Six months past the official start of this grand kitchen renovation project, I just placed the order for our tile. It’ll be another month or so until it arrives at our door. This isn’t really what we had in mind in terms of our original project schedule. Originally Mr PoP was planning on taking this week off of work in order to do some long stretches of installing tile. But as we keep learning again and again, part of DIY-ing is accepting that no matter how much you plan, you’re unlikely to be able to stick to that plan 100%.
Our Search For The Right Flooring
When we first started planning our dream kitchen, we considered lots of different types of designs, especially for the flooring. We are both fans of the modern look of polished concrete, and the reddish Spanish tiles as well. But neither of those seemed to fit into our home architecturally – our house is kindof a 1980’s bastard child of a beach cottage and a cracker dwelling. And neither of those would ever have polished concrete or Spanish tiles. What they would have is wood.
However, with our humid climate, wood isn’t always a great choice and we know too many people who put in wood down here and ended up unhappy with it for one reason or another. Luckily, wood plank tile has come a long way in recent years and there are some amazing options out there to get high quality porcelain tile with the look of a wood floor. So that’s what we decided we wanted.
But All Tile Is Not Created Equal
There are quality differences when it comes to tile, and we have had the “convenience” of seeing them firsthand in the two sets of ceramic (possibly porcelain) tile that was installed in our house before we moved in.
The 16″ tile in our bedrooms and bathrooms (which Mr PoP lovingly calls “cocaine white”) was original to the house, installed a little over three decades ago. It has a shiny bright white finish that isn’t very forgiving when it comes to showing wear (there are no patterns or color for the wear to blend in to), but luckily they picked a high enough quality tile that the signs of wear aren’t too bad and are really only in high traffic areas.
The 12″ tile that was (until we ripped it out a few weeks ago) in our living room and kitchen was kindof a grey and white faux marble finish. It was installed (poorly) around Y2K, so has been there for less than fifteen years. Despite the fact that the grey-ish faux marble technically hid wear much better than the cocaine white tile of our bedrooms, this tile was of such a worse quality that it had shown wear in high traffic spots since we moved in (in 2009) and only got worse showing wear in more and more places since then.
The bedroom tile lasted about thirty years before showing much age on its pristine surface. The living room and kitchen tile lasted less than ten and had a lot more going on visually that should have hidden the wear better. Clearly, there was a quality difference.
The PEI Rating Scale
After doing some research, the type of wear that we were seeing was due to the different hardness of the finishes on our two types of tile. The harder and thicker the finish, the more use and abuse the tile can take before the finish wears off and it starts to show wear. The Porcelain Enamel Institute developed an industry scale for comparing tile according to this measure, commonly called the PEI rating. Every tile should have a rating of 1 – 5 (some manufacturers list these in roman numerals I – V for some reason) that indicates where it’s appropriate to use the tile.
- 1 – No foot traffic, wall use only
- 2 – light foot traffic only
- 3 – light to moderate traffic, normal residential use
- 4 – moderate to heavy, all residential + medium commercial + light institutional
- 5 – heavy to extra heavy, all residential, plus heavy commercial and institutional applications
When we started our search, we knew we didn’t want a PEI 3 (our best guess as to what the tile in our kitchen and living room was is a PEI 3 tile), so we considered only tile with a minimum of PEI 4 since PEI 5 tile seemed to be much harder to come across. (Because wood-look tiles have a pattern printed on top (the grain pattern), they are not full-body tiles, so it’s harder to find them in a PEI 5.)
The Search For Our Tile
Home Depot actually carries some pretty good looking 6″ x 24″ wood-look porcelain tile that is pretty highly rated and a PEI 4. At $2.39/square foot (and we knew we could use a 10% off coupon from Lowes making it $2.16/sqft), this served as our baseline. It would certainly do the job, but I wanted to look some more and see if we could find something even better (and to see how much more “better!” would cost).
After searching around and looking at lots of different tile samples online and in person (and researching the PEI ratings on manufacturers websites when re-sellers didn’t list them), I found our “better!”. Here’s what we found:
- 6″ x 36″ tiles – I like the look of the longer planks
- PEI 5 – Yes! The highest rating – I hope this stuff looks good until we’re so old and blind that we can’t see any wear
- “Cherry” wood look – Since our countertops will mostly be made out of the cherry wood that came from Mr PoP’s parents’ property up north, the flooring will have a similar reddish tone to the “wood”. They won’t match exactly (and that might even seem too matchy-matchy), but we’re not trying to put a yellow-pine or orangey-oak style of tile adjacent to Papa PoP’s beautiful cherry wood from the tree he cut down some thirty years ago. Mr PoP may not be able to see all the shades of brown to tell the difference, but I can! =)
And what does better cost? Well, MSRP is $4.99/sqft, but we found it for $3.19. That’s ~$1/sqft over the Home Depot “baseline” tile, but we thought it was worth it to get the higher PEI as well as the size and color that we preferred.
How Much To Buy??
Obviously we need tile to cover the living room and the kitchen since the tile in there was so bad and by changing the width and cabinetry layout the old stuff had to be completely removed. That area is about 500 square feet (a little under half the area of our whole “little” house). But our cocaine white bedroom tile isn’t going to last forever and I’m not a fan of having lots of different tile types throughout the house. So I talked Mr PoP into buying enough tile to tile our whole house, plus a healthy margin of overage for mistakes and attic stock. So I just bought 1,275 square feet of tile for our little house.
We’ll be installing about half of it with this renovation, and saving the other half to install in the bedrooms and bathrooms as we forget how miserable a job removing and installing tile really is (a few years from now?).
But We Have To Be Patient
In an ideal world, we would have our tile already and Mr PoP would be installing it on his previously scheduled staycation as I’m writing this, but DIY renovations rarely take place in an ideal world. By the time we went to order our tile with about six weeks of lead time to when we wanted to install, there wasn’t enough in stock to fill our whole order. (With tile, you want to order all of it at once to get it from the same dye lot to minimize any differences in the color from box to box.)
We could have ordered another similar tile, but we didn’t like the color quite as much and instead chose to wait.
We had to wait about a month to place our order, and our order won’t actually arrive at our house until the end of July. Sure, it throws our plans and schedule off a bit, but we think it’ll be worth it in the long run to have tile we really love and are happy keeping forever (since Mr PoP has assured me that pulling it all out and replacing it is something he will only do once per room!).
In the waiting, and requiring flexibility of our schedule to get the tile that we want, our tile shopping really embodies the two main themes that we have encountered during this DIY kitchen renovation.
- We’re doing the work ourselves, so feel better about splurging on high quality materials since we’re not paying for installation.
- Nothing ever goes quite according to the timeline you plan for, so it’s better to just accept the delays than making yourself unhappy trying to force it.