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Is Penny Flooring Genius or a Disaster?

And now for a polarizing DIY project.

How to DIY a Penny Floor
The Standard Grill

Between the cost of materials and the labor involved, renovation projects can be prohibitively expensive—and that’s assuming all goes according to plan, or at the very least nothing goes horribly wrong in the process. It’s enough to make anyone start putting money away indefinitely. But some home (and even business) owners are putting their penny pinching to good use, quite literally. They're employing actual pennies, instead of tile or other costly materials, in DIY improvement and decor projects that range from counters and backsplashes to parquet flooring, as seen in the popular Twitter video below.

The technique is undeniably clever—but is a penny floor even legal? People are on the fence about it. On the one hand, you’re at best taking U.S. legal tender out of circulation and at worst defacing it, which is a violation of federal law, but it’s not like you’re boiling down the pennies for use as scrap metal or using them for some other fraudulent activity. No one seems to be arresting business owners and confiscating their souvenir penny press machines. And if it makes you feel better, the Standard Grill in New York City has had a penny floor, the work of uber-talented designers Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch of Roman & Williams, in place for more than a decade.

It should be pointed out that they're highly capable professionals. Doing it yourself is an entirely different animal. If you decide you want to roll the dice and embark on a DIY penny tile project of your own, there are a few things to consider. You can find plenty of handy tutorials for penny projects floating around the interwebs—we like this one, and you'll also find some good tips here—but you’ll first need to decide what aesthetic you’re going for.

Are you looking for an intricate mosaic- or parquet-inspired design with variegated colors and alternating patterns? You’ll need to find enough tarnished pennies and soak other pennies in vinegar to get some back their coppery shine so they look good as new (as seen on the Standard Grill floor). Do you want the pennies all facing the same direction for a uniform look? Or would you like to challenge guests to find which penny is not like the other? Either way, most designers recommend prepping your floor and laying the pennies out before starting anything.

Then there’s the matter of cost. Pennies are, indeed, an affordable alternative to fancier building materials like marble and stone—one company sells premade sheets on mesh backing, similar to how building tile is packaged and shipped, for $19.99 for a sheet of 224 pennies.

But you’ll also need to shell out for glue to adhere the pennies to the surface, black grout to fill the holes, and polyurethane or a professional-grade, UV-resistant epoxy resin (to prevent yellowing), which can set you back about $60 per gallon. Depending on how you lay your floor, you can expect to spend about $3.00 per square foot in pennies. Don’t have that much spare change lying around? Your bank will likely let you buy from them.

Lastly, you’ll need to keep longevity in mind. This probably isn’t a good project for renters, who will need to remove any treatment before their lease is up, a process that will likely require using noxious chemicals or a heat gun, or renting a professional floor grinder. It also might not be the best choice for OCD aesthetes who are set off by scratches that can’t be buffed out or uneven wear and tear.

In short, what looks like a simple DIY project could wind up costing you in the long run, so it pays to be sure of the process and what you want. You know what they say: a penny saved is a penny earned.

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