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How to deal with damaged vinyl tiles

You can’t match them, so try a carpet, a complementary tile or a second layer

A reader wants to know what to do about these damaged tiles. (Reader photo)

Q: I installed Armstrong Solarian 12-inch self-stick vinyl tile on our basement cement floor about 15 years ago. The tile has begun to break apart in the heavy-use area where a chair is in front of a desk. I do not have any replacement tiles and have been unable to find any online or in stores. I have tried making minor repairs, but the tile is very hard to remove, and I have not been able to clean the underlying concrete very well to install new pieces. Any suggestions for repairing this area and sources for matching replacement tiles?

Reston, Va.

A: Unless you happen upon matching tiles at a store that specializes in used and leftover building materials or are lucky enough to find a seller on a website such as eBay, you are probably out of luck for finding matching tiles. But you have a few options for repairing the floor or at least making the room look better.

As an instant solution, you might put an area rug over the damaged area. Get one big enough, so the desk is at least partially on it, allowing you to scoot the chair in and out without its legs or wheels snagging on an edge. Manufacturers also make floor protectors, but that might create a more industrial look than you want. The website has a variety of options.

Or you might consider replacing just the tile around the desk — or even within a larger area if that would appear better — creating a look somewhat akin to having an area carpet there, but without an added layer. Rather than searching endlessly for matching tile, focus on finding a color that goes well with what you have. Bring a scrap piece with you, because it’s hard to match colors from memory or a photo. For example, you might try to match the background color or one of the colors in the lines that crisscross your tiles.

To remove self-stick vinyl tiles from concrete, Armstrong recommends using a heat gun or hair dryer to warm the tiles. That should soften the adhesive and make it fairly easy to pull up the tiles, according to a customer service representative. (Don’t expect to get the tiles off intact to reuse them, however.) It’s important to remove all the adhesive residue before you apply new tile. Armstrong doesn’t offer specific suggestions, but the customer service representative said resorting to solvents might introduce something oily that would keep new tiles from sticking. You can avoid that issue by scraping or sanding off any residue.

You would need to patch the floor where the concrete has crumbled. Use a cement-based patch product, not one that is gypsum-based. Armstrong recommends its S-184 fast-setting patch and skim coat or S-194 patch, underlayment and embossing leveler. But the S-184 comes only in 25-pound bags ($45,, far more than you probably need. Armstrong packages the S-194 in sizes as small as 10 pounds. In your area, Flooring America Fairfax (571-732-0914; carries that for $29.99. To find retailers in other areas, Armstrong has a find-a-retailer service on its website.

If the idea of covering the damaged area or adding a second style of tile doesn’t suit you, you can achieve a like-new, uniform look by covering the existing tile with a second layer of self-stick tiles. One advantage of this, besides the final look, is that you don’t have to worry about pulling up the old tiles. But two layers is the max; you couldn’t do a third.

If you want to add a second layer, first patch the holes with one of the cement-based patch products. If the existing tiles are textured, skim the surface with the patch material and trowel it smooth. Scrape off trowel marks with the trowel edge or a wallpaper scraper. Install new self-stick tiles as if you were putting down an initial layer — except you’ll need to stagger the grid, so the edges of the new tiles are at least six inches away from the edges in the first layer. Assuming you have 12-inch square tiles for both layers, the edges of the new tiles will align with the centerlines of the old tiles. Read and follow the installation instructions.

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