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How to fit new tile

Posted: February 16, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 16, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Q: I need to replace some cracked and chipped tile in the bathroom. Some of it was shaped to fit around the base of the toilet. Is it difficult to shape replacement tiles in the same way? — Sarah S., Fort Worth, Texas

A: For first-timers, cutting ceramic tile to fit takes a bit of practice. At the home-improvement store, grab a few extra tiles of the same type as your replacement tiles, along with a tile cutter and a scoring tool. Practice cutting tiles in half, then in quarters, working to get a smooth break by first scoring along the cutting line (drawn with a pencil) across the top of the tile, then making the final cuts with the tile cutter. Next, practice cutting tiles to shape. For an arc, you may need to score deeper — repeating along the cutting line a few times — and then score down the middle of the arc before cutting.

Working from a template can make things a bit easier. If the chipped tiles haven’t been removed, place as many of them back in place as possible. Trace the outline of the tile on a piece of paper, and use that trace as the template. If the tiles are too badly damaged, use as a template, mark the contours of the toilet pedestal base on a sheet of paper.

Now let’s look at fixing the damage. Keep in mind that this repair works best if just a few tiles are damaged. If the damage is extensive, consider redoing the entire floor.

If you pick the “redo” option, use the opportunity to look at how the toilet is set. In newer buildings, flooring is placed all the way up to the flange (the mouth of the wide drain pipe that the toilet base is set on) rather than cutting it to fit around the toilet base. If it’s practical, you may want your replacement floor to do the same thing. This would require removing the toilet and perhaps adding an extension to the flange so the toilet base fits securely on the newly raised floor, but it may be worth the extra effort.

To replace the damaged tiles, tap a chisel gently along the edges to loosen the grout and then try to lift the tile. If it’s stuck, place the chisel edge in the center of the tile and tap it with a hammer until the tile cracks. Then, pry out the pieces, being careful not to mar the surrounding undamaged tiles.

Replace the damaged tiles with new ones that closely match the old ones. (Take one of the removed tiles to the home-improvement store to match them.) Make sure to buy a few extra, in case your initial cutting efforts don’t work. Score and cut the new tiles to fit the spaces left by the old tiles.

Working one tile at a time, coat the bottom with a thin layer of grout or tile adhesive. Press the tile into place, as close to the toilet base as possible. Once they’re set, apply grout generously to the spaces between each tile (about a 1/8 inch gap), using a wide putty knife to work in the tight area. Wipe away excess with a damp (not wet) cloth and let the tiles set for at least 24 hours.

To finish, scrub tiles with a lint-free cloth, soap and water to remove the hazy layer of excess grout. Dry completely, then apply a thin bead of silicone caulk between the toilet base and the edges of the tiles.

HOME TIP: Clean ceramic tile floors with a nonabrasive soap and warm water to keep from scratching the glossy surface.


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