Terrazzo Tile vs Terrazzo-Look Porcelain Tile

Brightly lit dining room with a terrazzo tile floor.
Large terrazzo tile dining room floor. Used by permission of Terrazzio.

Real Terrazzo or Faux Terrazzo

If you’ve been eyeing those little sparkling aggregates in terrazzo, Copher Tile and Stone would like to help you get the look you want without the hefty expense and hassle of poured terrazzo. With a strong reputation for durability and aesthetics, traditional poured terrazzo has a down side. This material requires a labor-intensive and time-consuming installation process. This article details two alternative options to traditional poured terrazzo: precast, authentic terrazzo tile and porcelain tile that is made to look like terrazzo.

What exactly is terrazzo?

Terrazzo has two basic components. It is a mixture of aggregates and a binding agent, such as cement or epoxy. The aggregates in terrazzo are the little pieces of material that give terrazzo its unique appearance. Natural aggregates include marble, granite, shells, or other materials. Synthetic aggregates include quartz, glass, or recycled materials like porcelain or plastic. One or more types of aggregates can be used to create a wide range of colors, patterns, and textures.

Traditional Poured Terrazzo

Traditional poured terrazzo is installed by (you guessed it) pouring. Here are the basics:

  • The terrazzo mixture is poured directly onto a concrete slab or, in the case of epoxy-based terrazzo, it is poured onto metal, wood, or some other substrate.
  • Depending on the terrazzo system, other steps or requirements may be necessary, such as wire reinforcement, a sand bed, or a depressed slab.
  • The mixture cures for a day.
  • The surface is ground smooth, honed, and polished to the desired finish.
  • If budget and time are not an issue and you’re looking for a flooring material that could outlive your great grandkids, poured terrazzo floors may be your best option.
Authentic Terrazzo Tile

Precast Terrazzo Tile
This image shows authentic terrazzo tile, which is through-body tile. That means the pattern you see on the surface continues throughout the body of the tile.

Terrazzo tile is made of the same components as poured terrazzo. The difference is that the material is poured, or precast, ahead of time. Terrazzo tile is fashioned into a tile form by the manufacturer, rather than being poured on site by the installer. Terrazzo tile is also ground, honed, and polished by the manufacturer prior to installation. However, the material can be finished or refinished on site by a stone and tile restoration contractor.

Terrazzo-Look Porcelain Tile
Color-Body Porcelain Faux Terrazzo
This image shows color-body porcelain faux terrazzo, meaning only the most predominant color from the pattern on the surface continues throughout the body of the tile. Faux terrazzo can also be through-body tile.

Terrazzo-look porcelain tile, also called faux terrazzo, is porcelain tile that has been digitally printed with colors and patterns closely resembling terrazzo. The tile is then glazed for added protection and finish. The pattern is essentially baked into the tile, which means it is not likely to become discolored or fade over time. The appearance of terrazzo-look porcelain tile has improved dramatically in recent years.

What You Need to Know About Repair and Restoration

Terrazzo-look porcelain tile can be difficult or even impossible to repair, especially if it is not through-body tile. If heavy furniture is dragged across the surface resulting in a deep scratch or something heavy is dropped causing a chip, the damaged tile will probably need to be replaced. At best, a restoration contractor can touch up the damaged areas to make blemishes less noticeable.

Authentic terrazzo, on the other hand, can be repaired and restored to like-new condition. Scratches and signs of wear can be virtually erased with honing and polishing, the same processes used to restore natural stone. Most surface damage, including very deep chips and scratches, can be repaired using color-matched fillers and then refinished to blend with the surrounding area. Since authentic terrazzo tile tends to be thicker, it is highly unlikely to crack, but even cracked terrazzo tile can be repaired.

Terrazzo-Look Porcelain Tile Costs Less

Authentic terrazzo tile is a more expensive material and can be more labor intensive to install than terrazzo-look porcelain tile. However, authentic terrazzo tile is less expensive than poured terrazzo. When it comes to tile material and installation costs, don’t make your decision on price alone. Remember, your flooring will be there for decades, and with proper care, it could last a lifetime. You want to make sure you are happy with your choice of tile so that you do not have to incur the expense of replacing it later.

About the Grout Lines

Terrazzo-look porcelain tile does not have a completely flat edge, which means the grout lines will be more noticeable than authentic terrazzo tile. If you want your floor to have the uniform, monolithic appearance of poured terrazzo, authentic terrazzo tile is the way to go. Zinc and brass strips between authentic terrazzo tiles can be honed and polished, too.

Large Format Terrazzo Tile

Both authentic terrazzo tile and terrazzo-look porcelain tile are available in large format. Copher Tile and Stone can install tile as large as 36×60 inches. Some of the benefits of large format tile include easier cleaning and maintenance because there are fewer grout lines and a more expansive and impressive appearance.

Can floors with terrazzo tiles or terrazzo-look tiles be heated?

Radiant heated flooring and authentic terrazzo tiles go hand in hand. Terrazzo is an excellent material for containing, transferring, and dispersing heat. Terrazzo-look porcelain tiles work well with radiant underfloor heating, as well. The advantages of heated tiles are numerous, including energy savings, comfort and convenience, improved indoor air quality, safety, and aesthetic benefits. To learn more, read our article, The Benefits of Radiant Heated Tile Floors.

Slip Resistance

One important consideration when choosing any type of flooring is slip resistance. How much traction does the material provide? Terrazzo tiles with a honed finish will have more slip resistance than terrazzo tiles with a glass-like polish. Porcelain tiles that look like terrazzo will have the same slip resistance as other porcelain tiles, which vary in the amount of traction they provide. You can select terrazzo-look porcelain tiles that have more slip resistance, but like real terrazzo, the less slippery the surface is the less reflective it will be. Copher Tile & Stone can apply a slip resistance treatment to your terrazzo tile or terrazzo-look tile, upon request. It will not change the appearance of your floor in any way.

Material Selection and Installation

Skilled, experienced installers understand that there are many different factors that must work together to achieve a beautiful, long-lasting tile installation, whether the material is authentic terrazzo tile or terrazzo-look porcelain tile. Strangely, there are currently no American National Standards Institute (ANSI) industry standards for terrazzo tile installation. Adam Copher, Owner of Copher Tile and Stone explains, “It’s important to always check with the tile manufacturer for installation recommendations.”

Copher Tile & Stone recommends and works closely with Tileco Distribution for terrazzo tile and terrazzo-look porcelain tile materials. Set an appointment to visit their San Luis Obispo showroom so you can touch and see for yourself the difference between authentic terrazzo tiles and unbelievably realistic faux terrazzo porcelain tiles.

Copher Tile & Stone proudly stays up to date on tile installation technologies with ongoing education with Mapei Technical Institute, Ardex Academy, the National Tile Contractors Association, Laticrete, and Schluter. Copher is a Certified Tile Installer (#1644).

by Alice Dean

Do you want a quote for a terrazzo-look porcelain tile installation? Contact us online or call 805-286-7460. We are San Luis Obispo County’s preferred tile installation company, serving Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero, Morro Bay, Cayucos, Cambria, San Simeon, Santa Margarita, San Luis Obispo, Avila Beach, Shell Beach, Pismo Beach, Arroyo Grande, and Grover Beach.

Contact us today!