1) What is the difference between ceramic and porcelain tile? Which is best for indoor flooring and why? How do I know when I am buying a good quality, durable tile--are there ratings I need to be aware of?
Answer: In all actuality, porcelain IS ceramic tile, just made with a much denser clay, and fired at much higher temps. As for which is best, all around porcelain is the answer. It's harder, will take much more abuse, and won't chip scratch, or stain as easily as most others. In addition, it'll stand up to much higher and lower extremes temperature wise. However, especially for residential applications, most glazed floor tiles will stand up to whatever you have in mind. There are two indicators to the quality of the tile you're interested in, when it comes to glazed tile-- first, the PEI (Porcelain Enamel Institute) rating, which rates the hardness of the glaze on a scale of 1-5 as follows: CLASS 0 - Tiles technically unsuitable for floors
CLASS 1 - Residential and Commercial wall and bare foot traffic
CLASS 2 - Wall and Residential bath floor, soft soled traffic
CLASS 3 - All residential floors and Light Commercial
CLASS 4 - Medium Commercial, Light Industrial and Institutional, moderate soiling
CLASS 5 - Extra heavy traffic, abrasive dirt, chemically more resistant.
Secondly, although some may disagree, and there ARE exceptions, price is a good indicator. For the most part, you get what you pay for, and although two tiles may look exactly alike, there may be a big difference in the hardness of the glaze, as well as the density of the bisque, or body of the tile.
2) My tile's/ grout's cracking! What's happening? Can I just replace it?
Answer: Any time tile or grout cracks, it's a SYMPTOM, not a problem, and just repairing the tile or the grout will not take care of it. Until the REAL problem is found and rectified, the same tile or area of grout will continue to crack, no matter how many times you replace it. 99% of the time, it can be attributed to seasonal movement in the structure, either under, or surrounding the tile in question, and the tile needs to be isolated from that movement. Sometimes it can be as simple a fix as adding soft (caulk) joints. Other times, it may be necessary to either add joisting, or beef up the existing joisting to minimize the deflection of the floor. What the fix is depends on the individual problem, but in all cases, again, the problem has to be identified and resolved before the cracking will stop.
3) How good is premixed thinset?
Answer: Premixed thinset is nothing more than organic adhesive (mastic) with a fine sand mixed in to give it some bulk. For wall applications where mastic is appropriate, it's fine, although I don't see any advantage over traditional mastic. But for the use it was intended, that being replacing portland cement based latex modified thinset, it's an extremely BAD idea, for several reasons. First, ALL mastics are formulated to be used in...