Ask the Carpenter: How to replace a few broken floor tiles

Ask the Expert Home Improvement
. AP

Q. Our three-season porch has a ceramic tile floor, which has held up well for more than 20 years — except for two tiles, which we think were lemons. They developed deep chips. Unfortunately, they’re in a very visible location. We do have spare tiles. Is it possible to replace only a couple of tiles instead of the whole floor?

ANDREA FRANK, Framingham

A. Absolutely, you can cut out, remove, and replace them. It certainly isn’t a difficult job if you have matching tile left over from the original installation.

Suggested steps:

Remove the grout. Use a grout-removal hand tool, or a multitool with a grout-removal blade, and completely take out all of the grout around the two tiles. The goal here is to isolate these two tiles from the rest.

Remove the tile. Use a hammer and chisel to remove part of the tile, then position the chisel under the remainder. Tap and pry it up from the subfloor.

Remove the adhesive. Use a putty knife or a chisel to remove the old adhesive from the subfloor.

Clean the floor. Vacuum and thoroughly clear the area of dust and debris.

Muddy the tiles: Apply tile thin-set to the subfloor and the tile with a notched trowel.

Insert and center the new tile. Ensure the grout gaps around the tile are equal and that the tile is flush and level with the rest of the floor.

Allow the tile to set, then apply the grout. Apply grout to the margins with a rubber float. Remove any excess grout while wet using a damp sponge.

Note: The new grout will be clean and bright — and won’t match. You can tint your grout by rubbing dirt (yes, dirt) into the new grout, or you can bleach and clean the old grout to match the new stuff. Your choice.


Q. I have a deck (roughly 14 by 12 feet) that extends from the first floor out over an unpaved backyard. The property is on a steep slope, and the area under the deck slopes as well. We use the underdeck area as storage for the yard and garden (an old picnic table that serves as a work area, and there are flower pots, barrels for yard waste, summer toys, lawn chairs, a wheel barrow, and other yard maintenance tools and materials).

Rain and snowmelt falls through the gaps in the decking, leaving grooves in the dirt underneath. I have seen pictures of sophisticated deck-drainage systems that direct water dripping through the spaces in the decking away from the area or into water barrels. But I think this is beyond my DIY construction abilities and costly, especially if done by a professional.

I’m wondering whether a layer of pea-size gravel on top of the dirt would prevent grooving and make the whole area look neater. What do you think?


A. Peastone, river rock, or ¾-inch crushed stones will work. That said, there are systems that will create a dry underdeck area. They have panels that attach to the sides of the deck joists, pitch toward the outer decking, and drain into a gutter. These systems are not difficult to install. A handyman or carpenter could do this for you. The projected cost to hire a contractor to add an underdeck ceiling and drainage system in Greater Boston is about $2,900, according to

Rob Robillard is a general contractor, carpenter, editor of, and principal of a carpentry and renovation business. Send your questions to or tweet them to @robertrobillard. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter at