How to: replace old bathroom floor tiles


A reader’s bathroom tiles. (Reader photo)
April 10, 2013

Q: My home has 2½ baths. All three areas have cement floors with tiles laid in 1937, when the house was built. I want an update, but I would prefer not to take out the cement and tile. Is there anything that can be put on top of the old tile that would look good and clean?

Silver Spring

A: Tile from 1937 is now old enough to qualify as vintage, so if it’s in good shape, you might want to think seriously about leaving it. If the tile’s color is the issue, you might be able to make the existing floor go well with a different wall color simply by getting a bath mat that incorporates both colors.

If a simple fix like that won’t do, one option is to paint the floor with a product designed to stick to ceramic tile. But a painted floor won’t stay looking good forever, so consider this just an interim measure. A thin concrete overlay is a more durable solution. You can read up on this procedure and find contractors at www.concrete
network.com
; type “overlays on tile” into the search box.

Or you can install pretty much any kind of flooring you want on top of the existing tile. Remove any loose tiles and patch those spots first. If you want linoleum or vinyl sheet, you’ll need a plywood overlay to cover the old tile. Then the new flooring can be glued onto that. If you want to stick with tile, the installer will need to scuff up the old flooring and then attach the new tiles using a thinset mortar.

Retiling on top of the existing tile makes sense when the old tiles were set into a thick mortar bed, as bathroom floors in older houses often were, because the flooring is rock-solid and hard to remove. If a lot of tiles are loose or if they were just set into a thin mortar bed on a plywood subfloor, as is often the case in newer homes, it might make more sense to remove them and start over.

The main drawback to adding new tile on top of old is that the new floor will be higher. So you will need to reset the toilet with a taller flange and raise cabinets (or settle for a kickspace that’s shorter than usual, which looks awkward). You might also need to trim the bottom of the bathroom door.

We have two large garage doors with 18-by-18-inch glass panes across each door. Bluebirds like to challenge the image they see in the glass and are landing on the small frames around each panel. The problem is that they leave their droppings. These droppings are running down the fiberglass doors and leaving their “trail.” We check the doors each day and try to remove any droppings that we find. We have used Clorox, Lysol cleanser and Dawn dish detergent (excellent for killing stink bugs by the way) and cannot get the stains out. What works?

Haymarket

Unfortunately, there seems to be no simple answer to your question.

Joseph R. Hetzel, technical director for the Door & Access Systems Manufacturers Association, a trade group that represents garage door manufacturers, recommends calling the manufacturer for advice because not all fiberglass doors are made the same. “The industry is very competitive,” he said. “So different manufacturers use different processes to gain competitive advantage.” Getting model-specific information is especially important if the doors are still under warranty. But warranties for finishes tend to be relatively short-lived, and worrying about what the manufacturer recommends might be moot anyway, because it can be nearly impossible for a homeowner who inherited a garage door from a previous owner to determine the manufacturer. Some manufacturers, even members of the trade association, don’t label their products, Hetzel said.

If you can’t track down the manufacturer, try using cleaners marketed for cleaning bird droppings from other types of fiberglass surfaces, such as boats. One such product is Star brite Spider and Bird Stain Remover (www.starbrite.com). If stains remain, the company makes Sea Safe Non-Skid Boat Deck Cleaner, which is more powerful, and Instant Hull Cleaner, which is even more aggressive. Pet stores also sell products designed to dissolve and remove bird droppings. Flitz polish paste, often sold at hardware stores, might also work. Whatever you use, test it on an edge or the back of a panel to make sure it doesn’t mar the finish.

Some fiberglass garage doors are stained to resemble wood, while others are painted. If you have a stained door and succeed in removing traces of the bird droppings, you might want to coat the door with clear polyurethane to make it easier to clean in the future. Manufacturer Wayne Dalton recommends applying polyurethane on its stained fiberglass doors every one to three years, and Clopay recommends doing it every two years. (Clopay has stopped making fiberglass doors because the need for this much maintenance seemed excessive, according to spokesman Seth Belton.) Wayne Dalton recommends first washing the doors with detergent that has less than 0.5 percent phosphate, or with mineral spirits or naptha, then scuffing with a Scotch-Brite pad. Once the door is clean and dry, you can apply the polyurethane.

If nothing works to get the bird stains off, you might want to paint the doors, perhaps in a color that will make future stains less noticeable. Dalton’s advice for that is to scuff the surface with fine steel wool saturated with soapy water, rinse and wipe off loose particles, let the door dry completely, then paint with a high-quality exterior latex finish — no primer needed.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in April, such as fixing fences, at washingtonpost.com/home.

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