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Technical Advice

Porcelain vs Limestone

Advantages of Limestone and Travertine.

  • Natural Products give you a look that is hard to equal in a manufactured glazed tile.
  • Stone can be produced in a wider variety of sizes. Porcelain manufacturers have to commit to a fixed range of sizes. Special orders cannot be considered.
  • Travertine can often be cheaper than an equivalent porcelain tile.
  • Stone prices have dropped over the years and there is a fabulous range of choice

Advantages of Porcelain Tiles.

  • Porcelain tiles are substantially tougher and cannot be scratched or stained. They will not develop traffic marks.
  • Porcelain tiles do not need to be sealed, resealed, polished or steam cleaned.
  • Porcelain tiles will not develop a'patina'. They will not deepen in colour with wear and tear.
  • Porcelain tiles are slimmer and can usually laid much more quickly.
  • Porcelain tiles are produced to meet internationally recognized norms. All our Italian tiles are demonstably first quality and have the relevant EN9(European Norm) stamps on boxes. Natural stone does not come with quality ratings. Very little travertine in the UK is first quality despite what anyone may say. First quality travertine is just as expensive as comparable limestones and marbles.
  • Porcelain tiles are frost proof and the new generation of 'slip resistant' tiles mean a seemless transition from interior to exterior is possible.
  • If a stress fracture in a heated screed transmits up through porcelain tiles then it is a sure fire indication that the floor construction specification was incorrect. Nothing wrong with the tiles. Most stone suppliers will suggest you use a decoupling membrane because they know the stone cannot be guarenteed.

The head says porcelain, the heart says natural stone, so what should I do?

  • First of all, think what you want from your tiles. A busy kitchen with a young family will take a beating. The case for porcelain is compelling but if you want a 'statement floor', then budget for a DURABLE limestone or at least one with a PRACTICAL colour. The chances are that 6 months down the line you will be less concerned about finessing the shade and markings and more interested in how easy it is to sweep and clean.
  • do you want a 'fix and forget' floor or does a bit of polishing not bother you?
  • Is the odd mark by the cooker 'character' or a sign that something wasn't sealed properly?
  • Kitchens often take more wear and tear than people realise, conservatories and bathrooms less so.
  • In most (but not all) cases a stone floor will have more cachet. How important is this to you?
  • Whatever you decided, if you have a heated screed, discuss the specification with all concerned. Assume nothing.

Terracotta Tiles

Terracotta tiles are a more porous material. The traditional impregnating fluid is boiled linseed oil. This soaks into the product, hardens, reduces porosity and generally enhances the colour and appearance of the tile. Linseed oil can be initially diluted with white spirits or used neat. You normally need to apply more than one coat and sometimes as many as four to saturate the tile. The number of coats can vary from tile to tile, so do not allow any excess to dry on the surface. If it looks like it is not soaking in do not assume that it will. Remove, disperse or thin with a cloth and/or white spirits. Dispose of oily rags carefully, they can combust.

Linseed oil on its own is not enough. You will need several coats of wax as part of the installation process. Reapplications of this wax will depend on levels of traffic but the process can be simplified by using a liquid wax such as Terracotta Sealer. Regular cleaning should be with Easycare or Waxwash.

We normally supply Mexican Saltillo tiles with their own proprietory sealers. THEY HAVE THEIR OWN INSTRUCTIONS AND INFORMATION IS LISTED ON THE PRODUCTS SECTION OF THE WEBSITE Mexican terracotta is not soaked after production so can exhibit a very small amount of lime-popping on the surface. With our genuine Saltillo Terracotta we find the amount to be minimal.

Recommended Sealants for Terracotta Tiles, Limestone Tiles and Slate Tiles.

Lithofin Stainstop:Limestone tiles, Slate tiles, Casbah tiles, Travertine tiles and worktops. Lithofin Caresheen is also suitable for Limestone tiles, Slate tiles, Casbah tiles, Travertine tiles where a little sheen can make the surface easier to clean. Lithofin also recommend that for Natural Stone tiles, Travertine tiles, Limestone tiles, Slate tiles and Casbah tiles that an appropriate neutral cleaner such as EasyCare is used to preserve the longevity of the treatment.

Where a colour enhanced appearance is required on Limestone tiles, travertine tiles and various tumbled or antique marble tiles then we would recommend Lithofin Stainstop Plus or LTP Colour Enhancer.

For traditional terracotta tiles the usual treatment is Linseed Oil and Beeswax, but it is possible depending on the porosity of the terracotta tiles to use a Cleartone or Mattstone Oil and finish with an Ironwax Satin treatment. Some rougher or more porous limestone tiles or Cotswold stone tiles can also benefit from a beeswax finish. Mexican Terracotta comes with its own snthetic alternative to linseed oil.

In both cases it is IMPERATIVE that no excess is allowed to dry on the surface of the tile. It is VERY VERY expensive to remove!
Riven slate tiles can be treated like limestone tiles but as the overall aspect of slate tiles is usually a bit more rugged we normally suggest a more viscous treatment like Slate Seal. Where a lighter look is required for the slate then a water based treatment like Ironwax Satin may be preferred.

Tiling in demanding locations


  1. Commercial applications For information about commercial areas we will normally require fairly precise information due to the wide variety of requirements. Please contact a member of staff for full details.
  2. Wet areas and Bathroom Tiles. As a general rule of thumb we make a distinction between tiling around general wet areas (e. g. bathrooms with or without showers) and more demanding applications such as dedicated or enclosed showers. Most of the products we sell as wall tiles including e.g. Mexican and Moroccan wall tiles, and most natural stone tiles are suitable for tiling in general wet areas. Crackle glaze tiles will probably require a simple'wipe-on, wipe-off' sealer. The only proviso is that the area is correctly prepared to take tiling: A good quality adhesive is used and the adhesive is applied as a solid bed without voids behind the tiles. Where possible, a grout with waterproof additive should be used and, where appropriate, a sealer should be applied to the tiles. Joints should be finished with a silicon sealant.
  3. Dedicated Showers create a more demanding environment for tiles. To this extent we may not recommend certain more rudimentary handmade tiles and may suggest that extra precautions be taken with most natural materials. Modern power-showers can generate extreme demands on tiles and therefore we may be cautious in our recommendations about what tiles should be used and, we also recommend that every precaution be taken to ensure that the whole system doesn't fail. The old adage that a fault costs five times as much as doing the job correctly to start with is as true about showers as it is true about anything.
  4. Our general guiding principle with showers is to suggest that customers ensure that the structure is as waterproof as possible prior to tiling. It is very easy to install some perfectly adequate tiles onto a porous plasterboard background and for water to find its way through a pinhole in the grout round the back of the tiles and for the plasterboard to break down and the tiles to eventually lift off. There are a number of ways of avoiding this scenario:
  5. Tile boards There are a number of proprietary boards designed to receive tiles. These are variously known as 'aquapanel', 'weddiboard' and 'tilebacker board'. The advantage of these materials is that they are specifically designed for tile installation and are dimensionally inert in moist or wet environments.
  6. Waterproof membranes There are a number of products available using acrylic-based flexible coatings and polyester mesh. The advantage of these products is that they can be applied over existing boards. In principle one could use these products to create a waterproof cardboard box. For more information, contact BAL on 01782 591 100. A kit for an average shower is about £60. If this is used with BAL adhesives and grouts BAL will offer a 10 year guarantee on their products Adhesive manufactrers are notoriously circumspect in their recommendations, but at the very least in the event of a wet area failure one should be entitled to an independent inspection. BAL currently market a product called Mosaic Fix which, despite it's name, is in fact a white, waterproof, flexible adhesive which will fix mosaic, wall tiles, porcelain and stone tiles to all standard bathroom surfaces, coverage is approximately 8-1m per 20kg bag. £26 +VAT. Highly Recommended.


Most of our external quality products are relatively slim, usually between 10-15mm thick. This means that they have to be fixed using standard tiling techniques onto a prepared surface. They cannot be installed like paving slabs, York stone, brick on edge or any other conventional exterior paver that stays in situ largely by virtue of its own weight.

In terms of general suitability the main concern is frost resistance. There are two basic categories here, namely: those that have a manufacturers' guarantee and those which don't have such a guarantee but where one can point to widespread general use.

In the first category one would include vitrified porcelain-bodied floor tiles and certain stones. Porcelain floor tiles are either glazed or unglazed and because of their very low porosity (less than 0. 5%) both from above and below they are normally supplied with an EN202 porosity resistant qualification. (Their slimness also means that they are suitable for roof-terraces and not just patios and gardens. )This means that even if the tiles are not fixed properly the worst that can happen is that the tiles will lift, but they will remain unaffected by the frost. Certain stone tiles do come with manufacturers' recommendation about external suitability but in our experience this is usually prefaced with the recommendation that they are a certain thickness (maybe 3 or 4cm) or with a surface finish. We would always wish to discuss individual requirements with stone. We can also supply Indian Sandstone in random formats as a York Stone equivalent at 25. 00/m2.

In the second category come products such as slate. Whilst some slate tiles are more durable than others, there is a general history of their use outside and we have been selling them without problems for many years. In sheltered settings we would recommend most of the slate tiles, for more demanding applications, consider Jade, Pale Quartz, Chinese multi-colour, Black Flags and some of the new Brazilian material. Our Italian Terracotta tile also falls into this category.

All tiles should be fixed with a solid bed of adhesive and with a fall to allow natural drainage. Terraces may benefit from a drainage mat system. Adhesive manufacturers do make general best practice recommendations for fixing to asphalt roofs, but it should be noted that they usually qualify this, pointing out that the wide variety in construction standards will preclude a guarantee. Nicobond's recommendations seem to us as good as anyone's.

On larger areas, some thought should be given to the use of expansion joints.


Advice on the suitability of tiles in relation the both 'wet' or piped under-floor heating and electric under-tile heating is subject to a variety of opinions and one cannot rely on a definitative statement from the British Standards Institute. We have found that the best advice is available on a (lengthy) pdf document at the Tile institute, but as there is a charge for it we have summarised most of the conclusions. . It does not however resolve the issue as to how far the aesthetically more pleasing de-coupling mat is an alternative to mid-floor(as distinct from perimeter) expansion joints. At the moment we would rather customers contact us for advice. The main points we tend to draw to peoples attention are:

1. Electric under tile elements/mats impose no stress load on the screed . You may need to consider an insulating mat underneath to reduce heat loss downwards.

2. Heated a screed does impose additional stress on the screed, particularly in large continuous areas or at thresholds. Expansion joints are the way round this but if this seems unappealing, at the very least the screed should be gently warmed through and allowed to cool down over a poeriod of weeks to expose any potential cracks PRIOR TO RATHER THAN AFTER tiling.

3.Larger areas will magnify the different expansion rates of the subfloor and tiled surface.

4.Large formats tiles will increase the requirement for expansion joints.

5. Remember, Anhydrite or Pumped screeds are quick to install but slow to dry. They also need priming prior to tiling.

6. Decoupling mats may seem expensive, but they do isolate the tiles and th esubfloor from any HORIZONTAL movement caused by heat stress or shrinkage. They also allow a more even dissipation of heat. Correctly installed they do give peace of mind.

7. It sounds obvious AFTERWARDS but not so obvious beforehand, but a rug or carpet over heated tiles can lead to differential heat loss and possible stress fractures.

Sealing Natural Materials

LIMESTONE TILES: Stone is a delicate material that need careful sealing. Thick varnishes and laquers will destroy its aesthetic subtlety. Most stone tiles are therefore sealed with an impregnating oil that soaks into the stone and cures without any substantial change in colour or surface appearance. We currently use a product called Stainstop. This will provide and effective barrier to oil and water-borne stains. We have successfully used this on a pale cream limestone worksurface test area for several years without any apparent stain. It should be pointed out, however, that spillages are wiped up and not left on the surface. This process is usually sufficient for dense stone or stone that is not subjected to high levels of traffic.

Stone tiles often have small pin-holes and open fissures as part of its natural texture. This texture will tend to accumulate grit as part of the natural wearing process. To reduce the effects of scuffing and heavy traffic, we normally recommend that an additional coat of Care Seal is applied. This is water based and easy to reapply in areas of high wear.

Coarse textured or softer stone such as Cotswold stone, sandstone or antiqued travertine benefit from the additional surface protection of a stone wax.

A neutral cleaner should always be used with stone, such as Easycare.

Stone tiles can often arrive on site still damp from the production line. It should be allowed to dry prior to sealing.

TRAVERTINE TILES. Not strictly a sealing issue but travertine tiles bytheir nature as pitted products can have some of the holes open up after installation, especially in high traffic areas. Re-groutingthese holes is art of the maintenance of travertine.

SLATE TILES: Slate tiles are a more rugged material than limestone tiles and the sealing process is generally less complicated. It is lower porosity than limestone and a surface protector is generally sufficient. We currently recommend either Slateseal or Ironwax Satin. These will give a slight gloss to the floor but, unlike limestone, slate does not get a 'toffee apple' appearance when sealed with a surface sealant. Slate tiles are very forgiving in use but we always recommend the use of Easycare with any natural material.