Monday, November 2, 2009

Hausfrau goes a tilin'

The floors of our kitchen, laundry room and mud room were previously covered with vinyl flooring and builder's special carpet, which looked horrible after only four years of use. So we had 160 feet of space just begging us to cover it in some decent flooring. We couldn't ignore it any longer, even with a recession at hand. We decided it was time to strap on the knee pads and latex gloves, find the oldest clothes in the closet, and get a tilin'!
New kitchen tile, before grouting

We chose porcelain tile because it seemed to be the best choice for this area. Tile is durable (sometimes lasting centuries), low-maintenance, hard-wearing, invulnerable to moisture, doesn't require a vacuum to clean, and comes in a wide variety of colors. We also considered wood, cork, and bamboo, but decided those options weren't wise with a toddler who likes to pour his own drinks plus a dishwasher and washer (which has already flooded our laundry room once). Hopefully this tile will last us the next 30 or 40 years without having to refinish or repair it. We retained half a case of tiles in the unlikely event that we need to replace a few that ever get damaged.
The best way to save on a tile project: DIY. Tiling may seem intimidating, and true, you can mess it up pretty badly if you don't take care, but if you are careful and plan ahead, you can get a beautiful result at 60 - 80% less than the cost of paying a tile installer, and without the hassle of trying to find someone who will return your phone calls. We have made minor mistakes on some of our tiling jobs (including this one), but often these mistakes can be fixed, covered or minimized.
If you are going to tile an area yourself, my advice is to get a detailed how-to manual and spend quite a bit of time planning how the tile is going to lay out on the floor or wall. The time you spend up-front on planning will more than pay you back later in time you don't have to spend cutting tiles or on regrets that you have a whole wall of 3/4 inch wide tiles.
My husband and I make a pretty good team: he pulls up the old floor, I lay down the mortar and tiles, he measures and cuts tiles and mixes the mortar and grout, and I lay down and clean up the grout. The floor we just tiled was our largest project to date. It took two days of scraping up the old floor, two and a half days of planning and tiling, and one day of grouting - spread over a few weeks. Cost of porcelain tile flooring, mortar and grout: about $400. Cost savings for tiling labor at $6 per square foot: $960. Add that to the cost we saved on demolition and we saved a pretty penny.
Yes, that's me

Of course, that does not include the price of a very vital tool: the tile saw. Usually, my inclination is to try to "make do" with the cheaper option, but I tell you in this case it's a fool's choice! From experience (three floors, a backsplash, a tub surround, and bathroom walls), I can tell you that it is very difficult to do a really good job on almost any kind of tiling project without a tile saw. The tile saw allows more precise cuts, angled cuts, inlaid cuts, and cuts stone as well - making it very useful. If you can't borrow, rent or buy a tile saw, I'm not sure it's worth trying to DIY tile.

We bought a $200 tile saw in conjunction with our in-laws three years ago and we have since used it for five tiling projects between our two families. We also plan to retile our bathrooms in the next two years, since the person who flipped our house decided to put carpet in the bathrooms. Not a very sanitary choice! So we are really getting our money's worth of our $100 investment.
I count myself blessed to have gotten out of this project alive. Unfortunately for my suffering husband, I purchased the wrong batch of tile to bring home. I had selected one tile, taken it home to check it out, and called it good. But once I bought the whole lot, my husband and I brought it all home, and I laid out four or five of the various patterned tiles... I could see that it was much too yellow. So my husband had to haul approximately 680 pounds of tile back to the store. Sorry, lumbar vertabrae!
So, yes, my shoulders and neck and forearm and knees and back ache. My fingers are a little raw from cleaning up the grout. We spent $400 and five days of work. Our kitchen was a mess for quite a long time. But is it worth it to have a floor in our kitchen and laundry room that is easily cleaned, will look good forever, doesn't show dirt, and is virtually indestructible? Is it worth it to have a floor that won't need replacing in ten years - when the cost might be ten times as much? For us, the answer is YES!


Another of our recent DIY tile projects

Quick tip: a staggered "brick" pattern is much more forgiving (harder to see your mistakes) than a straight grid pattern. Take it from me! Quick tip 2 - pick up a bunch of old buckets from your local bakery before you start. You'll need them for mixing mortar (aka thinset) and grout. No reason to waste good used buckets! And finally, of course, never put down white tiles or white grout on your floor. But I bet you knew that already.

1 comment:

Chile said...

Good job! I concur completely with the recommendation to avoid white. In our rental house, there are white tiles in the kitchen and the bathroom. Thanks to drooling doggies, the kitchen always looks awful. They unwisely also chose to use white grout in the bathroom. Back when I dyed my hair, I put a drop cloth down first to avoid the risk of staining the grout! 'Course it also makes me paranoid monthly when using my Diva cup considering I've had a few removal accidents...

Along with saving some surplus tile for later repair, it's vital to save some of the same batch of grout. The grout is more likely to wear out before the tile and you'll never be able to match it again. Store in a place free from moisture so it is usuable in a decade or two when you need it.