Chapter 10: Tiling the Kitchen

We received terrible news. Our flooring supplier told us that our stock would be delayed because their supplier in Germany sent their freight late. I was livid for a while. I took leave for 2 weeks in hope to complete a list of tasks and flooring was one of them. I got Jen to visit the flooring supplier again and Duchess M kindly accompanied her, despite her uneasy bulging condition. "Look for a replacement flooring," I told them.

Alas, the other options were shit. Usually I am very casual in things like that. I am rarely the sort who insist on one thing, especially in an area where choices are subjective. I guessed it was because the laminate board I chose ticked all the boxes. It looked good to me, felt good on the feet and was offered a good price for it. Sure, I could get something that look as nice in other shops or even Bunnings for that price range, but those would be products that are made in China. Well, I don't have a problem with China products. However, laminate boards as flooring material is already not the toughest of material one can choose, as compared to say, timber or tiles. So, at least I should try my best to get a better quality laminate board.

Builders were asking around $3-4k up for tiles and that was the "builder's range" tiles. Meaning they are ugly like fuck, probably partially porous and may crack at the first drop of a knife tip. Upgrades were readily available but of course at a price I would never forgive myself if I relented. Throughout my years of blogging, I've posted so many times about what I could get here cheaper than in Singapore. However, building material isn't one of them. If I didn't have kids, I would just make do with a damn concrete floor. I am absolutely serious about that.

To make matter worse, Jen insisted, "No carpets for bedrooms!" In fact, no carpets at anywhere at all. Or she wouldn't clean them. That was terrible, for the $3-4k quoted by builders for tiles were excluding bedrooms. By default, builders put carpets in bedrooms unless otherwise requested for. The carpets (also "builder's range") will be around $1.5k for all bedrooms. Should those be tiled as well, it would take the bill to $4.5-6k. That wouldn't do. That was how I arrived at the idea of installing the floor myself. Since the learning curve of tiling was too steep for me within that time frame I allocated, laminate flooring seemed like the best option. I will elaborate on the decision in another post if anyone is interested.

In the end, I told Jen grimly, "We will have to move in with 50% of the flooring done." She agreed that would be the only way. 

"I'll work on other parts of the house after we moved in while waiting for the balance stock to arrive in Perth," I told Jen.

So we worked out the most important areas in the house to use the laminate floor boards available to us. In the end, we decided to do the "left side" of the house, leaving the "right side" bare. That would have left us with: one small room for everyone to squeeze into, the living room, the walk-in wardrobe area and an access to the toilet/bath. However, it would be awkward to leave the kitchen bare. So we decided to tile it instead. That decision left me in limbo. That meant I had to get in a tiler in double quick time to finish the job before I start to lay my laminate flooring. The last thing you want is a tradie stepping all over your boards or splashing cement or grout all around. The kitchen floor was only 4m2, not exactly big even in Singapore context. So I thought it wouldn't cost me much to get it tiled.

I happened to have a lot of grout left over by the builder. I also found some discarded tiles at a neighbouring site, just enough for the job. All I needed was a tiler. So I asked Stephen for help. He introduced me 2 tilers and I quickly contacted my Afghan colleague for a contact. He replied quickly that he would get one of his "brothers" to give me a quote.

My expectations were not easy to meet. I wanted the job to be done in a day, preferably on Friday or Saturday. (It was Thursday when I started looking) That itself was a big ask. As the popular saying goes here, WA stands for "Wait awhile." Things simply couldn't move as fast as we were accustomed to in Singapore. A lot of us learnt how to be patient as we live longer here. 

Tiler A quoted me $300. WTF?! $300 for 16m2? Stephen explained that was how things were. Tradies will charge a high price for small job and a lower price per square as the job goes bigger. However, he told me to contact the next tiler, who was an apprentice at his school. Bloody apprentice texted me, "I wouldn't do the job for less than $400." My last hope lied in the "brother". Shockingly, I was quoted $500. That was more than the entire sum I spent on my painting supplies. I called the first guy up again and he still sounded keen. "Are you happy to do the job for $280?" I asked. He said, "Sure! I could start and finish the job tomorrow too!"

He turned up the next day with a $30 receipt for all the materials he bought for the job. That was the usual practice. When tradies give you a quote, it is often a labour charge, excluding cost of materials. It is the case in this instance. $30 for glue (type of cement) + a 2m aluminum trim. Fair price, I thought. So my total bill would be $310.

Fortunately, he was a neat and tidy tiler. He chatted with me while I did the rest of the painting in the living room. He was a good dude and completed the whole job in 4 hours. Give him another conservative 2 hours for transport, he made 280/6 = $46 an hour. I didn't think I underpaid him at all. The fucker who quoted me $500 would be making $83 an hour if he could do it in the same time frame. Seriously, why be a robber? Just be a tiler.

If I didn't have other tasks to do, I'd have tiled the bloody thing myself. I watched the entire process and was confident I could do it. I would be slower of course, but I would be able to do it.