Kitchen Flooring That Won’t Drain Your Remodeling Budget

published Nov 4, 2018
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(Image credit: Sylvie Li)

When you’re redoing a kitchen, flooring has a huge impact on the way the room looks. The orangey faux terra cotta we inherited in our Victorian kitchen drove me nuts and I couldn’t wait to replace it. New floors aren’t cheap though. If you’re considering an overhaul of your kitchen up to and including the floor, it’s easy to drop way more than you intend to. The good news is you don’t have to.

Here are five options that won’t kill your budget out of the gate.

Find Out What’s Underneath First

You can always hope to get lucky with a floor below your floor. When we demoed the kitchen we found—under a few layers of other stuff—the original heart pine subfloor. Now this wasn’t intended to be a floor material back in 1890, but times have changed, and it was basically like hitting the jackpot. Instead of spending about four grand to re-tile, it cost just over $1,100 to have the floors refinished. Now that’s still a chunk of change, but relative to the cost of a kitchen reno, it was a bargain. Even if you think the floor can’t be salvaged, it’s worth having a reputable floor refinisher come take a look. You might be surprised.

We also once uncovered original terrazzo below some awful tile in a bathroom, so don’t make up your mind till you see what’s under there.

Shop for Bargain Tile

Tile is one of those things you could spend the earth on, or next to nothing. Especially if you have the skill to DIY, there’s no need to rule out ceramic or porcelain tile for your kitchen. Live near a Floor & Decor? This super-cheap tile superstore has a ton of options that cost less than a dollar a foot. Or, if you are willing to risk buying without seeing first and can handle a heavy delivery, The Builder Depot had the best prices I found online while tile shopping—often about half the going rate elsewhere. Their clearance section had even more steals; check there if you’re looking for a bargain for a high-end product. Also check your local tile shop for discontinued tile that’s been marked down, or places like Craigslist, where folks unload extra tiles they didn’t use and couldn’t return.

Think Vinyl

Not only is vinyl tile inexpensive, it doesn’t get much easier to install, especially if it’s the peel-and-stick kind. It comes in a seemingly endless array of colors and patterns— including some exact replicas of much more expensive encaustic cement—and the prices are hard to believe: as low as literally pennies a foot. In all honesty though, this has potential to be a case of you get what you pay for. It was for me when we bought ultra-cheap black-and-white vinyl tiles for our Airbnb’s kitchen. I’ve regretted that decision since day one. But when the budget is tight, it can be a huge improvement.

Give Laminate Another Look

If you love the look of hardwood, but not the price, give laminate wood floors a look. You can find waterproof options (which is key in a kitchen) at big box hardware stores for $3 and less a foot. They’re not going to trick everybody into thinking it’s a hardwood floor, but there are some upsides: Laminate is easy to install, and is scratch-resistant (good news to anyone with furry family members). It comes in just about any wood type and color combo you can imagine, so you should be able to find something to suit your style.

How About Paint?

If we’re talking rock-bottom budget (and I’ve been there), yes, you can paint kitchen floors. I’ve painted wood and vinyl tile floors, including kitchens, with reasonably good outcome. You can go as simple as you like with a single color, or get in there with some stencils or patterns like reader Mary demonstrated. In one apartment I sprinkled color chips (like you might have seen in a garage) on the final coat of paint while it was still wet, before finishing up with a poly top coat, which gave it some interesting texture and variety. Painting takes some elbow grease and time, but has to be one of the cheapest ways to update the look of a kitchen floor.

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