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Walls and Floors

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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

  • Learn basic repair techniques for plaster, drywall, and ceramic tile walls.

  • Learn how to repair wooden floors and how to repair and replace resilient floor surfaces.

We don't often think about the walls around us and the floors beneath our feet. But sometimes these important structural elements of our home call out for attention. Walls need to support pictures or heavy shelves, and they take a number of hits from moving furniture, vigorously propelled toys, and the everyday bumps of a busy household. Floors hold up well to the traffic we put on them, but years of scuffing feet, dropped objects, scraping furniture, and more can splinter wood or cut through resilient flooring.

Fortunately, most work on walls and floors is fairly straightforward. You don't need specialized knowledge to repair these surfaces, and for the most part, damage to walls and floors is remedied with the tools and materials you have at home or that are readily available in home improvement stores. One nice thing about repair work on walls and floors is that the improvements are visible right away. They rid eye sores to make the planes of wall and floor once again smooth and lovely—and out of mind.

In this chapter, you learn some basic techniques for repairing damage to a number of wall surfaces, including plaster, drywall, wood paneling, and ceramic tile. The chapter also talks about basic repairs to wood, resilient, and ceramic-tiled floors.

To do list

  • Determine whether your home's walls are made of plaster or drywall and determine, where necessary, the material of the wall studs.

  • Learn how to choose the correct fasteners for your wall type and the task at hand.

  • Learn basic plaster repair techniques.

  • Learn how to repair scrapes, dents, and larger damage to drywall.

  • Clean and repair grout and replace broken tiles in ceramic wall surfaces.

Repairing Walls

Walls do not take up much of our attention, but we actually work with them quite a bit, especially right after moving into a house or apartment. We hang things on them, including posters, picture frames, hooks, mirrors, shelves, and more. Although many of these items are lightweight, some are quite heavy and require specific types of fasteners and hanging supports. To ensure that what we hang is going to stay where we put it, we have to understand something of the walls themselves and of the hardware used to do the actual supporting.

And walls occasionally need repair. Dents, scrapes, and bumps need to be smoothed over; cracks and holes need to be filled; and grout and ceramic tiles need to be replaced. In this section, you learn how to deal with these minor home repair issues. You also learn about the basic makeup of plaster, drywall, and other common wall surfaces and how to use the right tools and techniques for their repair.

Working with Wall Surfaces

Although most modern homes today are built with drywall, most homeowners at some point need to repair other types of wall surfaces. These types include plaster, wood paneling, ceramic tile, and masonry. In the following sections, you learn a bit about the makeup of each of these wall surfaces and some of the issues you’ll face when working with them.

Drywall Basics

Until the middle of the last century, nearly all wall surfaces in homes were made of plaster, a gypsum or a lime/cement mixture that is spread over strips of wood called lath. To save time, and thus labor charges, the building industry developed drywall. These are panels of plaster-like material dried between layers of thick paper, generally 4’ by 8’ in size and about 1/2’’ thick. Drywall sheets are nailed or screwed to wood or metal studs and go up much more quickly than plaster/lath combinations, thus enabling builders to finish walls far more quickly than with the old method of plastering.

Where panels meet, the narrow gaps are called seams or joints and are covered with a paper or mesh tape, which is then covered with a mastic called joint compound. The compound is sanded smooth with the surface of the wallboard and, when painted along with the rest of the wall, the seams are virtually undetectable.

Most drywall in homes is 1/2’’ thick. Most builders use waterproof, 5/8’’ thick drywall in bathrooms, though. Drywall might be thicker or installed in double layers where building codes call for special protection against fire. Builders also might use thicker drywall on ceilings to stop the spread of flame to an upper floor or on a wall separating an attached garage from a home to slow the spread of fires beginning in the garage.

Drywall is criticized for being thin and having a thin ring to it, and it does not support heavy weights except when fasteners enter studs behind. But its virtue to the homeowner is that it is relatively easy to repair and does not chip or crack as readily as plaster.

Hanging objects on drywall requires special fasteners, due to the limited thickness of the drywall panels and the hollow space behind them. When working with drywall, you also have to be aware that you might hit wood or metal studs behind the drywall panels.


Plaster is the former king of home walls. In early construction, plaster was spread over the stones or logs that made a home. Builders long ago discovered, however, that they could save money by building homes with studs—that is, milled 2-by-4s that were erected 16’’ or so apart to be covered over with wall material. To accommodate the plaster, wooden lath strips running horizontally were first nailed to the vertical studs. Each piece of lath was about 1/4’’ thick and about 1 1/2’’ wide; gaps between pieces of lath averaged about 1/2’’.

This arrangement was standard in homes from the mid-nineteenth century to mid-twentieth century. Beginning in the first part of the twentieth century, plaster was spread over gypsum wallboard nailed to studs. In modern homes, when plaster is used, it is spread over a metal mesh fastened to studs.

Plaster is still considered a superior wall. It has a solid, thick feeling to it. But it also tends to chip and develop cracks more easily than does drywall.

When putting fasteners into plaster walls, you have to contend with a tough, occasionally brittle material prone to cracking or chipping, as well as the uncertainty of striking either lath or the gaps between lath strips.

Wood Paneling

Wood has been used for centuries as a wall material. In the eighteenth century, many a country manor’s library were covered with Georgian wooden paneling, crafted as finely as cabinetry. In America, wood was so plentiful east of the Mississippi that vertical wood boards composed the paneling. Today, these thick panels have been imitated with thinner plywood panels, often covered with an artificial wood-grain surface and scored with manufactured vertical grooves.

Like plaster and wallboard, wood paneling is backed up with vertical wooden studs.


Bricks, concrete, concrete block, cinder block, and stone are used to construct masonry walls. There is no mystery to how walls of these are made. For brick, stone, and block walls, the units are stacked on top of one another until the wall is finished. In the case of poured concrete walls, liquid concrete is poured into forms; after the concrete hardens, the forms are removed.

Ceramic Tile

Ceramic tile walls are commonly used in bathrooms and often do not extend all the way to the ceiling; instead the tiles rise only to about head height. Ceramic tile walls are made by adhering individual tiles to a backing of plaster or drywall to make a tough, impervious surface. The tiles themselves are very durable, but the grout between tiles has to be inspected often and occasionally replenished.

Choosing and Using Wall Fasteners

The method you use for attaching a picture, bookcase, display case, or other item to a wall depends on the wall surface type and the weight of the object you’re hanging. The best chance for success depends on matching the correct fastener to the task.

As you learn in the next sections, heavy objects must be hung from wall studs or with special fasteners. Light objects are easier. A small nail hammered in at a slant works well for light picture frames hung on plaster, drywall, and most good-quality wood paneling. Heavier frames require picture hooks, and the heavier the frame, the larger the picture hook required. Especially heavy frames should be hung with two heavy-duty picture hooks nailed to the wall about a foot apart and at the same height above the floor.

Before you hammer a nail or drill a hole into plaster that you suspect is prone to crumbling or cracking (that is, if you see crumbling or cracks nearby), press a 1’’ piece of transparent tape over the area. Drill through the center of the tape, which adds cohesive strength to the plaster beneath it.

Locating Wall Studs

Heavy objects, such as book or display cases, should be fastened into wood studs behind drywall, plaster, or paneling whenever possible. Use a stud finder to find the studs. Stud finders use either a magnet to detect the metal screws or nails holding the drywall or lathe to the studs or wave technology to detect a stud’s bulk. As you move a stud finder along a wall, indicators tell you where the studs are.

Studs typically are located at 16’’ intervals, so when you’ve located one stud, you should be able to locate others simply by measuring. In older homes especially, the 16’’ is only approximate, and older homes (more than 100 years old) likely have studs closer to 2’’ wide than 1 1/2’’ wide (the modern standard).

When you have located a stud, you can determine if it is wood or metal by drilling toward it with a twist bit. The sound and feel of hitting the stud might tell you if it is wood or metal. If not, when you continue, with metal, the drilling suddenly becomes easier because the stud is hollow; with wood the drilling does not become easier and when you withdraw the twist bit, the grooves show traces of sawdust.

Nails or screws can go into the studs to support weighty objects. If the studs in your home are not wood but sheet metal (which is thin enough to cut with tin snips), you can use Type S drywall screws rather than nails. These have a sharp point and, while twisting from the energy of a power drill, create their own hole in the metal stud. If you have trouble getting the screw to penetrate the stud, drill a hole through the plaster or drywall, dimple the metal stud with a center punch (a tool with a hardened sharp point for making such marks), and then use a twist bit to drill a hole half the diameter of the thickness of the screw you intend to use. Then the screw should fasten to the stud.

Studs are doubled to the left and right of doors and windows, thus doubling your surface for nails and screws to grip wood—in metal stud walls, there are doubled studs also, but generally the inside ones are wood. The frames above doors and windows have additional wood support, as well. The wood members here are called headers and are normally made of 2-by-6s or 2-by-8s on edge. Headers extend up from the top of windows and doors 5’’–7’’, although often a good portion of this is covered by the window or door’s trim.

Using Fasteners That Don’t Require Studs

If you’re hanging relatively heavy objects on a hollow drywall or plaster wall, in a location not along a stud, you cannot resort to mere nails and picture hooks; you need special fasteners.

If the object is of moderate weight, use plastic shields and appropriate self-tapping screws that screw into them. Plastic shields and screws to fit are sold at home improvement stores either separately or combined in packages. For heavier objects, use lag anchors (which are similar to plastic shields but are made of steel), Molly bolts, or toggle bolts, as shown in Figure 3.1. Molly bolts (also called hollow wall anchors) and toggle bolts are made especially for hollow walls. These bolts penetrate the wall and then a portion of them expands to grip the wall from behind.

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1 From left to right: Plastic shields, Molly bolts, toggle bolts, and lag anchors are some of the fasteners that can hold heavy objects to different wall constructions in homes.

Molly bolts are made of two pieces, a threaded bolt and a metal sleeve. To install a Molly bolt, you first drill a hole in the drywall using a twist bit. You then slip the Molly bolt through the hole until its front collar grips the wall surface. You then turn the bolt head with a screwdriver, making sure the collar does not turn. As the bolt turns, it draws the sleeve projection against the back of the wall. The bolt can then be removed and set through a loop or hole of the object to be hung. Molly bolts have to be sized to the exact thickness of the wall and thus are better suited to use in drywall, rather than plaster (which often varies in thickness and is backed by lathwork).

A toggle bolt locks into a wall using two hinged arms that spring out from the end of the bolt after the bolt is inserted in the wall. To install a toggle bolt, you first drill a hole in the drywall, using a twist bit, just as you do with a Molly bolt. The toggle bolt, however, has to be placed through the object to be hung before the toggle portion is pushed into the hole. After you insert the toggle into the drilled hole, the two arms along the bolt threads spring open—so long as the hinged end is far enough down the bolt threads. Then you have to pull back slightly on the bolt head, or what it is connected to, to make the arms grip the back of the wall while you turn the bolt to move the bolt head closer to the surface of the wall.

Using Fasteners for Masonry Walls

Hanging items from brick, stone, and other types of masonry walls requires special tools and materials. Masonry nails (with twisted shafts) and cut nails can penetrate and grip the mortar between bricks, concrete block, or cinder block. Various kinds of anchors (or what are similar and are called expansion shields) work on all forms of masonry. To use them, you have to use a carbide-tipped drill bit to make holes of precisely the diameter of the anchors and then tap them in with a hammer. When screws are turned into them, the anchors expand to firmly grip the surrounding masonry. Toggle bolts and Molly bolts can work on concrete block or cinder block if they are long enough.

Repairing Plaster

Plaster can be damaged in a number of ways. When a house settles with age, the plaster sometimes cracks. These cracks can develop into rather wide fissures. Plaster can also be damaged when struck by tools, furniture being moved, and so on. Plaster can even develop cracks owing to vibration nearby, as from heavy traffic on a neighboring highway. And plaster can be damaged if water penetrates it following a roof or plumbing leak.

But all these problems have solutions, although some plaster cracks and fissures can recur. Sometimes this recurring damage is seasonal—cracks open each winter in the same place, for example, as a result of the wood behind the plaster contracting because of lower humidity. Or it can be due to nearby vibrations, which open old cracks or start new ones nearby. In this section of the chapter, you learn how to fix damaged plaster and identify its cause.

Things You'll Need

  • Water squirt bottle

  • 6'' wide joint compound knife and putty knife

  • Spackling compound or joint compound

  • Medium-grit sandpaper and sanding block

Fixing a Hairline Crack

Hairline cracks are annoying but not too difficult to fix. Follow these steps:

  1. Squirt the area of the crack with water from a water spray bottle. Try to get some of the moisture into the crack.

  2. Put spackling compound or joint compound on the 6’’ joint compound knife. Then use that knife or a putty knife, depending on how much of the surrounding wall you want to cover, to transfer some spackling compound to the crack and adjacent plaster.

  3. As best you can, force the spackling compound into the crack. Scrape with the knife to make the joint compound thinnest at its edges.

  4. Wait for the spackling compound to dry for at least an hour. Lightly sand the spackling compound. Wipe away the dust and cover the patch with a coat of primer paint.

Filling a Wider Crack

Some plaster cracks are wider and deeper than hairline ones; you can actually look into them. These require somewhat stronger methods.

Things You'll Need

  • Can opener or old flat-head screwdriver

  • Water spray bottle

  • Joint compound or spackling compound

  • Putty knife and joint compound knife

  • Light sandpaper and sanding block

With your tools and materials at hand, follow these steps:

  1. Where the crack is wide enough, undercut it so that the crack is wider under the surface than it is on the surface itself (see Figure 3.2). A good tool for this is the pointed end of an old can opener, but a small, old, flat-head screwdriver will do. At the same time, remove any plaster that is loose or crumbling.

  2. Remove grit from the crack. Brush it out with an old paintbrush or blow it out.

  3. Spray water into the crack.

  4. With a 6’’ joint compound knife or putty knife, work joint compound into the crack. Force it in so that it spreads into the undercut areas.

  5. Wait a few hours for the joint compound to dry. Sand the patch smooth.

  6. Brush on a paint primer before painting over it with the wall color.

Patching a Recurring Crack

Some cracks return repeatedly owing to seasonal expansion and contractions in the walls or to outside vibrations from heavy traffic.

Things You'll Need

  • Joint compound

  • Joint compound knife

  • Fiberglass mesh tape

  • Medium- and fine-grit sandpaper and sanding block

Figure 3.2

Figure 3.2 Make the crack wider beneath the surface than at the surface. This holds the patching material in place.

Here’s how to patch these cracks and help prevent them from recurring:

  1. Follow steps 1 and 2 of "Fixing a Wider Crack."

  2. Apply self-adhesive fiberglass mesh tape to the crack. If the crack curves, use short lengths of tape that do not overlap rather than making one longer piece bend with the crack; overlapping or bending the tape makes bulges at the turns.

  3. With a 6’’ joint compound knife, press joint compound into the tape (see Figure 3.3). Make the joint compound as smooth and flat as possible. Finish by drawing the knife along the outside edges of the joint compound to make the joint compound thinnest here. Wait for this coating to dry.

  4. Spread another coat of joint compound over the first. Use a blade wider than 6’’ if you have one. Taper the edges as in step 3. Wait for this coat to dry.

  5. Use medium-grit sandpaper to sand the patch smooth, taking care not to sand down to the level of the mesh tape. Switch to fine grit for the last passes.

  6. Dust off the patch using a soft brush. Coat with a paint primer.

Figure 3.3

Figure 3.3 Press joint compound into the self-adhesive tape already applied to the crack. Do not let the mesh kink, fold, or double up.

Patching a Hole in Plaster

Plaster doesn’t always fail in cracks. Sometimes whole sections are damaged. But a section of drywall and a bit of effort can make a patch no one can detect in your plaster wall.

Things You'll Need

  • Hammer and cold chisel

  • Dust mask, eye protection, and a hardhat

  • Tape measure or carpenter's rule

  • Scrap of drywall sized to fit

  • Utility knife or jab (drywall) saw

  • 6'' joint compound knife

  • Sandpaper and sanding block

  1. Wear eye protection and a dust mask. If you are working on a ceiling, wear a hardhat, too. Remove all loose and damaged plaster with a hammer and cold chisel. As best you can, make the opening in the plaster a rectangle.

  2. Measure the depth of the sound plaster around the edges of the opening. With a utility knife or jab saw, cut a piece of drywall that is this thickness or a bit less.

  3. Fasten the drywall patch to the backing material behind the plaster, as shown in Figure 3.4.

  4. If the gap between the drywall edges and the sound plaster edges are more than 1/4’’ wide, cover the gaps with self-adhesive fiberglass mesh tape.

  5. Spread joint compound across the drywall and gaps around it. Allow the joint compound to dry.

  6. If possible, use a joint compound knife that is longer than the patch is wide. That way, both ends of the knife can rest on sound plaster as the knife is drawn across the moist joint compound. Knives come as long as 12’’. If you are going to be doing a lot of patching or a lot of drywall work, buying a long knife is worth the cost.

  7. Use medium-grit sandpaper to smooth the joint compound. Apply another coating and let it dry.

  8. Sand the joint compound. Remove dust and coat the patch with primer paint.

If, when removing the damaged plaster, you find that the lath is itself too damaged to support a piece of drywall, remove plaster all the way back to the studs on either side. Use screws to attach the drywall patch through the damaged lath and into the studs.

If you find no lath at this location and the area of damaged plaster is small, use the technique for repairing a hole in drywall.

Sometimes a small area of plaster is sound but merely loosened from the lath behind, making a small bulge in the wall or ceiling. Eventually this bulging plaster will fall away completely. You can avoid this by reattaching the bulge to its backing with a screw and thin plastic washer. Fasten a flathead screw through the washer to the lath behind the plaster, using the screw head and washer to draw the plaster back to the lath, as shown in Figure 3.5. Try to carefully fasten the screw so that its head and the washer are slightly below the level of the surrounding plaster. Cover the screw head and washer with layers of joint compound, and then sand it smooth. This kind of repair works for both ceilings and walls.

Figure 3.4

Figure 3.4 Make sure the patch of drywall is no higher than the plaster around it. Screw the patch of drywall to the lath, or attach it using the type of fastener appropriate to the plaster backing.

Figure 3.5

Figure 3.5 Use one hand to press the plaster against its support and the other hand to drive the screw through the washer and plaster.

Patching Drywall

Drywall can be more easily damaged than plaster. Doorknobs have been known to make holes in drywall when doors are opened with some force. But drywall has the virtue of being fairly inexpensive and quick to fix. The repair is sometimes gooey, though, and the dried joint compound becomes dusty when sanded. Wear old clothes and, when sanding, use a dust mask.

In this section, we treat drywall ailments from simple to more complex.

Things You'll Need

  • Joint compound

  • 5'' joint compound knife

Repairing Scrapes and Dents

Everyone has small damage to drywall at sometime. But these are fixed rather quickly and, once painted over, the repair is not visible. Follow these steps:

  1. With a utility knife, cut away any torn or damaged paper and any loose drywall material underneath.

  2. Spread joint compound into the area of the depression. Wipe joint compound fairly clean of the area surrounding the damage. Wait for the joint compound to dry.

  3. Sand the repair, and wipe away the dust. Coat with a primer before you paint the repair with the color of the wall.

If the depression is large and deep enough, the first coat of joint compound might shrink as it dries and end up slightly below the level of the surrounding wall. If you want to avoid a second coating of joint compound, attempt to make the first coating bulge out slightly from the surrounding wall. As it dries, the bulge shrinks down closer to the level of the surrounding wall. A light sanding levels it.

Repairing Larger Drywall Damage

The best method for repairing a hole in drywall depends on the hole’s size. A hole less than 1’’ across can be repaired by treating it like a large plaster crack—that is, covering it over with a piece of self-adhesive fiberglass tape and then applying joint compound to the tape and surrounding area.

Things You'll Need

  • Rubber gloves

  • 6'' joint compound knife

  • Joint compound

  • Sandpaper and sanding block

  • Screen mesh, small stick, and string

To repair a hole that’s about as large as an electrical receptacle, you can use two methods. Here’s the first:

  1. Cut the hole to the shape of a rectangle; then bevel the edges outward for about 3/4’’.

  2. Cut a piece of drywall to fit, and cut complementary bevels along its own edges.

  3. Coat the beveled edges of both the wall and the patch with joint compound; then press the patch into place.

  4. Smooth the excess joint compound, allow it to dry, and then sand it.

Another method for filling these larger holes in drywall is as follows:

  1. Remove the torn paper and damaged drywall.

  2. Cut a piece of wire mesh or heavy window screening that is 1’’ larger than the hole in all dimensions.

  3. Loop a string through the middle of the mesh, as shown in Figure 3.6. About an inch and a half from the mesh, loop the other end of the string around a small stick or pencil.

  4. Figure 3.6

    Figure 3.6 Push the wire mesh through the wall and pull it back toward you so the coated edges press against the back of the drywall.

  5. Coat the edges of the mesh with joint compound; bend it slightly; and work it through the hole. With your fingers, spread the mesh out behind the hole and pull forward slightly on the pencil; this presses the mesh edges against the back side of the drywall around the hole.

  6. Twist the small stick as shown in Figure 3.7, thus shortening the string, until the stick is pressing against the outside of the drywall.

  7. With a joint compound knife or putty knife, apply a thin coat of joint compound to the mesh—it should press through the mesh but not more than about 1/8’’ thick. Allow this coating to dry.

  8. Cut the string near the top of the coating. Moisten the first coating, and apply another coating on top of the first. Do not make it thicker than 1/4’’. Allow it to dry and repeat until the coating is the same level as the surrounding wall. When it is dry, sand it smooth.

  9. Wipe away dust and coat with paint primer.

Figure 3.7

Figure 3.7 Twist the stick or pencil to shorten the string. Keep twisting until the stick presses firmly against the drywall surrounding the hole.

Working with Grout and Ceramic Tile

As I mentioned earlier, ceramic tiles are quite durable and might never need to be replaced. But grouting can crack, mildew, shrink, and fall out. The following sections explain how to perform routine grout maintenance and repair tasks that will keep your ceramic walls in great shape.

Cleaning Grout

Grout absorbs water, and with it any staining agent in the water, including minerals. Over time, these can stain the grout. Mildew is another culprit, leaving darkish spots on the grout. But caught in time, grout stains can be scoured away.

Things You'll Need

  • Chlorine bleach

  • Plastic container

  • Hard-bristle toothbrush

  • Rubber gloves

  • Protective apron or expendable cleaning clothes

  • Eye protection

  1. Ventilate the room you are about to work in.

  2. In the plastic container, mix a solution of 10 parts water to 1 part chlorine bleach.

  3. Scrub the stains with the solution. Rinse with water.

Repairing Grout

If the grout is badly cracked or missing in places, the best recourse is to remove most of it and set new grout between the tiles. If the tiles are in a bathroom, the job is of greater urgency—cracked and missing grout allow water to reach behind the tile and deteriorate the wall material.

Choose cement-based grout rather than epoxy-based. If the joints are less than 1/4’’ wide, choose plain unsanded grout; if more than 1/4’’ wide, choose sanded grout.

Grout comes in many colors. A darker one shows less staining, so it might be a better choice for you than a white one.

If you are grouting a large area—for example, the wall of a shower—buy a grout float, essentially a long and wide sponge attached to a backing and handle. You can use a grout float to press grout into the joints and do the wiping as well.

Things You'll Need

  • Dropcloth

  • Cement-based grout

  • Small plastic container for holding the grout mixture

  • Rubber gloves

  • Grout saw, old can opener, or similar item

  • Popsicle stick

  • Sponge or grout float

  • Clean cloth

With your materials ready, follow these steps:

  1. If you are working in a bathtub area, close the drain and lay a dropcloth in the bottom of the tub.

  2. Use a grout saw to scrape out old grout, or choose another tool that better matches the thickness of the grout joint. Other tools that can do the job include the point of an old can opener, an old flat-head screwdriver, a nail, and a putty knife. Use an old toothbrush to brush out dust and loose grout.

  3. Mix grout with cold water according to the manufacturer’s instructions in an amount you can deal with in 30 minutes or less. Work on about 4 square feet at a time.

  4. If you are grouting around only a tile or two, work the grout into the joints with a finger (protected by the rubber glove). If the joints are narrow and the grout is not going in well, thin the mixture with drops of water. For thick joints, use a stiffer mixture. For corners, press in grout with your finger or a Popsicle stick or similar instrument.

  5. Use a clean damp sponge to wipe diagonally across the tile and grout joints, as shown in Figure 3.8. Take care not to wipe out the grout but rather leave it just below the surface of the tile. Look for gaps and air bubbles; fill any that you see and wipe again. Rinse the sponge to keep it clean of grout build-up.

  6. Let the grout dry for 15 minutes. Wipe off the haze on the tile with a clean cloth.

  7. Do not dispose of any leftover grout down a drain; it hardens in drain pipes and blocks flow.

Figure 3.8

Figure 3.8 Wipe grout into the cracks with a clean damp sponge. Rinse the sponge to keep it free of grout build-up.

You can buy and apply grout sealer, which helps keep the grout from staining and absorbing water. Read the manufacturer’s instructions—they might recommend that new grout cure for up to a month before being treated with a sealer. Wipe grout sealer on with a sponge, wait for several minutes according to instructions, and wipe it off. Grout sealer can be cleaned with soap and water.

If the grout is merely hopelessly soil-stained but otherwise intact, you can spare yourself replacing it by staining it instead. Grout stains are sold in home improvement stores. Essentially they are paints, but they come in a variety of colors and cover blotchy stains. If you use one, clean the grout, rinse it well, and let it dry for a day. Apply the stain with a small brush, wipe away the excess, and then clean up with soap and water. The stain might make the grout look great, but it is really cosmetic and you might have to reapply the stain every year or so.

Replacing a Tile

Things You'll Need

  • Putty knife

  • Dropcloth and rags

  • Glass cutter or masking tape

  • Drill with ceramic-tile bit or carbide-tipped masonry bit

  • Eye protection

  • Hammer and cold chisel

  • Ceramic tile mastic

  • Replacement tile

  • Toothpicks and/or grout-line spacers

  • Ceramic tile grout

Sometimes you want to replace a ceramic tile either because the tile is damaged or you want a decorative one in its place. You will need adhesive to fasten the tile in place. This is called mastic and, if you are working in a bathroom, you should use Type 1 mastic, which is the water-resistant variety. With your tools and materials ready, follow these steps:

  1. If you are working in a bathtub area, close the drain and lay a dropcloth in the tub bottom.

  2. If the tile is not loose, score it corner to corner and corner to corner with a glass cutter (making an X), taking care not to touch neighboring tiles. Using a ceramic-tile drill bit or carbide-tipped masonry drill bit, drill a hole through the tile at the point where the two scored lines meet. If you do not have a glass cutter, make an X of masking tape at the center of the tile and drill through the middle of the X.

  3. Apply masking tape to the edges of surrounding tiles to protect them.

  4. Wear eye protection. With a hammer and cold chisel, chip at the tile from the center (see Figure 3.9). Work toward the edges.

  5. Clean away all grout and mastic where the tile was—a putty knife is a good tool to use. If you gouge the wall material, fill the depression with joint compound and let it thoroughly dry.

  6. Wearing rubber gloves, use a putty knife to spread mastic on the back of the tile to within 1/4’’ of its edges.

  7. Press the tile into place, wiggling it slightly to spread the mastic. Press a piece of 2-by-4 longer than the tile across the tile surface, leveling the new tile with its neighbors. Check the corners and wipe away any mastic that has oozed into the empty grout joints.

  8. If the tile slides downward, raise it again and keep it in place with broken toothpicks slipped into the grout joints perpendicular to the wall; these can be pulled out later. If the grout joints are wide, you might be able to buy spacers for them at a tile store—the spacers keep the grout joint the proper width and remain in the joint under new grout.

  9. Wait for the mastic to dry for a day. If you have used toothpicks as spacers, pull them out. Then apply grout (see "Repairing Grout").

Figure 3.9

Figure 3.9 Wear eye protection. Use a hammer and cold chisel to chip out the old tile, beginning at the middle and working toward the edges.

Things You'll Need

  • Learn to repair splintered hardwood flooring or repair/replace a floorboard.

  • Learn to repair holes, dents, or scratches in resilient flooring; reseal flooring edges; and repair or replace resilient tiles or sheet flooring.

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