Hardwood vs Porcelain Tile – Best Kitchen Flooring Decision

In a recent survey of home buyers, a large percentage considered wood flooring to be a desirable component for their new home. It’s apparent that hardwood is making a major comeback as a design element, beating out ceramic tile as the “go-to” flooring product. In particular, hardwood installations in kitchens are becoming ever more popular as homeowners look for a warm, seamless blend for today’s open floor plans. As current designs forego the traditional living room/family room layout for the more trendy kitchen/great room style, the rooms must be inviting and comfortable. Wood flooring fills that need.

Is hardwood really a good idea for a kitchen floor?

kitchen with hardwood floor


As you flip through the pages of home decor magazines, you’ll notice a host of rich, gleaming wood floors highlighting the most glamorous designs. Few would argue that real hardwood looks elegant and feels smooth. Of course, we don’t live in those beautifully staged homes, so how well will those floors hold up to our daily drops, spills, pets and family traffic?

Let’s compare hardwood versus tiles so you can make an educated decision:

Surface hardness and water resistance
In order for a kitchen hardwood floor to retain its natural beauty for years to come, care must be taken to select the right wood species. Oak and ash are among the hardest woods used in flooring. They both feature deep grains and textures for a one-of-a-kind finish and can camouflage small scratches and dents that will likely occur. A polyurethane lacquer finish will protect it from water, dents and scratches. Exotic species such as Jatoba or Santos Mahogany are even harder than the domestic types but are susceptible to humidity changes and colour darkening. Oil finishes, instead of polyurethane, will allow the wood to breathe for minimal surface cracking. Highly textured and wirebrushed finishes are especially durable for high-traffic areas like the kitchen. Any surface damage will generally blend into the grain and add to the unique appearance over time.

Porcelain tile flooring comes in glazed and unglazed finishes. Both are very hard and difficult to crack. Glazing is a protective layer that safeguards against water and stain infiltration plus resists damage from high-humidity kitchen areas. However, unglazed porcelain tiles and grout lines must be sealed to offer the same waterproof protection. Any moisture infiltration can lead to mold growth or weakening of the installation.

Hardwood is fairly low maintenance with regular sweeping or vacuuming and prompts spill clean-up. Avoid harsh chemicals and use manufacturer-recommended cleaning products to keep your floors looking new.

Glazed porcelain tiles are also relatively easy to maintain. Sweeping or vacuuming with a soft brush is recommended. Spills should be quickly wiped up as the tiles will be slippery when wet, but strong cleaning solutions will not damage the surface if stains are allowed to dry. Regular maintenance will also ensure your ceramic tile flooring looks beautiful for many years.

While polyurethane lacquer finishes are extremely durable, localized damage will require replacement of planks or sections. Oil finishes can often be restored with sand paper, stain and oil renewer. Unique properties allow hardwood flooring to be resurfaced with sanding equipment, re-staining and re-finishing, restoring the floor to its original luster.

Cracked or damaged porcelain tiles can usually be lifted individually, replaced and re-grouted for a simple repair. However, in cases of severe damage, mold growth or compromised structural integrity, the entire floor will need to be torn up and replaced. Re-finishing is not an option.

Other things to consider


  • Microbevels are better than regular-sized bevels for preventing dirt accumulation between boards.
  • Use non-rubber backed mats in high-traffic areas such as in front of the sink, stove and dishwasher.
  • Place felt-tipped glides on all chair legs, tables and couches if containing thin, metal legs.
  • Opt for natural or light-coloured flooring over dark surfaces. Dust, crumbs and dirt won’t be as visible.
  • Keep pet claws trimmed to protect against floor scratches.
  • American hardwoods are all harvested from sustainable forests and are environmentally friendly.
  • Homes with hardwood flooring add up to $10,000 to the resale value.

Porcelain tile:

  • Endless design options are available; solid colour, patterns, designs and ones that look like real hardwood.
  • Tiles can be shaped with machine cuts for unique design layouts.
  • Floor can be very slippery when wet.
  • Grout often discolours.
  • Glass objects generally break when dropped on the floor.

Health benefits and concerns
Wood flooring in the kitchen provides a warm, comfortable surface to stand or work on. It provides better shock absorption than ceramic, porcelain tile, and homeowners experience less back pain. Doctors also recommend hardwood for patients suffering from chronic back injuries, allergies to dust and pet dander.

The extremely hard properties of porcelain tile allow for easy cleaning. However, it’s cold and uncomfortable to stand on. After standing on it for long periods of time, homeowners often experience lower back pain. This hard-surface product is also recommended for asthma sufferers as it doesn’t attract dust, pollen or other allergens.

Material price per square foot
Hardwood flooring prices vary widely from $3 to $10 (average price point $5.50 per /sf) per square foot for material and is dependent on the variety and layout of the wood installed. Discounts can sometimes be found on discontinued or unique styles that will not compromise the quality of the product. In addition, floors can be refinished and repaired to extend the life of the product. Spread over the life of the home, hardwood is priced significantly lower than other products. Hardwood flooring adds value to a home and generally improves the opportunity for a faster sale.

Porcelain tile ranges between $5 and $12 per square foot but varies based on size, design and retail location. You can often find bargain basement pricing through sales or discount shops. Be careful to avoid “seconds” as it may compromise the uniformity or quality of the product. Tile can also add value to a home if well maintained.

Installation price per square foot
Installation costs are where the gap widens between hardwood and tile. You can expect to pay between $2 and $3.50 per square foot to install hardwood. The high-end will cover time-consuming varied widths, patterns and on-site finishing. Make sure to budget $2.50 per square foot extra if existing floors need to be removed and disposal. As well as add another $1 for the subfloor screw down if the hardwood is placed on the subfloor after carpet or laminate has been removed. In order for your new hardwood flooring not to squeak a year after it has been installed, you will need to make sure that the subfloor has been screwed tight.

Porcelain tile installations are generally more labor-intensive, and therefore, more expensive. This service could be ranging from $12 – $20 per square foot, depending on the tile used and its design of installation. For example: 24’’ x 24’’ tiles are a lot harder to install and installer has to make sure that the floor level is perfectly leveled before installing the floor, as it will show the imperfections with larger tiles immediately. Due to excess weight loads placed on the floor structure, it will be necessary to reinforce the subfloor. If this isn’t completed prior to tile installation, the floor will sag, crack and could compromise the structural integrity of the floor. You can expect a professional contractor to charge at least $1.50 per s/f for this service, depending on room size.

Man-made ceramic and porcelain tile installation requires more time than hardwood and will run you approximately $12 per square foot. Natural stone options will cost anywhere from $15 per square foot and up. Natural stone mosaics can run as high as $100 per square foot. In addition to extensive layout and cutting, tiles must be grouted and sealed for beautiful, professional results.

Staying within budget
As with any remodeling project, understanding exactly what is included, or not, in your contractor’s estimate, is critical to staying within budget. Complete wood flooring costs should include: Tear-out, removal and discarding of existing floor, underlayment, new material and delivery, labor, fasteners, adhesives, threshold/transition pieces, base molding, stain and polyurethane (if site-finished), clean-up and debris removal. Calculation of new wood flooring should be sufficient for unique layouts such as herringbone, staggered sizes, inlay patterns, typical waste overage and enough material for future repairs. Don’t assume that specialty installation tools and equipment such as a pneumatic nailer or table saw are included; additional rental fees for these items can increase your budget significantly.

The same rules and components apply for tile flooring projects except you’ll need to add reinforcing floor joists, 10″ diameter diamond wet tile or stone saw, power mortar mixer, mortar box and additional manpower. Due to the extensive time required, meeting your schedule may require extra personnel. Tile projects require a significant level of expertise so be sure your contractor has the experience required to do the job right.

Architectural design elements
Just as wall paint colours or furniture styles are selected to coincide with your traditional, modern, transitional or contemporary architectural design elements, so will your kitchen flooring choices. Generally, flooring designers will understand current floor covering trends and will guide you to the products that will best match your vision. Hardwoods are extremely versatile and will complement most every style preference. Active patterns and grains will balance the quiet simplicity of a transitional style, light colouring or whitewash will match a crisp modern design, and dark-stained wood with hand-scraped textures will offset either a contemporary or traditional kitchen.

Tile flooring can also influence or accentuate design elements but tend to feel more utilitarian than wood. Contemporary and modern kitchens featuring white-on-white aesthetics are especially trendy, while rich, earthen-hued textures enhance a Mediterranean flare. Vintage black and white porcelain blends a timeless look that serves every style.

Now you can decide
Like most other decisions, personal preference plays a huge role in whether you select wood or tile flooring for your kitchen. Hardwood is both elegant and trendy; it’s smooth under foot and easy on your back; it’s durable, repairable and value-priced to last a lifetime; and it will blend with any architectural style you desire.

Ceramic tile, on the other hand, is a versatile product that withstands water, stains and heavy traffic; it can be pricey and require grout re-sealing but will also stand the test of time; it’s cool feel is perfect for hot seasons but may strain your back after extended periods of standing; and it’s variety of sizes, colours and textures will complement just about any design elements you choose.

Now that you understand what to look for in kitchen flooring surfaces, it’s time to make a decision. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative. You know what you like, and now you’re well-equipped to select a floor covering that will be as unique as you are.