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Low-Budget Tile Countertops: Good or Bad Idea?

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I'm remodeling my kitchen on a super low budget. Already getting some nice feedback about using only portable induction cooktops for my "stove". Now I'd love your thoughts about tile countertops.

The kitchen is a small "L" shape, about 62" x 66" of countertop. I've had formica in every kitchen I've ever lived with and hate it. Part of the problem, I think, is that in a tiny kitchen all the trivets and cutting boards needed to protect the formica make the countertop cluttered. I want to be able to put hot pots directly on the counter, cut on it, use it hard! My favorite choice would be stainless steel but I can't afford it.

Porcelain tile is inexpensive but the grout can be a pain. The old kitchen counters from the 40's and 50's with their 4" rounded-edge tiles don't appeal to me. The lumpy surface makes everything you put on it wobble! However, they now make very large tiles with straight edges that can take narrow grout lines- under 1/8".

So I'm thinking of large, fully vitrified porcelain tiles with very thin grout lines. Maybe an inset butcher's block. Or maybe tile on the sink side of the "L" and butcher's block on the other side. I'm not afraid of bacteria with the butcher's block because I wouldn't cut meat on it and I know how to clean it.

Do you think this would make a nice work space or not? Do you have any suggestions? Thanks!

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  1. You can get rectified porcelain and all but butt them against each other. There is an epoxy based grout you can use that doesn't stain and is ideal for very thin grout lines. Rectified is very square sharp corners, it's going to be more expensive than regular tile or regular porcelain. For about the same price you can use granite tiles, the difference is you never have to seal the porcelain.

    3 Replies
    1. re: mikie

      One of the reasons I didn't want granite is because it needs sealing. I've got multiple chemical sensitivity- can't have chemicals in my house that offgas VOCs, solvents, fragrances and such. (This makes remodeling hard!)

      Do you know if the epoxy based grout has a chemical odor, or for how long until it becomes inert?

      1. re: shiny

        Epoxy is a thermosetting plastic material and once it cross links it's fairly inert. It will have an oder before it crosslinks. The option is a non sanded grout with latex additive, this too will have some odor, probably not as much as the epoxy. The thing is you need something to give the grout strength. Sandes grout has more strength but isn't good for very thin grout lines. Regular grout needs to be sealed, even with the latex modifier, but the epoxy does not, so once it's down it's done. There was a do it yourself article on tile countertops in Popular Mechanics a few years ago. It had all the details you would need.

        You can get through body porcelin tile that if it chips it's the same color all the way through. Our kitchen floor is rectified through body porcelin.

        1. re: shiny

          Are you SURE about the sealing thing? I'm almost positive nothing was applied to my granite upon installation, and I know nothing has been done do it in the intervening 14 years.

          although I have slabs in the kitchen, i did the bathroom counters in granite 12x12 tiles to save $$$. They look like the day they were put in except that a couple of the ones set vertically on the counter edge had to be re-set.

          You can set anything on the granite, it does not stain or chip or scratch. (at least my dark color does not)

      2. When I installed our bar we had an old cupboard and sink that I remodeled cheaply. Gave myslef a work surface by tiling the top of the cupboard, grouting and brushing on clear sealant. Never had any problems with the surface. Never noticed any odor or problems with the sealant.

        2 Replies
        1. re: kagemusha49

          The Aqua Mix sealer I have says no VOCs on the label, so that shouldn't be an issue.

          1. re: mikie

            That's good to know, thanks. I just found Laticrete SpectraLOCK™ Grout. It sounds great. Wonder how bad it smells before it hardens?

        2. You could definitely try tiling with honed slate floor tiles. You wouldn't have to seal, just oil to keep in shape. Floor tiles are nice and thick, and if you get a larger size, you can minimize grout lines. On two of our countertops, we used leftover Brazilian Slate from our bathroom remodel on the countertops. It looks beautiful and with black grout and small grout lines, they look fabulous.
          If you want to avoid the rough edges that happen if you are tiling the facing surface of the countertops, look for the Schluter system of edging for countertops
          http://www.builderonline.com/Images/1...
          My kitchen pictures are still up, if you click on my name and go to the photos. You'll see the main island with a granite polished floor tile countertop. The picture of the coffee center with coffee machine has the left over slate. We couldn't be happier.

          12 Replies
          1. re: freia

            What a beautiful kitchen you have! From seeing all your posts it's obvious how much you love to cook. That kitchen must bring a smile to your face every day :-)

            With your granite and slate tile, is there anything you have to be careful about? Is it safe to put hot pots on them? What kind of oil do you use on your slate? How often? Does the oil make it feel greasy? How wide would you say the grout lines are?

            1. re: shiny

              Thanks, shiny!
              OK care instructions:
              1. I sealed my granite some 5 years ago, and it looks like new. I don't rest oil bottles directly on it, and I wash regularly with plain ole soap and water. I notice that if I really clean it, with alot of water, the water will discolor the granite but when it dries out it returns to its usual color. I suspect that this is because the sealant is wearing off, but since I have no permanent rings or discoloration, it doesn't bother me that much.
              2. I oil my slate very occasionally with food grade mineral oil. I keep the countertop nice and clean with regular usual cleaning.
              3. I always use heat pads on my countertop. The reason is because these are tiles, not inch and half solid surface. I worry that the tiles, being thin, are more prone to cracking as a result of being so thin -- I'm not sure that a thin tile (aka thinner than 3/4 inch or 1 1/2 inch solid surface) will distribute the heat of a hot pot evenly and efficiently. Since its easier to prevent a cracked tile than to replace one, I keep silicone pads right by the ovens and right by the stove and just flip them into place. And just so as you know, I personally would still do this with a porcelain tile surface and with a solid surface too. I'm just not brave enough to try it out LOL!
              4. I used minimal grout lines, the thinnest I could get away with. Maybe 1/8th of an inch. And I matched the grout to the color of the tiles as best as I could. I sealed this also around 5 years ago, and haven't resealed since. I don't have much of an issue with grout staining, either. I don't notice it because of the color of tile and grout that I used. Mottled granite means the mottled grout if any kind of blends right in.
              5. Although you could cut on granite/slate, I always use a cutting board.
              Hope this helps!
              :)

              1. re: freia

                This helps very much! I've been reading the interwebs, filling entire notebooks with notes about everything related to this remodeling. It's amazing how many of the best ideas and experiences have come from people in this forum. You guys are great!

                1. re: shiny

                  xoxox
                  OH and just so as you know, the floor tiles I used for the large kitchen island were 16 inch x 16 inch in order to minimize the number of grout lines, and they cost $4.65 each at a cash and carry place a few hours from my small town. The slate tiles were 12 inch x 24 inch, and cost $3.55 each at that same cash and carry place.
                  I splurged on the Ditra mat liner and the edging. Using Ditra mat on the countertop before tile installation meant that the wood substructure is protected from water damage, which is important around the sink area. And the Schluter-Jolly edging means no sharp corners or raw tile edges. Makes for a nice finish...
                  :)
                  :)

                2. re: freia

                  FYI Freia this granite tiles should be LESS vulnerable to cracking from heat than a solid slab of granite.

                    1. re: shiny

                      Temperature differences in a thin tile will be smaller than in a thick slab. So differential rates of thermal expansion between the two surfaces (top and bottom) will be smaller for the tile. It's these differences in expansion that cause cracks to form.

                    2. re: kagemusha49

                      I'm just a big chicken when it comes down to it. it takes me all of 2 seconds to plop a silicone pad down on the countertop before I plop a pot down, even though I have used ceramic trivets in the past. I guess it just comes down to what one is comfortable with. I know I'd rather have to replace a trivet than a broken countertop tile every time, so to me I'd rather not chance it.

                      1. re: freia

                        So you'd better use silicone pads when you put something hot down on your solid slabs too.

                  1. re: shiny

                    I would think you could put hot pots on them, afterall there are many trivits that are made with a ceramic tile center.

                    1. re: mikie

                      I would think so, too. Tiles are fired at thousands of degrees, while pots are only a few hundred degrees.

                3. I am working on a total gut of my kitchen reusing the cabinets, and fridge. all totaled I am still under $5,000 I am using porcelain tiles 18x18 I got them for a good price, I am using an epoxy grout very thin lines, and using the Schlueter products for trim, I am still in process but very excited with the progress we have made. I did my kitchen 20 yrs ago with 4inch ceramic tiles and they held up good, liked the ability to put hot things on counter and minimum maintenance, but the smaller tiles chipped easier, and learned some about proper joint sealing. Call the Schluter people they are great for answering questions.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Littlebit861

                    Yes to porcelain tiles, narrow grout lines and epoxy grout. Good combo for the kitchen.