Tile Installation Costs: How to Know What You’ll Pay

Get three estimates from contractors, select tile with labor costs in mind and be ready to trim ambitions if costs soar. Ballparking tile installation costs won’t be much help.
Hal M. Bundrick, CFP®
By Hal M. Bundrick, CFP® 
Edited by Amanda Derengowski

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Tile, typically a bathroom and kitchen flooring essential, has been used in more home-design applications in recent years. Today’s hardwood-simulating planks, subway and marble-look tiles, as well as other new textures, patterns and shapes, are among the most popular home trends.

From flooring to walls, tile is literally a cool and in-demand design element for modern builders and improvers. Here’s how to plan, budget and implement your tile installation project.

Tile installation considerations

Tile has always been best-suited for bathrooms, mudrooms and kitchens. It’s perfect for areas that may encounter moisture because it’s durable, easy to clean and water resistant. Today, even more rooms are getting a tile makeover.

The reasons for tile’s popularity include:

  • Tile is cooler on your feet and a favorite in warm regions.

  • Tile installation is less expensive in warm regions.

  • Printing technology allows for nearly endless design possibilities.

The tile rating

For floors, make sure that the tile you choose is rated for flooring.

"You cannot put wall tiles on the floors. It will not hold up to the foot traffic, you can slip on it and, also, it can crack,” says Debbie Gartner of Westchester, New York, a blogger at theflooringgirl.com.

Floor tiles can be used on walls.

The location

If it will be installed in wet or moist areas, such as baths and entryways, the tile should be slip-resistant.

Regional housing differences

Gartner notes that labor costs vary by where you live. In warmer areas of the nation, tile installation costs are likely to be lower, compared to costs in the mid-Atlantic, the Midwest or the Northeast.

That’s because houses in warmer regions are often built on slabs, Gartner says, with concrete subfloors.

"You can install the tile directly on top of that," she says. "The labor is often less expensive because there's less you need to do."

In the nation's cooler climates, houses are typically built with plywood subflooring, so there are higher material and labor costs due to the additional preparation required.

How to budget for tile installation costs

National estimates are practically useless. For example, Fixr.com, a service referral site, says the average cost to install tile flooring for a 200-square-foot area is between $700 and $2,000. That’s a mighty broad range.

HomeAdvisor, a service-pro referral site, gets a bit more granular, saying that the average per-square-foot price of tile ranges from $1.30 for ceramic to $7.50 for marble.

There are many pricing variables beyond simply the type of tile, including:

  • Old material removal.

  • Subflooring preparation.

  • Costs related to flooring changes, such as electrical and plumbing modifications.

  • And general installation labor.

Forget ballparking. Gartner says to take a more direct route to budgeting by getting real-life estimates. She should know; Gartner owned a flooring store for more than nine years.

"The best way to budget is to get estimates," she says. "Start with what you want. Pretend for a second that budget doesn't matter."

The best way to budget is to get estimates.
Debbie Gartner, Blogger at theflooringgirl.com

Consider whether you want tiles everywhere, just in some rooms or as accents. "Then get three contractors to come in and give you an estimate," Gartner adds.

After receiving "the budget doesn't matter" estimates, you can begin finding ways to reduce costs and prioritizing what you want to spend your money on.

"Sometimes, if you switch materials, it will impact the labor," Gartner advises. “Natural stone is a good example. That will cost you more on the labor."

How to reduce tile installation costs

There’s not much you can do about the labor costs in your area, but there are ways to reduce your project’s total ticket:

  • Choose a less-expensive tile, which can lower your product and labor costs.

  • Reduce tile coverage to fewer rooms or smaller areas.

  • Trim other project costs, such as not replacing a tub or vanity in a bathroom, or forgoing a kitchen island.

Does tile enhance the value of your home?

Most major home improvements add to the home value, but few, if any, return your total investment in materials and labor. Hardwood floors generally add more value than tile flooring, Gartner says.

New wood flooring recovered 91% of its cost, according to the 2017 Remodeling Impact Report by the National Association of Realtors. And wood-look tile is popular these days. However, the costs of hardwood flooring versus tile can vary by where you live, so you’ll want to compare the two before making a final decision.

DIY tile installation

For do-it-yourselfers looking to reduce costs, attempting tile installation may not be the way to go because of the expertise and equipment required, as well as proper floor prep.

"The biggest issue is when people install tile on top of any sort of wood. When you do that, the hardwood (or plywood) expands and contracts naturally through the moisture — the humidity and temperature — and so the wood expands but the tile does not. The tile is brittle and tends to crack,” Gartner says.

However, tile backsplashes are a possible DIY project, mainly because they're going on a wall and not taking the constant stress from foot traffic that floor tiles do. Surface preparation is less of a factor, too.

And many backsplash tiles these days come inside a mesh backing, perfectly spaced for easy installation.

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