Many floor problems are only skin deep and can be taken care of with minor repairs. For ex ample, replacing a square of resilient tile or patching a sheet vinyl floor can be relatively simple. It’s a little more complicated to replace sections of damaged hardwood flooring or individual ceramic tiles, but the job can be tackled by the homeowner with average building skills.
In this section you’ll find out how to make surface repairs in wood strip, plank, and block floors; resilient flooring; ceramic and masonry flooring; and carpeting.
In most cases, the cause of the damage will be obvious—a burn, a tear made by moving a heavy appliance, or a crack produced by dropping a heavy object. If the cause is not obvious, take the time to examine the en tire floor surface, and check its supporting structure from below to see if the surface damage has been caused by structural problems. Cracked ceramic tile in a frame home can be caused by movement in a floor that is no longer structurally sound. Deteriorating wood may be the result of a plumbing leak or excess moisture soaking into a floor.
Detailed instructions on how to check for structural problems begin is here; read through them carefully and make a thorough examination. A description of the steps necessary to correct various structural problems was also discussed earlier.
Replacing tongue-and-groove flooring
Replacing individual boards in a wood floor is a project that should be undertaken only if some simpler remedy—such as sanding and refinishing—won’t work. It doesn’t require exceptional skill to do the work, but it does take patience and finesse. It may be very difficult to match new pieces of wood and new finishes with the surrounding f loot
Ideally, this type of repair work will be one step in an over all floor refinishing project in which the entire floor will be given a new, uniform finish—this will solve the problem of matching. (See “Refinishing Wood Floors,”)
Tools you’ll need. For either re pair method described below, you’ll need a few basic hand tools—a combination square; a sturdy, sharp 1-inch chisel; a hammer; and a pry bar with a curved end.
For cutting out a rectangle, you’ll also need a portable power saw with a blade that can be adjusted for depth of cut. A portable electric drill with a ½-inch bit will be useful for taking up individual boards if you’re removing them in a staggered pattern.
Matching wood can be problem. It may be impossible to buy re placement flooring that matches your floor perfectly. Plan to take a sample to your lumber dealer to find a suitable replacement. If your floor is made of prefinished flooring, a match may be easier to find.
Two ways to replace damaged boards. There are two common approaches to replacing boards in random-length hardwood floors. The first is to cut out a rectangle, remove the damaged boards, then replace them with boards of equal length (see the step-by-step illustrations on the next page). This approach is satisfactory for areas that will be covered by a rug or furniture. The second and slightly more difficult method is to remove boards in a staggered pattern (see the step-by-step illustrations below). This produces a less noticeable repair and is best for an open floor area.
Replacing Wood Blocks
A damaged square of wood block flooring is not difficult to re place; the toughest part of the job might well be finding the right substitute.
Matching New to Old
You may have a problem matching the finish of a replacement block with the old floor—especially if the floor was sanded and finished after installation. Reserve a piece of the damaged wood block you remove to show to a flooring materials dealer; this will help you find a match.
Matching prefinished block flooring is somewhat easier, particularly if a few extra pieces were set aside when the original floor was installed. Even if you don’t have any extras, you may be able to find a suitable match through a flooring dealer.
Because wood block flooring is often cemented in place with a mastic that can be softened with solvent, you may be able to remove an original square from a closet or some other un seen area and swap it with a new block that’s not a good match, But removing a piece of block flooring without damaging it re quires patience and care, and this procedure should probably be attempted only as a last resort.
Keep in mind, too, that wood block flooring is manufactured in many different forms and attached with any of several types of adhesives; before attempting a swap, ask your flooring dealer for suggestions on how to proceed.
Replacing boards in a staggered pattern
Use large spade bit to drill series of holes (do not drill into subfloor) at both ends of marked lengths of boards to be replaced.
Split defective area of each board using large wood chisel and hammer. Pound lightly to avoid splitting or cracking surfaces of adjacent boards.
Pry out split lengths of board until all are removed. Use small wood blocks for leverage, if necessary, and to avoid marring any part of surrounding flooring.
Slip groove of carefully measured and cut new board over tongue of board in existing flooring; use scrap of flooring and mallet or hammer to tap new board in place.
Blind nail new pieces tightly in place. If adjacent existing boards have separated. use thin shims to align edges of new boards with edges of old.
Install last new board by removing bottom half of groove, slipping tongue into groove of existing board, and pressing board into place; face nail each end.
Replacing boards in a rectangular pattern
Mark work area with square and pencil. Use lengthwise crock to align square for end mark; make side marks inch away from cracks so saw wont hit nails.
Make end cuts by positioning toe of sole at midpoint of end mark. Turn on saw; before moving ahead, slowly lower blade until sole rests flat on floor. Work from center out to each edge.
To guide side cuts, tack strip of wood parallel to pencil line and away from area to be removed. Work from center toward ends. Adjust saw blade if shoe rides on strip.
Using hammer and chisel, complete cut to subfloor. Keep beveled face of chisel toward boards to be removed. Take care to make clean cuts at corners, so boards don’t splinter into good area.
Lift boards with pry bar, starting at mid point of side cut. Use small wood block for leverage and to avoid marring any part of surrounding flooring.
Cut away ¼-inch edges left outside saw cuts using hammer and chisel. Work slowly to avoid damaging adjacent boards. Set exposed nail heads.
Measure for exact length of each new board with steel tape marked in 1/32 or 1/100 of an inch. Start from 2-inch mark if tape end doesn’t give clear mark to start first inch. Hold tape taut.
Score pencil marks on new boards with light saw cut at 90-deg angle. Make cuts on waste side of each pencil mark so saw kerf doesn’t cause new board to be short.
Lay board, scored face up, over work area. Fit one end in tightly; then check other end and mark for tight fit. Make any adjustment required; saw board.
Blind nail new boards as shown after sliding grooves of new boards over tongues of boards already in place; work steadily toward opposite edge.
Remove tongue from lost new board. Sand cut edge, if necessary, so board fits tightly; set in place. Using hammer and wood block, tap board down. Face nail board to secure it.
Set nails; fill nail holes and any obvious mismatches of end joints with wood putty. Then sand, stain, seal, and finish new boards to match finish of surrounding floor surface.
Tools and supplies you’ll need to replace wood block flooring are the same as are used to replace wood strips (see preceding section). In addition, you will need adhesive and solvent—ask your supplier for recommendations for your particular situation.
To remove wood block flooring, set the blade depth of your power circular saw to the thickness of the wood block. Make cuts near the edge of the damaged block, taking care not to cut into any adjoining squares (see illustration). Then take a hammer and chisel and remove the damaged wood. Chip out as much of the remaining adhesive as possible—enough so that the re placement block will sit flush with the surrounding floor.
Replacing wood block is a simple matter. If you’re installing a tongue-and-groove block, remove the bottom grooves (see illustration). Spread adhesive on the bottom of the new block and set it in place. Tap it lightly, taking care not to mar the surface. If you get adhesive on any ad joining squares, quickly remove it with a solvent recommended by the adhesive supplier.
Replacing ceramic tiles set in thin-set adhesive
The qualities that make ceramic tile a desirable flooring material—its hard surface and rigidity—also make it susceptible to cracking. A heavy object dropped on tile can easily crack or chip it, and structural problems, like cracks in a concrete slab or settling in a frame house, can cause a series of cracks in a tile floor.
Another possibility is that structural shifting may leave individual tiles intact while opening gaps between tiles or causing grout to deteriorate. Sometimes, too, the grout around perfectly good tiles may need replacing when it becomes stained or cracked.
Simply chip out the old grout from the joints using a cold chisel and hammer; then scrub the joint surfaces with scouring powder or tile cleaner. Rinse the surface well. Apply the grout from the directions on the package. Most tile suppliers sell grout in small quantities for replacement purposes.
Matching old tile. Though re placing a single ceramic tile or a few tiles is not difficult, finding a good match between re placement tiles and an old floor can be a problem. Colors may vary from one firing to another, even when the manufacturer uses identical glazes. That’s why it’s always a good idea to buy more than enough tile when in stalling a new floor, so you’ll have extras to use as replacements.
If you aren’t fortunate enough to have matching tile left over from the original installation, you may be able to find an acceptable substitute by checking with several flooring or tile specialty stores. Should you find nothing that does the job—a likelihood particularly if you’re replacing a pattern that’s been discontinued—it’s time for a little creativity. Consider using complementary colors as replacements.
Tools and supplies. To remove damaged ceramic tiles, you’ll need an inexpensive glass cutter. a common lever-type can opener, a hammer, a nailset or center punch, a combination square, a putty knife, and a small cold chisel or a “chipping” hammer (usually rentable at stores that specialize in ceramic tiles). A portable electric drill with a ¼- inch masonry bit will also come in handy. And wear goggles to protect your eyes while chipping out old tile.
If you’re planning on replacing tiles of odd shapes or around pipes, bathroom fixtures, or similar obstructions, you’ll need a pair of ordinary pliers or tile nippers, as well as emery cloth or a carborundum stone.
A few tools used to install new tile flooring may also come in handy. The extent of your need for specialty tools for installing replacement tiles will depend on the size of the area to be retiled.
Finally, you’ll need adhesive and grout to cement the new tile in place. Your flooring materials supplier will be able to help you select the correct adhesive for the job and provide matching grout.
Replacing the tile is a fairly simple matter of loosening and chipping out the old tile, replacing it, and regrouting around the new tile. Step-by-step directions for removing damaged tile, in stalling replacements, and applying new grout are illustrated on the next page.
Replacing damaged ceramic tile
Remove grout from joints around dam aged tile using a lever-style can opener. Skip this step if grout joints are more than ¼ inch wide.
Punch hole through center of damaged tile using hammer and center punch or nailset. Pound gently so subfloor below isn’t damaged.
Use glass cutter and straightedge (hold it firmly) to score a deep X across face of damaged tile through center of hole.
Starting at center, chip out old tile (and any remaining grout) using hammer and cold chisel; use light, rapid blows and work toward edges.
Clean subfloor, removing old adhesive and any bits of remaining grout. Use sandpaper to smooth rough spots and edges of surrounding tiles.
Build up surface, if necessary, with patching plaster so replacement tile will be level with surrounding tiles. After plaster dries, paint with latex primer.
Apply adhesive to back of replacement tile, using putty knife. Spread adhesive smoothly following adhesive manufacturer’s directions.
Tap tile gently in place using wood block and hammer. Allow adhesive to set for at least 24 hours before grouting. Detour traffic around new tile.
Apply grout to joints using damp cloth, sponge, or squeegee. Use your finger to smooth grout joints; clean off excess with damp sponge.
Replacing mortar-set tiles and other masonry flooring
Many ceramic tiles, as well as slate, flagstone, brick payers, and other kinds of irregular or oversize masonry-type flooring are set in a thick bed of cement mortar. Their uneven surfaces make other adhesives impractical. Fortunately, these heavier flooring materials are so rugged, and mortar provides so strong a base, that they rarely need replacing.
It’s impossible to remove such materials without breaking individual tiles or pieces. The only way to dislodge them is to put on a pair of safety goggles, take a hammer and cold chisel, and chip away. A power drill with a masonry bit may come in handy, but in any case the job re quires patience and a good deal of elbow grease.
The area from which the old flooring has been removed must be cleaned out and enough old mortar cleared away to make room f or a new bed of mortar. After the area has been cleaned out, the surface must be coated with a bonding agent (ask a flooring materials supplier for the proper product) before new materials are set in cement mortar.
For small projects, commercial mortar mixes are handy for installing replacement flooring; simply follow the directions of the manufacturer. For larger projects, Google “installing masonry-type floors”.
Repairing resilient flooring
Usually, all flooring materials classified as resilient -- vinyl, vinyl-asbestos, asphalt, rubber, cork, and other similar compositions -- are easy to repair. Following are step-by-step instructions on how to make the most common surface repairs. But it’s a good idea, before going ahead with any repair project, to take the time to determine if the trouble on top of your floor is caused by more serious problems below the floor. So read through the following material completely and do a little sleuthing before undertaking repairs.
Look for the cause. If the cause of damage to resilient flooring isn’t readily apparent, you should give the structure below a thorough inspection for structural weakness or damage from insects or rot. Some relatively minor surface blemishes can often be traced to more serious problems in the subfloor or sup porting structure—problems that not only affect appearance but also threaten to cut short the life of the flooring.
A regular pattern of indentations, running for several feet or forming may be caused by separations in the subfloor. Individual boards in a subfloor can shrink and leave gaps between boards; plywood panels may separate as the structure settles.
Small bumps that appear in the surface of the floor may be caused by nails that have worked loose. Over q period of time, movement in the structure can cause the subfloor to separate from the joists, forcing the nails up into the resilient floor covering. Or if the original tiles or sheet materials were installed while there was too much moisture in the subfloor, the nails may have worked loose as the damp wood dried.
If you have an area where resilient tiles have curled at the edges or popped loose, you may have a minor plumbing leak. Moisture can also cause sheet vinyl to work loose around the perimeter of a room. Moisture in the floors of grade-level or be low-grade rooms often results from poor drainage outside.
For detailed instructions on locating structural problems, and suggested remedies, see earlier section.
Matching replacement materials to your existing floor may be a problem, whatever the cause of damage. If you have leftover materials from the original installation, so much the better. If the flooring is relatively new, it’s likely that matching materials are still available through a flooring dealer.
Even when you can find a good match, whether in your own storeroom or at a supplier, you may discover that your floor is so old or worn that new replacement material will look very conspicuous. If this is a problem, consider using replacement material in contrasting or complementary colors to create a new design—especially if you’re working with individual tiles. If you can’t make repairs that are visually acceptable, it may be time to consider a whole new floor covering.
A wide range of adhesives is available for making resilient floor repairs. The most common are epoxy, paste, emulsion, or some variation specified by the manufacturer of the original flooring material. For more de tails on the types of adhesives that are used to attach resilient flooring, ask your floor dealer.
If you’re sure of the type of resilient flooring that needs repair, a flooring materials dealer should be able to tell you what type of adhesive to buy; if you’re not sure, take a sample of the flooring with you. Also be pre pared to tell your supplier what kind of subfloor the flooring will be attached to—concrete, felt underlayment, plywood, hard board, or an original layer of resilient material.
Whatever adhesive you choose, be sure to check the container to find out what kind of solvent is recommended for cleaning up smudges or for re moving stubborn adhesive that remains after damaged flooring has been removed. Have the sol vent on hand so you can quickly remove any smudges before they dry.
Repairing minor surface damage. You can make minor surface repairs easily and effectively with tools you have on hand.
Flatten surface bubbles or blisters by cutting into them in a straight line, with a utility knife, and using a putty knife to force new adhesive under the cut, as shown below.
If nails have worked loose beneath a small area of the floor, reseating them may require only minor work. Try placing a block of wood over the bumps and tap ping it lightly with a hammer to see if the nails can be driven flush. Be careful not to damage the surface of the floor. If the nails can’t be reseated with light tap ping, abandon this approach; you’ll have to remove the floor covering to gain direct access to the nails and the subfloor.
Instructions on removing and replacing individual tiles or sections of sheet flooring follow.
If you’re dealing with an area where tiles have curled at the edges or popped loose because of moisture below the surface, obviously you’ll have to correct the moisture problem first. Once you’ve done this and the floor has had time to dry thoroughly, simply scrape any loose adhesive from around the edges of the affected flooring with a knife, add new adhesive, and press the materials firmly back into place. If you have trouble loosening a tile enough to add new adhesive, use an old iron or a propane torch to soften the old adhesive under the flooring. Warm the material, but don’t heat it until it’s too hot to touch. (Heat can also be used to loosen a section of damaged sheet vinyl.)
When newly fastened down, flooring material should be weighted with books, bricks, or other heavy objects until the adhesive has had time to set—usually overnight. Check the recommendations of the adhesive manufacturer for the correct setting time.
Damaged resilient tiles or whole sections of sheet vinyl can be replaced easily and neatly enough that repairs are almost invisible. Individual resilient tiles can be replaced by removing individual damaged tiles and substituting new tiles. These steps are illustrated below. Step- by-step illustrations on the next page show how to patch resilient sheet flooring.
Replacing damaged resilient tile:
Soften adhesive under damaged tile using propane torch or old iron; handle torch carefully.
Pry up tile using putty knife or cold chisel. Remove old adhesive so surface of subfloor is smooth and clean.
Spread adhesive smoothly and evenly across surface of subfloor, following adhesive manufacturers directions.
Place new tile firmly in place; use sol vent to remove any adhesive smudges. Allow tile to set for recommended time.
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