When it comes to residential flooring, hardwood floors have certainly received the lion's share of our admiration. It's hard to deny their appeal. Carpet remains the old, dependable standby, with berber carpeting standing out as one of the most popular choices among homeowners.

A comparatively more silent trend, however, is emerging both in new-home construction and in home improvement projects: ceramic tile. Once limited merely to kitchens, patios, foyers and solariums, ceramic tile is now covering the floors of every room in an increasing number of homes. If you're in the market for new flooring, you'll want to investigate ceramic tile as an option because in addition to its durability, tile has evolved far beyond the standard earthtones with which you're familiar.

Those who prefer a natural look in their homes, bringing the outdoors indoors, so to speak, are drawn to tile because it's made of natural materials -- primarily clay, water and a mixture of various minerals. Homeowners who have been stricken with allergies find glazed ceramic tile to be a godsend because it doesn't harbor mites, dust and other irritants. In comparison, some carpeting contains harsh dyes and/or other chemicals that could trigger allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

While those unfamiliar with tile may associate it with dull earthtones, today's modern styles are typically glazed, containing a sheen created with a layer of ceramic applied to the tile. Ceramic finishes come in a near-infinite variety of colors, giving homeowners an entire universe of choices not only for their floors, but for their walls and kitchen and bathroom countertops, as well. In addition, glazed ceramic tile is now manufactured in numerous shapes and textures, providing homeowners with a creative carte blanche. You can turn your home into a work of art by incorporating mosaics, various textures and designs throughout your walls and backsplashes, floors and countertops.

Ceramic tile is actually considered to be among the most durable varieties of residential floor coverings available. Its life often exceeds hardwood floors and most definitely exceeds carpeting, which eventually begins to appear dingy and dated.

Also in contrast to carpeting, glazed ceramic tile is resistant to most stains, dirt, bacteria and subsequently, to odors. If you spill something on glazed ceramic tile, you need only wipe it up with a damp cloth or sponge. To clean glazed ceramic tile, you can use a variety of common household cleaning agents, such as those you'd use in your kitchen and bathroom. If you own pets, and your home is carpeted, you're undoubtedly familiar with the associated problems: Your pet leaves hair on the carpet, can leave odors behind, can drop fleas in the carpet, and, if you have berber carpeting, your pet's claws can easily snag it.

Even if you don't have young children or pets, it's just a matter of time before you accidentally drop something on your floor that could scratch its surface. Here, again, is another bonus point for tile: Most glazed varieties of ceramic tile are resistant to scratches. If you're in the market for glazed ceramic tile, shop around and invest in one of the more durable grades that comes with a guarantee against scratching.

If you've ever experienced minor flooding in a carpeted area, you're well aware of the mildew that can accumulate if you don't sop up the area immediately. And if water accumulates in an area covered with hardwoods, the results can be disastrous. Moisture, too, can be your flooring's worst enemy. If you have any surfaces in your home covered with oak parquet squares, moisture can cause the squares to lift and form "peaks" and "valleys." Not so with most grades of ceramic tile, which are typically water-resistant. In most cases, moisture can't permeate the surface of tile. So if you spill liquids or discover water leakage hours after the fact, you may simply wipe up the area and not worry about permanent damage.

One of the best selling points of glazed ceramic tile is its resistance to heat and fire -- in fact, commercial furnaces are often lined with ceramic tiles. If your countertops are covered with tile, and you inadvertently place a hot pot down on the counter, you won't melt it as you would if you had laminate countertops. By the same token, if a spark from your fireplace lands on your ceramic tile, it won't scorch the surface as it would your carpet.

While hardwoods and carpeting will probably never go out of style, ceramic tile ranks as one of the most versatile floor coverings for homeowners' active lifestyles. Its long life gives homeowners the most bang for their buck, and its unique beauty adds considerable value to any home.

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