Ceramic tile may be a traditionally popular bathroom flooring option, but it's certainly not your only choice. Here are some alternatives to consider.
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Wood, concrete and even glass look beautiful underfoot and with a few, simple protective measures can really step up your bathroom's style, so don't limit yourself to traditional vinyl & ceramic tile.
"Glass tile is exploding in the marketplace," says Bruce Curtis, who runs a remodeling company, Washtenaw Woodwrights, in Ann Arbor, Mich. And as interest in glass tile has grown, so have the available decorator options, including tiles by Moving Color that actually change color as the temperature of the room changes — sort of like mood rings for the bathroom. With their endless color variations, textures, sizes and shapes, glass tiles have become one of today's most popular home decorating materials. Glass tiles are versatile as well, working well on walls, countertops, backsplashes and, yes, bathroom floors. Many of the glass tiles available to homeowners are made from recycled bottles, jars and other discarded materials, making them a "green" choice, as well as a beautiful one.
Kelly Bakewell, an interior designer for Washtenaw Woodwrights, says there are some special considerations for using glass tile flooring. "Most manufacturers recommend using smaller tiles to distribute weight more evenly." This is one reason glass mosaics have become popular flooring options for bathrooms, particularly showers.
Glass tile can be installed just about anywhere ceramic tile would work, and it's resistant to damage from moisture and temperature changes. Glass tile flooring is easy to keep beautiful with a mop and the same glass cleaner you use on your windows. While tiles aren't prone to break, they can be slippery, and smooth surfaces are prone to scratching. To avoid these risks, Bakewell recommends tiles with a sandblasted surface, from companies like Walker Zanger, Hakatai and Waterworks.
Hardwood floors — whether restored, recycled or installed new — have become one of the most popular choices in every area of the home, and the bathroom is no exception. With a few extra precautions, wood floors can perform as well in bathrooms as they do everywhere else. And unlike most other bathroom flooring choices, wood floors can be periodically refinished and resealed, increasing their practicality.
John Ahlen decided to go with wood flooring in the bathrooms as part of the extensive renovation of his 1890 Queen Anne Victorian just outside Atkins, Ark. (Ahlen has detailed his experiences on his blog, The Devil Queen.)
"The house originally had wood flooring throughout," says Ahlen. "Using wood in the bathroom fit the look and feel of the house."
Ahlen saved money by salvaging wood floors from a nearby, 60-year-old farmhouse and by installing the bathroom floor himself. After installation, he took some extra precautions to protect the floor from bathroom moisture.
"We applied a couple more layers of oil-based polyurethane than we normally would have," says Ahlen. "We also made it a point to fill cracks between the boards with wood putty to prevent water from seeping in between or under the boards."
Nicole Sassaman, an interior designer in southern California, says she loves the warm, inviting look of wood floors in bathrooms, and agrees with Ahlen that taking a few extra steps will pay off.
"Wood is fine in bathrooms. You just have to dry water off of it rather than letting it sit, but you should do that anyway," explains Sassaman. "Putting extra coats of varnish on it will also help make it more durable."
Other experts recommend installing a highly efficient vent/fan in bathrooms with wood flooring to help keep humidity to a minimum.
Sheila Harris of Bowling Green, Ky., longed to sink her feet into soft carpet in her new bathroom, but others were skeptical of her plan. She did her research, though, and found a modern carpet product that works well in bathrooms. It's called "FLOR," and it comes in a wide variety of modular carpet tiles that can be easily installed by homeowners directly onto virtually any flooring surface.
"The FLOR tiles are great because any individual piece can be removed, cleaned, dried and then put right back into place with no trouble," says Sheila. "Obviously, this is exactly what you want in a bathroom, where there's a lot of moisture. Not just any wall-to-wall carpet would work as well as this does in my bathroom."
FLOR tiles are designed with a low-toxicity, antimicrobial backing designed to inhibit growth of mold and bacteria, and come in dozens of colors, patterns and textures. It takes 15 FLOR tiles to cover a 5' x 7' space, and at only $10-$14 per tile, they offer an economical, durable and fun alternative to standard bathroom flooring options.
Bamboo and Cork
For environmentally conscious homeowners looking for a "green" bathroom flooring option, you can't do much better than cork or bamboo. These two hip materials are made from tree-like tropical grasses that replenish themselves in the wild every few years.
Bamboo and cork each offer unique properties that can make them good choices for bathrooms. Bamboo floors look similar to traditional wood floors, but are naturally harder and more durable. Cork offers a soft, warm feel on bare feet. Both cork and bamboo are naturally resistant to mold, mildew and bacteria, and both naturally repel moisture, excellent qualities in bathroom floors.
Nick Hodapp and his wife Trissa chose bamboo for two of the bathrooms in their 1907 Craftsman home in Seattle, Wash. (You can track their renovation projects on their blog, Pigeon Point Project.
"We chose bamboo for its warmth and durability," says Nick. "We installed all the flooring ourselves. The bamboo in the upstairs bath is nailed down; it took me about two hours with a rented floor nailer. The bamboo in the powder room is a floating floor where each piece is glued to the next. That took a while but the results are very nice."
A Few More Bathroom Flooring Alternatives to Consider:
For homeowners who want the look of posh stone at a fraction of the cost and with easier upkeep, concrete may be the way to go. Many bathrooms already have a layer of concrete under existing tile or linoleum floors that can be restored through acid staining into a gorgeous, new stone-look floor. Concrete also works exceptionally well over underfloor radiant heating systems. Maintaining acid-stained concrete floors is easy, requiring only a mop and periodic polishing. For bathrooms, be sure to ask for a textured finish to prevent slips and falls. Learn more at: www.kemiko.com
Pebble bath tiles can give your bathroom a Zen feel and a natural look. This hot flooring option is made from smooth pebbles attached to a mesh backing which can be cut into tiles of various sizes and shapes. Installed, they look much like a floor made of beach pebbles or small river rocks. See: www.zenparadise.net, www.beachpebbles.com and www.strawsticksandbricks.com
For homeowners with adventurous tastes, rubber leather offers a truly different bathroom floor. This exotic-looking product comes in rolls or tiles, and while it looks and feels like the finest leather, it wears just like the 100 percent rubber that it is. That means you can wash it down with soap and water and touch it up with occasional waxing. See: www.robin-reigi.com.