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Unread 07-30-2014, 03:33 PM   #1
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Join Date: Jul 2014
Location: Northern Virginia
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Exterior tile step needs repair

I am writing for your help in 1) convincing my husband that this repair to our front porch is not a DIY job that he should attempt and 2) learning enough so that I can hire a competent tile setter to correctly fix this job for me.

A few years ago we had our front porch tiled with an exterior grade porcelain tile. We used a local tile store, not a big box store, and we hired the tile setter recommended by the shop. A couple of years later after a cold winter some of the front step tiles sounded hollow when you stepped on them and seemed loose. We called the tile setter who came out and repaired them. Fast forward to this year, about one year later, and most of the front step tiles started popping off. As they became loose I could reach down and just pull them up. I have attached pictures showing the step with its missing tiles, a picture of where the tiles remain attached to the step and a shot looking down at the top of the step where the mortar is attached to the step but came fully loose from the tile.

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You probably can't tell from the pictures but the step apparently was not level from side to side and the tile setter had just added more mortar as he went along to make it level until at one point there are two tiles, one on top of the other, used to make the step level. I'm certain that this is not standard practice (but those tiles do, amazingly, remain stuck tightly to the step). Also when I pulled up the tiles it did not seem that the mortar had been laid evenly and there seemed to be just blobs of it in some places and no mortar at all in other places.

Now I need to get this fixed. If it is a simple job my husband, who is actually very handy, will attempt it but he has little tile experience (he's repaired bathroom shower walls and put in a kitchen backsplash) and certainly no knowledge of exterior tile work which from reading these forums is a real science. Any information on what we need to do will be appreciated. Do we need to remove all the tiles from the steps and start over? Can we just replace the missing tiles? What kind of prep work and mortar should be used? What are the vocabulary words I need to learn so that I can talk to the tile setters and have any hope of assuring that they are suggesting the correct repair.

Thanks for your help!

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Unread 07-30-2014, 04:45 PM   #2
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Location: NW Arkansas, Ozark Mountains
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Wow, that's a lot of buildup.

Is the step really that far out of level?

There are ways to fix that, but it's important to know how much it's falling from one end to the other, and whether or not leveling it up is going to cause the riser height to be different from one end to the other.

Use a long level, as long as you can get, and start at the high end. Tell us how far it drops to the other end, and if the concrete in front of the step is also out of level.

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Unread 07-30-2014, 05:51 PM   #3
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Well, amazingly, the step without the tile is on it is level AND the pieces of tile that remain on the step are level. My husband and I pondered this and realized out the the step is actually an L shape as there is another step that meets it at a 90 degree angle. As the step approaches the corner is where the mastic gets higher so that everything meets correctly in the corner. If the other side of the L was not level he needed to fix it to meet in the corner. So maybe he really did understand what he was doing. (I must say before the tiles fell off the porch really looked fabulous. Everyone commented on how nice it was!)

So, does this mean we need to remove all the tile from both arms of the L to fix the step and not just repair the tile on the part that has fallen off? This job may just be getting bigger and bigger!

Thanks for any help or suggestions!
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Unread 07-30-2014, 06:53 PM   #4
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Hi Jane, welcome. The first thing I would do is tap on the risers and the tiles along the top edge and see if they are hollow sounding. A screw driver handle and other tool works well to tap with.

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