How to Match Old Ceramic Tile
LESLIE: Well, ceramic tiles, you know they’re durable and easy to care for. But from time to time, you might need to make repairs to your ceramic-tile floor or your shower or your walls. And those repairs can vary from grouting repairs to even replacing some cracked tiles.
KEVIN: Hi, guys. Great to be here.
TOM: Well, this is actually something that happens an awful lot as you set out to do a bath remodel and it’s not always with an old house. Even a 10-year-old tile can sometimes be hard to get your hands on.
KEVIN: If you’ve got a little kid and he drops his tricycle on the bathroom floor because he’s riding where he shouldn’t be, you’re going to need a new tile from time to time. It’s true.
The number-one tip that I would give people is there might be or there should be an extra tile squirreled away somewhere. If you’re doing a tile job or someone’s doing a tile job for you, get a little extra, put it in a box, label it and put it down into the basement. That is the easiest way to get a perfect match.
TOM: And that is so true because in all of the years that I was a professional home inspector and I went through thousands and thousands of basements and attics, you found boxes of tile everywhere.
LESLIE: Did you always find tile?
TOM: They do – people do squirrel them away. They put them up in the floor joist, they put them in all kinds of crazy places.
LESLIE: Even if you mis-order a tile for a job and, say, you’re 10-square-feet short, suddenly that manufacturer is looking to match that dye lot. You really have to go back and take into consideration how was yours dyed, what was it baked at, to make sure that they match consistently, especially if you’re covering an area where it’s going to be obvious to the eye.
TOM: Exactly. Now, what if you searched high and low and you can’t find any extra tile? What are your options?
KEVIN: Well, go hang your head and cry because you didn’t do what you were supposed to do. But there are other options. I would start with a well-stocked, well-respected tile store. They’re going to probably be your best resource to find you that tile. Because they’re going to recognize what you have, they’re going to know the manufacturer, the style or such. And they’re really going to have good resources to dig deep and go far into the tile industry.
We’ve actually had good luck with one of the tile guys that we’ve worked with, where he’s able to turn a tile around, look at the back and just from either the markings or an indication on the back, tell us exactly where that tile came from, who made it and such. So a good tile store, a really experienced tile man or woman, they’re going to be your first line of defense.
LESLIE: Now, if you can’t get your hands on a tile genie, as you are able to do so, is it possible, without damaging a tile, to, say, move the refrigerator and take one from under there?
KEVIN: Absolutely. I mean we do it with wood floors all the time, right? You’re down to the last two or three square feet on a repair, you go into the closet and you harvest some of that wood. Well, do the same thing with tile. There are a lot of places where you’re not looking at it all the time or can’t see at all, as you point out, Leslie, underneath the refrigerator. Go harvest one of those tiles and that’ll save you a lot of time and energy trying to track down an exact match, because you know that that tile on the floor is going to be a match.
TOM: Now, if it’s really, really important to you, can you actually find tile companies out there that will make them for you to match?
KEVIN: Yeah, believe it or not, you can get custom-made tiles just for what you want. It’s going to be a little bit more expensive than the tile off the shelves. We’ve seen some that are about $30 a square foot but you’re not going to need much, so it’s not going to cost you a ton of money and it is going to save you a lot of leg work and a lot of research.
LESLIE: And then you can squirrel those extras away.
KEVIN: Buy a couple extra and be a good citizen: leave them for the people afterwards.
LESLIE: Now, let’s say you try your best, you’ve gone everywhere, they can’t match it, they can’t custom-make it, what can you do to fill that void but yet have the whole story make sense?
KEVIN: Well, now you’re out of magic and you’re sort of into artwork. Now you’re getting creative and you’re going to probably start thinking about an accent tile. You’ve got a little void in the floor or in the wall. You’re going to put in something different and so now, all of a sudden, you’re going to continue that accent maybe throughout the rest of the bathroom, the kitchen or the floor. And you’re going to make it look like it was a deliberate choice.
TOM: So fake it until you make it.
Kevin O’Connor from This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
KEVIN: My pleasure, guys. Thank you.
TOM: And for more tips just like that, including a great story about how to match old ceramic tile, head on over to ThisOldHouse.com.
LESLIE: And you can watch Kevin and the entire This Old House team on This Old House and Ask This Old House on your local PBS station.
TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by Stanley. Stanley, make something great.