If you’re like most casual DIYers, your main considerations when picking out ceramic or porcelain tile are cost, color, and size. In fact, if you’re like most DIYers, you probably haven’t heard of a PEI rating — but this should actually be one of your top considerations when selecting tile for your next home improvement project.
Not all ceramic and porcelain tiles are equally strong and durable. Some can withstand heavy foot traffic, while others are only suitable for decorative wall installations. Most reputable lines of porcelain tiles are rated for use by the Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) abrasion test. This test is recommended by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). PEI ratings will tell you which tiles are best for different uses in the home.
What are PEI Ratings?
Known as the PEI Scale, it is the standard consumers can rely on and refer to in order to determine which tiles to buy according to purpose and location. The PEI rating indicates the tile hardness, and these ratings are valuable to help in tile choices for different projects. The scale ranges from one to five, with five being the strongest and most durable.
How Do PEI Ratings Differ?
Each tile rating, or class, includes recommendations for use and installation. Most tile manufacturers list the PEI rating on the tile’s tear sheet, and most re-sellers include the rating in the product description in their catalog or website. The ratings are as follows:
Group 0: Tiles technically unsuitable for floors. These are generally used as wall tile.
Group 1 or PEI 1: Tiles suitable only for locations where softer footwear is worn or where shoes are not frequently used, for e.g., residential bathroom or other areas with light traffic. Also for interior commercial and residential walls.
Group 2 or PEI II: Tiles suited for general residential traffic. For areas that are walked on by soft soled or “normal” footwear with very small amounts of scratching dirt. Not for kitchen, entrance halls, stairs and other areas subjected to heavy traffic.
Group 3 or PEI 3: Tiles suited for all residential and light commercial areas such as offices, reception areas, boutiques, interior walls, countertops and residential bathroom floors. Not recommended for commercial entryways.
Group 4 or PEI 4: Tiles suited for regular traffic. Recommended for medium commercial and light institutional use, such as restaurants, hotels, hospital lobbies and corridors.
Group 5 or PEI 5: Tiles suitable for areas with heavy traffic, abrasive dirt and moisture, and where safety and maximum performance are required. Examples are shopping malls, public buildings, building entrances, or swimming pools.
A Final Note
The PEI rating only refers to a tile’s strength and suitability for a particular application; it is not an indicator of the tile’s overall quality or value. In many cases, some of the most beautiful and costly tiles have a PEI 1 or 2 rating. The PEI rating is simply a guide to help you choose tile that will hold up to the demands of the environment in which it will be used.
If you’re doing a tile shower surround, for example, the PEI rating isn’t such a big deal, but when you’re choosing tile for counters and floors, check the PEI before you buy.
What PEI rating will work best for your space?
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