Sweat Equity: Kitchen Tile

Today I bring you the most brazen and epic DIY yet: the kitchen tile.  We just decided we wanted nice tile and were going to have it.  Unlike most of our other projects so far, this one was particularly destructive and irreconcilable in nature: once in, you can’t go back.  Exhibit A:

Phone pictures 10-4-2013 687

Fortunately enough for us, what was there was easy to take up because it was fake tile.  After we started doing this, I panicked and wondered if there was a chance that this paneling could contain asbestos.  But I learned that asbestos paneling was outlawed in the 1970s and phased out altogether by about 1980 (this house is from 1986).  And as we soon discovered, this was not even the original flooring in this room:

Phone pictures 10-4-2013 693

I had no words.. just.. wow.  “Hey free flooring, we’re done!” was the joke.

Phone pictures 10-4-2013 706

Here was the kitchen in full disarray, Day 2.  Ugly original linoleum shining in all its horrible glory.  Dog highly alerted.  I discovered that this is a wise time to clean the sides of the oven, which is unspeakably gross if you ever pull it out and look.  This was a multi-Q-tip job.

Phone pictures 10-4-2013 707

Here we are stripped down to the sub-flooring and ready to roll, fridge in its new home for the next week.  OK it is possible that we harbored notions of tiling being “easy” or “quick.”  We would have been wrong.  Anyway because we chose to leave the fridge in the kitchen and plugged in, we had to do the tiling in two halves.  This does not seem to be the general guidance but I didn’t think it was so bad.  There was really nowhere in either adjacent room to put the fridge; plus the fridge creates greasy skid marks everywhere you drag it (see photo above).

Phone pictures 10-4-2013 712

We were preoccupied learning how to tile during the whole first half, but here is the 2nd half going in.  Couple pointers: the mortar needs to be spread very thin.  The tile needs to sit on it, but shouldn’t be able to slide anywhere.  Also: mortar is heavy.  It likes to fall off the scraper tool, and hurts your hands to manipulate.  Use little mortar at a time to prevent problems.

Phone pictures 10-4-2013 714

Balance is key!  We wound up getting a tile cutter to make nice cuts for the edge tiles.  But the edge pieces should go on last so you can adjust carefully.  So tiling yourself into a corner is almost inevitable.  And you shouldn’t really step on tiles that are still setting, unless you want to be carefully re-adjusting tiles that are suctioned into the mortar.

Phone pictures 10-4-2013 724

When all that is done you grout.  Again, we grouted one side and then the other, for the fridge’s sake.  And as I recall, both mortar and grout take 1-3 days to dry so with the two halves considered, this project was starting to really stretch out.

Phone pictures 10-4-2013 726

Some words about grout.  It is very messy, and leaves a filmy paste as shown above.  And you really need to stuff it into the cracks.  Even if you think there’s too much, even if you’re running low and you worry it will run out, I would still recommend stuffing the cracks like a Thanksgiving turkey.  You can’t see it while applying, but when it dries any deficits will result in little pock marks in the grout.  Super annoying.

Also, the videos all say to wipe the grout everywhere and just let it fill in the cracks.  I find this wasteful, and focused on the cracks.  Even at that, I wound up with the filmy mess, and you have to wipe all that away with a towel.  And then kiss the towel goodbye.

Phone pictures 10-4-2013 731

There’s the grout, dried on the left and still drying on the right.  Yet *another* note about grout: the color of the grout on the bag is darker than it will really be.  We actually wanted it to turn out like the right side, and instead got the left.  But the lighter color highlights the cool offset brick pattern we went for…

Phone pictures 10-4-2013 756

And voila, finished tile, about two weeks later.  FYI you also need to seal the grout to waterproof it.  I think we did 2 coats of this per the instructions.  With a dog water dish nearby you cannot afford leaks.

Other notes: the videos will tell you to start from the middle and work your way out, to ensure even lines in the case that your room dimensions are not even.  This did not make sense to engineers who had already invested in a tile cutter: so we started along the right side of the photo above, laying even tile along the fully exposed floor.  Then when we got over to the left side where the cabinets and appliances are, we cut the last row of tiles accordingly.

They also say to measure your floor and make sure it’s level before starting, and we probably should have done that.  There were no obvious dips or scratches, so we just went for it.  But the grout is getting cracked and fissured near one tile that is resting on a bump.


  • About $230 for tiles (10 packs of 15, marked $1.50/tile)
  • $120 for wet saw
  • Probably at least $50 for the mortar/grout/spacers
  • $10 for the mortar mixer power drill attachment?
  • $10 for grout sealant

So not a totally cheap project, about $420 overall.  But the nice thing is that this touch provides a classy anchor for a partial kitchen reno, which will likely include painting the cabinets white and adding new countertops.  Plus tile is natural, waterproof, and might even have better thermal loading properties than particle board.


2 thoughts on “Sweat Equity: Kitchen Tile

  1. Holy cow! You guys are DIY genuises- I love this project! I can’t wait to hear about cabinet painting (if you decide to do it). I’ve always wondered what that process is like! I love the look of white cabinets.

    • Thanks!! Well I don’t know if you read PDITF, but Debt Ninja showed a brief overview of his cabinet-painting project: http://www.punchdebtintheface.com/lost-5000/

      Our cabinets look a lot like that so the project is encouraging. We are painting all our moldings white, so this would match. White stuff looks cleaner and therefore newer! And better!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s