Flooring and Carpeting/Tile floor on slab

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Question
After Superstorm Sandy our house was flooded with several inches of salt water and debris.
We have ceramic tile flooring on a slab. The insurance company states to re-grout the tile and not pull up.
What damage can the salt water do to the tile and is this re-grouting a viable option?

Answer
Thank you for your question James,

    Well...I took note of the origin of your question that was out of Texas so I have to admit that I had no idea that Hurricane Sandy reached so far away. Pardon my small attempt at a bit of humor but it did made me think. Ok so your house was involved with flooding and really any kind of flood has long reaching consequences to be sure. You do not mention if this was the main floor living area or a living area down in a basement knowing that many homes in the N/E have them. Seldom is the actual tile impacted by a flood whether it be salt water or water from a water heater. Even economical Ceramic Tile is impervious to water intrusion. Where the problem truly lay is beneath the tile. With water being hydraulic it can seek and source even the tiniest opening or crack and flow beneath the body of the tile itself. When you add the volume of water in relation to being flooded then there is a pressure added that can "drive" the water into those same places...follow me? It's not that water will run through the grout like a sieve. It will indeed wick down and through due to the weight of the water itself but it's speed if you will, will not be great. Where the real penetration comes from is the perimeter of the room at the baseboard. You see the tile install at the wall is completely open once water gets there and down. There is no grout there to slow the driving water. The edge of the tile and consequently the thinset below will have open cavities created by the combing action of the trowel evening out the thinset in preparation to place the tile. Now once again...water will not necessarily affect the thinset either once it has cured. Thinset is inert once cured and even if submerged will not break down for a very long time. So what is the real issue here. My basic concern James will be the sub-strate, what the tile is attached to. You already know that your drywall will wick water just like an oil lamp and certainly your baseboard and drywall will also be in need of a significant amount of replacement. If your home is a slab on grade and there is no basement then there is hope. The cement slab will pull any water down that may have leached beneath the tile itself, of course it will take time (perhaps weeks or months) for the moisture to evaporate or wick down to the ground beneath the slab. The question about the salts is valid as it will leave a typically white or dirty white residue behind but it should mainly be captured in the upper level of the grout joints as the water pass through the heavier/larger salts and or minerals will not they will be slowed and then captured before passing through...certainly the majority of it anyway. My personal opinion James is to simply see if a cleaning company can employ a water vacuum much like a carpet cleaner but designed to retrieve water flooding very quickly. This process can wet the joints and allow it to soak in a bit and they go over the surface pulling up the water and whatever minerals or debris back out of the grout. There are no caustic agents in salt water but perhaps because of the foreign substances that can come along with a flood so large, everything from fuel oil to any number of other chemical opportunities from garages and the like, I would hate to speculate. You should have a certified home inspector who know's how to identify tiles that have come loose from the sub-strate by listening for a "hollow" sound coming from the surface of the tile when a piece of metal is dragged over it. I always use a set of car keys when I am asked to check. The hollow sounding tiles will sound totally different from the tiles that are still bonded. When you hear it, you will immediately know it. So be sure to check this out prior to signing or agreeing to anything in regards to the insurance company...ok? Now....regrouting is a possibility, sure, it has become a much easier process than back in the day when I started. If the sub-contractor is experienced and careful it can be done...but...during the process there is power tools employed and vibration a consequence of the process so I will refer you to check for hollow sounding tiles "prior" to beginning to identify which ones (if any) and are marked and then test for any new ones afterwards to see if any portion of the floor has broken bond as a result of the labor. Ok James I hope this helps you with your problem, feel free to return anytime...

Perry V.  

Flooring and Carpeting

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Perry Vellenga

Expertise

Ceramic Tile/Marble. I can answer questions about floor preparation, tile selection, layout questions, performance of products, expectations of finish, compatabilities, questions about grout and epoxies, evaluating an installer, asking the right questions to check competence...more? 33 years this August 2012/ many years in commercial application from exterior finishes to Mall store fronts/ interior finishes like floor packages in stores inside Malls examples: The Limited, Lerner/NY, Lane Bryants, Bombay Co., Now involved in Residential new construction covering all types of interior finishes and designs.

Experience

I worked in an exclusive field of floorcovering called "Tenant Development" which is by invitational bid only, by way of a National bid list. These are large floor packages usually over 3500 sq. ft. of 18" x 18" Marble and Granite and many other types of Marble and sizes. They are specialty stores where the floor package can cost upwards of $50,000 for one store. I have also done "Structure" stores and J. Riggins stores, Lane Bryant,Express and Body Shop stores where wood flooring is used. Presently work for a National Flooring Company in the Residential new construction arena that covers most interior design elements..Granite Slab tops/wood flooring both job finished and prefinished ect..

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My response's are published all across the Internet and picked up by multiple Interior Design sites and Industry related web sites where people have questions...

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too many most of which don't count...

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