Floor Tile: How Much Should I Spend?

The cost of floor tile can be all over the map. Like other materials and goods for improving the look of your home, cost depends on several factors. In this installment of A Standard of Living, I’m going to review the factors that determine the cost of tile so that you can make an informed decision on how much you want to spend.

I always feel a little self-conscious when I talk about tile because I have a good friend who I consider a tile expert, but my one piece of advice, and I think my friend would approve, is don’t get cheap tile for your floors, specifically floors that are prone to being wet. Select a tile that has been rated and tested for wet surfaces. Also, don’t get too trendy with floor tile. Tile is meant to last a very long time and it is a financial investment, no matter how inexpensive. It is very difficult and costly to remove and replace, so always choose something classic.

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Without further ado, here are my top three tips for helping you spend wisely on tile…

Floor Tile Tip 1: Consider the Tile Vendors & Manufacturers

There are so many option for making tile purchases these days: Internet vendors, tile specialty stores, Big Box, or through a professional. Often, big box and discount vendors (Home Depot, Floor & Decor) won’t have specification information available for the tile.

What does this mean for you? It means that you won’t know what the Dynamic Coefficient of Friction (DCOF) score is for the flooring. This isn’t a big deal for smaller mosaic style floor tiles, but it is very important for large format tile. The DCOF score tells you how slippery the floor is when it’s wet.

Is tile cheaper at big box and discount stores? It can be. However, if you look at tile flooring as a long term investment and you consider the consequences of purchasing an inferior flooring or flooring that may not be appropriate for the use, e.g. bathroom tile that is not slip resistant when wet.

Tile Specialty Stores

Tile specialty stores may be the better route to take if you are going to self-install or if you’re going to have a handyman install the tile for you. At a store that sells tile to the public, you may find that the staff know more about the products they sell than the staff at a big box store. The staff at a tile specialty store will be able to tell you about the various tiles they sell. Some tile manufacturers, like Florida Tile, even have their own show rooms that are open to the public.

Floor Tile Tip 2: Know Some Tile Lingo

Some really important terms you should know. Lots of questions I’ve had on tile – wall tile versus floor tile, shiny versus flat/textured, ceramic versus porcelain versus natural stone

Wall Tile v. Floor Tile

This is probably the first and most important distinction to make. Never put wall tile on the floor. Always look for this differentiation first.

very shiny floor tile
This is NOT appropriate flooring tile, especially not in a bathroom. This is a slip and fall waiting to happen!

Shiny v. Textured

Once you have made the right application selection, you will still have shiny (polished) and flat or untextured (honed, natural, or unpolished) tiles to choose from. Make sure that you know the correct terms – in parentheses -and what they mean. Polished tiles usually have a finishing step that unpolished tiles do not have, so in general, they are less expensive. This is true whether the tiles are ceramic, porcelain, or natural stone.

Ceramic v. Porcelain v. Natural Stone

What are the differences between ceramic, porcelain, and natural stone? I get this question a lot. Natural stone tiles are quarried from the earth. They can come in polished or honed varieties, but they are not manufactured. Ceramic and porcelain tile, which can be made of natural materials, are manufactured or man made.

unpolished porcelain floor tile
This bathroom has beautiful unpolished porcelain tile

The cost difference between these groups can be substantial. Natural stone tiles like marble, travertine, and quartz can be very expensive and upwards of $10/square foot. While less expensive in general, porcelain tiles can also be more costly, especially if they have high definition patterns and they are polished. In general, I do not recommend ceramic tiles for bathroom flooring or in wet areas.

You may be asking “Ceramic versus Porcelain what is the difference?”… Stay tuned next week when I dig into this a little deeper.

Floor Tile Tip 3: Calculating the Real Cost

If you’ve ever purchased tile, you know that you cannot just multiply the number of square feet by the cost per square feet and arrive at your total flooring cost. There are several other factors to consider.

Tile Units

Floor tile is not sold by the piece. It is sold by the box. Each box contains a certain number of tiles that will cover an estimated square footage. Therefore, you will always end up buying more tile than you will use. This is a good thing! Suppose you or your installer break a few pieces while trying to cut the tile. Or suppose you cut a piece wrong. Also, you may want to position the tile a certain way to avoid small sliver like pieces around the room’s perimeter, which may cause you to need more tile. These are all factors that go into calculating the waste.

How much waste should you calculate? If you are doing a straight stacked bond pattern or a running bond pattern, you will need to order 10% more tile. If you do any other pattern – diagonal, herringbone, basketweave, etc – you will need at least 15% waste. I think it’s great to get some new ideas for tile patterns.

Supplies & Labor

Don’t forget the other supplies you will need and the cost of labor. What are some other supplies? If you have existing tile you will need to remove it and you may need to use a self-leveler to create a smoother surface before you lay new tile. You will need thinset mortar, which is the mortar that goes between the tile and the substrate floor. When the tile is laid, you will need spacers to ensure even spacing between each piece. After the tile has set, you will need grout to fill in the spaces between each tile. These supplies can add a few hundred dollars to a large tiling project.

Floor Tile Tip 4: Invest in a Professional Tile Installer

I cannot express to you how important this is. Particularly if you are working with a more expensive tile or if you want to put a pattern in your tile. A very good professional tile installer will measure out your room and make a plan for how he/she will lay the tile. They will do their best to avoid tile slivers and they will ensure the tiles are spaced evenly so that you have beautifully even grout lines.

That being said, very good tile installers are specialists and they charge accordingly. You also might need to wait a month or two before they are available. For most tile, an installer will charge about what you spent per square foot on the tile, this is usually about $4-7 per square foot. To remove tile you can expect $3-4 per square foot and to apply a self-leveler you are looking at around $2/square foot. For marble tiles and very expensive natural stone tiles, you may be looking at $10 or more per square foot for the tile installation.

However, they are worth every penny and worth the wait. I have seen some very poor tile installations that completely ruined the look of the space. If you really want a high-end look, I recommend waiting for a good installer and leaving room in your budget to pay him.

If you have any questions or comments about this post, please leave them in the comment field below. I love helping homeowners create beautiful functional spaces and that includes my blog visitors! If you want to learn how to create a cohesive and classic look in your home, download our Cohesive Style Guide!

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