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Unread 08-28-2011, 12:53 AM   #1
jambra
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Evaluating Cracked tile in tile-over-tile setting

Hey, all. This forum helped me tremendously during a successful remodel two years ago and I am back with a different scenario and looking for some guidance.

We are in the process of purchasing a new home. About 20 years old. Kitchen is 15'x13' and has 12- or 13-inch ceramic tile that, according to current owner, was laid over top of 4-inch existing tile about four years ago. (All of this is on a concrete slab.)

The problem is this: The home inspection guy was there today and reported that one of the tiles near the transition to the dining area is cracked just about in half on a diagonal. From the edge of that tile, there is a continuous hairline grout crack that follows the grout lines diagonally (stair-step fashion) toward the center of the kitchen for about five tiles. I can step on one tile and feel it move slightly.

Question: The tile over tile actually looks good and does not conflict with any adjacent flooring heights or the cabinetry. What I am wondering is how to go about evaluating what kind of problem I will have on my hands if we go forward with the purchase. Sure, I can and will press the current owner to replace the bad tile(s) and grout but that does not address the core issue that caused the cracking in the first place. There are no indications of substantial foundation shifting resulting in structural compromise but there could be just enough in this horrible Texas drought to impact tile.

Any thoughts as to what steps I should take, if any, to diagnose further? Or, do we just live with it and keep a tile guy on retainer for periodic replacements?

Thanks!

John
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Unread 08-28-2011, 07:38 AM   #2
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John, cracks are due to movement, so I would bet that if you removed the tile, you'd see a crack in the tile layer below, and a crack in the concrete slab below that. That will never go away, although there are things you can do to help mitigate the problem. If you really like the house, negotiate a price reduction to pay for ripping up the tile (both layers) and installing a new tile floor with an antifracture membrane and some movement joints in the tile work. I would not let the current owner fix this for you, no matter how convenient that may sound. You're likely to get a cosmetic repair that will hold up for a little while, but will give you grief down the road.
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Unread 08-28-2011, 04:52 PM   #3
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Bob, thanks for the note. The lady acted surprised when we brought up the cracked tiles but surely she had to have seen it.

We do like the house, but considering what we are paying for it, we want a quality tile job that is going to last a good long time and not an ongoing nightmare. Thus, we will do some negotiating on price accommodation, etc. If we are looking at a demo and redo, I would much prefer overseeing the transaction rather than having the current HO get it done.

We will be at the house tomorrow evening and I will look at it more thoroughly and take some pix. The inspector already took some pix for his report and I should have them on hand, too.

With that said, would anyone have a very raw estimate for tearing out two layers of tile, prepping the slab surface, applying Fracture Free or other appropriate membrane, and installing the new tiles? Of course, I am looking at an approximation exclusive of the new tile itself as that will depend on what we choose and I know costs can vary by contractor. And, there could be some unknowns that will be discovered after demo.

We are in the Dallas/FW metro area and think we are looking at about 300-350 SF if I take into account the dinette area of the kitchen, half bath and laundry area that all have the same tile and, most likely, the same layers underneath.

Thanks!
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Last edited by jambra; 08-28-2011 at 04:58 PM.
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Unread 08-28-2011, 08:24 PM   #4
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Hi John, we usually don't talk prices a whole lot since they vary so much depending where you are. I happen to live north of Dallas and work all over the Dallas area. Prices even vary within the Dallas area since there are so many variables in materials, etc. I think with the tearout of two layers, add a membrane and new tile installation you could easily be looking at 10.00 a sq ft. from a good installer. Could be more if you want a pattern or time consuming installation and of course doesn't include tile.

I would walk around and tap on some of the tiles to see if they sound hollow. Use a screwdriver handle to tap with.
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Unread 08-28-2011, 09:05 PM   #5
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Davy,

Thanks for the comments. I think we exchanged a few emails a couple years back when I was researching my tiling project at home and you were very helpful at the time.

I can certainly understand the challenges suggesting prices/costs as there are so many variables involved. The best way will be to have a reputable contractor (or two) evaluate the project in person and make appropriate recommendations with a formal bid. We'll likely need to go that route. The info you provided gives a very broad scenario and that will help in some preliminary thinking as we explore just how to move forward.

As we have discussed this further at home, I think we may actually get an evaluation of the entire foundation just to see if there are underlying issues that are at the root of the problem with the tile. While there aren't any huge cracks in drywall, joists or joints around the house, there is some grout cracking in a couple of the bathrooms, some cracked grout in exterior bricks and some purely cosmetic stuff on the foundation exterior. On an individual basis, nothing really all that extraordinary for a 20 year old north Texas house. However, when you add things up, it seems to suggest that getting some further evaluation would be prudent. I would rather spend a little extra up front to know what our costs (or the homeowner's costs) might be or to help us decide if we even want to move forward with the purchase.

I'll pocket a screwdriver on the way over there tomorrow evening.

Thanks again for the input.

..
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Unread 08-29-2011, 10:07 PM   #6
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Update - 8/29

We stopped by the house this evening with our realtor while the homeowner was gone. As Davy suggested, I used the handle end of a medium screwdriver to tap the tiles which, by the way are actually 18" square with a total coverage area of about 600 SF including the kitchen, laundry, half bath, dinette and sitting room.

I tapped every tile in the area. At least 75-80% of the field tiles in the kitchen, half bath, dinette and laundry have a hollow sound to them, some more pronounced than others. The sitting room was better although the hollow sounds diminished the closer I got to the main living room. Border tiles on perimeter had a more solid feel. Some of the hollow sounding tiles, especially around the kitchen island had rocking movement to them. As mentioned earlier, one tile is cracked and five or six have grout cracks.

Upstairs tiles in bathrooms were fine.

One tile in the downstairs master bath at the far end of the house sounded a bit hollow but no movement.

The homeowner left this note for our realtor:

I spoke with the owner of the flooring company today regarding the kitchen tile. He said it is an industry standard to lay tile over tile so he brought me the attached documentation. (Had a Hydroment info sheet and a small spiral book from MAPEI with the setting products page marked and highlighted.). Hydroment was the thinset he used but there are others as you can see.

He said he has seen a lot of tile users this summer because of the heat. This floor has been down four years and this is the first issue we have experienced. The tile is available and he said it can be easily replaced.

I hope this answers your questions and concerns. I am certain he would be glad to talk to you if you would like to give him a call.


That is the note and I expect she thinks the tile installer can come by, Swap out a handful of tiles and all will be well. However, I am guessing the tile is coming up off the tile underneath due to poor bonding, slab movement or both and this will continue well into the future.

BTW, we learned the house had foundation issues back in 2003 and 12 steel piers were installed on one side of the house.

Any thoughts here?

..
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Last edited by jambra; 08-29-2011 at 10:29 PM.
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Unread 08-30-2011, 04:38 AM   #7
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I think the homeowner will resist any allowance for a new tile floor. They might give an allowance for a "repair." If you like the house, make an offer that includes what you think is reasonable considering the work that needs to be done. If that is a deal breaker, then walk away.

BTW, while it is an "industry standard" to set tile on tile, the assumption is that the old tile is tightly adhered to the substrate and in good condition. This floor does not support that assumption.
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Unread 08-30-2011, 06:44 PM   #8
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Yep, what Bob said. The top layer of tile may be bonded well but the bottom layer might be loose. One reason most of us don't stick tile to tile or if we do, a small bath floor that we are sure is bonded well.

"he said it can be easily replaced." How do they know? With a loose floor, any hammering will cause more tiles to become loose and you could be opening a big can of worms.
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Unread 08-30-2011, 07:31 PM   #9
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The latest feedback through my realtor this afternoon is that the flooring company guy has suggested he will replace the cracked tile and "fix" the problem of loose tiles by securing them with epoxy and will only charge the current homeowner $400 to do so.



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Unread 08-31-2011, 04:53 AM   #10
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Are there any other houses for sale where you live?
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Unread 08-31-2011, 05:58 AM   #11
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Bob,

Yeah, there are other houses. However, this one really has a ton of good qualities and many features we have been looking for - well beyond what other available homes have. And the price is reasonable.

We have pretty much accepted that we are going to have to replace the floor before too long if we buy the house and will factor that into our process. We are waiting for a report from the structural engineer just to assure the foundation is relatively sound and that the tile problems are not indicative of major slab issues. That would likely causes us to move on.
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Unread 08-31-2011, 05:59 AM   #12
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If that's the case, tell the homeowner not to bother with a repair. Offer to split the $400 savings...
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Unread 08-31-2011, 10:11 AM   #13
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Or just give me the $400.
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Unread 08-31-2011, 11:06 AM   #14
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Contingencies of repairs in buying houses are rarely free from one party really having a hard time with it. Seams like this is one of those issues that may wind up spoiling the deal. It's apparent that the seller "sees" no real problem. Rather than get caught up in anything, I'd just offer a price that reflected the amount you're willing to pay for the house and you taking care of whatever replacement you want on your own. I think you're going about this the right way with a structural engineer making sure you're in good shape...but read his/her fine print...seems like inspectors have an escape clause for anything, including not doing their job properly.

As far as the floor is concerned, I agree with Bob and Davy. You *can* tile on top of tile, but the underlying tile needs to be bonded well and be free of cracking. Seems like yolu know what you're up against here.

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Unread 09-08-2011, 09:30 PM   #15
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Update to the saga...

We had a respected tile guy come in and evaluate the tile floor. He confirmed about 80% of the tiles over the +/- 600 SF expanse were tented to varying degrees and more deterioration would likely take place. (No surprise there.)

With that assessment in mind, we negotiated a reduction in price that, while not covering the entire replacement cost, will take care of a sizable chunk of it and we will be able to select our own tile and have the work done after we close and prior to move in. The two layers of old tile will come out, the floor will be prepped correctly, and the new tile installed.

Thanks for all the feedback both publicly and through PMs. It was spot on and very helpful.

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