Readers ask what to do about discolored subway tiles in their 1930s-era shower.
Here’s help from readers for readers — this time about subway tile.
A couple wanted to know what to do about discolored subway tiles in their 1930s-era shower. Was there a way to clean them or could they be replaced with something similar, they asked.
Jeanne Gallagher of Philadelphia had a similar situation in the tub surround area of her late-1920s bathroom.
One thing that finally helped make the job doable — and not horrendously expensive — was to stop trying to match the tile that needed to be replaced (1920s Ming Green turned out to be a completely different shade than 1980s Ming Green!).
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“We actually went for a complementary tile and even chiseled out a pattern,” she reported, “so that once the new tile was set, it looked elegant and intentional, rather than like a bad-dye, doesn’t-quite-match job.”
Getting the tile out “is still time-consuming and painstaking, but with patience and the right sort of tools, it can be done,” she said.
Contractor David Baker said the grout lines for these old tiles “make it nearly impossible to use even a thin diamond blade to individually remove glaze-stained tiles.”
And even if this could be done reasonably well, it would be highly unlikely to obtain a decent (or at least undetectable) match with any new tiles bought. There also is the problem of very tiny shifts in standard sizing. What was 4 by 4 inches in the 1930s may be slightly smaller today.
“The chances of executing a satisfactory job while pleasing the customer and staying within a less-than-outrageous budget would be very difficult,” Baker said.
Reader B. Calhoun said that after gutting and re-tiling an old bathroom, which was labor intensive and expensive because of the wet bed, “our tile contractor suggested that we tile over the existing tile of our other shower, shower floor, and floor of our second bathroom.”
The tile was secure and set in wet bed with no leaks, just an awful color. His concern was that he did not want it to look like there were two layers of tile, and it doesn’t.
“Our contractor was able to extend the shower drain to accommodate the thickness of the new tile and replace the threshold of the doorway with a beveled marble to give it an easy transition,” Calhoun said. “Five years later, it still looks wonderful and it cost only a fraction of the price.”
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You can’t please everyone. The Paint Quality Institute in Spring House, Pa., offered some tips on painting stucco that brought a contrarian view from reader Les Deal in Cedar Rapids, Iowa:
“Do not paint stucco. Paint does not keep water out, but it does trap the moisture that gets through. The trapped moisture destroys the stucco because it takes a much longer time for the trapped moisture to evaporate when paint is present. It is not relevant that unpainted stucco picks up some moisture when it gets wet because it will allow the same moisture to evaporate when the rain passes.
“I’ve been a remodeling contractor for 40-some years and have dealt with stucco houses that are 100 years old. The only stucco houses that fare well for a century are the ones that were left unpainted. The painted ones go downhill at an accelerated rate.
“Using a paint consultant as your adviser on this column does no value for the reader because the consultant’s concern is limited to what makes the paint stick while totally avoiding the real issue of what is best for the stucco. Obviously, the consultant’s expertise has nothing to do with what is good for stucco.”
I invite other views.
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Reader David Zales of Blue Bell, Pa., offers this tip about surge protectors:
“A few years ago, an electrician checked out our wiring. He suggested putting a surge protector on the electrical box, explaining that most people attached them to their computers but forget the potential damage to their appliances and other audiovisual equipment. It was only a couple of hundred dollars, and well worth the peace of mind.”