Tiling a Kitchen Floor, For Dummies

This is no humble brag — it’s a full-out brag: I’m pretty handy. I can put up sheetrock, paint, and fix things in a pinch. I enjoy my home improvement projects (remember Fix-It Friday?), but since becoming a mother, I choose to spend most of my free time with my toddler.

But every once in a while, I get a bug up my butt to start a new project. This time, it was to replace our kitchen’s disgusting sheet linoleum floor. The floor was so dirty, even a steam cleaner with a grout attachment couldn’t get all the dirt out of the crevices on each square. I’ve been wanting to replace the floor for at least two years — I could have sworn I had a blog post about that around here somewhere. But I didn’t want to put in a beautiful new ceramic floor just to have to rip it up when it came time to renovate the kitchen, a project that likely won’t happen until 5-7 years from now.

Already knowing I didn’t want laminate wood floor because the rest of our first level has real wood flooring, I investigated my vinyl flooring options. I’d successfully tiled our back playroom with vinyl tiles when we first moved in, but wasn’t sure it was a look I wanted in the kitchen — 30 years old or not.

One Saturday, I wandered to my local Home Depot and discovered vinyl tile that you can GROUT, and my inner Bob Vila thought it was a fabulous idea. The vinyl tiles are self-stick — just peel off the backing and set them down — so all I needed was some spacers and some pre-mixed grout.

Ripping Up the Old Linoleum

I had an entire week off from work for ‘staycation,’ and the first night, I began tearing up the old sheet linoleum. Unfortunately, there were TWO layers of linoleum to deal with. It took me a day and a half just to remove it, using a 1-inch-wide putty knife and a blow-dryer (to loosen the old adhesive). By the end, my hands felt unusable. This is how it looked at the very, very beginning.



That green layer? That was the clean backer layer — more like a sheet of paper than a board — that I almost destroyed, thinking there was plywood underneath rather than the super-ugly original kitchen tile that showed through at the seam with the wood flooring in the dining room. As I went along, I gently scraped off any extra linoleum paper backing that was left on the backer paper in order to ensure a smooth surface. Eventually, we moved the fridge into the dining room, but to do that, I had to disconnect the water line to the ice maker, which I managed without flooding the joint.

I was going to prep the backer board before beginning to lay the vinyl tile, but decided against it since the surface was very clean and generally level. But I used wall spackle to fill a few holes here, especially to level out the spot where I started in the picture above.

Putting Down Vinyl Tile

This was the easiest part for me — yes, really. I bought 1/8-inch tile spacers and used them to space out the tile as if it were porcelain or ceramic. It was probably harder, as I had to remove the backing paper on each tile and make sure it was straight before laying it down and sticking it to the floor. Cutting around door frames was a pain, but I did a pretty damned good job with just a razor knife and scissors — I found the scissors to be better for complicated cuts.

Grouting Vinyl Tile

Pre-mixed grout made this part less painful. The day after setting down the vinyl tiles, I tackled this portion of the project. Using a 3-inch putty knife, I added grout to the joints, making sure I didn’t get too much on the vinyl tile surface — unlike normal tiling, you don’t cover the entire surface. I then wiped off the excess with a damp sponge, rinsing the sponge after every wipe, and finished the joint with a folded paper towel (apologies to any professional tilers cringing while reading this). Here’s how it looked as I started to grout — I worked on the fridge area first.


My least favorite part of this home improvement project? Trying to keep two cats, a 2-year-old and a hungry husband out of the kitchen for the three days as I worked. But the finished product made it all worthwhile.


Naturally, that’s our perpetually-in-motion toddler, Emily, running around on what she now calls “Mommy’s floor.” The vinyl tile itself was a little darker than I thought it would look in our kitchen, but I think it pulls everything together, especially with our black appliances.

Next on the home improvement agenda? Updating the hardware pulls on the cabinets (think I’ll leave well enough alone with the hinges) and repainting the walls on the opposite side of the kitchen where our table and chairs are. That will be a snap compared to this!

A Penny Floor: A Man, a Woman and 60,000 Pennies

Pretty incredible — this Chicago couple wanted to redo the floor in their bedroom, and decided to do it with pennies! Check out the story and pictures on their website, The Penny Floor, because they’re pretty incredible.

Ryan Lange and Emily Belden glued nearly 60,000 pennies to the floor BY HAND.

Ryan Lange, ThePennyFloor.com

Ryan Lange, ThePennyFloor.com


The pennies are worth more than the $600 face value — these folks actually glued down two rare pennies instead of cashing them in!

It looks pretty cool, but it’s not something I’d consider as a decor point.

Bathroom Renovation Reveal

It’s finally done! Well, almost.

Our upstairs full bathroom renovation is a success, and the room looks beautiful. We still have a few things to do, like build a linen closet and get matching towels and some sort of art for the walls, but it’s done. The linen closet will be in the 15.5-inch by 30-inch alcove next to the tub. I’ll probably start building the shelving this weekend, and I’ll need to get a door from a kitchen/bath cabinet place. And the window calls for some sort of treatment — blinds or curtains?

We had an interesting time getting the 400-pound cast iron tub up two flights of stairs (to the front door and up to the second floor). And by “we,” I mean Mr. Not-So-Frugal, my father-in-law, brother and neighbor. I was at work when that happened.

It also turned out that we had to bust up the ceiling in the downstairs bathroom, which had decorative ceiling tiles over an old plaster ceiling. After the plumber finished his work under the new tub, the contractor sheetrocked the ceiling for us.

The final tally: $7300. Not too far off my estimate of $7050 in an earlier bathroom renovation blog post. In addition to splurging on the vanity, I also spent more on the sink faucet set and shower tiles.

Here are some before and after photos. I wish I had a better shot of the original bathroom, but since it was in an “L” shape with a walk-in closet nestled in the middle of it (!!), this will have to do.

Who designed this bathroom, a blind man? There IS a shower to the right of the toilet.

In progress

Another in-progress view, before grout

The finished product

It’s an amazing transformation — it became the bathroom I envisioned. Not bad for someone who’s terrible at making decor decisions.

Bathroom Renovation Burnout

It’s been 3 weeks since the contractor started on our bathroom. Since then, we’ve had a lot of back and forth with the electrician and plumber. We still need to maneuver our new cast-iron tub (yes, really, we’re crazy like that) up two flights of stairs from its current home in our garage (ditto for the solid-wood vanity). I need to buy floor tile and accent tile for the tub area, pick a potty, and get faucets and trim kits for the sink and shower/tub. Those last two are going to come from a local plumbing supply, as the quality of the product and connectors is 100% better than the cut-rate, substandard products you get at your big-box hardware store.

I’m just ready for it all to be finished. My impatience is legendary when it comes to letting others do things that I could surely do better and faster myself. It’s not always a great thing, but it does help me get the job done!

Since I posted my budget for the bathroom renovation, I’ve found that I’ve spent more on some items and less on others. For instance, I sprung for high-quality tile for the tub surround ($450 instead of $150), spent double on an exhaust fan ($110 instead of $50) and one-third of what I thought on an electric baseboard heating unit ($25 instead of $75).

I also want to get some glass mosaic tile to accent the simple tile I’ve selected for the tub area, and have to come up with a design. I could 1) run the mosaic tiles in a straight line around the three sides, or 2) use it to make a ‘picture frame’ focal point, and have the tile guy inset some of the plain square tiles in a diamond pattern. I’m still deciding.

Making decisions for decor is something with which I’ve always had difficulty, so I’ve been waiting until the last minute to decide on things. I’m pretty sure that will continue throughout the duration of this project.


Bathroom Renovation on a Budget Is a Myth

See the walls from the walk-in closet eating up valuable bathroom space?

Frugality is something I try to incorporate into my daily life. It’s not always easy, but if I can cut costs without sacrificing too much, I do it.

After three years and two bedroom renovations, we’re finally ready to tackle the barely-usable upstairs bathroom. I say “barely usable” because 1) it was L-shaped, with a walk-in closet built into it (think of a smaller square set into a larger square — what’s left outside the smaller square was our bathroom space!) and 2) the shower doors made it near impossible to turn on the water because of their proximity to the toilet.

While I was on maternity leave back in May, I decided to tear down the inner walls of the walk-in closet. In a prior renovation to the hallway, we’d sealed the door to this closet and sheetrocked over it. Now, almost a year later, we’re ready for the bathroom remodel — thank you, big tax refund. Nevermind the bathroom walls are knotty pine (and matching vanity!). Good for a basement bathroom or a shore house, bad for a modern bathroom.

I didn’t realize just how much it would cost to redo our bathroom until I sat down and worked out the costs. I don’t want to cheap out on something that adds value to our home, so we’re looking at mid-range fixtures and will be fixing appliances if and when something goes wrong with them, rather than going with low-cost items. And assuming we stay in our home for the rest of our lives, I don’t plan on redoing this bathroom for 30 years — if ever. If it were up to my husband, we would have never renovated this bathroom. Easy for him to say, since “his” bathroom is downstairs. This upstairs bathroom is a family bathroom, since it sits between two bedrooms.

We’re converting the shower into a tub for Baby (Toddler? Is it time for a new nickname?) Frugalista, and it’s possible I may use it for baths more than a handful of times…

Cost Breakdown

There are so many items that make up a bathroom. It takes more than “just” windows, sheetrock, paint and a light fixture. We’re only tiling the floor and the tub area, and painting the other walls. Here’s what we’ve spent so far and other costs we’ll incur:

Major Stuff

  • Vanity: $700 — this is a “splurge” — I wanted solid-wood construction)
  • Vanity top: $235 — white, integrated sink
  • Tub: $400 — 5-foot, cast-iron, white
  • Toilet: $250 — simple, white
  • Exhaust fan: $50
  • Electric baseboard heater: $75 — we have no heat in this bathroom
  • Sink faucet: $150
  • Tub/shower faucets — $150
  • Shower tile: $150
  • Floor tile: $150

Accessories & Lighting

  • Mirror for over the vanity: $150
  • Vanity light fixture: $100
  • Recessed lighting: $30
  • Towel bar: $30
  • Toilet paper holder (recessed): $20
  • Linen cabinet: $150-$250?
  • Paint: $50


  • Contractor: $3100 includes replacement window, labor, materials (except for tile), sheetrocking, spackling & tilework
  • Electrician: $600 (estimated labor + parts)
  • Plumber: $400 (estimated labor + parts)

TOTAL: $7040


Bathroom Renovations Have a High Return on Investment (ROI)

If my calculations are correct and I don’t choose less-expensive fixtures, nearly $7,000 is not out of the ordinary for a bathroom remodel, particularly in the Northeast. The electrician, contractor and plumber are all family friends, and I did a lot of the teardown myself. The good news is that the return on investment (ROI) on a bathroom renovation is thought to be 80-100% — bathroom and kitchen remodels are high on the list of priorities for home buyers and sellers.

Also, I haven’t just gone with the first fixtures I see. Once I decide on a fixture, I’ve been shopping around and purchasing them from the lowest-priced retailer or supply store. I really want this bathroom to look nice and be comfortable, since we plan to use it for years and years to come.

Have you remodeled a bathroom? Were your costs similar to ours?

Fix-It Friday: Installing a Digital Thermostat

After installation, but before touch-up.

After sitting on the floor of a closet for two years, the digital thermostat is finally installed. I was tired of our inaccurate, old-school thermometer and wanted something more precise. Of course, I was also in it for the money-saving potential, too.

The idea of messing with wiring in our house didn’t exactly appeal to me, but I figured it would only be a few tiny wires. Worst-case scenario, there are a ton of wires to connect. I’ve rewired entire rooms from scratch, so how hard could it be?

The Process

First, I had to remove the current non-digital thermostat, which was attached in three different layers: the cover, a middle portion containing the actual thermostat, and the base anchored to the wall. There were a lot of screws.

Once I unscrewed the middle portion, I saw that I was in luck. There were only three wires: two connected to the thermostat, and one that was just hanging there, exposed. It should have been wrapped in electrical tape and tucked away from the thermostat unit. I noted which wire corresponded to which terminal points (labeled with letters of the alphabet), disconnected the two wires, and removed the base. Now I had a clean wall with a few screw holes and a set of three wires.

The new digital thermostat installation kit included very easy-to-read directions that said, in a nutshell, to mount the base using the provided screws and connect the existing wires to the same letters on the new terminal points. I think I hooked up a “B” and a “V”, tucked away the now-wrapped-with-black-electrical-tape third wire, and snapped the thermostat and then the cover into place. Easy-peasy.

From my garage, I took a bit of spackle and filled in the old screw holes. I also had leftover wall paint and touched up the part of the wall showing the old paint job, and it looks like new.

What I like best about the digital thermostat is that I can program it for four different temperatures each day — wake, leave for the day, come home, and sleep — with one set for Monday-Friday and another set for Saturday and Sunday. What I did notice is that I need to keep the thermostat set at 75-76 degrees at night to stay comfortably warm on the colder days, probably because the thermostat location is in a hallway next to the kitchen, where it tends to be warmer than the rest of the house.

It’s nice to not have to worry about turning down the thermostat in the morning before leaving for work. I’m looking forward to seeing if the digital thermostat helps lower our utility bills. I’ll try to compare our next bill to the same time period last year, but since we’ve been having a very warm spell, it probably won’t be a good indicator of improvement.

Gutting the Bathroom? Yes, I’m Nuts.

Now that our two upstairs bedrooms have been remodeled, I’ve turned my attention to the full bathroom up there, the last piece in the second-floor renovation puzzle.

Yes, I know. I have a 3 1/2-month-old baby at home. But I also need to do something constructive with my down time (yes, I still have some of that).

So yesterday, I decided I wanted to see how big the bathroom would be when I busted out the walk-in closet that was built into the bathroom space — we’d sealed up the entry door from the hallway side. And who the heck designs an L-shaped bathroom with a huge closet taking up all the room? That’s a question for another time.

Here’s the bathroom, with the wall I ‘removed’ — there’s a full shower behind the other gray-green wall, next to the toilet. See what I mean?

I think I’m just going to continue tearing the wood paneling off the walls and see how it goes. We have another (real) full bathroom on the first floor, so it doesn’t matter that this will take a while. After I go back to work, I’ll see how much it will cost to replace the shower with a tub and build a small closet in the space. The rest I can do myself because I plan to use the existing plumbing.

Did I mention my husband thinks I’m nuts?

Am I?