Tile flooring: rip up or just replace?

This member had his the old tile floor in the foyer replaced with new porcelain tile. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Harkrishan D. of Jericho, N.Y.)

This member had his the old tile floor in the foyer replaced with new porcelain tile. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Harkrishan D. of Jericho, N.Y.)

Tile flooring is a great choice for bathrooms, mud rooms or even kitchens. Cool to the touch and easy to clean, tile flooring offers a number of benefits over wood or laminate thanks to natural moisture resistance, and it's often cheaper to install than other options.

Some pros say when the time comes for replacement, you can simply tile over what's already laid down, but does that really save time and money in the long run?

The full Monty

Completely removing your existing tile is no small feat. You'll need to start by prying up tiles at one edge of the room and slowly working your way across.

If you have plans to repurpose any of the tile, you must be careful during removal not to damage any. It's a feat that's easier said than done, especially if the original tile was properly set, stuck and grouted.

If you didn't install the original tile and don't care what happens to it, grab a hammer and start swinging, but be careful not to damage the subfloor. Doing this task yourself can take anywhere from several hours to a full day, depending on the size of the room, and if you hire a contractor to do the work for you, expect to pay at between $1,000 and $3,000 extra for labor.

There are several benefits to ripping up tile flooring instead of doing a cover-up. First, you get to see the condition of your subfloor and make changes as necessary. If floor panels or loose or rotten, you have the chance to replace them, rather than just covering them up with more tile.

In addition — and this is especially important in a bathroom — you get to see if there's any water damage. If water has been making its way under the existing tile to the floor, you may have more than a replacement job on your hands: You may have mold.

Simply put, ripping out old tile to make way for new is much more work, but it lets you see everything underneath.

Keeping it covered

Leaving the old tile in place, meanwhile, can save you significant amounts of time. If you installed the original tile yourself or had a professional tilesetter do the work for you, there may be no need to uncover the floor because it won't have any problems. So long as the existing tile is prepared properly, you can attach another layer and be done. Bear in mind, however, that you will be raising the floor level, if only slightly.

To prep old tile for retiling, start by tapping each one with a wooden mallet or small piece of wood. A hollow sound in response means the tile is loose. Remove it, then reattach it using a thin-set, available at any local hardware store.

Next, get a four-foot level and work your way around the room. What you're looking for here are any high spots. Use a right-angle grinder and masonry wheel to level out any problem areas, then sand the floor to roughen up the tiles and ensure proper adhesion of the new layer.

Clean out the old grout, vacuum and sweep the entire area and then rinse the floor to remove any coatings. Finally, bring in your new tiles and attach them in small batches to make sure your thin-set doesn't dry out.

Done correctly, you'll have a new floor and no trace of the old will remain.

To each his own

As a homeowner, the relative ease of replacing instead of ripping up tiles may make tiling over old floors the better choice, but make no mistake: You'll still have to invest a significant amount of time for prep work. Hiring a pro to remove your existing tile flooring is more expensive, but it lets you start with a blank slate.

In addition, it prevents contractors from cutting corners on tile resurfacing, such as not properly scratching old tiles or not bothering to fix any that are loose. While no rule prevents contractors from taking the easy way, you may want to reconsider any pro who isn't willing to put in the work for a fresh install.

Rip or replace? Both are viable options. Which one you choose depends on preference, budget and your certainty about what lies beneath.


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