Replacing Bathroom Floor Tile

Yesterday, I started the bathroom tiling project. A couple of years ago, we had tenants rent our newly-purchased house here in Massachusetts so that we could afford to rent an apartment closer to my graduate school in Connecticut. Although we had only resided in our home a handful of months, given my driving challenge and the full-time, rigorous schedule of my prosthetics program, we decided the only way to make the schooling feasible was to live close to the campus. We couldn’t afford to pay mortgage on our house and expensive Connecticut rent simultaneously, so we found a family to live in our house to cover our mortgage. By and large, they were good tenants and the arrangement was favorable. However, there was a plumbing issue while they were here that resulted in prolonged moisture on the bathroom floor that loosened the ceramic tiles and cracked quite a few of them. The leak was repaired, but the cracked tiles remained all this time, covered by a big band-aid in the form of a large floor mat atop the tile floor.

In our recent resurgence of energy and attention devoted to improving the cleanliness, functionality, and appearance of our home and property, I decided this bathroom issue is not only an eyesore, but a functional issue that needed to be addressed. I was concerned that failing to repair it, even with the large protective mat, would result in water damage to the subflooring, causing unhealthy mold and structurally-damaging rot.

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve done any tiling, but I actually have experience installing porcelain tiles in two bathroom floors and walls. It’s challenging work because precision is key, and I tend to struggle a bit with the detail and meticulous craftsmanship of my jobs. I’m skilled at certain aspects of most projects, but the finer exactness and high-quality precision of my craftsmanship leaves much to be desired. That said, it again seemed evident that, like most of the home renovation projects I’ve tackled in the last month or so, any effort I could put in would likely result in a better situation than what’s currently there. When you start with a disaster, it’s relatively doable to improve upon it rather than create a bigger problem, though I recognize that in a bathroom, this tenet isn’t as pervasively true because you can potentially mess up plumbing or cause other major disasters!

The bathroom is quite large and like everything in our old, funky house, the tiles are a very oddly size (instead of 10×10 inches, they are 9 7/8 inch squares). They are also an off-white color. Both factors make it impossible to find identical replacements. I’ve looked…a lot!

Fortunately, Ben discovered about ten spare tiles up in the attic, so we will use those to replace the most broken ones. There are quite a few more than ten cracked tiles, but this is a good start. Ben picked up a tile cutter at Home Depot, so we are planning to remove some of the ones with a simple cleanish break across the middle and then cut the edges straight, grout the seam, and slap them back in place. The ten full spare tiles will be reserved for the irreparably damaged ones. It won’t look that good because some of the tiles will then have a grouted seam down the middle of two halves, but at least function-wise, it will be waterproof and sturdier. With our limited budget, that’s what we need to settle for at this time and be okay with it. It sounds like our plan will be to try and redo the whole floor (likely professionally) in a couple of years when we can afford to do so (hopefully our finances will be better then!).

Yesterday, I started by carefully removing the broken tiles and grout and then cleaning the subflooring. I vacuumed and then bleached and scrubbed because there were definitely patches of the plywood that have been wet and weren’t in the best shape. I wouldn’t go as far as to say they were necessarily rotten, but there appeared to be surface mold in one area. I used my face mask and eye protection and scrubbed as much as I could. We had two fans blasting the area all night to dry it out after it was thoroughly washed.

The next step is to try our hand at cutting the tiles. Then I’ll begin laying them in place, affixing them, grouting them, and then sealing them. Hopefully we won’t encounter major setbacks or roadblocks along the way. However, it often feels like home improvement projects begin smoothly and then take a wild turn into the dark abyss of complications! It’s always a learning adventure and exercise in patience and planning, re-planning, and praying!


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