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​Tips For Choosing Your External Wall Tiles

​Tips For Choosing Your External Wall Tiles

Posted by Matt on 21st Sep 2020

Exterior wall tiles are gaining in popularity thanks to their durability and versatility. But, how do you choose the right tile to make your project a success with so many options available?

You can use exterior wall tiles on almost any vertical surface. The wall needs to be level and able to take the weight of the tiles. You can use tiles to create feature walls, transform fireplaces, and add interest to your home. Not only will tiles add visual impact, but they will protect your home from the elements too.

Choosing The Right Tile For The Job

Every project has different requirements that will influence the tile you select. Tile choice can be overwhelming. Especially when you consider most floor tiles can also double up as wall tiles. However, not all tiles are suitable for an exterior application. Always use a tile that is approved for outdoor use to avoid problems later on. Porcelain is the safest and most popular choice for an exterior wall tile. It is available in a wide range of colours and finishes, so it works for almost any project.

Consider The Elements

When choosing your tile, it is vital to consider the climate where you live. Humidity and temperature should both influence your choice of tile.

Porcelain is the best choice for humid environments, as it is almost waterproof. Its low absorption rate also makes porcelain suitable for colder climates that suffer from freezing conditions. Freeze/thaw action is less of a problem when a tile absorbs less water.

An alternative choice to porcelain is high-density stone. Stones such as quartzite have a porosity below 3%, so they can also withstand freeze/thaw action. Do not use porous stone or tile, or they will crack. This is not only unsightly but can also lead to water damage.

Colour Is More Than Visual

Colour choice is a crucial factor when selecting a tile. The colour you choose has a direct influence on the surrounding environment.

As with any area, light colours will brighten a dull space, and dark colours will tone down a bright spot. However, you must also consider the reflective nature of a tile. A highly reflective tile surrounding a patio could create a blinding environment that is uncomfortable to use. But, a tile with a high solar rating will help to keep your home cool by reflecting the suns heat.

Likewise, if you use a dark tile on a poorly lit area, it will always feel dark and dingy. But, unlike a light tile, a dark tile will absorb heat. This can create an effect known as a hot wall or heat island. Depending on your climate, this may or may not be desirable. In Scotland, a heat wall could be a design choice to increase the comfort of sitting outdoors or help heat a home. On the other hand, it is something you would avoid in warmer climates like the south of England.

When in doubt, it is safest to choose midrange colour options such as grey and beige. Both colours work well in bright and dark surroundings. This makes them suited to most applications, particularly in areas with different amounts of light depending on the season.


Aesthetics are another consideration when choosing a tile. The interior and exterior of a home need to complement each other, not clash. So, you need to consider your home's overall look as the exterior tiles will set the tone for the interior. You want to create harmony and flow by keeping a similar style. That doesn't mean you have to use the same colour or product, just that there shouldn't be an obvious clash of styles. As an extreme example, an industrial exterior would clash with a Victorian interior.

Common Installation Problems

When correctly installed, exterior wall tiles will last for years and need little maintenance. However, problems do arise, and they are usually down to poor installation. If you familiarise yourself with these common issues, you can generally avoid them.

  1. Efflorescence: Depending on the type of grout used with your tiles, you might suffer from efflorescence. Grouts containing certain minerals can cause white stains (calcium deposits). These stains develop on the tile if there is water penetration beneath the tile. Portland cement is a common ingredient in the grout that can cause efflorescence.
  1. Debonding: Failure to use the correct type, or amount, of adhesive, can result in debonding. Debonding is when the tile starts to come away from the wall, and the tile may even come off completely. To bond wall tiles securely, you must cover at least 95% of the tile's surface with adhesive. Your installer should apply the product evenly across the full surface of the tile. Alarm bells should ring if they only use several blobs and then squash the tile to the wall to level it. This technique does not give even coverage and will result in gaps beneath the tile.
  1. Contraction & Expansion: Interior tiles do not need to deal with the same temperature fluctuations as external tiles. As such, contraction and expansion are not an issue. However, exterior tiles can face temperatures ranging from below freezing to over 30C. So, exterior tiles need spacing between joints to cope with the varying temperatures. Grout should also be more flexible to allow for movement. Failure to provide enough room for expansion could cause tiles to buckle. Exterior wall tiles also need expansion joints as well as grouting. The expansion joints should line up with any existing joints on the surface you are tiling.
  1. Curing: The curing process is significant for exterior tile projects. It can take 2-3 days for adhesive and grout to cure completely. Until curing is complete, the tiles are susceptible to water damage. Any water getting into the grout or behind the tiles could cause problems in the long term. Avoid these issues by "tenting" the tiles while they cure. Covering the tiles and protecting them from rainfall is the best way to avoid potential problems. It is also crucial that you arrange for the installation of any required flashing as soon as possible.

To sum up, a little research goes a long way when it comes to exterior wall tiles. You need to consider more than just texture and colour. Think about how the tile will perform and how you will install it. Doing research upfront will save money on replacements of repairs later.