How To Fix Tiles In A Swimming Pool
So you have a problem with the tiles in your pool. Maybe you have a few cracked tiles or chipped tiles, or more commonly you have a few that have fallen off and you
want to replace them. Before you start trying to stick the tiles back up on the wall there are a few things you need to consider - first and foremost is why did
the tiles fall off / break in the first place? If you do not address this extremely important question then it is very likely that any tiles that you repair will
simply fail again. The information on this page will teach you how to inspect for tile failure, how to fix them, and how to prevent your tiles from failing off again.
There are a number of factors that keep tiles on the wall, any of which can cause the tiles to fall off if there is a problem. What it boils down to is that if the substrate fails (substrate is the surface the tiles are mounted on) then the tiles will fail. If the substrate cracks, the tile most likely will crack with it. If the substrate delaminates, then the tiles will delaminate as well. In addition to these reasons for failure, improper installation is another reason why tile might fail. When installed and maintained properly the service life of tiles is extremely long.
Coping Urethane Bead - If water is able to get behind the tiles this will eventually cause a failure. The coping lip of the pool is intended to provide protection to the tiles. The single most common cause for tile failure in concrete pools is from this urethane bead failing over time and not being maintained properly. Where the vertical tile surface meets the underside of the pool coping cantilever there needs to be a flexible, waterproof transition. Many pools mistakenly will have a grout bead in this location which is incorrect. You can not seal these two solid surfaces with a solid connection bead - a flexible urethane bead must be used to allow for minor movement between these two surfaces. Once the water is able to access the joint between the tiles and the coping it will begin to deteriorate the concrete in this location. Eventually this will delaminate the tiles however pools in cold climate areas that experience freeze and thaw cycles will fail very quickly as the water will get behind the tiles and freeze which causes the tiles to pop off.
In the world of urethane beads and sealants there are literally hundreds of choices. Over the years I have encountered and tried dozens of different brands with varying degrees of success. The urethane that I have found that consistently outperforms every other brand is this NP1 urethane sealant. It is hard to work with, hard to clean up and you need good ventilation to work with it. On the plus side this urethane is by far the highest quality I have found for use as a flexible bead between the tile band and the underside of the coping. Just be sure to have a lot of paper towels and rags on hand to clean up any mess that you make. Also take steps to protect the tiles such as taping them off but be sure to pull the tape before the urethane bead dries or it will not come off cleanly.
Delaminated Coping - If the coping on your pool delaminates this is another way that water will be able to find a path behind the tiles which will cause cracking, delamination and failure. Many concrete pools have a mortar set stone or cast concrete coping. As these age, sections of this coping will delaminate. This will be apparent as these sections will have movement to them when you step on them but this might not always be the case. To determine if any of your coping stones have delaminated you need to inspect them for cracks visually, as well as test them for delamination by sound. Dragging a tool such as a hammer over the coping will reveal any sections that have become detached from the top of the pool wall. Any sections that have delaminated will make an unmistakable hollow sound as you drag the head of the hammer over the surface. If you have cracked or delaminated coping stones then this will almost certainly result in tile failure in this location. If you have tiles falling off in your pool then inspect this area of the coping in particular and you are very likely to discover that the coping in this area has failed.
In order to fix delaminated coping sections you will need to cut the mortar joints on either side of the failed section. You can then remove the delaminated piece of coping. It is not uncommon that you will need to take out the failed section in pieces. Hopefully you can remove and reuse the whole coping stone section however this is not always possible. Using a grinder with a concrete cutting disc to cut the grout joints is the best way to isolate the delaminated section. The surface of the pool wall will need to be chipped down with a chipping hammer (small jackhammer) or by using a diamond grinding cup wheel to grind down the top of the wall. The cup grinder is also useful for taking mortar off the underside of the coping stone if you are trying to reuse the same coping stone.
Improper Tile Installation - Another major cause for tile failure is if the tiles were not installed correctly to begin with. The most common problem is not using a modified thin set mortar product. Many forms of concrete and mortar have the ability to hold tiles to the wall however thin set is heavily modified which makes it bond much stronger than other forms of mortar. If modified thin set is not used to set the tiles then the tiles will certainly fail early. The next most common improper installation technique is neglecting to butter the back side of the tiles before putting them up on the wall. Thin set is applied to the pool wall with a notched trowel however you must also apply thin set to the back of the tiles directly. Tiles placed without back buttering will not adhere correctly to the substrate and will be much more likely to fail. The final cause for improper installation is due to attempting to place tiles over an existing thin set layer.
How To Prepare A Pool For Tile Installation
When tiles fall off they will tend to come off cleanly. If the tiles come off clean and without taking the substrate with it this will leave a smooth and flat surface
where the tiles used to be installed. Inexperienced tile installers will take advantage of this seemingly perfect surface to install tiles on - however this is sure
to be a problem. The old layer of thin set is not a suitable surface to install tiles on. The old thin set will prevent the new thin set from adhering
properly. For mortar to adhere to a substrate water must be able to permeate the surface. The old thin set will act as a barrier and prevent the new thin set from
achieving a true bond.
In order to prevent this problem you will need to take further steps before installing new tiles. In order to ensure that the new tiles will adhere correctly you need to chip all of the old thin set off before installing a new mud base tile preparation. Chipping the old thin set off is a time consuming and physically demanding process but one that is critical to ensuring proper adhesion of the new tiles.
Mud Base Preparation - Mud base is another way of saying mortar base. The concrete mix for mortar base is 3 parts sharp sand to 1 part normal portland cement. Additionally you need to add 1/3 part hydrated lime as well as a small amount of weldbond concrete adhesive. You need to acid wash the pool wall after chipping off the old thin set to clean all dust and debris away. usually 7 parts water to 1 part muriatic acid is used and applied via a plastic garden sprinkler / watering can. Once you have cleaned the area you can apply a concrete bonding slurry which is a mixture of water, portland cement and weldbond glue mixed to a thick molasses-like consistency. The mud base mortar is then troweled over the bonding slurry to a roughly flat finish. You then let the mud base begin to actuate (stiffen up) before working the mud base with a sponge float. The sponge float will help you to make the mud base perfectly flat and even as well as leaving the mud base with a rough texture. The rough texture is important to make sure the new thin set will have good purchase. Let the mud base dry completely, a minimum of 24 hours, before attempting to set new tiles.
If you only have a single tile to replace, or a very small failed tile section, you may be able to get away with simply using some thin set and sticking the tile back on. The tile will be helped to stay in place by the tiles surrounding it as well as the grout application. Anything more than a very small and isolated section of failed tile will require the mud base preparation process. The mud base process is a messy process and will result in significant staining on the interior surface of the pool. While you can attempt to keep the interior surface of the pool protected with tarps it is common to need to resurface the interior surface of the pool after major tile repairs.
This picture illustrates how a full tile band is typically replaced. In this particular pool the coping had failed almost completely and so a new coping was poured. Once the new coping is in place you can do the mud base for the new tiles as you see here.
The Correct Materials For Setting Tile
Whether you are setting a single tile or re-tiling your entire pool the materials that you chose to work with with have everything to do with how well your repair works.
Many pool owners unfamiliar with tile setting will chose products like epoxy to repair tiles which is not a good choice. If you have a single tile to replace then
perhaps you can use epoxy, however thin set mortar is the product that you should be using for anything more than a single tile.
A fortified thin set mortar like this product is suitable for setting pool tiles. This product is widely available from hardware stores and online. This product represents the minimum quality level that you need to have with your thin set. Many thin set products sold in hardware stores are made for indoor tile setting applications so be sure to choose a decent quality, fortified thin set like this one.
In the world of thin set products for swimming pool tile applications there is no better product than Laticrete thin set. This is also a fortified thin set mortar however it is a much higher quality product which helps to ensure a waterproof tile application and maximum tile adhesion to the substrate. This product is also white in color which is a major advantage over grey thin set. As you set the tile on the wall you will have thin set that bleeds in between the joints in the tile. If you use grey thin set and later use a white grout for your tile you will be able to see all of the places where the thin set bled through. Matching your thin set color to your approximate grout color is a very smart move that will save you a lot of fine detail work and give you a higher quality finished look. Laticrete products like this thin set mortar are not available through hardware stores - you will need to either order it online or locate a concrete products supplier local to you that carries the Laticrete brand.
The most common grout that you should use for grouting pool tiles is a sanded grout product. Grout is available in every conceivable color so you will have a lot of options available to you. Sanded grout is suitable for slightly larger grout joints like you would have on tiles 2" big or larger. If you have tiles 1" in size or smaller you may be better off using a non-sanded grout product.
Just as with the thin set, you can spend more money on grout and get a much higher quality product. In addition to sanded grout and un-sanded grout there is also a third option which is epoxy grout. Epoxy grout is a much longer lasting and water resistant product than traditional grouts. Epoxy grout does take more effort and more time to install as well however the service life of epoxy grout is as much as 3 times as long as standard grout products.
Tiles For Use In Swimming Pools
Not any tile can be used in a swimming pool. A swimming pool is a harsh environment and the wrong tile will definitely be a problem if you use it. Typically ceramic
tiles are not used in pools. Porcelain tiles are much stronger than ceramic tiles and as a result you should always choose a porcelain tile over ceramic for
In addition to porcelain and ceramic tiles, glass tiles are commonly used in pools. Glass tiles are amazing looking however they are as much as ten times as much money per square foot versus entry level porcelain tiles. If you want to go with glass tiles or a glass tile mosaic in your pool then you had better be in love with the look of them as you will certainly be paying a premium to have them. Natural stone tiles are sometimes used in swimming pools with varying degrees of success. Natural stone which is dense is good for pool applications however lightweight or porous natural stone may not be a good choice from a longevity perspective. If you go with natural stone be sure to choose a thin set product made specifically for natural stone installations.
Frost Proof Tile - If you are located in an area that gets below freezing temperatures then you must use a frost rated pool tile. This will drastically reduce the amount of tile options that you have available to you. Depending on your geographic location you may have trouble finding plentiful tile options that are freeze rated. Do not attempt to install non-freeze rated tiles on a pool in a cold climate. The tiles will most likely fail after the first freezing cycle and will certainly not provide you with the longevity that you expect to get from a pool tile installation.
Tile setting is a skill and an art form. If you have never set tiles before it is possible that you can do this type of work successfully however you need to be aware that you may struggle to make the tiles look as good as possible. Setting a few displaced tiles is no problem for most pool owners however installing all new mud base and tile on your pool should probably be left to professional tile installers.
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