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Price Patrol: Installing Tile

Filed Under: Kitchen & Bath, Big Projects

laying tileLaying tile on the floor, using x-shaped spacers. Photo:Corbis

We've all seen bathrooms and kitchens with ceramic tile that instantly dates the room: salmon pink, avocado -- or just plain ugly. Tile that's severely broken and chipped isn't any better. Whether you're ready for a remodel, or you're tired of patching up damage, changing out bathroom tile entirely can instantly make your room feel modern and updated.

But, are you prepared to take on the job yourself, or would it be wiser to leave it up to the professionals? To make this decision a bit easier, let's take a look at the costs involved in each option.

Although the idea of swinging a hammer to tile appeals to me personally (because I find demo therapeutic), demo is the easy part. The rest of the project involves patience and precision. The good news is once you've acquired the right tools and developed effective skills, your next tile job will feel like a cake walk! But let's not get ahead of ourselves...

In addition to demolition there are a number of steps involved in laying tile that take quite a bit of time: prep, tiling, grouting, and sealing. Since these steps can't all be accomplished at all once -- even if you have a really small bathroom -- you must make a time commitment of at least a few days.

First, you never know what's behind that wall. We all hope it's a nice, sealed barrier, but the older the home the more chance you have of encountering a scary situation, such as mold, cracked plaster, and other damage. Unpleasant surprises are sure to throw a monkey wrench in your plans.

Second, knowing what kind of protective barriers and products to choose takes some research.

Third, tiling isn't very messy (after the demo phase), but the knowledge it takes to know how to use the tools (see list below) and hone your skills requires patience and practice.

So you can see how some homeowners may be happy to pay a professional to take care of this task instead. Hiring out the labor might save you time and work, but it will certainly have an impact on your wallet. Contractors will either charge per square foot or per hour. Per square foot seems like a more fair price to me, because it's fixed. For re-tiling alone, expect to spend $800 to $1200 for a bathtub enclosure and $1500 to $2500 for a tile shower. This is for tiling only, so you will still need to do demo and purchase the tile. Yikes!

If you want to save on labor costs, you can certainly take on the tile job yourself. Yes, you can do it! Here's what you'll need, and how much it'll cost.

Tool Rentals:

There is one tool you will want to rent unless you plan on doing a lot more tile jobs in the near future (other bathrooms, floors, backsplashes): the wet tile saw. Renting a wet saw is only necessary if you have a lot of cuts or complicated cuts or you have chosen a material other then the standard ceramic (like marble or granite). If you only have one or two easy cuts, you can take it to the closest Home Depot and they will cut them for you (usually for free!).

You can rent a wet tile saw at your local home improvement store (see Home Depot Tool Rental for more information). I called my local Home Depot and they told me it will cost between $42 and $65/day depending on the size of your tile. The $65 one can handle up to a 24" tile.

Tool & Material Purchases:
When you lay tile, you can use some items that you may already have in your toolbox, but many items are specific to this particular project. Therefore, if you haven't laid tile before you will probably need to buy them.

Assuming you've done demo and cleanup and have already purchased your tile of choice, here's what you'll need to DIY this project:

Specialty items:
Cement screws: You will want to use special cement board screws to screw your moisture barrier cement board into the studs. These are special screws that fight rust and corrosion. You can grab a pack of 100 for $7.49.

Cement board: Get a 3'x5' sheet for about $9.
How many you need depends on the size of your surround. Cement board is what you adhere your tile to. It provides a moisture barrier and makes it easier to install the tiles evenly.

tile nipperTile nipper. Photo: Corbis

Tile nippers
: About $12. There's no doubt you'll need to make some tiny cuts for your shower head, tub spout and knobs. A handheld tile nipper is like a pair of scissors for tile and does the job just fine.

Tile cutter: If you don't rent a wet saw, but you still need to make a few straight cuts, you can opt to purchase a ceramic tile cutter. They range from $18 to $133 depending on size and quality. The blade scores the tile and then you can just snap it. If your tile is very thick or dense, it might be wiser to rent a wet saw for the day.

Tile adhesive: Ceramic tile adhesive ranges from $12 for one gallon to $34 for 3.5 gallons for ready-to-use mortar.

Tile spacers: For about $3 you can get 100 to 250 tile spacers depending on the size.

v-notched trowel, laying tileThis DIYer uses a notched trowel, which has teeth around two of its edges. Here, he inserts a tile spacer. Photo: Corbis

V-notch trowel
: The notches on the trowel are v-shaped, thus the name. The size of your trowel depends on the size of your tile -- ask a home improvement store rep for guidance. They range between $7.50 and $10 for a standard trowel.

Mixing attachment: This gets attached to your power drill so that you can mix the tile mortar and water. This is only needed if you opt for powdered mortar or grout. They cost about $13.

Grout float: $4 to $15. The grout float helps you apply the grout between the tiles easily and even ergonomically. For small jobs, you can use a grout bag.

Grout: Roughly $13 per bag. You can't have tile without grout, so be sure you choose a color that complements your tile. For glass tile, you might consider an unsanded grout to prevent scratching.

Grout float (left) and grout bag. Photo: Corbis

Grout sealer: $4 to $5 for a sealer with applicator bottle. Finally, you want to seal your grout once it dries to keep the dirt, water and grime out. This is definitely not a step to forget!

And don't forget these necessities -- things you probably already have:
- Bucket
- Drill
- Chalk line or pencil + level
- Sponge
- Protective gloves you think you're ready to tackle it yourself -- and save?

  • sharon farnham

    I liked this article I have been demoing a kitchen what a job 4 different kinds of tile I have lived in house for 20 years . It is about 1/3 done I am trying to decide between ceramic tile and laminate tough descion to make . I wonder if putting down tile or doing laminate will bwe as tough a job as demo has been ?

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