Ceramic tile usually has a layer of glaze on top and is impervious after being fired at a high temperature in a kiln. Cement tile is cured at room temperature, not fired, and the colored layer on top, usually about an eighth of an inch thick, is porous.
It’s critical that cement tile be sealed after installation, much as marble countertops are, and kept clean until then. “One consideration we deal with constantly,” Ms. Osburn said, “is inexperienced contractors who’ll slap the grout all over the tile, which can stain the surface.”
And even after it’s sealed, she continued, cement tile will develop a patina, a change that some homeowners appreciate more than others. For those who don’t, the tiles can be sanded and resealed, a process similar to refinishing a hardwood floor.
Erna Akuginow, 66, and Geoffrey Haines-Stiles, 67, saw for themselves how installation can go awry after they and their architect chose cement tile for their kitchen during the renovation of their Jersey City loft last year. The tile, from the Cement Tile Shop, set them back about $4,300 (or about $15 a square foot).
“You need an installer who’s familiar with it,” said Ms. Akuginow, who produces science documentaries with Mr. Haines-Stiles. “Our guys were not.” When they were done, the new floor looked “gloppy,” she said.
Hoping it wasn’t ruined, they had the installers return, strip the floor and reapply the sealer. This fixed the problem. Now Ms. Akuginow and Mr. Haines-Stiles couldn’t be happier with their choice. “We like the look of it: It’s modern, but not too shiny or glitzy,” Ms. Akuginow said, adding that it’s also comfortable underfoot.
“I’ve lived in a lot of different houses, and had a lot of different things on the floor,” she said, including wood and granite, but no other material has been as pleasing.
A word of warning: For homeowners concerned about resale value, boldly patterned or colored cement tile may not be the best choice, said Tony Sargent, an associate broker at CORE real estate.
“As a creative person, I want to say, ‘It’s really cool,’ ” Mr. Sargent said. “But as a broker, I want to say, ‘Be cautious, and use it in a way that it could be changed at a reasonable cost’ ” — in a small, well-defined space, for example, like a powder room or a foyer.
Mr. Sargent said the material has been turning up in Brooklyn townhouses, and that he has worked with buyers who found it charming. But not everyone has that reaction.
“Buyers are either going to love it or hate it,” he said. “And if they hate it, you’re done.”