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we had our basement stairs tiled with ceramic tile, now the grout is breaking on some of them and the tiles are loose and coming off. they were applied directly to plywood. Can I fix them as they come loose or do I need to redo the who thing? And what do I use and how do I do this so it doesn't keep happening

  • A problem with tiling stairs....they will come loose from,the abuse of walking. You don't step directly center and therefore the step moved. I would repair each as they come loose using a siliconized grout, that comes in a caulk tube, as your grout and thinset. This will allow the tile to move and flex as the floor does also. Ways to avoid this and have grout again....more subfloor, cement backerboard or most plywood. This will make your steps thicker but also stop the step from a lot of flex. – Jeff Cates Mar 6 '17 at 14:07
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    A Jensen, we'd need more information about the structure of your stairs, the subfloor arrangement, and anything else that was done to prepare for tile in order to answer properly. Ceramic needs a very rigid subfloor, and therefore stairs are notoriously difficult. Chances are you can't fix the problem without stiffening the stair framing and thickening the subfloor, which would require a total redo. – isherwood Mar 6 '17 at 14:42
  • I know...meant it more as a question to the prep of the stair. But since they said directly to plywood, I guess I have an answer huh. – Jeff Cates Mar 6 '17 at 15:03
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If you are in the US and have a traditional stringer staircase leading to your basement there is almost nothing that you can do to prevent issues with a tile installation.

  1. There is too much movement in this type of staircase.
  2. Dimensional lumber moves too much.
  3. Unless there is a closed door at the top you have two climate zones hitting each other on the stairs.
  4. Basement stairs are about as steep as possible in most cases causing more stress on the stairs.

To get tiles to work you would have to add in supports under the stairs and into the framing on each side, put concrete board over stairs, possibly plywood under concrete board, and then a membrane. And even then you might still have issues.

Tiles look great on stairs if done right. I have mentioned before that I have rehabbed houses in Europe. I have gutted some 80 year old homes in France and never had to touch the tile floor/stairs - which after cleaning hold up better than a wood floor. However the tile stairs were laid on top of concrete 100% of the time.

Meaning unless you want to pour concrete stairs, don't tile. You can put some nice bullnose pine treads on the stairs with some oil based paint that will blend in just fine to tile and will hold up and look nice. Whatever you do to temporarily fix the issue is just going to cost you time/money/frustration. The tiles are a sunk cost, sink them.

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