Tiles are supposed to be waterproof, right? That is the question that most people ask when they are faced with the possibility of having to replace the tile surfaces in their home because of water damage. But, as residents of Sarasota’s coastline flood zones can attest, not even the best tile is completely impervious to water damage.
First, many consumers make the mistake of assuming all tiles are created equally, this could not be further from the truth. If you are in the market for new tile, and expect to have a lot of water exposure in the environment that you are installing the tile in, make sure to ask your tile supplier if the tile is classified as being vitreous or impervious to water. If the tile is classified as only being semi-vitreous or worse, non-vitreous, it is unsuitable for excessive water exposure. For example, porcelain tiles are classified as impervious because the density of these tiles almost completely prevents moisture absorption (somewhere between 0.001% and 0.5% water absorption).
Why is the water absorption rate an important factor? Less dense tiles that absorb water can become a breeding ground for bacteria and mold, creating a health hazard. This growth can also cause a slimy residue to grow on the tile, creating a safety hazard. For areas of the home that you do not expect to be exposed to large amounts of water, such as kitchen backboards, semi and non-vitreous tiles can work just fine, but they will still require regular cleaning and maintenance just like any other home surface.
Another factor that customers often overlook when installing tile is the proper sealing of the grout. Improperly sealed grout can be just as bad as completely unsealed grout. When the grout has not been sealed, water can seep into the grout and then in between the tiles and the adhesive holding the tiles in place. This can cause tiles to detach from the adhesive and the grout, becoming loose. Sometimes, a tile may be loose without actually visibly shifting, in this case, the tile will usually make a resonant noise when struck with a coin or other hard object. This is because although the tile has not moved, it is raised from the adhesive surface, making a hollow spot that allows the sound waves from an impact to reverberate. If you have loose or “hollow” tiles in your floor, that is one of the early indicators for severe water damage.
Another good indication that water has seeped into the grout is that the grout will become stubbornly discolored and difficult to clean.
So, some of the major warning signs to keep an eye out for when it comes to water damage include:
Loose or hollow-sounding tiles
Slime or mold build-up
Sometimes, if the water damage is the result of a slow, steady leak creating a pool of standing water in an area that is not often accessed, such as underneath a bathroom or kitchen sink, or below a washing machine, it may take months or even years for water damage to progress to the point where a homeowner would notice it.
Using the right kind of tile for the right areas of the home and making sure your grout is properly sealed can severely mitigate the risk of water damage to your tile floors, but even the best tiles installed using the best workmanship can fail if exposed to severe or unsanitary flooding.
Unsanitary flooding is normally caused by events such as severe natural floods which bring outdoor bacteria, dirt, and debris into the house and allows deposits to settle on the floor.
The sheer number of potentially harmful chemicals, bacteria, and waste that can be swept into the home by a flood is too large to comprehensively list all specifics, but includes:
Soil, grass and other plant matter
Insect and animal matter/carcasses
Industrial waste/corrosive chemicals
Sewage from overloaded local mains
The debris left by a flood provides bacteria and mold with an ideal breeding environment in which to multiply. This can destroy event the most resilient tile floors. For people living along the coastline of Sarasota, this is a very real threat during hurricane season.
Of course, nature’s wrath is not the only potential source of unsanitary water. A perfectly normal, everyday plumbing problem such as an overflowing toilet can create havoc on an otherwise perfectly good tile floor.
If all preventative measures fail and you find that your home has been subjected to extensive water damage, here are a few tips to keep in mind as you look to clean up and repair or replace your damaged tile:
Do not enter your home until you are certain it is safe. Water and your home’s electrical system can make for a dangerous combination, so avoid the risk until you can have an expert establish that it is safe to move back in.
Air out your home. Open the doors and windows and let the air in. Or, if they are not wet, you can turn on the fans in your home, power on your a/c unit (realtytimes.com recommends turning on cool air in summer, and hot air in winter). The increased air flow will aid in the drying process.
Do not use a vacuum on any of your floors until the drying process is complete. Most commercially-available vacuums are not designed to handle any amount of excess moisture, and even a wet-vac is insufficient to the task of cleaning out an entire home. Using electric consumer items in a wet home is highly dangerous, and should be avoided.
Use large beach towels to blot out standing pools of water and wet spots on the carpet. If possible, mop the floors to lessen the chances of bacteria, mold, and mildew setting in.
Take any removable rugs out of your home. Let them dry outside and check to see if they are salvageable later. While these heavy water-sponges sit in your home bleeding humidity, the drying out process is slowed.
After your home has been dried out, check to see if your existing tile is salvageable. In the instance of a severe flood, this is unlikely, but it is worth your while to check in any case. Once you have decided to replace your tiles, you will want to:
Completely remove the old tiles and as much of the adhesive as possible. If you decide that you want to install a new style of tile, or cannot find tiles that match the old design, you will need to completely remove the old tile. The adhesive needs to be removed in order to ensure a smooth installation of the new tile on new adhesive.
To accomplish this, you will need to use a grout saw to extract the old grout, pulverize the old tile with a hammer, and remove the debris. Once the debris has been cleared, and the old adhesive has been removed, you can begin preparations to replace the old tile.
When looking for replacement tiles, make certain to use tiles that are water-resistant enough for the area you are placing the tile in, as mentioned earlier.
Make certain that your floor is properly leveled. Uneven floors can allow water to pool in a specific area, creating an opportunity for standing water to gather and create new problems.
Seal your grout. As mentioned earlier, unsealed grout lets water in, causing damage to your tile surfaces.
Perform regular maintenance. Regularly inspect your floors for evidence of standing water, and make sure your sinks and water pipes are not leaking. By performing routine maintenance, you can prevent water damage to your tiles before it starts.
When living in high-risk flood areas such as Sarasota Bay, it is important to stay informed about keeping your home dry. If the worst happens and you find that you need help getting your house dry, do not hesitate to contact an expert about restoring your home today for further advice and help.