Give Your Tile Shower or Countertop Some Pizzazz
A frequent question that we receive concerns what to do with an old tile shower or kitchen or bath countertop that has lost its sizzle and what can be done to give it some pizzazz. Most of the objections stem from one or more of the following conditions: grungy or stained grout, cracked or chipped tile and/or a dated color.
Aside from these principally cosmetic issues, many of these same tile installations are in good shape. That’s because most countertops and vintage tile shower jobs were installed over a mortar bed. This technique makes them exceedingly stronger than tile glued directly to wallboard, a technique that became popular in the early 1970s as home builders sought to cut costs to remain competitive in a booming housing market.
If you have a ‘glue job,’ our ‘spice up your tile’ suggestions are not for you, because the least bit of disruption can lead to leaks and subsequent water damage. If, on the other hand, you have a ‘mortar job,’ get ready to transform your tired old tile into an attractive and hip design element in your home. The best part is that, with some time and the right tools, this is a project that you can do yourself.
What’s the secret? It’s simple; just remove any cracked, chipped or worn tiles and replace them with tiles of a contesting color. Or you can use decorative tiles (also called ‘decos’), that consist of a combination of colors and textures. You can even go so far as to create hand-painted tile with the color or pattern of your choice. The possibilities are endless! By the way, you needn’t limit tile replacement to only those that are damaged, you can remove random tile to create the design that best fits your vision. What’s more, you can do this even if you don’t have any damaged tile, but simply want to change the overall look.
Whether a shower or countertop; the technique is essentially the same. You’ll need a few tools and some materials. They include a glass cutting tool; a small ball peen hammer; a grout saw; an old wood chisel; a driver drill and an assortment of bits; a roll of 2” painter’s tape; tile adhesive; grout; a grout float; a sponge; a small bucket, a shop vacuum and safety glasses.
The tedious and most difficult aspect of this project is removing existing tile without damaging surrounding tile that you want to remain. Before you begin to remove tile, mark the ones that intend to remove with an indelible marker and surround them with a course of painter’s tape to protect neighboring tiles. Next, use the grout saw to remove the grout surrounding the tile. The grout saw is a small hand tool about the size of a tooth brush, which has a barbed blade that easily grinds away the grout.
Make an ‘X’ in the tile from corner to corner using the glass cutter. Using the driver drill, drill a small hole in the center of the tile the thickness of the tile – about 5/16”. You’ll determine exact thickness once you remove the first piece of tile. Tip: wrap a piece of electrical tape around the drill bit as a depth guide. Use a slightly larger bit to increase the size of the hole. The hole aids in removing the tile.
Lightly tap on the tile with the round side of the ball peen hammer. The tile will crack along the ‘X.’ Lightly tap on the chisel to pry the tile away from the mortar and to remove excess adhesive from the mortar. Remove all debris and dust using the shop vacuum. The goal is to have a smooth surface into which the new tile can be installed.
Once all of the desired tiles have been removed and everything has been cleaned up – including removing the painter’s tape — you can install the replacement tiles. Place a generous amount of tile adhesive at the back side of the tile and press the tile into the opening. Shift the tile back and forth to distribute the adhesive and ensure that the surface of the tile corresponds to the surrounding tile. Make certain that the tile is square in the opening and that the grout joints align. Tile spacers can be especially useful in maintaining alignment, especially with vertical applications such as shower walls. Hold the tile in place with a couple of courses of painter’s tape.
After the adhesive has had the opportunity to dry – usually about 24 hours – remove the tape and grout the tile. This presents an excellent opportunity to regrout all of the tile for a fresh look. It’s also a perfect time to change the color of the grout. Unlike as with removing a tile (where all of the grout is removed), only the upper surface – about an 1/8” – needs to be removed when installing new grout.
After all of the grout has been removed and the area has been vacuumed and cleaned, the new grout can be installed. Press the new grout into the joints using a rubber grout float and working in a diagonal direction. Do a section at a time and remove the excess grout from the surface of the tile with a damp sponge. Once the grout has dried to haze, buff the tile with a clean cheese cloth. After the grout has cured over the course of two weeks, seal it with a tile and grout sealer to preserve the color and prevent staining.
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