Repairing Tile CounterTops
Repairing Tile Countertop
The first installation project covered is the replacement of an old counter system dating back to 1954. The countertops and backsplash will be replaced with a decorative tile installation set on a mortar bed. The first consideration is protecting the adjacent areas and floor from damage. These areas are protected with heavy construction paper or in this case non-staining asphalt impregnated paper. The protective paper is held in place by masking tape.
The next step is removing the existing electrical connections. Turn off those breakers first! Use wire caps on the ends of the wires especially if it is necessary to turn the breakers back on during the project. Remember to always use safety equipment like glasses and gloves.
Next a dry masonry saw is used to score both the deck and backsplash in an attempt to make the tile and mortar backing come out in smaller pieces. This does not always work as the tile and mortar bed thickness often exceeds the depth of the saw cut. Nevertheless, it is worth a try as the tile and mortar backing can be very heavy in large pieces. For the deck, it is best to dislodge the trim in a given location with a hammer and pry bar.
This allows the worker to get a pry bar beneath the tile and mortar bed. Try to pry the tile and mortar bed in areas of solid backing for best leverage. With several areas being pried, the tile and mortar will loosen and can be removed. In removing the backsplash tile, try to loosen the backsplash with a pry bar in an area that has solid backing like a wall stud behind the installation. Otherwise the pry bar will break through the adjacent wall making unwanted repairs necessary. In this case, the backsplash metal reinforcement was only nailed to the plaster walls through the roofing felt membrane.
This made removal easy. However, the tile and mortar backsplash depended on gravity to keep it in place. The staples used would not satisfactorily fasten the wire and the ensuing mortar and tile. This is the reason for the combination fasteners used later in the project. Once the deck and backsplash tile is removed and cleanup is finished, the next step is inspecting existing top for the reapplication of mortar and tile. In this case the supporting boards were recessed due to the older methods of installing tile.
New tops were therefore cut from ¾” exterior grade plywood and 1″ x 6″ boards. These were installed and properly fastened to the cabinetry and existing tops.
Dot and dash cuts were made in the all plywood tops to equalize future moisture content reducing the chance of substrate warp age and the resulting cracking of tile. This step was especially important in the area above the new dishwasher. The sink hole was cut by centering the sink template on the plywood top allowing room for appropriate trim on both sides (below).
The sink was centered on the window above. Remember that if the top is 24″ and a tile in sink is desired along with a tile on mortar backsplash, a 21″ front to back sink is required. There will not be enough room for a 22″ front to back sink. Next asphalt-impregnated paper was fastened to the deck lumber and allowed to drape over to protect the cabinet faces from damage. The 15-lb. Roofing felt is installed on the deck first then on the backsplash.
Any overlaps in the felt are held to a 4″ minimum and the 90° corners are folded and tucked tightly.
Remember to cover any exposed wood with felt. Also, don’t forget to expose the electrical boxes in the splash at this time. Next the 2.5 lb. Metal reinforcing wire is installed on the decks and held back from the backsplash the appropriate distance. The wire reinforcing is fastened in a grid pattern 6″ on center using ½” corrosion resistant staples. Any overlaps are at least 2″ (below).
The backsplash wire reinforcing is then installed above the decks and temporarily held in place by staples. A combination of corrosion resistant ½” washers and 2″ screws were used to fasten the wire to the studs behind the plaster wall. This was done as plaster presents fastening problems not experienced with drywall backing. Staples can satisfactorily fasten reinforcing wire to drywall. This is not necessarily the case with plaster. Next the sink is installed and leveled with shims made of reinforcing wire.
The sink can be imbedded in mortar if desired. In this case, the sink is placed on top of the wire. In this method wall mortar is forced into the joint between the sink and wire during the mortar phase. Next the cap strip is installed. This is accomplished by placing the ½” float strip, intended for use during the mortar phase, on top of the sink and leveling the first cap strip in front of the sink. Once this first cap strip is ½” above sink level, it is leveled horizontally using a trusted spirit level and fastened to the plywood deck through the felt and paper. It can be fastened with corrosion resistant nails or screws along its entire length.
Once this first section is fastened, the rest of the cap strip is installed and leveled one against the other. Note from the photos (below) how the cap strip is cut with metal shears.
Where there is a break in the cabinets, as in the case of the range location, and the backsplash is continuous, make sure to level the cap strip on the two opposing lower cabinets. Next the backsplash mortar is applied using a wall mortar mix. Float strips are cut to fit vertically from deck to cabinet bottom.
Mortar is forced thoroughly into the wire in an attempt to fully encapsulate the mesh in mortar. Columns of mortar are erected in the space the float strip is needed and the pre-moistened float strip is imbedded in mortar. The location for the float strip, as we learned in other sections, is determined by placing the metal featheredge against the two extreme ends of the area to be floated. The float strips are placed so two strips are in contact with the featheredge at any point in the process. To accurately place the float strips, measure from the front of the cap strip to the float strip surface. All of the float strips along the same wall should be the same distance from the cap strip. In this case a distance of 23 5/8″ was needed along the sink cabinet wall to ensure that the wall mortar was at least ½” thick at any given point and the backsplash mortar could be installed plumb.
After the float strips are installed. the mortar is filled in and the excess cut off with the feather edge.
These steps were repeated until all off the backsplash areas had mortar beds. Next, using the same wall mortar, the sink area was packed with mortar and forced into the joint as described earlier. The exposed deck reinforcing wire had wall mortar forced into it in an attempt to fully encapsulate the wire. All of the cap strip filled with mortar and the area behind the cap strip was cut to a 45° angle in preparation for the deck mortar or dry pack. This wall mortar is also used to set the deck float strips, if used (see photos below).
Use the same wall mortar to install the pencil rod in front of the sink and dishwasher opening.
Tile Doctor Tip: ;Remember that wall mortar is up to 1 part cement, 1 part lime, and up to 7 parts damp sand. Dry pack or deck mortar is 1 part cement and 4 parts damp sand. Only enough water to create a workable consistency should be used. Too much water will result in cracking from excess hydration. This is especially true with deck mortar. Deck mortar should just barely make the hand wet when compressed in the fist and still clump together.
Next the deck mortar is installed. Pack the mortar thoroughly onto the Decks on top of the wall mortar. Work at packing the deck mortar into place and alternately cutting off the excess with a screed, level, or featheredge. This is repeated until mortar has been installed in all of the deck areas. The final step in the process is pulling out the float strips and filling their voids with mortar. A final rub down and the mortar beds are allowed to cure for a minimum of 20 hours at 70° F (see below).
The next step is the tile layout. With a simple counter system like this one, tile can simply be laid out to ensure that very small cuts will not be necessary. On 24″ cabinets using 4 ¼” tile and a standard v-cap trim, the joints will have to be 1/8″ to avoid a small cut at the backsplash joint. In this case, an almost full tile installation was possible from side to side and back to back. The backsplash was a little more complicated due to the deco tiles and additional trim. Since the deco tiles only repeated their pattern every eighth tile, I had to make a little drawing to remember which tile went where. The v-cap tile was installed first. Latex modified thinset was “keyed in” on the front and top of the mortar filled cap strip using the flat side of a ¼” x ¼” notched trowel.
The same thinset was then trowelled on the top of the deck at the capstrip using the notched side to a uniform depth. The v-cap’s apron was backbuttered to allow a full thinset backing against the capstrip. The v-cap was set in the fresh thinset bed and leveled one against the other until the length of the counter was completed.
To cut the v-cap, place the v-cap on the wet saw aligning the v-caps apron against the saw fence. Be sure to wear safety glasses as this procedure can and will throw chips. Once the v-cap is installed, the deck field tile is set. The area has thinset mortar “keyed in” with the flat side of a notched trowel and then mortar is uniformly applied with the notched side. Remember to only trowel out as much thinset that you can cover with tile in less than 15 minutes. If the thinset “skims over”, it must be re-combed or taken up and re-trowelled. Tile will not achieve the appropriate bond to thinset that has begun to dry. Note the use of temporary spacers once the tile had been beaten in. This installation called for a 1/8″ grout joint so the spacers were placed in during the tile alignment phase. When the tile had achieved its initial set, the spacers were removed and reused elsewhere.
Once the deck field tile has been set, it is possible to set the back splash. In this layout, the backsplash and deck tile is “soldier set” and are all 4 ¼” x 4 ¼” meaning that all the grout joints need to align.
Note how the backsplash is tiled here with the use of a ledger (see photos below). This is helpful when a gap exists between two cabinets and the backsplash is continuous.
Note how the sink trim tile is installed with the use of spacers to keep the pieces aligned while the thinset cures (see photos below).
The tiling process is continued until all areas are tiled including cuts and trim pieces. An effort is made to keep the grout joints clean during the process and all 90° joints are free of thinset and debris.
The tiled surfaces are allowed to cure and then the grouting phase starts. Any debris or excess thinset is removed and the tiled assemblies are pre-moistened to receive grout. The grout is mixed per the Manufacturers instructions and applied with a rubber grout float. The grout is forced into the joints at a 45° angle, working diagonally. The grout is cut off also diagonally in order to clean off excess grout.
The joints are then “tooled” with a grout sponge rubbing in a circular motion until the joints are of uniform depth, smooth, and have no pinholes or voids. The final step is to make one pass with a clean sponge diagonally for the final wipe. Try not to overwork the joints. The light grout haze that will form during the initial drying can be polished off with cheese or terry cloth.
Remember to leave the 90° joints and the joint at the sink interface open for the application of sealant. Hard grout should not be used in these areas. The final step is to allow the grout to cure per the Manufacturers instructions. In this case a light misting with water for three days is recommended. This was accomplished using a household sprayer filled with clean water and the nozzle adjusted to provide a fine mist. When the joints were dry, the sealant was applied to the 90° joints and the sink/tile joints.
Following the curing of the sealant, the cleanup was accomplished and the job was complete.