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Advice on the restoration of Victorian geometric and encaustic tiled floors.

Advice on the restoration of Victorian geometric and encaustic tiled floors.

Removing Victorian floor tiles which are damaged beyond repair can seem fairly straight but the floor will not be constructed like a modern tiled floor so its worth reading the information below.

You need to remove tiles without incurring further damage to other surrounding tiles in the process.

  • Removing tiles using a hammer and chisel can cause shock waves to run through the substrate and tiles. Attempting to drill them out with a hammer action drill can have the same effect. Basically its a slow process to remove damaged tiles and replace them without causing further damage.
  • Grouting material will be made up of the same cement based mortar used to fix the tiles to the substrate, it will have bonded the tiles together to they are in effect one object, more akin to a mosaic.
  • When removing one tile, unless it's done with care you can find the adjacent tiles 'dinner plate' off the substrate, you now have more work to do!
  • The floors are of a monolithic fixing process which has little in common with modern tiling techniques - these floors were laid and imprinted into the green lime underneath. They have no real grout line between them so uplifting tiles can cause big sections to come loose.

Typical damage found to Victorian Tiled Floors



The damaged tile must first be separated from adjoining tiles, this prevent any shock waves crossing the tiny gap into adjacent tiles. We do this using various tools and follow a technique designed to cause the least amount of vibration to the floor. Cutting them out using a small circular diamond tool can be the most successful and allows the restorer to remove broken or damaged tiles with the least amount of impact on the adjacent tiles. A handy vacuum hose to remove the dust and debris as it is thrown up keeps the work site clean.

The lime and/or the portland cement substrate can appear to be in reasonable condition until you remove a section. The picture below shows an example of how the initial (base) layer of lime is separating from the portland cement screed laid over the top. A gap is forming which in this case is causing a dome (or tenting) on the surface of the floor. This was causing the tiles to break and become loose. Once we had dug down to the old sandstone flagged floor below we created a new screed to fix the tiles back down to.

Once the tile is out you need to replace it with a reproduction or an old tile sourced from elsewhere. There are a few tricks which make replacement easier but you will need to recess the area under the tile to accommodate new adhesive. As Victorian floor tiles are laid very close together (unlike a modern tiled floor) cleaning the edges of the adjacent tile will need to be carried out carefully to allow a new tile to be placed into the floor. The picture below shows a classic problem for the restorer, the yellow tiles shown in profile (lying on the chisel) are of a totally different thickness. One tile is around 14mm and the other barely 9mm - when the relaying Victorian tiles it helps to remember where they came from!! The reality is there is going to be a lot of work recessing a space for the thicker tile or a thick bed of adhesive for the thin tile. It also gives an indication of why pulling up large sections take so long to re lay. You cannot just flip them down quickly as there is a need for constant adjustment to make sure all the tiles are flat.

Replace the grout or preferably re-grout the whole floor, if  you do not do this you are running the risk of creating what can appear to be a 'patch' job. The colour of new grout will be different to the old grout unless care is taken to create camouflage. If the floor is to be cleaned afterwards spreading some of the slurry from the floor clean (with the floor machine) over areas which have been repaired can help to blend repaired sections. Flood grouting the whole floor definately seems to strengthen the floor as it tightens up semi loose tiles.

Damaged doorways are often a real issue as there is often nothing really supporting the floor and never was - a classic problem is there is effectively a large 'clinker' of lime just hanging in space which was then tiled over. The reason for this is often floor joists did not meet when suspended on a supporting wall, therefore there was a gap which was just filled with lime. Its not unusual to find yourself looking directly into a cellar or void when loose tiles in doorways are removed and the loose substrate beneath.

If you are using reproduction tiles there is only one company which produce tiles in the same imperial sizes that the Victorians used. Most reproduction tiles are in metric and fall short of the 152mm x 152mm required to produce a standard 6 inch tile. This is a real problem on a floor with a repeating pattern with no grout line.

To replace missing or broken encaustic tiles there are 4 options;

  1. Use a tile obtained online or from a recamation yard (hard to find if not impossible).
  2. Have a copy made (usual cost £700.00 for the mould then tile cost and delivery).
  3. Insert a blank tile.
  4. Insert a tile in the same colour scheme but a slightly different design ( a reproduction off the peg design)
  5. We make a reproduction copy (contact us for prices) significantly cheaper than anywhere else.

Remember that just because you may try and repair your floor with a reclaimed tile it does not mean the colour will be a precise match! There are huge variations in colour and age in the reclaimed tiles that float around on Ebay etc. The tiles you find may be older or younger than the ones in your floor or may have been under a carpet for 50 years - all of these factors effect the colour of the tile. Its for this reason a good reproduction can be preferable to a reclaimed tile. The picture below has an example of a yellow/buff coloured reclaim tile sitting near other tiles which have been used for a restoration project. The reclaimed tile does not marry into the floor as well as the other reproduction tiles even though they look like good matches due to wear on the tile and the usual speckling. The tile is just above the centre of the picture adjoining a blue encaustic tile which has been cut in half where the filed tiles meets the border. See if you can spot it its a 2 inch by 2 inch tile....

The above is a small introduction into repair work, the subject is fairly extensive and there is not enough room on a website to discuss it all but hopefully it is useful!

For any enquiries, information and a no obligation chat please phone Renew on 01484 686270 or alternatively send an email.