By: John Riha
Published: September 17, 2009
Choose the right bathroom flooring based on your priorities--cost, kids, safety, and eco-friendliness.
Low cost but high style
Both vinyl flooring and ceramic tile come in an array of colors and patterns at a relatively modest cost. Although the price can be as little as $1 per square foot for either material, you'll find fewer style choices among the least expensive varieties.
At $1 to $5 per sq.ft., sheet vinyl and vinyl tiles are considered the lowest-cost option for bathroom flooring. Installation charges add $1 to $2 per sq.ft., depending on the complexity of the project. In general, the thicker the vinyl, the higher the quality and the cost. Thicker vinyl can feature a textured surface, and some types do an excellent job of mimicking the appearance of real stone and wood.
Ceramic tile, with its many sizes and shapes, can be mixed to create endless custom patterns—it's the ultimate designer's medium. The cost of ceramic tile averages from $1 to $20 per sq.ft. Decorative edgings and inlays can boost cost considerably; you can save and create great-looking designs simply by using same-sized tiles in different color combinations. Professional installers charge $5 to $10 per sq.ft.
Best for kids
Water, water everywhere! That pretty much sums up bath time at households with young children. In addition, kids have a knack for dropping the mouthwash bottle and conducting bathroom experiments. If protection from water and stains is a high priority, sheet vinyl is the choice for you. It comes in 12-foot-wide rolls that make a bathroom installation virtually seamless. By properly sealing the edges with waterproof caulk, water and spills can't penetrate to the subfloor below. Vinyl resists stains, is impervious to moisture, and is tough and durable enough to stand up to heavy use—and abuse. Smooth-surfaced vinyl can be slippery when wet, so select textured varieties that provide traction.
Avoid installing vinyl tiles. Although vinyl tile with self-adhesive backing makes a tempting low-cost DIY project, the many seams are opportunities for water to seep between the tiles and soak the subfloor, eventually causing the subfloor to rot, leading to an expensive repair.
Best for safety
Glass and glazed ceramic floor tiles with an anti-slip finish are designed to provide superior traction. Look for tiles certified to meet slip-resistance standards specified by the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, grout lines between ceramic tiles provide texture that increases traction. Mosaic tiles—tiles that are 1x1-inch or smaller—produce lots of grout lines. Glass and glazed ceramic mosaic tiles with anti-slip surfaces run $4-$14 per sq.ft.
Quarry tiles are stronger and more wear-resistant than glazed tile and are made with a slightly rough surface texture that makes them slip resistant. Unlike glazed ceramic tiles, however, quarry tile must be treated at least every two years with a clear tile sealer to prevent staining.
Best green option
All but forgotten only years ago due to the popularity of vinyl, linoleum is staging a comeback as a green flooring option. It's made with renewable, biodegradable materials including linseed oil and cork, and produces no harmful vapors. It comes in many colors and patterns. Linoleum can be used in bathrooms because it stands up well to traffic and is resistant to moisture, but it's susceptible to staining. For this reason, some manufacturers add a protective coating that helps guard against stains and scratching. Without this coating, linoleum must be cleaned and polished every two years to help it resist stains. Cost: $2 to $4 per sq.ft.; installation, $5 to $7 per sq.ft.
When money is no object
Looking for a little pampering in your master bath? Stone floor tile gives a bathroom a luxurious feel, at a premium price. Expect to pay from $2 to $100 for natural stone tiles made of marble, granite, slate, limestone, and travertine. Installation adds $5 to $10 per sq.ft.
Honed and polished stone tile can be slippery when wet, so choose stone that has a textured, skid-resistant surface. Tumbled varieties of stone—stone that has been mechanically mixed to knock off rough edges and soft spots—have rustic textures that provide good slip resistance.
The hardness of various types of stone affects its ability to resist moisture and staining. Softer stones such as sandstone and limestone can be used for baths but should be finished at least every two years with a quality stone sealer. Harder stones, such as granite and marble, should be sealed every 4 to 5 years.