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Unread 11-28-2021, 11:42 AM   #1
OPhouse
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Tiling over 110 year old tile, set in concrete

Hello, all!

Long time lurker, new member, here. The wonderful information in this space helped me to tile over some builder grade tile in our half bath with great success, thank you! Now I think I’m ready to tackle a main bathroom, which has a few more challenges. We have a 110 year old house which loves to give us lots of surprises.

The half bath I tiled had been tiled by a previous owner in about the early 2000s, so the existing material was relatively modern and level, and I used Eco Prim Grip over the old tile with success. The main bath in the photo, however, has the original unglazed hex tile, set right into concrete, no grout. I would love nothing more than to keep this floor, but it has so many flaws—cracks, a few missing tiles (red circled area), some that were replaced at some point but were painted or don’t match, and best of all, a giant patch of cement that filled in where a drum trap once lived (yellow circle). Just real cute all the way around.

Of course my first romantic hope was to be able to restore the floor, but I got several quotes and the cost to restore it isn’t practical for a home of this size and value where we live, and this probably isn’t our forever home. But we recently had to open the ceiling below this bathroom for some plumbing, and confirmed that the floor is set in about 8 inches of concrete, making removing it not a great option either—but man, we know it’s solid! So to make the floor safer on bare feet and livable, I’d like to cover it with a new mosaic hex in a similar style. Given the age of the floor, it is surprisingly level over the whole surface, a small gift. So here are my burning questions for you beautiful people:

Would a self-leveling product still be a good idea here given the age and cracks, or overkill? Are there other patching products that could work well? I’m totally game to use the Eco Prim Grip again, and have plenty left from my last project—would I use this before or after patching or self leveling?

And lastly, how to deal with the radiator (blue circle)? We are keeping it in the room after several quotes in the 2k range to remove it and cap it off (our system poses lots of time-consuming challenges, apparently). I have watched many a video on how to temporarily remove a radiator, but the fact that I’m tiling over tile has me worried that any slight difference in height will be a nightmare for reinstalling the unit. I am confident enough in my tools and tile cutting skills to work around the rad pipes and feet, but if this is a terrible idea, please tell me what to do.

Thank you for making it through my novel, and for any advice you can give.
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Unread 11-28-2021, 06:19 PM   #2
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Hi Julie, welcome. There's not very many pros that would tile over what you have. So, it makes it hard for me to advise you to do it. If you were to call me out to look at it, I'd want the radiator and toilet removed so we could tear out the tile and mud and start over.

Loose tiles are risky to tile over. If more come loose, then the tiles you install will come up with them. It's just not a gamble that we take.
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Unread 11-28-2021, 06:49 PM   #3
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Welcome, Julie.

You say the tiles are not grouted, but they sure look grouted to my eye. And that separation over what must have been a crack looks to have been re-grouted after the crack. Not so?

Not sure why you'd wanna try a self-leveling product. Your tiles won't care whether the floor is level, they just care that it's flat. Don't know what size tiles you have in mind, but the bigger they get, the more they care about substrate flatness.

What Davy says is certainly true about tiling over unknown tile, 'specially if some are already coming loose. If you wanna give it a try, though, I've got no problem with that. Probably worth your time to go about tapping on the tiles with a screwdriver handle or similar to see just how many of the tiles are loose.

Things like your radiator and toilets and such are always a consideration. Shouldn't be difficult at all to remove the radiator (aside from the weight, of course) if that's a union fitting where the horizontal pipe enters it. You'd need to see below the floor to determine whether you can easily raise the vertical pipe a half-inch or so to accommodate your new tiles, but if you're planning to eliminate the radiator all together, that might not matter at all.

The bids of $2K to remove the radiator and cap the pipe makes me wonder what I might be missing, though.

You sure you've got concrete under those tiles, rather than some sort of mortar of a type more common to old tile installations? I've certainly never seen it done 8 inches thick, but 3 or 4 inches is common. But 8 inches is certainly possible. I guess.

My opinion; worth price charged.
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Unread 11-29-2021, 12:30 AM   #4
Tool Guy - Kg
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Welcome to the forum, Julie.

The only time I will consider tiling over tile is on an old mud-set install like yours...but with no cracks. The crack is the deal killer for me.

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Unread 11-29-2021, 10:14 AM   #5
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Thank you so much for these initial thoughts! We actually haven't had any additional loose tiles or cracks since moving in five years ago--it was in this condition when we moved in, if that reveals anything. It's just taken this long to finally get to dealing with this floor.
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Unread 12-04-2021, 01:50 AM   #6
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The lack of additional cracks or more tiles loosening might be something of a false sense of security.

Have you placed a straightedge to see if the tiles on either side of the crack are "in-plane" with each other....or is one side higher?

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Unread 12-04-2021, 09:51 PM   #7
jadnashua
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110-years ago, thinset hadn't been invented. Is this on a slab, or a subfloor, or if there's a subflooring beneath, it may be on deck mud. To attach tile back then, they'd beat the tile into the fresh mud from what I read. That's a skill that has withered since the 50's when thinset was invented, at least in the USA.
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Unread 12-05-2021, 12:41 AM   #8
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Maybe someone else knows, makes me wonder if they dusted the mud first with portland cement straight out of the bag, added a little water to the tile/mud before beating it in using a beating block and mallet. I should know but I can't remember.

I have torn out old floors installed this way and one floor would be bonded quite well and the next floor wouldn't be.
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Unread 12-05-2021, 11:30 AM   #9
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That was the way my grandfather taught me. We also used to hose down quarry jobs after we wet set, not flood, just wet.
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Unread 12-05-2021, 11:53 AM   #10
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Thanks, Dave. I guess you would have to work off of plywood floor boards, is that correct? I know this was hard work.
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Unread 12-05-2021, 10:03 PM   #11
njtiler83
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I think what i would attempt to do is this...
Pop off the tile and keep the cement floor.
Check to see if the condition of the subfloor is in good condition.
Soak the floor with water/latex mix.
Self-level
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