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Tile Repair vs Replacement: How to Make the Right Decision

That old bathroom or kitchen floor has seen better days and you can't handle the eye-sore anymore. Does the entire floor need to be replaced or can the tiles be salvaged and the floor repaired to look like new?

On the one hand, you have tile repair which could end up costing more than a brand-new floor. On the other hand, you might replace an entire floor when a few simple repairs would have done the trick. Read on to avoid making the wrong decision when it comes time to fix-up your floor.

Tile Repair

Floor tiles are designed to be durable and stand up to years of abuse. However, over time even the toughest tiles crack under pressure and come loose from their positions.

Scrub and clean all grime off your floor first. Removing all the dirt and stains will give you a clearer picture of your floor’s wear and tear. Sometimes a hardy cleaning can bring your floor right back to a like-new appearance.

How bad is the damage to the tile floor? Are there just a few bad tiles or is the damage significant across all, or the majority, of the tiles?

Obviously, you will have to decide for yourself if repairing many tiles is worth the effort or if a full tear-out is the way to go. When in doubt, always ask a professional for advice. Click here for questions to ask when you call for assistance with this or any other home improvement project.

Grout Problems

Grout is necessary for waterproofing your floor. Are many of the floor tiles loose or have they broken loose from the floor?

This would mean that the grout and mortar are not doing their jobs. High traffic areas of the floor like in front of sinks tend to go first. Every step and push-off wears away at the grout.

In many cases, the floor tiles are still strong and beautiful, but the grout has lost its strength to hold them in place. In this case, a full tile and grout repair might not be necessary. It is possible to remove the old grout and reuse the tiles in laying a "new" floor.

Removing all the tiles with the least amount of damage to the tiles as possible can be a tedious and time-consuming process. Unless you are under budget restraints or the old tile has special meaning to you or the home's character, this kind of large scale repair isn't advisable.

Cracked and Chipped Tiles

Broken and cracked tile repair is possible with adhesives and epoxy. Repairing and resetting a broken or cracked tile will not usually be worth the effort since it may result with a sub-par appearance. You may have restored the integrity of the floor, but those tiles may still look like they need replacing.

Replacing some and not all of the tiles of the floor will give the floor an inconsistent look unless you are able to match the new tile perfectly with the old. Even if you are able to find the exact type, size, color, and design of the tile, replacing the aged look of the old tile will contrast heavily with the look of the new tiles. This is when you might consider a complete section tile replacement.

Replacing Problem Sections

Floor tile repair is an art as much as a science. When there is an area of tiles that need replacing but the other tiles of the floor are still looking good, an entirely new design of that area can give the floor a creative feel.

In this way, you can avoid the off-color and obvious repair look of the floor by transitioning the other part of the floor to the newly designed section of the floor. Don't be afraid to be creative with replacing an area of the floor with a different design than the rest of the floor.

This kind of section tile replacement can save money and time over replacing all the tiles and could even result in a more attractive floor design.

How to Replace a Single Damaged Tile

First, find a replacement. You want the new tile to match the others as close as possible. It is ideal to use the same tiles as the others, but if there are no extra tiles kept from the original floor install you might need to get creative.

Is there an area of the floor that could be removed and covered by a built-in shelf or even a storage closet? If so, you could use the tiles removed from that area to replace broken or cracked tiles in other areas and still maintain the same consistent look to the floor as a whole.

The process of replacing tiles isn't all that complicated, but it does require a certain amount of skill and finesse to do it properly. Next, we will look at each step of the process and provide some helpful tips.

Protect Nearby Tiles

The last thing you want to do while repairing your tile floor is to damage more tiles. Take the time to protect the tiles neighboring the tile you are working on. Masking tape works well to protect finished tiles from being accidentally scratched up during the repair job. Don't be stingy with the tape and lay down several layers.

Remove the Old Grout

The next step in replacing a tile is the removal of the damaged tile from the floor. Use a carbide-tipped scoring tool or even a punch or screwdriver to dig out the grout around the tile being replaced. Be careful not to break or damage the adjacent tiles in the process.

Chisel Out the Tile

If you are trying to remove the tile without damaging it because it might be used again you will have to take special care to gently break the tile's seal with the substrate under it. Never apply too much pressure when attempting to pry it loose as you may risk snapping the tile.

A tile that is cracked or broken and will not be used again, needs no such caution. Many times removing the tile will just take a few clicks with a chisel and hammer if the tile is already loose. Other times you may need to drill a few holes in the tile and chisel the tile out piece by piece.

Clean-Up the Hole

Now that the damaged tile has been removed you need to prepare the space for installing the replacement tile. Use a flat metal tool to scrape out all the remaining substrate. Clean out any foreign material on the subfloor in order to ensure a good level set of the new tile with the rest of the floor.

Set the New Tile

Use a trowel or edge tool to comb a thin layer of mortar to the subfloor. Apply a bit of mortar to the bottom of the new tile, but be careful not to overdo it. You don't want the excess mortar oozing out the edges where the grout will go.

Gently lay the tile in its new home. Tap the tile down a bit with a rubber hammer. Adjust the tile by hand until it is lined up evenly with the other tiles. Let it stand for two or three hours to harden and dry into place.

Grout the Edges

Mix up a fresh bit of grout, amble enough for the repair. Use a grout float to apply an even bead of grout along all edges of the tile. Take a wet towel and clean up any grout that spills onto the tile. Let it dry for 24 hours and you're done.

Repairing Without Replacing

As previously pointed out, a cracked, chipped, or even broken tile can be repaired without having to replace the tile. This process restores the integrity of the floor but often leaves the tile looking like it was repaired.

However, if done correctly, a cheap yet careful tile repair could repair cracks and restore the tile to its original appearance. Next, we take a look at the process of repairing a tile without replacing it.

Don't worry if you don't have the tools of the trade. You can go to a local hardware store and pick up a tile repair kit. The kit will have everything you need to repair a damaged tile.

Clean First

This first step might seem obvious, but it must be stated. Take a cloth or sponge and some soapy water and scrub the entire tile completely clean.

Any grime left on the tile can diminish a needed strong and secure hold. Dry the tile well with a towel or hair dryer. You don't want any moisture left on the surface when you begin the repair.

Apply Primer

The kit will normally have a small tube or jar of primer. Use a paintbrush (usually provided in the tile repair kit) to apply a thin layer of primer to the area of the tile you are repairing. Let the primer dry for at least two hours before going on to the next step.

Important: Do not get any primer on the gloss finish of the tile or adjacent tiles. The primer can damage the finish and your repair will look like a mess when you're done.

Paint it Pretty

This is where you have to be artistic if you want your repair to be unnoticeable. The paint should be high gloss to match the gloss of the tile, and the tone of the color has to match the tile perfectly or it could be even more noticeable than the crack you are trying to repair.

Mix and Apply the Epoxy

On a piece of clean cardboard mix equal amounts of the two-part epoxy according to the instructions that come with your kit. Use the exact amount of epoxy to fill in the crack level with the tile surface.

A good rule of thumb here is to use a small thin paintbrush or toothpick to apply the epoxy evenly and slowly until you reach the right level and don't go over.

Let it Set

The epoxy needs about 24 hours to fully set. Keep it covered with a cone or just be careful not to step on it. The next day, if you repaired the tile like a professional, you won't be able to easily tell the tile was ever damaged without close inspection.

Now that you know the process of repairing one tile, take a look at your tile repair job. Count how many chips, cracks, and pits you see. If the time starts adding up to vacation days, it might be time to consider replacing the entire tile floor.

Entire Tile Floor Replacement

Floor tile repair is normally the cheapest and easiest option, but there is a point where the entire tile floor needs replacing. Tiling a new floor requires skill and training that is beyond the reach of most do-it-yourselfers.

Unless you are willing to put in the hours and days it would take to learn the process, it is best to leave installing an all-new tile floor to the professionals.

Now That's Better

When a project is finished and you're looking down on a well-repaired tile floor all the trouble becomes worth it. Take your time and study the process, not leaving any steps out. If you have any questions be sure to seek the advice of professional contractors.

If you live in Dallas and you need a helping hand, then turn to Mr. Handyman. Do you need new floors or help with tile repair? There is no home improvement job too big or too small for us. Contact us at (972) 627-4518 or request service by filling out a simple form.