Q&A / 

Discount Ceramic Tile

DEAR TIM: I don’t know about you, but money is really tight in this economy. I want to install a new kitchen floor and desperately need discount ceramic tile. Ceramic tile costs seem to be through the roof, so I need a tile that I can install myself with little experience. Do you know of any discount tile flooring that will allow me to freshen up a room that really needs help? Can you share some ceramic tile flooring installation tips? Amy B., Baltimore, MD

DEAR AMY: Discounted ceramic tile can be found in many places, but you need to look way beyond the price of the actual tile to see what your floor will end up costing you in the long run. Some tile stores and home centers operate like grocery stores.

PHOTO CAPTION: This snap-together ceramic floor tile can save you money in hidden ways. PHOTO CREDIT:  Tim Carter

This snap-together ceramic floor tile can save you money in hidden ways. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

A savvy ceramic tile store owner may get you in the door with an attractive price on the tile, possibly selling it at cost or at a thin margin, but then they soak you for all the other supplies you’ll need to install the floor. The cost of the grout, adhesive, underlayment board, etc. may be way overpriced.

You also need to know that discount tile may be inferior. The clay that’s used, the glaze and the firing process may be all substandard. You may get a tile that fractures or cracks easily or doesn’t wear well. Not all ceramic tiles are made the same, not by a long shot.

Porcelain ceramic tile are currently the rage right now. They are very durable, and the modern printing technology and equipment allow patterns to be imprinted that mimic the look of natural stone. The downside to porcelain tile is that you need a diamond wet or dry saw to make all cuts. Dry saws create lots of dust, so make cuts outdoors and wear a great mask to ensure you don’t breath in any silica dust from the tile.

You may be very interested in a new ceramic floor tile that can be found online. This tile requires no adhesive, often no underlayment and absolutely no grout. You save money on all three of those components before you even lay your first tile!

These new tiles snap together just like old-fashioned interlocking acoustic ceiling tile. They are precision made and come with recessed edges that create a natural-looking grout line once the tiles are connected. I estimate that a person could install an entire 10 foot by 12 foot kitchen floor, with all cuts made, in several hours. The best part is that you can walk on the floor immediately and move in furniture the moment the last tile is snapped into place. There’s no wait period for adhesive or grout to dry and cure.

This floor tile comes in attractive designs and finishes. It’s very durable porcelain tile. You will not be able to cut it with a traditional tile cutter that snaps tile along a scored line. The trick to minimizing your rental time on a wet saw is to install all the uncut tile first and then leave the cut tile as the last ones.

Another trick to lowering your cost when renting a saw is to have at least two helpers. One helper is marking the tile to be cut and the second helper is the saw operator. In the time he makes trips to and from the saw, the marking helper hands him the next tile to be cut.

The most important thing about installing this new snap-together ceramic tile is understand your floor needs to be solid and in the same plane. Same plane doesn’t necessarily mean level. It means that there are no humps or low spots in the floor. Uneven subfloors mean the tile will not fit together well and that they may crack. If you step on a tile with a void spot under it, that tension can easily crack a tile.

You can eliminate humps and dips by using pourable self-leveling compounds. Using these materials adds an additional step that will slow you down as the material needs to dry and harden. But if you want professional results, the smoother and flatter the subfloor is, the better your new tile will look once installed.

Discount tile stores can be found both online and in traditional sticks and bricks stores. If you want an education about how different the tile can be, take the time to visit a ceramic tile store that sells high-quality or expensive tiles. Talk to the store manager and have her/him demonstrate how inferior a discount tile may be.

I clearly remember years ago buying discounted ceramic tile. We used it in a sun room in the second home I renovated. This tile had a great pattern and color, but the core of the tile was a deep red clay. When the tile chipped, which it did with little effort, you would see through to the red core of the tile. It was a stark contrast to the lighter glaze that made up the color you saw on top of the tile.

This tile was also quite soft. It took very little effort to snap or crack it. That’s not an issue if the subfloor is rock solid. But if you’re installing ceramic tile on a wood floor system that has some flex to it, be prepared for lots of cracks in the tile if its strength is low.

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