Can I Screed Over Old Quarry Tiles? Is It Safe?

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I had a job come through to screed a floor and then to lay some vinyl flooring . Easy enough until I realised it was to screed over old quarry tiles!

That’s when it got interesting,

Laying screed on an uneven concrete floor is pretty much straight forward with today’s off the shelf self leveling screeds.

Mix, pour, trowel (add a bit of skill too 😉 )

And you would think, it would be the same for quarry tiles, but I’m afraid it isn’t.

So, Can I Screed Over Quarry Tiles??

In my honest opinion…..No.

Here’s what I found out…

Quarry tiles are found in old period properties, and at the time they were laid, no DPC (Damp Proof Course) was used or ever needed.

Quarry tiles were laid on a wet screed or ash over mud, clay sand and even chalk.

If they were laid in a terraced building, the wet screed or ash would also be laid over smashed rock, wooden splinters, and building scraps from the adjacent buildings.

But again, all this would be sitting on moist soil.

Eventually water vapour from the moist soil will travel up and out of the floor.

If the tiles become sealed with any kind of DPM (damp proof membrane) or screed of that matter, the water vapor will become trapped.

It will then build up and either burst/crack through the screed or it will travel, usually straight into, and up your walls, hence rising damp.

My two suggestions (and I stand firmly by them), would be to, either remove the quarry tiles, dig it all out and lay a concrete base that complies with your local building regulations.

Or keep them…

Quarry tiles are the “in” thing again, give them a good clean and re-grout and seal.

But My Flooring Specialist Says Different!?

Flooring specialist will have processes to lay flooring on top of quarry tiles, at the end of the day, they lay floors,nothing more.

They aren’t structural engineers or builders etc, If you want it, they will lay it to their very best on any substrate.

Browsing and talking to flooring specialists on numerous forums about laying floors on quarry tiles, a process of sandwiching kept cropping up…

Firstly, paint the quarry tiles with a liquid damp proof course, let it dry.

Secondly, screed over it with a self leveling compound, and let that dry.

Thirdly, paint again with the liquid DPM and let that dry.

Sandwiching will give you a nice flat surface and also eradicate any water vapour coming up through the screed and ruining your flooring.

A great process, I was actually in favour of this method.

But again, the problem would still be there, water vapour still has to go somewhere and again would travel straight into the surrounding walls.

So even though your flooring specialist says “yeah no problem we can lay that, easy”.

Just be aware your future damp problem (which can be an expensive fix) and the smell that will come with it, isn’t your flooring specialists problem, it’s yours!

What About Restoring Old Quarry Tiles Instead?

Restoring old quarry tiles is very rewarding, it can either be easy or extremely hard and stressful.

If your tiles are only covered by carpet or wooden laminate flooring, they will just need a good scrub, a little scraping and then sealing.

But on the other hand, if they are covered in ten tonne of screed, tile adhesive and also bitumen (oh my!) then it becomes very, very hard work.

Your first assumption will probably be to start whacking away with a hammer and chisel.

Don’t, step away from the hammer and grab a wallpaper stripper!

Let’s steam ahead!

Using a wallpaper stripper is a trade secret to removing tile adhesive, and thin screeds of self leveling compounds

The steam generated from the stripper will soften tile adhesive and screed making it easier to remove.

This process will take time and could last days or even weeks depending on the size and severity of your floor.

Chemical Warfare!

Once you’ve removed the bulk of the adhesive and screed, a brick acid/cement remover will now be used.

The acid remover will break down the calcium within the cement screed making it easier to remove the small awkward leftovers.

Grab a hard bristled brush and scrub the acid into the quarry tiles.

As you scrub, you will notice the leftovers of screed and adhesive start to breakdown.

Once your happy that all the screed is removed, use a wet and dry vacuum cleaner to suck up all of the residue.

Get Scrubbing!

After all the screed is removed (in some cases) glue will be left over from old lino or stick down tiles.

If this is apparent, then you will have to resort to using a diamond scrubbing pad on a rotary buffer.

Rotary buffers can be hired from most local tool hire places or if your lucky enough, you can pick one up second hand off eBay, I’ve seen them come up between £50 and £100!

Repair Time

If any repairs need doing, do them now. Old quarry tiles can be matched up at most tiling showrooms or reclamation yards.

Below is a list of reclaimed quarry tile supplies to hopefully help you find a match…

Hadley Reclaimed are based in Staffordshire and provide a delivery service

Vintage Floor Tile Company are based in Kent and specialise in geometric design quarry tiles.

Ruabon Sales are based in Wrexham and are one of the few remaining quarry tile producers in the UK.

Once you have removed the broken tiles and tidied up the area, pour in some self leveling compound, once it dries use some tile adhesive to bed the new quarry tiles and then grout.

Once you’ve cleaned up the repair, leave the floor to dry overnight.

Sealing

Before you can begin to seal, you will have to conduct a damp test using a moisture meter.

If the moisture level of the floor is too high the sealer will not take, wait another day and preferably have the heating on to speed up the drying.

Amazon stock a very affordable moisture meter the Brennenstuhl Moisture Detector MD, not only is it good for quarry tiles, it also checks for moisture in other building materials including plasterboard.

Once your satisfied the floor is dry, you will need to apply a breathable sealer.

If you apply a non breathable sealer the floors water vapour will not be able to escape (and like I said earlier), this will cause the vapour to then travel into your walls, causing rising damp.

Looking After Your Hard Work

I would suggest when it comes to cleaning your quarry tiled floor invest in a Ph Neutral Cleaner.

DO NOT use any bleach’s, washing up liquids or floor cleaners that DONT have a Ph neutral balance.

If they don’t have a neutral Ph balance the acids within those cleaners will etch away at the sealer, ruining all your hard work.

Watch How Its Done

In this video watch how a 100 year old quarry tile floor is restored.

I Also Need To Warn You About Efflorescence…

Efflorescence is a white powdery coating you may have seen on damp bricks, damp walls and floors.

This white powdery coating can be seen on any porous building material as long as there is water present.

Once water is inside the porous material, it will then start to dissolve salts and minerals within building materials (your quarry tiles for instance).

As the moisture evaporates it will leave behind mineral salts on the surface of the building material, these salts are then visible as a white powdery substance.

like I said earlier, most quarry tiled floors don’t have a DPC beneath them so there will be moisture present anyway.

We don’t want to go an increase the moisture level anymore by chucking tons of water over the floor and encouraging the formation of efflorescence.

So wherever possible use a gel acid wash. A gel acid wash will encourage you not to use so much water and the acid will also counter act any alkaline salts trapped in the quarry tile floor.

Did This Post Help?

Are you regretting asking “Can I Screed Over Old Quarry Tiles?”.

Maybe, but I think its good that you know the in and outs of such a difficult decision and task.

At the end of the day it’s up to you what path you take, restore, dig out or just go ahead and screed over the top them, at least you know what the outcome will be if you do the latter.

In all honesty I would refurbish them instead of covering them.

I’m a member of the Tilers Talk group on Facebook, and when Speaking to the lads in the group, they were in agreement to restore them.

Some of the younger lads would lay a new floor over the quarry tiles but they would get the customer to sign an “agreement of no liability” if the floor was to fail.

Also, in this post I’ve shared only one method to restore quarry tiles, each floor will be different, it would make more sense to get a specialist in to assess your quarry tiled floor and take the best course of action.

I’ve heard and seen great results by the Tile Doctor network, so check them out!

Each and every week I put my heart and soul into providing you with great content to help with any DIY jobs around the home.

If you think this post could help someone you know, please share.

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