Tip-Toe Into Renovating Floors With Penny Tile​

Tip-Toe Into Renovating Floors With Penny Tile

I have wood floors throughout my condo (excluding bathrooms) and they are beautiful everywhere but the kitchen. In just a few years the wood has warped from the eventual splashes of water that can be expected in a kitchen. One leaky kitchen sink while I was away on vacation left a hump of warped wood where leaked water had pooled under the floor. So I decided to change out the kitchen floor with tile and do both bathrooms to match. I wanted tile because of the wet nature of both the kitchen and bathroom. Laying tile and grouting tile are not too intimidating, especially when dealing with floors only and not having to worry about gravity pulling down the tile. Cutting tile is a bit intimidating and I really do not have a good place to do the cutting. Renting a wet tile saw can be several hundred dollars, but it has to be done to get clean and safe cuts in tile. There are cheaper tile cutters and snippers, but the cuts can be less neat than a saw. If you have ever lived somewhere with just one sharp edged tile, you know that sharp edge always manages to catch your bare toe at 2:00 A.M. To avoid having to cut around moulding and fixtures, I decided to commit to the cutest member of the tile family: penny tile.


I pulled up the damaged wood in my kitchen by using a circular saw to cut ¼” into the wood against the grain at least every 12 inches. This gave an entry point to start pulling up the tongue and groove wood using just a crow bar set (several different lengths) and a rubber mallet. Since I was trying to avoid having to cut any tile, I saved a few edge pieces of wood floor that had clean edges in case I needed any edging under an appliance, to act as a bit of a threshold between the tile and the edge. But it turned out all my tile edges were clean and presentable, they didn’t need covering.


 Once all the wood flooring and the black back-sheeting was pulled up, I was left with “gorgeous” linoleum from the 1960s, that somebody had partially ripped out. Linoleum installed all the way up to 1990 could contain asbestos. I did not want to disturb the linoleum by prying or sanding, but just cover it completely with new flooring. The only part I had to disturb was a 12”x10” piece that had warped from the pooled water from my sink leak. I needed to check under the warped piece to make sure the subfloor was sound and not rotting. It was sound thankfully and I was able to leave the linoleum untouched. However, I had uneven spots that needed to be addressed before I tiled because absolutely no tile type is forgiving with an uneven floor. With penny tile the tile will rock to the side where the floor is uneven and I was installing a tile with sheen, so any pieces rocked to the side would show up because it would not catch the light the same way as surrounding tiles.

 For larger sections that need to be evened out, backing board can be cut to fit the sections. This Schluter Kerdi-board is a new way to back tile that is easy to cut and piece. When installed correctly it should add a moisture barrier. However in my kitchen I did not want to give up ¼” or more of lift in the flooring, it was important to me to keep the tile at the threshold (entryway) of the kitchen as flush as possible. So instead of adding ¼ inches with backing, I went with some floor leveling compound like this one, to fill patches that were lower than the rest of the floor. This was the only compound during the whole process that I could not find VOC-free, so I made sure no one was home for the day, worked hard on ventilating my small kitchen, and wore a protective ventilator. The leveling compound does the work for you, evening itself out. Managing it gets you ready for managing tile adhesive and tile grout. 

Before I started installing, I laid out all the tile sheets to measure and make sure everything would lay evenly and the pattern would look good everywhere. With larger tiles you would start the tiles in the middle of the room and work toward the edges and make cuts on the edge pieces. Because I wanted to avoid cuts and I was most concerned with a neat line of tiles at the doorway threshold, I started the tiles there and used the straight edge of the tile sheet along the threshold. Doing this left me with the staggered ends of the tile sheet on the sides of the room. Each tile is a little more than ½” wide, so that means the staggered ends leave ¼” holes with no tile. However, I knew that the edges of the room with the staggered ends will have ⅙” wide baseboard installed over those gaps. I decided I could live with that instead of cutting a bunch of half tiles to fill in the gaps. Also, those gaps looked good when filled in with grout.

 Laying the tile sheets out for a dry-run gave me a chance to cut edges around fixtures as needed and I numbered the sheets with painter’s tape and a marker, with arrows to show the direction to lay them out. This helped a lot once the adhesive compound was spread, I knew exactly where each sheet of tile was to go. This left me free time to wiggle and adjust sheets as needed to get a neat and even pattern everywhere. 

You can see here that penny tile has a natural “flower” pattern of six tiles around a center tile. If the sheets are not lined up well that “flower” goes away and you are left with awkward lines. So more time left to adjust sheets is vital to get it right before it dries and you are left with a mistake to stare at for all time. Consider a mistake right in front of the toilet in the bathroom, that bugger would taunt you mercilessly! But fear not, prep well and go slow as you spread out adhesive and let your perfectionist/nit-picking side run loose. When spreading adhesive, remember that penny tile allows the most adhesive through. Larger tile pieces will allow for wiggling and settling, but penny tile requires a nice, thin and even layer of adhesive so you don’t get adhesive squeezing between tiles too much. Even when I encountered some blobs bubbling through, after 24 hours of drying I was able to pull up the gloppy “floor boogers”– my pet name for them.

 I was really happy with the results of the penny tile and glad I didn’t have to cut one piece of tile anywhere. I taped the threshold of my kitchen well with Frog Tape and taped cardboard at the entrance to protect the floors I do want to keep. 

White tile grout on floors seems pointless, because it will never be gleaming white ever again after installation. Grout that compliments the tile color is much better than just sticking to boring old, impossible to keep clean white. This tile is Penny Round Metallico porcelain tile with mesh backing and the grout is Polyblend Sanded Grout in Delorean Gray. Through Green Building Supply, I was able to get low-odor water-based tile adhesive. After the grout was spread, smoothed, and dried for 24 hours I used a low-odor haze remover to clear the residual grout dust and shine up the tiles. Then I used a low-odor grout sealer from Green Building Supply, the low-odor, formaldehyde-free products made a big difference in a small space that is hard to ventilate. Don’t forget that “new home smell” comes from environmental toxins like VOCs and formaldehyde, so any step where you can cut those out it is worth it!

With penny tile, the pattern possibilities are endless. There’s penny round tiles and then hexagonal tiles, that lend themselves to writing in tile. You could work on a masterpiece mosaic pattern in your bathroom or just put in a cheeky message that expresses your personality, through tile.

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