Cement Vs. Ceramic Tile: Why We Chose Ceramic For Our Bathroom

I started this process with my heart (naively) set on putting cement tile in the main house bathroom. I didn't really have a particular justification for this, other than the fact that it seemed like all of the tile that had caught my eye in the last year or so was encaustic cement.  I particularly fell in love with the halfmoon pattern from cle tile. The only problem, as with most of the cement patterns I liked, was the price tag. At $15.50 per square foot, we would be spending quite a bit on the floor tile alone. Then, since we did the nicer floor, we needed to do the nicer tub...and a nicer vanity...the typical OVERrenovation trap that we've been warned so much about. 

The one I really loved also had black in it, but they don't seem to carry it anymore.

The one I really loved also had black in it, but they don't seem to carry it anymore.

Despite my overspending anxieties, we decided to move forward with the halfmoon because we really didn't like anything else quite as much. And then I went to "check out" and realized that shipping would be $250. And that was the end of that.

I searched around locally for the next couple of weeks trying to find a similar pattern for a reasonable price, but came up empty handed. 

I ended up having a conversation with a very helpful woman at Castle Flooring here in Austin, and she spelled out for me all of the reasons (in addition to the price) that encaustic cement most likely wasn't the right choice for us. 

Cons of Cement Tile

  • Difficult Installation: we plan to install this flooring ourselves and we were advised that, even for professionals, cement is very difficult. With the already high price tag, getting professional installation is not an option for us.

  • Sealing: Cement is very porous and needs to be thoroughly sealed. Over and over and over. This was a wake up call that, as a rental, we would be setting ourselves up for extra work, and/or extra stress worrying about protecting the tiles from stains etc.

  • Thickness: Cement tiles are verrrryyy thick in comparison to porcelain or ceramic. If you aren't gutting your bathroom like us, you can run into some pretty wonky height differences installing cement tile, such as your toilet being significantly higher than before. For us, the biggest concern is that our bathroom butts up to the wood floor in the living room. It would be quite a step up into the bathroom with the thickness of cement.

Cool porcelain tile at Castle Flooring. Looks so similar to cement!

Cool porcelain tile at Castle Flooring. Looks so similar to cement!

It became clear that all signs were pointing to my cement dreams coming to an end. I started going down the porcelain and ceramic tile rabbit hole and was really pleasantly surprised with how many patterns I liked.

After looking at literally every result under my many queries for "geometric pattern tile", we finally decided on the Merola Tile Twenties Diamond from Home Depot. Yes, my search of specialty tile stores near and far led me all the way back good ol' home deeps. It's funny how that works. 

Low cost, easy (fingers crossed) installation, low maintenance, durability-- ceramic tile just made a whole lot of sense for us. Seriously, you guys, we ended up paying around $3 per square foot. Plus, i'm a fan of the classic tumbling block pattern, but also love that the other orientation offers a completely different alternative.

Cement Vs. Ceramic Tile: Why We Chose Ceramic For Our Bathroom
Cement Vs. Ceramic Tile: Why We Chose Ceramic For Our Bathroom

Of course, with more choices, comes...more choices. And thats where you guys come in. Please help us end the bathroom tile decision saga by voting for which pattern you prefer on our most recent instagram post!

Alright, that's it for me. We will be reporting back as to whether ceramic tile is really as easy to install as they say it is!

-Em O

UPDATE: To see the final result of our bathroom head to this post.

Addicted to the Demo - Bathroom Update

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As you can see, we showed up Saturday morning with our scrapers and hammers in hand. We'd watched the demo tutorials on YouTube, fully prepared to go to town on this bathroom. If you saw our bathroom before, you know we had plenty of work to do. 

First order of business, remove the toilet. We did all the necessary steps - drain it, un-screw it, disconnect the water supply. But then it came time for my most dreaded step: removal of the wax ring. Every time i watch a toilet removal tutorial on YouTube I always gag when they get to the part about wax rings. Seeing the sticky, yellow, bacteria riddled ring exposed in person was no exception. If you don't have a disease before removing a wax ring, you definitely do after. We got down there with a scraper, removed the old ring, and plugged the hole with an old rag. It was just as #glamorous as it sounds. With the toilet disconnected and successfully relocated to the living room, we moved on to the tub. 

We attempted to remove the first tile and things were clearly not going to go as they were shown in the tutorials. The videos showed the tiles coming right off the wall after a few taps on the scraper behind the tile. In our case the tiles were holding on to the walls for dear life. Going one tile at a time was going to take us a million years. Since we knew there was a leak behind the wall and we would eventually be removing the cement board to find the leak, we decided to take the nuclear option. 

We used the SawsAll to cut a seam next to the tile edge and then using a crowbar, pried off the entire wall which came crashing into the tub. We don't recommend this method if you plan to keep your bathtub and also for general safety reasons. The other two walls came down in a similar fashion and exposed some very questionable plumbing, water damaged framing, moldy insulation, and more roach poop than a lady should have to see in her lifetime. It was just SO much roach poop. We'll spare you the photos. 

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The tub came out easily with the walls removed and exposed that the floor beneath the tub was rotted as well. We removed the moldy insulation and vacuumed up the mix of roach carcasses and feces to the best of our abilities.

With my dad's guidance we replaced the rotting flooring and framing. EmO spent the morning painstakingly removing all the screws and nails from the 2X4s we removed from the central walls so they could easily be re-purposed as replacement for the rotted framing.

While repairing the rotten framing, we added the framing to install a small window above the tub. Seeing the new window framed in the wall we can already see how it is going to transform the space! 

That weekend we also made a bit of progress on the kitchen. We removed the cabinet to the left of the kitchen sink and started preparing for the dishwasher installation. My dad lent us a hand getting started on updating the electrical outlets to GFCI.

Next on the agenda? With our permit in place our carpenter is getting started on removing the load bearing wall (from which we previously removed the dry wall), adding the support beams, and reinforcing the roof. 

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Tiny Rehab lesson of the day: things will almost never be as simple as the YouTube tutorials make it look. It is great to come prepared with a plan, but in renovation you have to be willing to improvise when things aren't going as you expected. That can mean taking a sledge hammer and crowbar to your bathroom or vacuuming up an unexpected amount of roach excrement. Either way - just gotta keep moving forward :D. 

-EmV