The Bargain Block-Approved Marble Look-Alike You'll Want To Use In Your Own Home

In an episode of Keith Bynum and Evan Thomas's HGTV show, "Bargain Block," the designer and carpenter duo remodel a Detroit home for Realtor and show regular Shea Hicks-Whitfield. They do a complete renovation, inside and out, bringing real character to the home and upgrading all the finishes. They keep to a pretty strict budget while using all their skills for maximum design impact. For instance, to upgrade a dated, improperly installed backsplash in the kitchen, the guys source recycled glass tiles. Anticipating how well it will work, Bynum says (via YouTube), "We'll have our recycled glass backsplash, which I think is really pretty. It kind of looks like marble."  

The benefits of recycled glass tiles are that they are highly durable, stain resistant, and don't absorb water. Best of all, they're an eco-friendly choice that keeps more glass out of landfills. To make it, manufacturers source glass that originates from broken windows, windshields, and beverage bottles. They decontaminate it and then sort the glass by color. The glass is pulverized into what is called cullet and melted in a 2,000-degree furnace. Then, color is added and the globs of molten glass are pressed into tile molds. Once cooled, the tiles are hand-cut and the edges are ground smooth.

How to prep for and care for faux marble tiles

Although an experienced DIYer can create professional-looking projects, this is one where you should call a pro since DIY installation isn't usually recommended for glass tiles. Most glass is transparent or translucent, which means you can see the texture of the adhesive surface underneath. That undercoat needs to be applied with an expert hand. Although marble-looking tiles are opaque, we still recommend a pro installation to keep it looking symmetrical and polished. Here's what to expect.

Use your samples to arrange your preferred pattern on a flat surface. This is especially important if you're mixing and matching more than one style; that way you'll feel confident about communicating what you want to the person doing the installation. The tile professionals will remove your old tiles and install the new tile on drywall or smooth, even plaster. When Keith Bynum was considering what to use in Shea Hicks-Whitfield's house, he held up a sheet of the marble-looking tiles against the wall to see how it could look. That's often how recycled glass tiles are sold, in sheets.

While durable, glass tiles can scratch easily. To maintain them, you must use gentle materials like soft nylon brushes and rags and clean them with non-abrasive cleaners. You can even clean them with just soap and water or glass cleaner. Because they're resistant to mold and mildew and easy to care for, recycled glass tiles are also great for a luxurious bathroom look.

The cost differences

Marble is an exquisite, high-end choice that's out of reach for a lot of people. Types of marble, their rarity, and how difficult or easy they are to obtain produce different price points. For a kitchen installation, a standard-size backsplash area is around 30 square feet. The cost of the marble ranges from $7 to $300 per square foot. Then, installation typically runs between $10 and $30 per square foot. The total cost for labor and materials of 30 square feet is typically between $900 and $3,500. Though all these prices are averages, a typical glass tile installation for the same square footage could range from $200 to $1,800. When calculating the cost of installation in a bathroom on shower walls, you may need to adjust up to about 90 to 95 square feet for more accurate numbers. 

Recycled glass tiles, while not cheap, are considerably less expensive than the real thing. These super high-end hexagons in black faux marble from Tile Club don't even look like glass, and they cost $31.20 per square foot. Tile Club's elegant white herringbone faux marble is also $31.20 per square foot. Ocean Mosaics' white fish scale tiles are reminiscent of art deco designs and go for $28.95 per square foot. At the renovation reveal on the episode of "Bargain Block," Shea Hicks-Whitfield cries. "I'm so happy," she says. Keith Bynum adds, "It's pretty obvious Shea and Terry love the house. Lots of big reactions everywhere, which is always fun."