The use of full-bodied porcelain as a floor covering has a long history. As opposed to glazed ceramics, which are best suited for use on walls or as low-cost domestic floor tiles, full-bodied porcelain tiles are extremely strong and durable making them ideal for use in heavy footfall environments such as shopping malls.
Full-bodied porcelain tiles are also used in retail environments as they are exceptionally easy to maintain. They are non-porous, need no surface treatment, are not affected by temperature changes, and are almost impossible to stain or corrode. You might think such properties would make porcelain ideal for outdoor use. However, while slip-resistant textured versions have been used for balconies and swimming pools for decades, more widespread use has been limited by technology. Full-bodied porcelain tiles are manufactured from natural materials (eg: Clays, Quartz, Khalin, Feldspars) using large, powerful presses. Until recently the expense of these presses had limited them to the manufacture of 10 or 12 mm thick tiles. Well suited to foot-traffic and lighter rolling-loads internally, this thickness meant that when used outside they were not strong enough to absorb the weight of heavier vehicles.
Recent advances have meant that presses can now create porcelain slabs 2cm thick. These tiles are exceptionally strong; far more so than a concrete paver or granite of the same thickness. In fact to get the same breaking strength (over 10 tonnes) a typical concrete or granite paver would need to more than twice the height.
With the advent of such new machinery the take up of 2cm porcelain pavers in Europe over the last few years has been rapid. In the UK it is a market its infancy: not surprising given that for every square metre of internal floor tiles installed in the UK, over in France, Italy and Germany ten times the quantity are installed. In Europe, where they are well used to porcelain, the benefits for external use were quickly understood: the pavers look just like natural stone but have all the advantages of weather resistance, easy maintenance and strength.
Exterior Ceramic are the UK Supplier of Exterior 20mm thickness
Caesar Ceramic Paving
In Europe 2cm thick porcelains are being used in several different ways. Pavers are installed onto a concrete substrate with adhesive and grout making the tile so strong it can be used as a driveway surface. Laying the tile loose onto earth and gravel provides a very simple landscaping option, while installing porcelain pavers loose onto pedestals not only saves on cost but reduces weight and allows for easy drainage.
As the product has become more of a mainstay in the landscaping world so variety has increased. A few years ago options were limited to a few plain stone replicas; now there are a plethora of choices from wood-effects and poured concretes through to a whole variety of high-end styles in limestone, slate and granite. Manufacturers are also able to react quickly to local needs. In Holland and Belgium there was a clamour from suppliers for a naturally occurring sedimentary stone. Within months a very high quality porcelain replica had been released on the market. It is yet to be seen what unique products the UK market will inspire.
The creativity isn’t limited to colouration either; the range of sizes and bespoke cut pieces is constantly increasing. Porcelain pavers are now available in sizes large than 1 metre by 50cm, while a wide range of edge profiles and bespoke cuts are available for steps and swimming pool edges. Pavers are also available factory cut with ornate drainage slits, even with holes for LED lighting.
The selection available in the UK is catching up fast with the continent; companies such as Exterior Stone promoting an extensive range of high-end finishes from Italian manufacturers such as Caesar, Italy. Like a few others, Exterior Stone have also begun to emphasisethe strength of their technical support, offering collaborative bespoke cut services which allow designers to get ever more creative with their designs.