Stone tile falling off front steps!

emmi331February 2, 2011

In the fall of 2006 I had stone tiles put on my outdoor front steps. After a little more than four years, some of the tiles on the lowest step are falling off. Is this to be expected, especially after a couple of harsh winters? And is this something that is fairly easy to repair myself or should I hire someone? I should tell you A) that I'm a klutz, and B) I'm reluctant to return to the original place that did the tiling, since I didn't have a great experience with them (though to be fair, others in this area have been very happy with them). I really would like to know if this is something that should NOT have happened with better work, or if it's just routine maintenance. Many thanks for any advice....

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Tile work outside subject to freeze thaw cycles often has problems.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2011 at 4:16PM
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I understand what you're saying; does mean I should not ask for help from the original installer?

    Bookmark   February 3, 2011 at 3:22PM
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As long as the tile was there at least a few months with traffic on it then there was problem nothing wrong with the original installation. This could be something you can do your self but you will have to chisel out the old bonding agent and get the tiles as clean as possible, unless you have more. Chiseling is not fun work and if your not careful you can damage your other good tiles, maybe not so good for a clutz.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 11:30PM
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Sorry, Nu, but I don't necessarily agree that there is nothing wrong with installation that would last only "a few months" - I didn't pay $1300 to have tile falling off that fast! Don't worry, I would never try doing this on my own - someone will be helping out. Thanks!

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 9:34AM
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Did the tiles pop in freezing weather?

There is a reason outdoor tile work is not popular in the north...

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 1:04PM
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Tiles outside are always troublesome. The grout is always going to allow water to pass through it unless you find a good sealer and apply it every year. Whenever the water penetrates and then freezes underneath it forces the tile upward, and the power of freezing water unstoppable. This almost always the case with tiles because they are laid with a notch trowel and it leaves grooves underneath which the water can collect. All in all tile outside is a bad idea.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 2:15PM
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NuG: Tile adhesive is applied with a notched trowel in order to ensure good coverage - tile properly set do not end up with grooves; the tiles are pushed into the thinset until full coverage is achieved. As with all home improvement projects, there are correct ways to do it and incorrect ways.

emmi331: Check out the John Bridge Forum - lots of pros over there that are a great help and will be able to answer your questions with expertise.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 3:56PM
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Even with full coverage water IS going to get behind the tiles and pop them off.

NO sealer is going to prevent water from moving through the grout and into the thin-set holding the tile.

Cement products like thin-set are weakest in tension, and the freezing water will put tension on the bond of the tile to the substrate.

Even larger flagstone walks on a concrete bed have problems long term with repeated freeze-thaw cycles.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2011 at 10:19AM
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Thanks to all for your comments! NOW I realize that this was a bad idea; at the time I didn't know it. I live in Virginia, and the last couple of winters have been VERY cold, with some thawing during the day. These are actually not stone tiles, as I'd originally thought, but are ceramic (they look like stone). Supposedly they should hold up in all kinds of weather, according to the installer. I may have to "de-install" this, which will be costly, but what can replace it? Just leave the steps as cement? And again, I will NOT be doing this work myself; I would hire someone. Please tell me what you would do if you had just bought a home and saw this problem with the tiled steps. Thanks for any advice....

    Bookmark   February 11, 2011 at 11:48AM
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"Supposedly they should hold up in all kinds of weather, according to the installer."

It is very likely the tiles themselves will.

If they do not absorb water they will not be damaged.

It is the bond to the substrate that cannot hold up to repeated freeze thaw cycles.

Norther Virginia is often right on the snow-rain line for weather, and unlike the Northeast often has repeated freeze-thaw cycles throughout the winter.

It is what tears up our roads so badly and creates all the potholes every year.

It is also vary hard on exterior tile work, and even thin paver patios over concrete that are set in mortar.

The sand bed method requires more maintenance (the freezing often heaves the pavers) but at least breakage is reduced.

A few hours each spring to re-level the worst of the frost heaves pouts things back into shape for another year.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2011 at 7:30PM
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At this point, consider it a part of routine maintenance. I'd also go with the original installer. You might catch a break on the cost.

Not sure, but I wonder if the thinset should be mixed with latex instead of water. That's the advice I got from the John Bridge forum when I repaired an outdoor porcelain patio. Not sure if it applies to step-work. I'm in N. Virginia.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 10:50AM
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For the record, I live in southwestern Virginia, which is not quite as cold as the D.C. area, but we've had some nasty winters lately. Honestly, everyone, if I'd known that yearly repair of the tiles would be in my future, I would NEVER have had this done! Even homely cement steps would be preferrable. Maybe I should just have the whole thing dismantled, darn it! In any case, the original installer did offer to repair these in the spring, free of charge. So there is some good news.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 3:40PM
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