Preserving Historic Ceramic Tile Floors

By The Old House Web

Parts of this story: Intro ~~ The Tile-Making Process ~~ HistoricalBackground ~~ Ceramic Floor Tile Types ~~ LayingCeramic Tile Floors ~~ Historic Ceramic Floor Tile: Preservation andMaintenance ~~ Historic Ceramic Floor Tile: Damage and DeteriorationProblems ~~ Historic Ceramic Floor Tile: Repair and Replacement ~~ Summary ~~ Some Sources for Replacement Tiles

Anne E. Grimmer
and Kimberly A. Konrad

Ceramic: Any product manufactured from a nonmetallic mineral (such as clay), by firing at high temperatures.

With a tradition that dates to ancient civilizations, ceramic tile flooring can be found in a variety of settings in diverse cultures and structures, including residential buildings ranging from large apartment buildings to small private houses, institutional buildings such as government offices and schools, and religious buildings such as cathedrals and mosques.

Historically, its widespread use may be attributed to the fact that a readily available natural material-clay-could be converted by a relatively simple manufacturing process-baking or firing-into a very durable, long-lasting and attractive floor tile that is easy to maintain.

Ceramic floor tiles exhibit a versatility of colored glazes and decoration, and they range from the plainest terra cotta tiles to highly decorated individual ceramic tiles and elaborately patterned tile floors.

Their modularity, as standardized units, make them easy to fit into different sized spaces which also explains much of the popularity of ceramic floor tiles throughout history.

This Brief begins with an overview of ceramic tiles as a traditional flooring material. It includes an explanation of the various kinds of historic floor tiles used in the United States and how they were made. General guidance is given on preservation treatments, focusing on maintenance, and, when necessary, selective replacement of damaged floor tiles.

The Brief is intended to provide owners and managers of historic properties with an understanding of the significance and historical background of ceramic floor tiles, and a basic awareness of maintenance techniques and various deterioration problems to which tile floors are especially prone. In the case of significant historic ceramic tile floors, a professional conservator of ceramics should be consulted to advise in matters of repair, restoration or conservation.

Historically, ceramic tiles were used on walls as wainscotting, on fireplace hearths and fireplace surrounds, and even on furniture, as well as for flooring. However, because floor tiles are subject to greater damage and deterioration, they are the primary emphasis of this Brief.

Highlights include: a short history of ceramic floor tiles; a description of ceramic tile types; a summary of traditional installation methods; maintenance techniques; and guidance on repair and replacement.

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