Creating kitchens and baths for finicky customers since 1993

backsplash features inset metal tiles for accent and texture

Sunday, July 29, 2012

How to replace a damaged ceramic tile

by Raymond Alexander Kukkee, author of Incoming BYTES

broken floor tile
Good thing this tile's broken -- it doesn't match!
Ceramic tile is wonderful. Easy to clean, sparkling new ceramic tile floors in kitchen or bath start out as one of the most magnificent, fashionable, and durable flooring options available.

If properly installed, well-chosen ceramic tiles offer a lifetime, ultimate flooring experience for the homeowner. Like any flooring product, it is also subject to damage.

With an incredibly hard, durable surface, good quality ceramic tile may appear to be invincible. It is not. Damage can be inflicted on tile by even seemingly minor impact. Dropping a hard-edged object on a ceramic floor, whether it be a tool, a porcelain dinner-plate or your most prized coffee mug, can be disastrous.  Impact with equally hard or sharp objects inevitably marks the surface of ceramic.

With ceramic tile of lower quality, the colored surface glaze can be easily chipped off. 

Damage observed from minor impact will usually take the form of chip defects, and severe impact can result in a deeply shattered area. Cracking with no removal of ceramic can occur if the object dropped was only heavy, as opposed to hard or sharp. Ceramic tile lacks flexibility, so cracking can easily occur under pressure if the substrate is too flexible.

Regardless of how the tile was damaged, you can return your floor to pristine condition. With some basic tools, a homeowner with moderate DIY skills can remove a tile, replace it, and if the tile is matched well and the installation done carefully, the floor will be restored to perfection.

You will need:
  • a matching tile
  • hammer
  • cold chisel
  • a notched trowel
  • thin-set mortar
  • matching grout
  • safety glasses and gloves
  • miscellaneous tools normally found in the DIY toolbox. 
Remove the damaged tile

To remove a damaged tile, it is important to first assess the damage. If the tile is merely cracked from flexing of the substrate, lack of thin-set, or poor installation -- but the tile is still held tightly in place -- the removal process is different by necessity.

Unless the tile or broken sections can be immediately lifted out, the grout around the tile should be removed. To completely remove the grout use a 'grout saw' (a small hand tool with a notched blade), an oscillating-bladed Dremel-type power tool designed for this, or simply use an old flat-blade screwdriver. Grout is a cement-like material and will chip out quite easily.

Start removing the tile pieces carefully, and avoid the natural urge to pry out the tile pieces by attempting to pry them loose using the adjacent tile as a leverage point. Doing so can easily result in damaging the edges of otherwise perfect tiles, or loosen the adjacent tiles, resulting in extra work.

 For the alternative -- tool removal of grout, carefully scratch a small hole in the grout line, then hold the screwdriver vertically in the grout line and tap it along the grout line with a small hammer, loosening the grout carefully as you go.

If there are cracks in the tile surface but the tile is still tightly held in place, extra caution is required.

It will be necessary to break into the surface of the tile. Don't just smash the damaged tile with hard hammer blows. Why? Even if caused by impact, cracks in ceramic tile are the result of  flexing of the ceramic, however instantaneous. If the substrate is too flexible, a hard hammer blow can easily loosen adjacent tiles.

Break into the surface of ceramic by using a small carbide drill bit, carefully drilling several holes arranged to allow the breakout of enough material to allow the insertion of a small cold chisel or suitable tool to pry out the first tile fragment. Remove the broken tile pieces by working toward the grout lines.

Cleanup and preparation 

Remove all of the old thin-set, grout, or mastic adhesive as necessary to clean the substrate, and use a vacuum to remove all dust.

Test the replacement tile to ensure the correct or most attractive orientation if there is any pattern or color shading in the tile. It can be helpful to put an orientation mark on the new tile and corresponding marks on the floor in pencil to prevent last-minute error in tile orientation.

Install the new tile  

For accurate spacing and uniform grout lines, so you will need a few correctly-sized spacers -- or improvise.  Mix up some thin-set, and apply it on the substrate uniformly using your notched trowel.

Setting the tile in place carefully, tap or press it down, ensuring it is level with the adjacent tiles. Using a straightedge or level across the new tile in more than one direction can be helpful. If the tile is too low, remove it and apply more thin-set as necessary to reset the tile to the correct level.

Last-minute check -- ensure the grout line spacing is uniform. Adjust it carefully if necessary, and allow the tile to set for 24 hours before applying new color-matched grout. Let's not forget to seal the grout after it sets, too. Consider sealing the grout lines on a larger area to make the new grout less apparent.

Other problems encountered

Think safety. Please use all available safety protocol including safety glasses and gloves while hammering, chipping or drilling ceramic tile. Ceramic tile shards can be incredibly sharp.

What can we do if it is impossible to find a perfectly matching tile?

With older installations, that can be problematic. Think creatively. Several options include:
  • Search recycling stores. Outlets like Habitat for Humanity's 'ReStore' often have miscellaneous, older tiles in stock.
  • Consider replacing more than one tile in a square or rectangle, as a design accent.
  • Remove a single row of tiles, replacing them with suitably-colored tiles or a differently-textured tile to develop an inferred, partial pattern.
  • Remove several tiles diagonally, for the same purpose.
  • Remove every second tile in the row, replacing them with suitable accent tiles. 
  • If that seems like too much work, replace the broken tile with one high-quality, high-contrast tile that is a very visible, highly patterned or a complimentary color. Smile wisely and call it a conversation piece!
    If you use the latter approach, buy several tiles at the same time for future replacements, and as wished, place additional conversation pieces.

Before you know it, the floor will again be in perfect condition, even if it offers a slightly different visual effect. Bottom line, you can replace that broken tile.

You may like the new look so much you may even choose to break a few selected tiles on purpose.

Reprints of Raymond's article only with attribution, please
Or not! ~Jim
Be sure to visit Raymond's delightful and often thought-provoking blog, Incoming BYTES. Kukkee writes knowledgeably on many construction-related topics. He's a repeat contributor to this blog, too.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Rotted camper floor: Porcelain tile to the rescue

by Jim Bessey

Porcelain tile fixes rotten floor in our 1980 Shasta camp trailer
12" by 12" porcelain tile fixes rotten floor in our 1980 Shasta camping trailer 
I've done a lot of tile projects over the years -- it's my job. I started out with kitchen counter backsplashes, graduated to floors, and eventually learned to do tub and shower surrounds. After all of those jobs, however, I have to admit that fixing our aging camper's squishy floor was one of the most difficult. But it was also one of the most rewarding. That floor repair saved our camper.

When we bought our 1980 Shasta camper about 6 years ago, the floor just inside our door and into the bathroom had a "soft spot." I fixed that by doing some plywood patching, by adding floating laminate flooring in the main area, and by overlaying linoleum in the bathroom. Until last month, that was good enough.

When Lin and I went camping earlier in June, we discovered that the "soft spot" had returned with a vengeance. Afterward, I parked the camper in our driveway turn-around and set up shop. We had another camping trip coming right up, so I had to hustle. First I had to fix the steel fold-out step, which was very springy (that was a clue for me for what was to follow).
The extent of the rot made me sick
The floor problems began right inside the door, the single highest-traffic part of our camper. I knew some serious fixing was in order, so I put a new blade in my cordless sawz-all and started what I'd hoped would be a strategic surgery. No such luck.

The damage was horrendous: wet-rotted frame members, plywood so soft I could crush it in my hands. The extent of the rot made me sick. It went under the entry closet, over to the oven cabinet, and all the way to the bathtub. In all, I had to remove everything down to the protective metal under-skin for a total of over 15 square feet.

Even the wooden 2 by 2 framing was ruined, and that's what held everything together. (see diagram)

section view of Shasta camper floor construction
Section view of camper floor, from the door-side. Yellow area has been rebuilt
Talk about needing a Plan B! I had to search my shop for suitable materials and start improvising right away. Had to cut out the bottoms of the closet and the vanity, just to get access. I laid in strips of 5/8" floor decking to span the dead space over the black water tank. Had to locate the metal cross-members and screw that down to firm it up.

Next came a layer of 1 by 6 pine at right angles to the floor plywood, to tie things together and gain some strength (since I couldn't plywood the whole floor in one shot). Trouble was, the 1 by 6 material was too thick to go under the existing floor plywood--the old and new floors had to "interlock." So I had to switch to 7/16" plywood, slip it under the old floor where it was still good, then infill with 1/4" lauan plywood.

Doesn't that sound like fun? Took me an entire Saturday to do all that.

I used up all my 'scrap' material, two tubes of Liquid Nails, and had to make another run to Lowe's for more plywood. Ran out of screws; ran out of underlayment staples. Ran out of daylight, too.

The right trim and finish fixes everything

It all worked out in the end, though. The floor was oddly-built and ugly, but felt really solid underfoot. With another full day available to me, I set-up for tile cutting, grabbed two boxes of left-overs from the garage, and spent a few hours cutting and laying new 12 by 12 porcelain tiles. Trust me, there were some tricky cuts!

The right trim and finish fixes everything. I scrounged through all of my left-over shoe moldings, some newly-acquired scribe moldings that matched perfectly, and caulked all the grout joints with tile-industry caulk that would stay permanently flexible. I figured grout would just crumble and fall out once I got back on the road.

You be the judge. Take a close look at the picture above. It's nothing fancy, really; but I'm hoping this floor will last until we're ready to give up on our 30-year-old camping trailer. It survived our week-long camping trip very nicely.
 How about you? What's the trickiest tile job you've ever done?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fresh pictures posted on Featured Projects page -- your feedback welcome!

by Jim Bessey

accent tiles in wall band and niche jazz up tan tile surround
This tan tile was almost boring -- until we added the accent tiles!
With a light rain falling this morning, today was a fine day for digging through my photo archives. I've been meaning to post new pictures on the Featured Projects page, but had kept being sidetracked by other, more pressing, deadlines.

Trouble is, even though I don't take dozens of pictures from each job, I've still accumulated hundreds of photos without any helpful organization. So I had to do some organizing. First I backed up a big batch of work pics, then I began slashing.

Two pics too similar? One of them had to go. Overexposed? Gone. Boring? Delete. I fixed and lightened and cropped and shuffled folders, renaming both folders and images so the names made sense--not just dates and job names.

While I was doing that, I put together three CD's with assorted images for Scott Bacon, at McKenna's Rochester Kitchen & Bath, the company I do remodeling work for. He's been polite about asking me for the past few weeks. Now I can finally hand him something useful.

So I've added a variety of interesting tile project pics to that long-neglected page, too, finally. I'll keep going, now that I can see what's what. Have a look, and if you see something you like (or hate?) please do leave a Comment here. Thanks!
If you have tile project pictures or helpful project advice you'd like to share, please leave a Comment here or contact me directly. ~Jim