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Lauded for its versatility and durability, ceramic tile - a substance that has been around for centuries - is making a new splash on floors, walls, countertops and other surfaces inside and outside homes across the state."It's made a great comeback," said Bruce Callahan, whose family has been involved with Callahan Tile in Salt Lake City for 45 years.

Perhaps more people are interested in tile nowadays because they seek something sophisticated, said contractor John Prows; perhaps they just like it for its aesthetic beauty.

"It allows you to do so much with a room when you have tile. You can dress it up, dress it down - let your jewels, if you will, show off a little better," he said.

But no matter the reasons for wanting the fire- and water-resistant product, Callahan said, people who do so get a good return for their money.

Ceramic tile, formed when clay is fired in kilns, does, in fact, cost more than other coverings such as carpet or linoleum, but he said this should be viewed as an investment. Installed tile costs $8-10 a square foot, whereas linoleum is about $5-6 a square foot and carpet is less.

"The initial cost is higher, but tile has a long life cycle," Callahan said, noting that a tile floor will probably outlast three or four linoleum ones.

Another advantage of tile is that it's not limited to being underfoot, Prows said. Fireplaces, tables, plant shelves, swimming pools and even kitchen range hoods lend themselves as canvases for tile work.

The variety of shapes, colors and styles of tiles available also increases their versatility, he said, with tiles sporting everything from a rich, marble look to intricate painted or molded designs. There are also several types of ceramic tiles other than the standard glazed kind. Unglazed quarry tiles, which are ideal for high-traffic areas; floor bricks and small, inch-size mosaic tiles are just a few of the varieties.

In Prows' estimation, the best thing about tile is its ability to set the tone in a home. White, pale gray and green tile used in his own home in Bountiful ties all the rooms together but also draws distinctions, he said.

For instance, the entrance to his upstairs patio lies just within the doorway of a bedroom. Marble-type tile on the floor there (before the carpeting) creates a "foyer look" that in effect allows individuals to access the patio through the bedroom without feeling they've infringed on privacy.

Prows said he especially likes to use tile in laundry areas and bathrooms, since those are places highly prone to water damage. Tile is an ideal product in those areas, he said, primarily because it is easy to clean. A quick wipe on counters and walls and routine mopping or dusting of floors is usually all that's needed, he said.

As with anything, however, tile has its drawbacks. It is not a good surface for food preparation areas because food particles can stain or become lodged in the grout separating tiles.

Grout can be sealed, Callahan said, but it is hard to make it completely hygienic. Tile is still useful on some kitchen counter areas, though, particularly as a resting spot for hot pans near the stove, or a backsplash behind sinks.

Another problem with tile is that any breakable item dropped on it will undoubtedly shatter. "And you can sure hear it," Callahan said.

Further, he said, myths associated with tile - that it is unbearably cold and uncomfortable - are just that: myths. Tile retains heat once warmed and can be installed with a heating system underneath it, he said.

When considering putting tile in a room, Trace Warren of Florida Tile recommends first deciding what purpose the tile will serve. Will it be a functional floor or a decorative shower? Measuring the surface area is very important as well, he said, to ensure that the size and design of the tiles will not overpower the room, or vice versa.

Whether installing tile yourself or employing a professional, be sure to have a detailed, written plan that suits your needs. And don't be afraid to take your time when planning. It is far better to go through a series of designs on paper than have to redo floor when it doesn't work out.

Tile installation is complex, but do-it-youselfers can fare well if they are armed with instruction, Callahan said. Pamphlets as well as videos are available at several tile outlets in the area.

In a nutshell, the process boils down to applying an adhesive to a concrete or concrete-treated floor, laying out the tiles and then filling in with grout.

Prows said proper installation makes a great difference in the appearance of tile, so if individuals have any doubts they should use a professional.

"But it's hard to find the tile guys," Callahan said with a smile. "They're all so busy."