Tile lingo and trade terminology isn’t that hard to grasp. Our glossary of tile terms will help you understand contractor jargon so you can know what the pros are saying.
Adhesive – Term for anything used for bonding tile to a surface, such as mastic or thinset. Term may also refer to waterproof sealants that come in caulk tubes for adhering foam based backerboards together (such as Hydro Ban Board from Laticrete).
Border – A strip of tile(s) with design, texture or contrasting color or other decorative pieces used together to create a design concept.
Bullnose – A trim tile with a rounded finished edge on one side that usually matched your field tile. Often used for where a tile installation will end and another surface begins, such as the top of wainscot, the turning of an outside corner, or for use as a floor base.
Back Buttering – The spreading of a bond coat with the flat side of the trowel on the back of a porcelain or ceramic tile before the tile is set in the adhesive that has been troweled onto the surface being tiled.
Backerboard – An underlayment material used as a substrate for tile. Some backerboards are waterproof, such as foam boards, and others need to be waterproofed for proper shower construction, such as cement boards and fiber-cement boards.
Caulk – A soft, water resistant acrylic or silicone based material used for sealing joints, usually at inside corners such as where a kitchen tile backsplash meets the countertop.
Cement Board – A sheet of board made of cement that is used as a substrate/underlayment for tile on either a floor or a wall.
Clips (leveling clips, lippage clips) – A type of spacer that goes behind the tiles as well as in-between them used with a corresponding wedge or cap to aid in eliminating lippage.
Color Body Porcelain – A porcelain tile in which the body of the tile is similar in color to the surface of the tile.
Cove Base – A trim tile with consisting of an inside rounded corner which is used where the floor tile meets the wall tile.
Cure – The time it takes for setting material to set without being disturbed so that the adhesive can reach full strength.
Decorative accent tile – Term for any tile that has a decoration on the surface, or for inset pieces that fill in the clipped corners of certain tile, or could refer to decorative mosaics used to create an strip or border through or around the field tile.
Dry set mortar – Cement based setting material for thin–bed installations with little to no modification (unmodified thinset).
Dynamic Coefficient of Friction (DCOF) – The slip resistance rating of a tile.
Epoxy adhesive – A two part adhesive system consisting of epoxy resin and epoxy hardener that is used to set tile or stone, usually to backing material that doesn’t bond well with traditional thinset mortars.
Epoxy grout – A two–part grout system consisting of epoxy resin and epoxy hardener that boasts impervious qualities and incredible stain and chemical resistance when cured. Usually required for hospitals and animal clinics and often specified in restaurant kitchen areas.
Field tile – The main tile that will be used to cover an area such as a wall or floor.
Floating – A method of aligning mortar using a straightedge.
Frost resistant – A vitreous tile that absorbs .5% to 3%
Frost proof – An impervious tile that absorbs 0% to 0.5% making it the strongest choice for outdoor use.
Grout – The material that fills in the space between the tiles. Traditionally this is a cement based product, sometimes containing sand, available in a variety of colors.
Granite – A natural stone that is much more dense than marble and extremely durable. Available in polished, honed or rough surfaces.
Honed – Refers to the satin surface on natural stone tiles that have little or no gloss.
Impervious tile – Porcelain tile that has a water absorption of 0.5% or less.
Limestone – A sedimentary stone that usually comes with a honed (matte) finish and sometimes you can see little fossils or shells on the surface.
Lippage – Term refers to a detectable change in elevation between the edges of two tiles that share the same grout joint.
Listello – A decorative border tile that is sometimes used on walls.
Marble – A natural stone product that gets it’s distinctive shine from the polishing process it goes through.
Mastic – A ready to use organic adhesive. Often used for backsplashes and for certain tiles on tub surrounds, but not in showers or in submerged areas.
Mosaics – Very small ceramic, porcelain, glass, metal or stone tiles that are typically mounted on mesh to make installation easier. Available in a variety of colors and shapes, such as squares, octagons, hexagons or random combinations.
Mud – A slang term that originally referred to thick–bed mortar consisting of sand and cement, but now is used to refer to any cement based mortar used to set tile (such as thinset, medium-set, or thick-set).
Porcelain tile – A type of ceramic tile that is harder, denser, tougher, and less porous than typical ceramic tile because it is fired at hotter temperatures and for a longer time. Porcelain tiles are remarkably good at imitating other materials, such as marble or wood, as compared to ceramic tiles which usually just have glazed or painted surfaces.
Quarry tile – A term that usually refers to 6×6 impervious unglazed tile that you usually see in restaurant food preparation areas.
Rectified Tile – A tile that has had all edges mechanically finished to achieve a more precise facial dimension. The surface of rectified tiles are usually more flat and can be installed with a smaller than normal grout joint.
Sealer – A penetrating liquid applied to help prevent the absorption of liquids or other debris. Sealers are commonly used with porous materials such as natural stone and may be used on cement based grouts as well.
Slate – A natural stone tile made from compact, fine-grained, metamorphic rock formed by the effects of heat and pressure on shale and comes in a variety of colors.
Spacers – Plastic pieces that are used while installing tile to evenly separate one piece from another.
Substrate – Term refers to the underlayment for a tile installation, which could be cement board, foam board, or an uncoupling mat.
Thin–set – Term that is used to describe the mortar that bonds the tile to the substrate in a thin bed installation. Like dry-set mortar, it is made of sand, cement and usually a latex additive.
Through Body Porcelain – A porcelain tile in which the pattern on the surface of the tile continues through the body of the tile.
Tile – Terms for flooring or wall materials that is manmade from clay or a mixture of clay and other ceramic material, or for natural stone that has been cut and honed or polished for use as a floor or wall covering.
Travertine – A natural stone that is similar in composition to limestone but with holes created by hot springs and colors have some variation from piece to piece. The holes may come pre-filled with an epoxy or will get filled with grout after installation.
Trim pieces – Term refers to the various pieces of base, caps, corners, and moldings.
Tumbled Edge – A finish achieved by placing stone tiles in a tumbling machine, sometimes with the addition of acids, to soften the edges and give the surface a worn look.
Uncoupling Membrane – Term refers to a polyethylene sheet with a synthetic fabric backing used as an underlayment/substrate that separates tiles from the subfloor.
Vitreous tile – has water absorption of more than 0.5%, but not more than 3%.
Wall tile – A glazed ceramic tile with a soft body that is only suitable for interior use, and should neither be used on a floor nor in any freeze-thaw types of environments.