How Hard Is It To Install a Pocket Door?

How hard is it to install a pocket door if you use a kit? How tricky is it to make the hole in the (plasterboard, interior, non load-bearing) wall?

Pocket doors are great.  They provide privacy and they contain sound, yet they disappear when you don’t need them.

Too often they are used only in extreme circumstances:  that tiny downstairs bathroom where the door hits the toilet, the kids’ bedroom where an extra few square feet of space is premium, etc.

Often I’m amazed that builders don’t put more pocket doors in homes, so that homeowners like you don’t have to install them retroactively–a far messier job than if they were installed in the first place.

How hard?  Pretty hard, even if you use a pocket door kit.

Instead of making a hole in the wall, you remove the entire wall section where the pocket door will go.  Everything:  plasterboard, studs, header, trim.  Then you build a new wall section that has the pocket door framing in it.

Yes, it does help that your wall is not load-bearing.

At least you’re not dealing with the problem of maintaining your house’s structural stability.

Plasterboard or drywall, it doesn’t matter, since it all comes out anyway.

If you relish a semi-big project with lots of carpentry, you can do it.  But if you have any trepidation about your abilities, then hire a carpenter.

Can You Cut Glass Tile With a Wet Tile Saw?

Q:  Can you cut glass tile with a wet tile saw or do you need to use a different kind of tool? Thanks.

A:  True, some people say that you can’t cut glass tile with a wet tile saw.  Glass behaves differently than ceramic, porcelain, or natural stone under the blade of a wet tile saw.

But which blade?  Certainly not the same blade.

In discussing cutting glass tile, About Glass Tile mentions that, if you do want to use a wet tile saw, you need to use a diamond electroplated glass tile blade.

So, yes.  You can run glass tiles through a tile saw.

Or…a Glass Tile Nipper


Alternatively, the cheap way to go about it is to buy a glass tile nipper.  You can get these at your local hardware store and typically cost less than fifteen bucks.  These are a little different from your usual ceramic tile nippers, which have metal blades.  The glass tile nippers use wheels that are reminiscent of a tin can opener.

Usually, you can only cut 1/4″ thick tiles.  But your tiles probably won’t even be that thick, so it doesn’t matter.  And of course, they are only good for mosaic glass tiles.

Does a Skylight Add to Your Property Value?


Q:  My wife and I are having a, er, disagreement.  We want to put in a skylight.  She says that it will add to our property value, I disagree.  We both want a skylight for the sake of having a freaking skylight.  That much is certain.  It’s just this stupid detail about adding value to the house that we can’t get past.  Help.  What you think, Mr. Expert-Dude?

A:  Hold it there.  Before you two start a wresting match, I’m going to put on my referee stripes.  Sit back in your respective corners and listen up.

Whenever you read sales materials for skylights, they say stuff like “adds value to your property.”  Agreed.  Light:  valued.  Especially if you live in Godforsaken outposts like Seattle, Washington.

Light is a value.  Skylights look great.  They are impressive.

But when we turn “adds value to your property” around and make it “property value,” we’re talking a whole ‘nother thing.  Property value is a real estate idea, in which adding or modifying aspects of your house will cause your property to be valued higher in the event of an appraisal or sale.  It’s a kind of “credit and debit” system that doesn’t yield to subjectivity.  Add an addition, get $120,000 lumped into your “credit” side.  Replace shag with hardwood flooring, get $5,000.  These are imaginary examples, but the core truth remains:  add something, get more property value.

Does it translate to skylights?

If so, only so negligibly as to not be worth it.  You need to make major changes to see any kind of property value uptick.  For example, replacing all of your 27 decades-old aluminum-framed windows with double-paned low-e windows–that will effect a change.

But once you have those 27 new windows, adding a 28th or 29th window will not cause anyone to bat an eye.  And a skylight, guess what?  It’s considered a window.  A nice one, a cool one, but a window nonetheless.

While you’re at it, check out this Velux Daylight Simulator.  It gives you a nice idea of how the transit of the sun affects inside lighting through your windows and skylights.

Image:  (c) Velux

Can I Dig Out My Crawlspace By Hand?

Q:   I want to work on my foundation.  I want to dig out my crawlspace into a full basement and stuff like that.  How hard is it?

A:   Have fun.

Foundation work is serial killer work. You feel grim and mean. You work in the dark and mix tubs of concrete by the light of flickering bare bulbs. You dig dirt with shovels and spades. And when the work is so tight that you cannot use shovels, you switch to hand trowels. And then you resort to the most base level, clawing the dirt with your fingernails.

You are in the tradition of the John Wayne Gacys of this world, late-night work in the earth. There is little difference between you and them, except you’re not burying bodies.

Every shovel-swing is another toast to the John Wayne Gacys of this world.

And somewhere there is a bare bulb swinging on a cord.

And for some goddamned reason, Elton John’s “Yellow Brick Road” playing on continuous rotation on the stereo.

Pure madness. Your wife is visiting relatives in Cincinnati, and any thing could happen. Any damn thing.

How to Set Tile With Clean Grout Lines

All tiles have some imperfections in them and tile setters are not always perfect either. These two situations can lead to poor tile placement that causes some variations in gaps between tiles and crooked runs. Keeping clean grout lines is one of the most important parts of tile setting, and it requires constant attention during the installation.

Beginning right is the key to keeping clean grout lines. A room that is a standard rectangle or square serves as a good example on how to lay out tiles and have a good looking finished product.

Practical Tips for Preparing and Setting Tiles

  1. Measure the room at each end and place a mark on the floor in the center of all four sides. Use a chalk line to make a mark from the center to the opposite center in both directions so that the room is marked off into four quadrants. The idea is to have the same amount of tile showing on the last run at one wall as on the floor at the opposite wall.
  2. Tiles should be placed beginning at the cross section in the center of the room and continuing until reaching a wall. This is a single line of tiles to begin with, which keep their edge on the straight line. Once the initial line is in place, tiles should be laid back from the line to complete the first quadrant.
  3. Moving to the opposite side of the first run of tiles and completing the second quadrant finishes half the room, and if tiles were place properly, they should have clean grout lines.
  4. Beginning at the center of the room and following the chalk line in the opposite direction should result is a near perfect line of tiles down the center of the room, and then the two remaining quadrants can be completed.

It may sound rather simple to set tiles so that they look uniform, but clean grout lines are often hard to accomplish because one tile may be off just enough to cause difficulty in staying straight with the line.

Tips For Setting Tile for the First Time

  • Rooms may not be completely square, and it is never completely possible to follow the initial line and the crossing line for that reason. Whichever line you follow first is the most important one. The crossing line is more to give you a starting point for the first tile, and if you cannot follow it, don’t worry as long as you end up with clean grout lines.
  • Guessing at the width of the grout line is a good way to make a mistake. It is best always to use spacers between tiles so the gap remains the same from start to finish. The hard plastic type of spacers are best because they don’t compress the way the softer types do.
  • Clean grout lines are also dependent upon tiles matching up at each corner. Using a straight edge to make certain that the tiles are flush will also make the floor feel more uniform under foot and prevent tripping problems caused by high corners.
  • Cleaning the edges of tiles as you go prevents remnants of adhesive from drying on tiles and their edges. Grout lines won’t be clean if adhesive is left protruding from the grout.

As you can see, getting the first line of tiles set properly makes all the difference between a good tile job and a poor one. Following the few steps here will give the tile job a professional appearance.

Replacing Tile Grout to Renew a Wall, Countertop, or Floor

The grout is an important embellishment of the tile work. In some applications, tiles fit closely together so there is little grout to begin with. This is often on bathroom walls or in cafeteria tile work, and some people choose to use a fine caulk bead to touch up the grout instead of replacing tile grout.

More commonly, replacing tile grout is a bigger maintenance procedure because grout lines are anywhere from 3/16″ to as much as 5/8″ wide. The trick in replacing tile grout is to get the grout out without damaging the tiles, and you will need a special tool to do the job right.

Tile Grout Saw

This tool is a very inexpensive one, and not very large. Anyone who expects to use an electrical contraption for grout removal will be disappointed with the grout saw. It is a simple wooden handle that has a straight piece of metal attached to the bottom and facing in the same direction as the handle.

The process of cleaning out the grout consists of applying downward pressure on the metal cutter and pushing and pulling it back and forth in the gap between the tiles. The metal cuts out most of the grout and doesn’t damage the tiles as long as the operator is careful to keep the saw from jumping out of the grout joint.

A large area can take some time to complete with this simple tool, but it is important to have patience and not make mistakes trying to finish quickly. A slip causing a tile to be scratched only adds more work to the process.

It is not necessary to get all the old grout from between tiles, as long as none remains stuck to the edges of tiles and enough new grout can be placed in the space to hide whatever remains.

Installing New Grout

When all the grout has been removed that is necessary for the replacement, the dust should be carefully removed and the tiles cleaned. A close examination should be made to be certain that no part of the initial grout will be seen before mixing the replacement grout.

Replacing tile grout is a messy job, and you will need a rubber grout trowel, a firm sponge, buckets with clean water, cleanup rags, and paper towels. There is no need to attempt to place the grout in the grooves if you are using a standard mortar type material; just drop a glob on the surface and begin working it into the joints with the rubber or foam bottom trowel.

It takes some practice to get the knack for replacing tile grout. First, the trowel should be cocked to make about a 45 degree angle with the surface of the tile. The grout should be pulled across the surface at diagonals to the grout lines, and the direction the trowel travels should be alternated.

For instance, if looking down on the tile, one pass of the trowel would be from the top right corner to the bottom left, and the next would be from the top left to the bottom right.

Several passes are necessary to push the grout entirely into the void.

Once the grout is installed, it is necessary to wait for around fifteen minutes before beginning the cleaning process. A damp cloth used for this purpose should be rinsed often and the water should be replaced as necessary to get as much of the residue off the tiles as possible. At the same time, pressure has to be light so grout won’t be pulled out of the joint.

Once the tile looks relatively clean, it should be allowed to dry before buffing with the paper towels to remove any residue.

Fixing Loose Tiles on the Wall or Floor

In most cases, fixing loose tiles is a fairly simple undertaking. If a tile is loose, it should be easy to take up from the floor or off a wall. Another reason for removing a tile and replacing it is because the adhesive has a void in it that will eventually lead to the tile cracking. This happens when the original installer does not sufficiently apply the adhesive or there are dry pockets in the adhesive mix.

Removing Tile Adhesive

A tile that has come loose so that it can be removed without applying pressure is the easier situation when fixing loose tiles. If the tile is to be reused, any adhesive must be removed from the back before attempting to reseat it. Depending on the type of adhesive used during installation, heat may cause it to soften and liquefy enough to be wiped off. This can be accomplished with a clothing iron used to heat the face side of the tile.

If the adhesive does not contain polymers, heating may not have much effect. In that case, it is a meticulous job to chisel the mortar off the tile without breaking it. Fixing loose tiles is less work if new tiles are used for replacement. When heating works to loosen the adhesive, it is best to apply the iron to the tile while it is in place. That will loosen the adhesive on the floor or wall so that the tile can be removed easily.

It is important to have all adhesive removed from the old tile and the floor or wall behind it. The grout that goes around the tile should also be removed so that nothing interferes with reseating the removed tile. Mineral spirits on a rag will clean adhesive with polymers quite well.

It is very easy to damage tiles around the removed one when attempting to take out the grout. The best way to reduce chipping or breaking tiles is to move the chisel along the side of the tile. Do not hammer a chisel back toward tiles that remain in place.

Reinstalling the Tile

Once tile grout and adhesive have been cleaned away, new adhesive should be installed on both the back of the tile and the surface where it is to be attached using a small toothed trowel. After the tile is set into the opening, a roller that is long enough to overlap on each side onto the tiles around it can be used to roll across and make certain that the tile is flush with the tiles around it.

Once the tile is pressed into place, any excess tile adhesive should be cleaned out of the space around the tile and off of all tiles before it sets. A damp cloth or one with mineral spirits will remove it. The tile may move out of line with the other tiles, so the last step in fixing loose tiles is to use tile spacers in the grout joints while the adhesive sets.

Based on the location of the replaced tile, it might be very easy for someone to step on it while it is resetting. Always put something around the replaced tile as a warning for people to stay away. It is best to wait twenty-four hours for the adhesive to set even though it generally doesn’t take that long to dry.

Installing Grout

It is always best to use the same brand and color of grout to get the closest match possible to the existing materials. If the grout is sanded, you will need to seal it about seven days after it is placed.

Each step in the process of fixing loose tiles is important if the job is to be performed properly.

The Problems With Tile Chip Repair

Have you ever seen repair jobs that were done so poorly that it would have been better if nothing had been done at all? That is what you may find with tile chip repair if the person performing the work is not well rehearsed in how to complete the task properly.

Not every tile chip repair should be attempted in the same way as another, and in some cases, the trial and error method might be your best course of action. Remember anything you do that can be undone is perfectly fine to try, but if you mess up a tile, you increase the amount of work necessary for the tile repair job. It might even cost more money for materials, plus more time to perform the work.

Tile Repair – Establishing a Course of Action

Anytime you deal with existing tile work, the least amount of change required, generally the better the outcome will be. If the damaged tile has only a hairline crack, you should consider if a repair will even be an improvement.

If the grout is not cracked also, using a resin product that is a match in color to fill the crack is one option to consider. With a hairline crack, the problem is in getting anything into the tiny crevice. A surface application will usually be very obvious and won’t stay in place for long.

If you cannot find anything that will work as a filler for tile chip repair, you may have to replace the tile. This is the most drastic action to take, but often the only one that will offer a suitable solution. If there are no tiles that will match the existing, you may have to rethink any type of repair.

Replacing a Tile

If you have some extra tiles left that match those on the floor, counter, or other surface, there should be no problem in making a replacement that blends with the existing. Tiles do not usually fade over the years like some materials do. The harder part to match may be the grout around the replaced tile because it will fade, stain, and age making it look different than when it was first installed.

The removal of a tile must be accomplished without damaging others around it, and the surrounding grout and thin set mix beneath the old tile have to be completely removed, too. The entire area should be cleaned thoroughly so no grit remains that can interfere with setting the new tile.

When placing the new tile in a bed of thin set, a straight edge should be used to make sure that the new tile is flush with all other tiles at each corner. Once the tile is seated properly, it should be left to set without being disturbed for about 24 hours to assure that the mortar is dry. Then the grout is applied.

Sanded grout can be very difficult to match because you won’t know how it will look until it dries. Even if you have some saved grout from the original tile job, you can’t really expect it to match if it has been a year or more since the installation.

Sanded grout should be sealed about a week after it is installed. This helps prevent staining, and if sealing is performed each year, it may help to prevent a change in color over time. Sanded grout that is taken care of properly should be easier to match when a tile chip repair is performed.

If the grout is an epoxy or other type of hybrid, matching to the existing is much easier because these materials retain color better than sanded grout. In some cases, it is almost impossible to tell when a tile chip repair has been performed when epoxy grout is used.

Again, every repair of a chipped ceramic tile is different based on several variables. A repair job usually requires more skill than installation of new ceramic tile because it has to be handled carefully so a repair is not so visually obvious.

Shower Tile Types: Not Every Tile Can Be Used in The Shower

Just because you’ve got a plethora of tiles to choose from at your local tile shop doesn’t mean you can use any and all of them in your shower.

Due to the very high amount of moisture, only certain tiles can work in the shower.  Couple that with the need for skid resistance (for the shower floor pan) and you’ve got a number of factors to satisfy before you can find the right type of shower tile.

Best Shower Tile Material

For showers, you’re looking for any type of glazed ceramic or porcelain tile.  “Vitreous” means that water absorbs into the surface of the tile very relucatantly–if at all.  So, with truly glazed, vitreous tile, the surface is completely waterproof, and the grout seams are the only potentially non-vitreous area you will need to worry about.  Not to worry, though, grout lines can be sealed.

What About Slate For the Shower Floor?

Slate Shower

Slate looks great, and can be used to some degree on shower walls.  But slate and other non-vitreous natural stones will need to be sealed.  Never use these materials for shower floor pans.

But if you’re dead-set on slate in your shower, use tile that looks like slate.  These are regular waterproof porcelain or ceramic tiles that tile manufacturers have mimicked to look just like slate.

The Best Size of Shower Floor Tile

In addition to the composition noted above, shower floor tile works best in smaller sizes.

  • Large Tiles – Large tiles such as 12″x12″ or even larger (16″x16″) are the absolute worst for shower floor tile.  They are slippery and, to put it frankly, they look weird on shower pans.  That’s because you will only be able to fit 4-8 of these large tiles on the shower pan, and this causes the eye to note the grid pattern.  Not only that, this necessitates lots of cutting of tiles.
  • Medium Tiles – Medium tiles such as 4″x4″ or 6″x8″ can be used.  As noted above, the smaller the better.  But the best of all are…
  • Mosaic Tiles – Mosaic tiles are excellent on shower floors for two reasons.  First, they create lots of grouted seams, which provide great slip resistance under your bare feet.  Second, these smaller tiles allow you to better form the tiles to the slope in the shower pan, needed to drain water.

Pictured Above: Slate shower from CJ’s Custom Tile, a company owned by Damon Johnson servicing the Oklahoma City/Edmond areas.

Tile Grout Removal Tool: Does This Exist? Where To Get It?

If you’re got nasty, stained tile grout, sometimes the easiest option is simply to rip it out and replace it.  Cleaning tile grout can often take as long as a full-out replacement.

But how do you remove tile grout without damaging the tile?

Many products claim to remove grout from tile.  Let’s take a look at the main ones:

1.  Flathead Screwdriver and Hammer



Hammer and flathead screwdriver are the traditional method of chipping out tile grout.  Unless you have just a small portion of grout to remove, this method will tire you out quickly, leading to inevitable tile damage.

  • Type:  Manual
  • Cost:  Around $3-5
  • Effective (1-10):  1

2.  GroutGetter



A slight improvement over the screwdriver/hammer method, the GroutGetter has a triangular head to better gouge out grout with less impact to the tile.

  • Type:  Manual
  • Cost:  Around $10
  • Effective (1-10):  3

3.  Dremel Tool


Image:  Dremel

The Dremel is a 12V rotary tool which, though not specifically designed to cut out grout, has countless interchangeable heads that will accommodate this use.

  • Type:  Electric
  • Cost:  Around $100
  • Effective (1-10):  8

4.  Ridgid JobMax Combo


Image:  Ridgid

This multi-tool set from Ridgid features a JobMax™ power base handle with a Multi-Tool head that includes saws to cut through tile.

  • Type:  Electric
  • Cost:  Around $200 at The Home Depot
  • Effective (1-10):  6

5.  The Grout Remover



The Grout Remover is a novel concept.  Rather than cutting or zipping out the grout with a rotor, The Grout Remover “vibrates and reciprocates which helps eliminate damage to the existing tiles during the regrout process.”

  • Type:  Electric
  • Cost:  $69-$149
  • Effective (1-10):  ?