Home Improvement

What Causes Drummy Tiles and How to Fix Them

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If your tile floor feels unstable and makes a hollow sound in spots when you walk, most likely, a few tiles have not bonded properly with the screed underneath and have become loose.

Also called “drummy” tiles by building professionals, this type of floor defect can be truly annoying, we agree. But what causes it? Well, this post will look into exactly that – the reasons behind drummy tiles. You’ll also learn how to fix them.

Table of Contents:

What are “drummy” tiles?

Drummy tiles are loose tiles, which, if tapped with a resonance-testing tool (a metal bar or rod), will produce a drummy type of sound. They are typically detected with ease on floor surfaces, as the latter are subjected to frequent foot traffic. Still, you can get drummy tiles on walls, too.

Broadly speaking, the tiles have not been glued correctly during installation but there may be, in effect, various more specific reasons behind the flawed function of the flooring, be it ceramic, porcelain, terracotta, etc.

Let’s look at these in more detail.

What causes drummy tiles?

There could be different causes for tiles to become loose, sound drummy or lift altogether over time. These may be related to structural issues with your property, poor workmanship or to other events. Most often drummy tiles are caused by poor tile fitting, structural problems of the floor, or even using the tiled area too early.

Poor tile fitting expertise

Laying tiles may seem simple enough. You watch a how-to video and rush to have a go at installing your kitchen floor. Unfortunately, even if you entrust the job to professional tilers, they may lack the high level of expertise needed for the substrate installation and preparation, as well as for the tile laying task itself. So, in reality, a functional tiling system with a long lifespan may not be the desired result if one or more of the following malpractices have occurred during the fitting process:

  • The tiler has used the wrong adhesive product and this has compromised the quality of the bond;
  • An insufficient quantity of a fixative material has been applied, resulting in void spaces and a weakened tiling system;
  • The technician has waited a bit too long before laying the tiles over the glue and this, again, has produced unsatisfactory results, regarding the strength of the bond;
  • The tiler has not prepared the substrate layer correctly (it was not cleaned properly or left to cure for long enough);
  • Wrong sized grout joints have been used, affecting tile movement (expansion/contraction);
  • Incorrect installation of movement/expansion joint profiles, which has compromised the strength of the entire system during movement;
  • Lack of expansion joints installation, resulting in failure to control/minimise tile movement;
  • Thermal exposure – temperature fluctuation is also closely related to tile movement and its control or lack of (tile growth and contraction need to be managed via correctly fitted expansion joint profiles).

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Structural reasons

Although rarely the culprits behind the presence of loose tiles, occasionally problems with the structure of your home or old tiling system may be to blame for your faulty tiled floor or bathroom wall.

  • Termite infestation
    Your timber subfloor or wall frame structure has been infested and thus, weakened by some type of wood-boring insects, including termites;
  • Moisture exposure
    Leaks, flooding, wet weather conditions (exterior tile surfaces), steam/humidity exposure (bathroom surfaces) can be the reasons for your tiles to debond over time and become drummy;
  • Tile over tile
    Naturally, if you lay tiles over tiles and the old ones are drummy, areas of the new surface will carry on making the same hollow sound.

Other reasons

Some of those can be avoided by using common sense and others – by envisaging them during the installation process:

  • Using the newly fitted floor too soon
    Walking on the tiles too soon after installation will jeopardise the bond;
  • Manufacturing faults
    Imperfections with the tiles, especially if they are not rectified edge tiles, may eventually result in “drumminess”, due to tiles not fitting perfectly and debonding in areas over time;
  • Cleaning methods
    Some types of tiles, if not sealed, can debond and become loose if exposed to harsh cleaning products or high-pressure washing methods.

What problems can drummy tiles cause?

The answer to this question is self-explanatory, you may say. Tiles are designed to stay put. And drummy tiles are in effect loose tiles. So, if you don’t take immediate actions to do the appropriate tile repairs, the affected tiles may crack, lift or buckle. The movement forces, which take place in a tiling system, may cause the adjacent tiles of drummy tiles to “tent” or the loose tiles to “lip” when the flooring has been installed poorly.

There have been even cases of tiles “exploding”, due to pressure forces, if the appropriate control of tile movement has not been applied during installation. Add incorrect adhesive-related procedures to the above and you’ll end up with a compromised tile floor sooner or later.

How to fix drummy tiles?

There are two ways of fixing a drummy tile problem. The first one involves removing the tiles and relaying them afresh. The second method avoids lifting the tiles and installing them again.

Re-tiling the entire floor or just an area, if the issue is relatively small

Sometimes, you’re better off redoing the poorly executed job all over again by hiring a specialist with proven credentials. The same goes if the drummy floor/wall area is not that big. A tile repairs expert should be able to lift the loose tiles, clean the substrate surface well from the old glue and relay the tiles by using the appropriate strong adhesive.

Injecting a specialised bonding product to fill the voids between the loose tiles and the screed

The other tile repairs technique, which experts use nowadays to rectify tile “drumminess”, involves the use of an advanced, injectable adhesive product, which is flexible, fast-acting and strong. The tiler drills several holes in the grout joints of the affected area and injects the solution, which fills the voids underneath the tiles. The method is effective, affordable and not as messy as retiling the surface.

What tile fixing technique is appropriate for your situation, you can find out, again, by seeking the advice of a professional and experienced tile expert.

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