tile in a larger space. So if you have a smaller garage (such as a single car garage), you may want to limit your selection to a tile no larger than 12×12 in size because smaller tiles will create a visual effect of making a smaller room appear larger. Conversely, a smaller tile in a larger room is going to make the room appear smaller. In a larger room you want a larger tile; for example, it’s common in three-car garages (1,000 foot2 and larger) to use 12×24 or 24×24 tiles. Those larger tile sizes look wonderful in more spacious environments.
TIP #2: BEWARE OF TRENDS. Avoid a tile pattern or colors that are going to look gaudy or quickly run their course (remember when avocado was a popular color choice in the 1970s?). Instead, seek out a timeless look, especially since your porcelain tile should last a lifetime. One common example of overuse is the 50/50 checkerboard pattern that’s laid out in many garages – we’re starting to see that go out of vogue simply because it’s being overused. One trick to pulling off this look is to use a main field tile in which you intersperse a contrasting color. The key is being more creative with these colors in order to help shape something more unique and timeless, and to create more visual interest.
Here are a couple ideas. Rather than laying out an equal split of one-half lighter colored tiles with one-half darker colored tiles, you can accomplish a different visual look by laying out two large format lighter tiles, and then a darker one, and so on in that pattern. Or group them, so there are four lighter tiles together, followed by four darker. Another option is to cut small, 3-inch medallions of a different, darker contrast color, and interspersing the medallions into the checkered floor pattern – that will create a timeless look that can be traced back as far as ancient Rome. These more creative patterns may cost a bit more during installation, but the finished product will create the kind of visual interest and drama that catches the eye.
TIP #3: STAGGER YOUR TILES FOR VISUAL EFFECT. Another pattern that can be used for a unique look is moving one tile forward, with the other coming up half as far. This “staggered” look is both elegant and timeless, and another way to create a visual interest in the tiled floor.
TIP #4: ROTATE YOUR TILES FOR A UNIQUE LOOK. Instead of running the tile parallel to the walls, another unique and compelling layout can be achieved by turning the tiles 45 degrees on an angle to create a diamond shape. There’s more cutting that needs to be done near the entrance and on the edges where the tile meets the garage wall, but the result is a dramatic look that’s well worth the extra effort.
TIP #5: DON’T EXACT-MATCH TILE AND GROUT COLORS. One aspect of the tiling process that’s often overlooked is selecting a complementary grout color. Many people will pick their tile color, and then ask their tile installer to match the grout color exactly. If you match the grout exactly to the tiles, things are going to disappear onto themselves and the combination won’t accentuate the beauty of the tile – and that’s ultimately what you want to do. For the grout, you either want to go with a shade lighter or darker so that the tile jumps out at you and the grout disappears into the background.
For example, if you have white tile you don’t want white grout – you want to go with an antique white, or a cream, but you don’t want it to be an exact match. Or you could go a shade in the opposite direction. Or you could even match the grout with the color of your walls, pulling the space together seamlessly and creating some architectural harmony with your color decisions. In short, exactly matching grout and tile color simply doesn’t create the visual interest and drama that picking grout a shade lighter or darker does.
LEARN MORE ABOUT VAULT’S GARAGE DESIGN SERVICES
Given the seemingly endless positives we’ve laid out, it probably comes as no surprise that porcelain tile is the flooring material of choice at VAULT®. In fact, we’re the exclusive importer and distributer of the same elite, best-in-class Italian porcelain tile installed at all Ferrari and Maserati showrooms throughout the world, the same porcelain tiles used by Mercedes, Porsche, Lamborghini, Audi, and Land Rover.
Please contact VAULT® today if we can be of any help in your garage design project, or to learn more about our exclusive porcelain tile and our custom flooring services. We have a vast catalog of tile sizes, shapes, and colors to match your project and needs. Whether you’re flooring a private garage or commercial showroom, your space deserves a strong, bold, and beautiful foundation. So schedule your free flooring consultation today.