Monday, January 15, 2007

Shower tile grout removal

My initial assessment of the grout problem in the downstairs bathroom shower was a little over optimistic. With a halogen task light in the shower stall I was able to see the complete situation. It looks as though there’s a combination of original 1939 grout that is failing, as well as a few repair spots that now failed as well.

The older grout has simply cracked over the course of time, and is now to the point where it’s coming out in chunks anywhere from 1/8- to 3/8-of-an-inch long. That’s the situation in the area in the far front corner of the shower, where I presume the leak to the basement is originating.

To remove the loose grout, I used a few different tools and techniques. First, there’s the grout saw, which is pretty self-explanatory. Simply put the carbide-tipped saw blade in the grout line between the tiles and used it like a regular saw. If the grout line is recessed between the tiles, you’ll be fine. However, if the grout line is close to the face of your tiles, you might want to only pull the saw towards you. If you go in a back and forth motion, the blade might come out of the grout line and mar the face of your tile.

The other tool I used to remove grout was my Dremel rotary tool with their 1/16" Carbide Grout Removal Bit (item number 569). Click the image to the right to see a larger version.

You need to be careful when using a power rotary tool around delicate surfaces like tile. Be certain to hold the rotary tool with both hands and work slowly. If at all possible, steady your hand(s) against the wall or floor. If you’re not careful, you could easily move from the grout line into the edge of your tile or, worse yet, jump out of the grout line and harm the face of your tile.

The last tool I used to remove the cracked grout was a stiff putty knife. It comes in handy because it’s narrow, yet its stiff blade can be used with a considerable amount of force.

The putty knife was also used to remove the grout repairs that have taken place before my time in this house. Those old repairs, which are now failing, come in two varieties. The first type isn’t a big surprise: caulk. Caulk is the easiest way to repair missing tile grout, but it is not a long-term solution. It will fail, I can promise you that.

The second old repair looks like some type of adhesive-based patch, possibly epoxy. It was pretty easy to remove with the putty knife.

While removing old grout in the far front corner with the rotary tool, one of the small floor tiles popped out. In hindsight, I’m happy it did, because the bottom of the tile was damp, strengthening my suspicions that the leak into the basement is coming from that corner.

With all the loose grout removed, I now need to determine what path I’m going to take to fix the problem areas. Since some are on the walls and others are along the base of the wall and floor, I might need a couple of different solutions. More to come soon.

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