The performance level of your tile, which may not be listed on the box, tells you how much abuse the tile can take. It also takes into account the entire assembly. Meaning the tile type along with what composes the system such as membrane, wallboard and adhesive type. This is the scale that differentiates whether the tile is suited only for a kitchen backsplash or purposely built to withstand carts and foot traffic in an airport.

This guide is sometimes referred as level 1-5, but performance level should not be confused with Environmental Exposure Classifications. Performance level accurately demonstrates what type of traffic a tile can handle and what type of method is approved for a given substrate.

  • Residential - Kitchens, bathrooms, and foyers.
  • Light - Light commercial use in office space, reception areas, kitchens, and bathrooms.
  • Moderate - Normal commercial and light institutional use in public space of restaurant and hospitals.
  • Heavy - Shopping malls,stores, commercial kitchens, work areas, laboratories, auto showrooms and service areas, shipping/receiving and exterior decks.
  • Extra heavy - High impact used in food plants, dairies, breweries, and kitchens. Requires quarry tile, packing house tile, or tile designed by tile manufacturer.

This is a portion of the information available from the TCNA. Please reference Page 43 in the TCNA 2020 handbook for all of the details.

Performance level for tile is determined by the Robinson test. View the video below to see what this test looks like.

Every assembly built by an installer will be designated with a classification prior to the install. This is so the right building materials and methods are incorporated properly. Building materials and techniques have limitations, exceeding them can lead to a failure or poor lifetime performance. 

The classifications are separated for residential and commercial.

  • Res1/Com1 Dry
  • Res2/Com2 Limited water exposure
  • Res3/Com3 Wet
  • Res4/Com 4 High humidity, heavy moisture exposure
  • Res5/Com5 High Temp>125 degrees
  • Res 6/Com6 Exterior
  • Res7/Com7 Submerged

There are details for all the classifications on from page 44 to 47 in the TCNA 2020 handbook.

Please visit our page on selecting the right tile to learn more on absorption, ceramic tile types and aesthetic classification.

Performance Level and Exposure Classification

Environmental Exposure Classifications

The grade of a tile informs the purchaser as to whether the tile has met the standard for evaluation in facial defects. Knowing a tiles grade makes the customer aware of potential perceived defects that may make the tile inappropriate for up-close, eye level installs.

There are only two grades. Grade one, which can be listed on a box of tile as standard, 1 or first grade and Grade 2, usually listed as 2nd.  Grade is sometimes referred to as quality but that is not the whole story. It does not demonstrate it's strength, uniformity or stain resistance. It is one piece of information included on the label of a box of tile. Any information from a website that claims tile is graded 1-5 is using the wrong terminology for the subject.

The standard grade means an evaluation for facial defects may be performed from a distance of 3'.  A 2nd grade may be performed from a distance of 10'. That's it. So what this tells you is a tile that is grade standard would be more appropriate for areas that most homeowners are having tiled like their bathroom, backsplash or floor. In some commercial applications a 2nd grade may be perfectly appropriate.

Being 2nd grade does not mean the product is bad. It may mean some design characteristics or blemishes were not consistent with the majority of the tile run. 2nd grade runs can sometimes be imperceptible to the customer or the tile installer.

One thing of note though. If you go to two different tile stores and the same tile is sold for less at one store than the other, the cheaper tile may be a 2nd. They are not the same exact product if the grades are different. So that discount you think you received because the store told you they buy in bulk, might come down to the fact that they didn't get the standard grade.

The grade is designated by the tile manufacturer. Technically all tiles that have a standard grade or 2nd grade are supposed to meet ANSI A137.1 I have seen labels marked with a grade but do not have A137.1 referenced on the box. When in doubt ask your salesperson. If there is no salesperson to help you, you should really shop elsewhere.

What is tile Grade?

Are there standards for tile quality?

 Written by Michael Weaver

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