03 December, 2009

Bathroom Decisions -- Repair or Replace the Hex Tile?

So many decisions need to be made before we begin the major demolition work of the bathroom.

The bathrooms in each unit of The Box House still have their original hex tile, and I love the look of it. Unfortunately, the floor in our unit also has a big crack across nearly the entire length, right in the center of the room. (I think the tenants' unit is fine, but it's been a while since I actually looked at the floor critically.)

And no matter what we try, it never really looks clean. If the surface ever had a coating, it's been worn away. The grout is really grungy, too. And who knows what it looks like underneath the cabinet vanity some previous owner installed. It could be even worse.

Poking around the Internet, we found recommendations for Dremmeling out the old grout and redoing it, but that still leaves the issue of the very large crack and the general dingy look of the tiles. So we're toying with the idea of replacing the floor.

The bathroom is small, only five by seven feet including the tub. The section we'd have to replace is maybe 25 square feet.

I ordered a few tile samples online, and here's what we have so far:

The ones above (the blue and the soccer ball pattern) are modern versions. I love the cobalt, which happens to be my favorite color. They measure 3/4 inch, rather than the 1-inch we have now, although they do come larger. They are not historically accurate, as the edges are beveled and the tiles themselves are quite shiny. While a floor made of them might look cool, it wouldn't look right for our 1920s home.

The ones above (with the HC codes) I absolutely love. They are historically accurate, are the exact same size we have now, and come in many colors. The lighter of the two whites actually matches ours, but the blue here is more of a navy. (They also come in a nifty red, but I didn't get a sample of that one.) There are numerous vendors online who sell them; the price averages $10-20 a square foot. They come polished and unpolished (these are the unpolished).

I'm flip-flopping on a daily basis about what to do--some days I think "let's just Dremmel it, regrout, and live with the crack." Other days I think, "Well, if we're gutting everything else, why not this, too?" If we replace the floor, we'll go with the historically accurate tiles. And if we do that, we may create our own design—why limit ourselves to the blue rosettes?

American Restoration Tile has numerous pictures on their site to inspire the creative muse.

Are we crazy for even thinking of trying to replace the floor? How big a nightmare will it be to pull up the old one?


Rae said...

I think think that you should rip up the old floor and install a new one, if only to check on the condition of the subfloor.

It's a small area and historically accurate materials are available, so it'll be a small expenditure compared to how much work you're otherwise going to have to put in.

Tonia said...

Man, I'm so jealous. I love the little hex tiles and have always wanted a bathroom with them. It just screams "old Chicago!" to me, although it so wouldn't work with my modern open concept townhome.

I'm with Rae - tear up the floor with the crack just to see what lurks underneath. Then replace it with newer, non-dull, historical material flooring.

I've always been partial to the black and white 8-tile "roses," but the red sounds REALLY intriguing.

Tia said...

Just wanted to let you know that the second picture shows unglazed porcelain hex tile, which is historically accurate for homes built between the 1890's and the early 1930's.

If the damage to the original floor is significant, I would install a new one.

Karen Anne said...

I'm having visions of a red, white and blue floor, not just using the red as an accent.

Why am I having a sense of deja vu here? Who was struggling with grout haze not so long ago? Someone in the community of blogs I read...

Anonymous said...

I'm another one that agrees with Rae - check the subfloor. That tile cracked for a reason and I'd be willing to bet that the subfloor flexes too much rather than something heavy was dropped.

The hex tiles are wonderful. NV at This D*mn House is the one with the recent haze issue. Petch House also had fun times with hex tiles - but I think most of his fun was in the acquisition.

Everything is looking wonderful.

Joanne said...

Thanks for everyone's input. We checked the subfloor from below, in the basement, and it looks okay. Still, we've decided to replace the floor. We're retiling everything else, it would just look better to have a fresh start on the floor, too. I'll check over at This D*mn House and Petch House (both excellent blogs) to see their stories.

I don't know what we'd do without the input and experience of other house bloggers--probably mess up more than we do. :-)

Tonia--You're right about the tiles screaming "Old Chicago." Ted and I are the neighborhood loonies who are always creeping up to other two flats in Evanston, Rogers Park, Edgewater, and Uptown to check out their entryway tile--but I always forget the camera! (Perhaps that's for the better.) Our own front entryway tile is intact and gorgeous, but our back entryway is just a concrete slab and we're going to try to create a vintage pattern.

Tia--The source we'll probably order from has both polished and unpolished hex; I'll post the links for that soon.

Jennifer said...

Wait! Before you commit to replacing it, try bleaching it with hydrogen peroxide. It very well may bring the floor back to new looking! You can then seal it with a new tile sealer to prevent new stains, and even replace just the few you need.

I say this especially because you've checked your subfloor already. If that doesn't need replaced, I'd be hesitant to rip up the floor without trying a few cheap ways to make it look new!

Christopher Busta-Peck said...

I've pondered this a bit for my own residence.

The historic porcelain tiles are unglazed - solid color all the way through. I wonder what would happen to the modern tile if you took a random orbital sander and some ultra-fine paper to it. Would it be that perfect finish, or would it just look awful?

I vote for not changing it, btw.

Anonymous said...

I've got to say, I love the old stuff, even with the cracks. The fact that the original floor and so much original anything survived in your home is a testament to those who put it together way back when and the respect of those who have owned the place through the years. You guys have done some wonderful things to the house since moving in. If the sub-floor is okay, then the crack is just from settling over the years. I'd embrace it and try the hydrogen peroxide, then the dremmel.

gfhhf said...

We did something similar with the blue. The white tile is glazed but the grey and blue is not.


us said...

I vote replace because re-grouting is a "just for now" thing. Plus designing it will be so much fun!

Karen Anne said...

That's a beautiful bathroom, us.

Joanne said...

We just got back from a mini vacation, and I'm delighted and grateful for all the input on the floor. I'll try a few of the cleaning solutions and see if I can brighten it up some. At the very least, it might be a good solution for the tenant unit upstairs, which will not be getting an upgrade for quite a while.

In any case, we have time to mull it all over. Now that winter's here, we can't really rip out the floor because we can't disconnect the radiator. I'm focusing on getting all the wood stripped and shopping for deals on replacement fixtures. First thing to go will be the useless 1970s low-flush toilet, an early model that probably never worked well to begin with.

Jen said...

The cleaner is a peroxide that you get at a beauty supply place not the drug store kind. Several people on houseblogs have used it and it worked well.

Joanne said...

Hey Jenni--Do you have a product name for that?

Amalie said...

Just a quick addition here-- I think older tiles were historically purposefully unglazed because that provided better slip resistance. Less chance of busting your butt getting out of the bath :-)

It's just one of the many reasons I love our 1950s pink tile floor-- only the dark 1 inch tiles are glazed; everything else is rough.

home improvement Dallas said...

Redoing the bathroom tiles is not as easy as others may think because it has to complement the entire appearance of the house. Aside from that, if you are doing on your own and you have decided not to ask for professional help, you have to know where to get the best materials for the job. If you do decide to hire a home improvement contractor to assist you with your dilemma about what to do with you bathroom, you have to set a budget for that so that you will not end up spending more than what you can afford.

cabinets NJ said...

If the crack is not that obvious and only a small portion of the entire bathroom wall is damaged, then you might as well have it repaired - but if your tiles already look old and worn out, then you better have them replaced if you have the budget for it. this could give your bathroom a fresh look and it will make it appear more organized. You may also add a cabinet to accentuate it and so that it will not look messy.

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Anonymous said...

I'm sure you've gone and done something already but clearing the old tile from the 'subfloor' is going to be a challenge since it's a poured cement floor underneath. The cracks are probably due to cracks in the cement but that's what gives it character too, if you'd wanted perfection you would have been better off in new construction.

At any rate, based on the photo, there's no real reason to disturb the existing cement floor unless you really dislike the patina of old porcelain tile and a few cracks. Removing it will be a chore and you'll probably in the end have to rip out the cement and rework the whole thing...a huge bill will likely follow.

To be honest, the choices you're proposing for replacement are way too busy,in this case less is more for aesthetics.

Good luck

cac said...

I see these were from over 6 years ago. If you still see these comments, it'd be great to know how it went! We are toying with removing a layer of 80's ceramic tile from our original 99yo white unglazed hex time (since we got a taste of it after removing the vanity, which sat on the original tile but had the ugly later stuff laid around it. We'll see if the old stuff can survive a tedious removal of the newer stuff and get patched as needed, I hope. Really need to revive our old house blog http://craftsmanoakpark.blogspot.com (WOW, that is a lot of tedious 'i am not a robot' clicking!)

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studioleggers said...

I just purchased a home in bridgeport (Old Chicago for non locals) built in 1878 with the same exact tiling in the bathroom which also has some cracking in a line. I noticed that is a post from ten years ago, but do you recall where you purchased the HC02 hexagon tile with color matching. I am hoping to try and repair broken tiles. Thanks and love this post!

trillium42 said...

Wow, I got a follow-up to this since i posted last year. A local place is Heritage Tile in Oak Park, which has all the unglazed hex tiles that match originals. heritagetile.com. I'd love to hear how the original poster managed. They were likely set in a bed of cement and removal is crazy involved. We haven't finished our project either and have a couple square feet of hex tile surrounded by ugly 70's stuff, waiting to be removed. Good luck!

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