Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Tiles

Yes, I know, I did it again.  I vanished.

But this time, I can honestly say that I've been thinking about what I've wanted to write for the past several days because I couldn't wait to brag blog about my latest achievement.

I fixed some suddenly loose tiles in the shower.  I was taking a shower one day, when I noticed several tiles literally poking out of the wall slightly.  When I investigated (by pushing on them), it became clear that they were wiggling and that the only thing that was holding them in place was the (rapidly cracking) grout.

This is not good.  Loose tiles are a recipe for water behind the wall.  Which is even less good.

My initial impulse was to call the handyman.  So I did, one Friday afternoon.  I didn't expect a call over the weekend, but then Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday went by, and when I walked out of my last class on Wednesday evening, I decided I needed to face the fact that he wasn't going to call, and in the meantime, unless I came up with another solution, my shower would remain out of commission, indefinitely (luckily, I have two bathrooms).

In the meantime, a friend had suggested that I could just do the repair myself, since it wasn't that difficult.  So basically, this was the scene, chez moi, shower-side:


Not a pretty sight, is it?  I didn't think so either.

Getting the tiles out wasn't too hard, actually, since 3 of the tiles were all but falling off the wall, and the others came off with a little wiggle of a screwdriver.

It turns out that the tiles that were falling off had only been fastened on with what looked like glue.

It definitely wasn't thin set mortar, because you can't get mortar off the back of a ceramic tile with a scraper.  And whatever adhesive was on those three tiles lifted off with a scraper, and then I simply ripped it off with my bare hands.

And no, I'm not Amazonian, they simply weren't installed correctly or else when someone did a repair job, they took a shortcut utilizing glue instead of mortar (no, they're not interchangeable, like that).

This still left the remaining 4 tiles that did in fact have thin set on the back of them.  It wasn't going to be easy to get that off.  Various websites suggested grinding it off, but that sounded like something I didn't really want to get involved in doing.

By a stroke of luck, though, I found a container of sulfamic acid.  This was the Holy Grail I discovered on a shelf at Home Depot:


At first, the sales clerk was skeptical, because as you can see, it clearly says it "Removes grout haze and residue."  But if you keep reading--and I always keep reading--it also says on the back that if you simply add a bit more of it to a gallon of water, it will also remove grout and "masonry" (thin set!  that means thin set!) from ceramic tile.

N.B. You can't use it on natural stone, because it will etch the tiles.  So, don't.

The sales clerk ultimately admitted that it just might do the trick, given that I only had a few tiles with a small amount of thin set on them.

So I got an enormous bucket, heavy duty gloves, goggles and a face mask (I don't play around with acid).  I mixed the whole container into a gallon of water, plunked the tiles in and set to work.

It's a bit unnerving to watch concrete become the consistency of gum and peel off the back of a tile, but that is in fact what happened.  The acid loosened the thin set enough so that I was able to scrape it--and the remaining grout--off of the tiles.  (Tiles need to be clean and all the grout and mortar needs to come off before you reattach them to the wall: otherwise, they won't lie flat and the new grout and thin set won't adhere.)

Once the acid bath was completed and the tiles were clean, it was relatively simple to reattach them to the wall, like so:


I just used a small container of tile repair mortar, since I didn't have a huge job to do. 

As the container says, you just add water and stir and you've got what you need to adhere the tiles to the wall.  At that point, it's just like a jigsaw puzzle, and personally, I'm a fan of jigsaw puzzles, so this was pretty easy-peasy.

Then, you wait a couple of hours and then, you grout.  There's definitely a little knack to applying the grout, but again, because I only had a small job to do, I could be relatively incompetent and still get away with it.

In the end, this was the final result.  Success.  Yes, a trained professional would probably be able to spot the repair job, but I don't care, because I fixed it myself, it turned out okay, it doesn't look like a hot mess, and ... I can use my shower again!

Problem solved.

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