It’s finally happening. After weeks, no, months of deliberations, several days of negotiations, and nearly $1k in price reductions (more on this little bit of awesome in a moment) the floor tile is on order. Phew!
And the best part is, that is NOT what we paid for it. Holla!
Let me preface this post by saying that I don’t consider myself a professional at this (far from it!), but based on my experiences I feel I can offer a little advice on making large home improvement material/installation purchases. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned throughout this process (and, ok, from working for a mid-to-large sized general contractor/construction manager for the past 5 years):
1) Order Samples and Preview Them in Your Space. I ordered a couple dozen tile samples directly from the manufacturers (they’re free!) and we narrowed down our favorites from those. We looked at them in various lights over several days. We placed them around the room and against different finishes and, one by one, removed tiles that weren’t working.
Some were too dark, too light, too blue, too striped, too flecked…
We tried not to look at the tile samples against the existing floor or the off-white counters during this process. Since we plan to re-coat the counters and tile right over the existing floor, it didn’t matter at all if the tile looked smashing or not against the faux-wood vinyl (spoiler alert: everything looks nicer than 60 year old faux-wood vinyl). More on the counters in a later post — promise.
We did, however, want to make sure that the tile we selected would not only bring out the golden tones in the cabinetry, but wouldn’t look blue next to the navy blue wall.
I really liked the speckled tile (It’s called Salt and Pepper by Azrock, but I just think it’s a little too busy for our house. I would LOVE it in someone else’s kitchen though! If you have it, send me pictures!
2) Shop Around. For both materials and for installers. We got quotes from big box stores and from small licensed contractors who own their own businesses. I tired a couple local tile places but none them sold or installed VCT (more on why we’re set on VCT tiles here). The quotes ranged nearly $1.5k from the lowest to the highest! And hey, if you can save yourself over a grand with just a little more leg work? DO IT!
Once we decided on our favorite tile (Armstrong’s Atmosphere is the palest rectangular sample in the photos above) I looked around online for the best price. Our go-to handyman (one of the licensed contractors I mentioned above) “has a guy” who could get it for $3.35/sf but was willing to let me purchase it myself if I wanted. Floor City had it listed for $2.72/sf — the cheapest option I found online. So color me shocked when Home Depot said they could special order it directly from Armstrong for only $2.27/sf. And The Home Depot’s installation fee turned out to be half the price of our handyman (cat’s out of the bag — we’re going with The Home Depot for materials and installation).
Now, we could have gone for one of those square tiles seen above for only $0.79/sf (Armstrong’s Soft Warm Gray and Soft Cool Gray are both popular for MCM home renovations), but we really preferred the linear variations in the Striations line. For us, if we’re going to drop a huge chunk of change on flooring we want to say that we really love it. And we really love these tiles. Plus, they’re green — our kitchen floor could be certified LEED Gold when all is done, which the CM/GC in me thinks is pretty cool!
For more photos of the Striations line in action, take a look at the work Simas Floor and Design Company has done using the Striations like here.
3) Carefully Review Your Quotes: I originally almost threw The Home Depot quote directly into the trash because it was way, way, way out of budget. After taking a minute look at it, I realized why: they were charging obscene amounts of money to remove and reinstall the toilet ($175) and haul the appliances 6′ away to the garage ($135). In addition, I caught an error they made in calculating the carry-in fee — they had charged the $1.50 fee per tile instead of per box (when I pointed that out we all had a good laugh at the mental image of a guy carrying 382 tiles into the house one by one — he’d probably earn that extra $564!). Also, if we picked up the materials instead of having them delivered we could save another $85. So, by taking a careful look at our highest quote I was able to turn it into our lowest quote by a landslide — we ended up deleting $959 from the original quote (although we tacked a bit more on by upgrading the tile later). Which leads me to…
4) It Never Hurts to Ask. Our handyman’s material costs per tile was the highest. I asked if he could go back to his supplier and see if he could get a better price for us (the more subcontractors and suppliers you have to go through to get materials in your hot little hands the higher the mark-up you will see). He agreed readily, but his supplier was firm on his price. No biggie — but it’s best to know for sure.
Another example — and one that worked out to our benefit — was when I asked if The Home Depot could special order our preferred tile. After all the re-working I did on their quote The Home Depot had the lowest price for installation, but had told me that they couldn’t order the Atmosphere tile that we really wanted. We really didn’t want to settle on the tile (but were having a hard time with the thought of paying nearly twice as much for installation elsewhere) so I called their customer service department and simply asked again. I told them I was ready for pay for materials and installation in full that day, but that I had my heart set on a product that wasn’t in their database. It took some finagling (and a lot of perseverance on my part), but I finally found someone that took the time to call Armstrong directly and special order it for us. AND they were able to get it for a shockingly low price! Score! (a special shout-out to Steve and Adrienne in the flooring department!!)
5) Know Before You Go. Do your research — if you sound like you know what you’re talking about it’s less likely that people will take advantage of you. I hate to say it, but especially if you’re female it will behoove you to do your homework. You can still ask questions (and I certainly encourage you to do so!), but hopefully by the time you get to the order desk, the simple and straightforward questions you will already know the answers to. The internet is a beautiful thing. Use it.
6) Complete Any Hazardous Material Testing/Abatement. This goes hand in hand with #5. It will save you some cash in the long run to find out early — and by early I mean before the installers do — whether or not you have hazardous materials in the work area. The Home Depot charges a hefty sum ($397 according to our quote) for having to encapsulate any lead paint they might uncover. For less than ten bucks you can buy a lead paint test kit and slap a new coat of lead-free paint on yourself. We’re pretty sure our tiles aren’t asbestos (the faux wood grain seems to have most folks thinking not), but given the era of the home it’s likely that the mastic (aka the adhesive) is chock full of the stuff. This is another reason why we’re planning to lay the new tile directly over the existing — as long as we don’t disturb it we’re fine, but if we wanted to remove the existing floor first we would have to hire a very expensive abatement crew to handle that portion of the work. We’re lucky that for all intents and purposes our floor is in great shape. The mastic is still holding up amazingly well and we have no areas that are lifting or are otherwise in rough shape. If it weren’t for the aesthetic of the tile itself, we wouldn’t be doing this project at all!
7) Don’t Be Afraid to Make a Deal. You may have already gathered this, but I love to barter. If you feel more comfortable with a contractor that gave you a slightly higher quote, ask if he’d be willing to price match. Let him know you want his business but that his price is keeping you from sealing the deal and see if he’d be willing to work out a compromise. He’s not going to be offended — that’s how business works. He’ll know that if he plays ball, even if he doesn’t win your job, that you’ll be more likely to call him up for your next project. Also, paying in cash rather than financing the purchase may not always be feasible, but if you can swing it, you can save yourself interest fees and it can be a good bargaining chip. Lastly, and perhaps above all else, if your mom offers to help shoulder some of the expense as a birthday gift (so long as you agree to splurge for the pretty tile that she likes) — let her. Mama knows best.
Do you have any tips for scoring deals on home renovations? Share ’em in the comments!