Tiles for outdoor patios include both natural and made-made materials cut into uniform shapes and thicknesses that are adhered to a solid, level foundation. The vast majority of outdoor patios are constructed with some form of masonry, such as poured concrete (sometimes stained or stamped), or brick or stone paver products. But it is also possible to apply tile to a patio, an option that gives you many more design choices. Laying tile can be a good way to dress up an existing concrete slab or brick patio when it grows old.
Retailers that offer tiles for exposed outdoor applications often sell a rather bewildering array of products, including some you may not have considered for outdoor use. Your determination of the right product depends a great deal on your climate and application.
Below, we’ll break down the ins and outs of each type of tile and the factors you should consider when choosing which is best for you and your patio.
Best for: High-end patios in any climate.
Slate is one of the better choices for natural stone in outdoor patio locations. Slate is a metamorphic rock formed under great heat and pressure. It is very hard and durable, and also very resistant to water. And unlike some other natural stones, you can select a product with a natural texture that prevents it from being as slippery as some other natural stone.
Many people think of slate as a dark gray or black stone, but it is actually available in a variety of colors, including purple, green, and orange.
Slate and other natural stone materials are also sold in irregular paver slabs to use in outdoor paved surfaces. Typically these are the types of sedimentary stone that cleave naturally along horizontal planes. While still relatively thin, these pavers do not have the same uniformity found in tiles, which are precisely cut to square or rectangular shapes and thicknesses. Slate, limestone, and sandstone are among the stone products that can also be found in these irregular paver slabs, while granite and travertine are more often found in true tile form, which are sawn to a uniform size.
Natural stone tiles are best purchased at tile retailers, while irregular slab pavers are normally found at landscape supply stores.
Best for: Warm, dry climates.
Limestone is a sedimentary rock consisting mostly of carbon-based remnants of marine life compressed over millions of years. It’s not uncommon to spot minuscule fossils in limestone—sometimes even in paving tiles. Limestone has been a favorite construction material for millennia, thanks to its relative abundance and ease of fabrication. Most limestone is found in various shades of tan, brown, red, or gray, and the lighter colors are especially good at reflecting heat.
Limestone is a softer stone than slate or granite and thus can be rather easily scratched or chipped. And it needs to be regularly sealed to prevent stains. It is more appropriate for patios in dry climates and not well suited to regions with harsh winters.
Limestone is also a very popular material for paving outdoor areas with irregular slabs. This type of more informal patio is often installed as a “sand-set” surface—laid on a flattened bed of gravel, with the joints then filled with porous paver sand. Installed this way, rather than with mortar, a flagstone patio can be a completely practical surface in colder climates, as moisture is safely shed as it seeps through the joints and gravel bed. Such a patio will not, however, have the formal smooth surface provided by a limestone tile installation laid with mortar.
Best for: High-end patios that are unlikely to suffer stains.
Yet another natural stone sometimes used for patios, granite is an igneous mineral created as liquid volcanic magma cools. Its composition is usually dominated by quartz. Granite is a high-end, premium paving material, but it has certain drawbacks when used outdoors.
Granite tile is usually highly polished, which can make it slippery when wet. And it is a relatively porous stone compared to other forms of tile; it will need to be sealed regularly to prevent staining and water penetration.
Granite tile is not difficult to install over a previously paved surface, but cutting it (and other natural stone) is best done with a wet saw, available at rental centers.
Best for: High-end patios in dry climates.
Travertine is a form of natural sedimentary stone with beautiful texture and color. Considered a form of limestone, this stone is mined around natural mineral spring deposits. Although very attractive and hard, it has a slightly pitted surface that may collect dirt unless it is polished smooth. And highly polished travertine can be very slippery when wet.
The quality of travertine varies considerably, depending on where it was quarried. For patio use, travertine from Turkey or Italy is regarded as a more water-resistant choice than stone from Mexico or China.
Best for: Stylish patios in warmer climates.
Porcelain tile is a particularly dense and strong form of ceramic, made from finer clays fired at higher temperatures than standard ceramic tiles, so most porcelain tiles rated for flooring use can also work in many patio applications. The best choices will be textured, matt tiles without a high gloss surface that will be slippery when wet. Most porcelain tiles are thick and sturdy enough to use on floors, but make sure your product is rated for such use.
Prices vary quite widely for porcelain tile, but they are usually more expensive than standard ceramic tiles but more affordable than natural stone. Porcelain tiles can be fabricated to mimic the look of marble, granite, and other materials—even wood or metal—thus, they offer great design flexibility.
Clay-based tiles (ceramic, porcelain, and quarry tiles) are more commonly used indoors, and may not be rated for outdoor use. Make sure to check specifications to make sure your tiles are approved for outdoor installation. This is most likely to be an issue in climates that see regular rainfall or freezing winter temperatures. Consult a local tile retailer for advice.
Best for: Very durable, affordable surfaces.
For the look of natural stone at a fraction of the cost, consider concrete tiles, which are molded from poured concrete and given textures and colors to resemble natural stone or high-end ceramic tile. Most concrete tiles for patio use are textured products that are easily stained unless they are regularly sealed.
Ⅶ. Wood Deck
Best for: Deck-like patios.
These are large squares of wood or composite planking attached to backing strips, usually with interlocking edges. Usually made of weather-resistant wood such as cedar or redwood, the effect of decking tiles is that of a ground-level deck but without the need for an under-structure. These are quite easy for DIYers to install onto a concrete patio already in place, but there can be considerable preparation in leveling and flattening if you want to install them on a new site.
Best for: Dry climates without frost.
Sandstone is another sedimentary rock, even softer than limestone and subject to the same limitations. It forms from layers of sands compressed over time and has a beautiful texture.
Sandstone is quite soft and vulnerable to scratching, and it needs to be regularly sealed to prevent staining and water penetration. This is another stone best suited for patios in dry climates without winter freeze-thaw cycles. But it is usually considerably cheaper than limestone and other natural stone tiles.
Sandstone is another one of the natural stone products available in irregular slabs for outdoor paving in sand-set installations.
Ⅸ. Selecting Tiles for Exterior Patios
Engage with a sales consultant at a specialty tile establishment when in the market for outdoor patio tiles. It’s crucial to underscore that the intended use of the tiles is outdoors. The suitability of various products for outdoor utilization can fluctuate significantly across different geographical areas. In general, regions with chillier, damper climates, particularly those subjected to frost-thaw cycles, may offer a narrower array of suitable materials.
It is prudent to opt for a retailer specializing in outdoor patio tiles, preferably one that also provides installation services. Such an establishment has a vested interest in ensuring the longevity of your installed tiles, and is likely to guide you away from unsuitable products for your specific application.
Furthermore, an early consultation with a landscape contractor who constructs outdoor patios can provide valuable insights. Interactions with the contractor can elucidate which types of tile best fit your specific circumstances. Regardless of whether you decide to engage their services, the discussion will equip you with a comprehensive understanding of your options.