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Accentuate the positive with artistic tiles

One or a few cracked, loose or chipped tiles can downgrade the look and even function of an entire floor, wall or countertop, especially if they’re situated in a high usage or visible area. In a bathtub/shower or any wet location, marred tiles can lead to water damage to the substrate, causing musty odors, mold growth, loosening of tiles, etc.

There are a few clever solutions that can save you from these troublesome tiles with no major tile job necessary.

The most straightforward fix is to replace the tile with an exact replacement. But what if you can’t find a match? Especially in our older homes, finding replacements can be next to impossible. In this case it’s better to use a contrasting accent tile rather than a close-but-no-cigar mismatch.

Adding accent tiles allow you countless creative possibilities. They can bring art or visual interest to a plainly tiled floor or wall, even if there aren’t any tiles that need replacing. You can personalize a room, like painting a tile that reads, “Grandma’s Kitchen,” or add rubber ducky tiles around your kid’s bathtub. Because you’d only be using a few tiles, if you’re on a budget, you can choose pricey high relief or glass tiles to make a border around a vanity mirror, create a mosaic medallion in your foyer or accent a threshold. Options are endless.

Personalized artwork on bare new tile needs to be protected from foot traffic.

Here’s how to do custom design and seal accent tiles:

■ Choose a tile that’s properly rated for its location (i.e. high density for floors, water absorption for wet locations, etc.)

■ Clean off your accent tile with a household detergent. Prime the tile with an oil-based primer. Let dry following manufacturer’s instructions.

■ Use carbon paper to sketch, stencil or freehand an image or message on a tile. Choose from the following paints to be sure your artwork won’t scratch off: ceramic/porcelain paint and paint pens, enamel paint and oil-based paint. Keep Q-Tips and alcohol handy for mistakes. Let dry.

Ceramic/porcelain paints are applied to ceramic surfaces then baked in your oven for a glossy hard finish. You can’t properly use this product on tiles that are already installed. This paint is designed to be used without a primer.

■ Seal the tile with a clear oil-based polyurethane. Apply at least 2 coats following manufacturer’s instructions.

How to remove and replace a tile

Warning: Tile shards are very sharp. Wear safety gloves and glasses.

Breaking out the old:

■ Remove the tile by first scraping out the grout joints with a grout saw.

■ Punch small divots in a big X across the face of the tile with a nail set and hammer. At divot points, drill through the tile (but not through the substrate) to weaken it and create break points. Break out the tile in small pieces with a hammer and chisel.

■ Scrape away any remaining adhesive. Use a grout saw to clean the edges of the adjoining tiles.

Gluing and grouting in the new:

■ Spread tile adhesive on the back of the tile using the short end of the trowel or scraper. Run grooves through the glue.

■ Insert the tile, making sure it sits flush with the others. Check that grout lines are even and line up with the existing ones. Wipe away any glue that may have squeezed out. Allow it to dry overnight.

■ Fill in grout lines using a grout float to press the grout into the joints of the tile lines. Hold the float at an angle and pass over the area firmly in a diagonal direction.

■ With a damp sponge, gently wipe away the grout that remains on the face of the tile.

■ As the grout dries, a powdery residue will form; gently wipe it away with a soft clean rag, being careful not to wipe out any of the grout. Apply grout sealer following manufacturer’s instructions.

Norma Vally is a seasoned veteran of home improvement; her career includes four seasons as host of Discovery Home Channel’s Emmy-nominated series “Toolbelt Diva.” A columnist and author, Vally splits her time in Southern Nevada, Los Angeles and New York City. Follow her on Facebook at Norma Vally “Toolbelt Diva” and visit her at www.NormaVally.com. Email Norma@NormaVally.com.

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