Tool Rentals for the DIY Weekend Warrior:
Use Rented Tools to Remove an Old Tile Floor

by Joseph Truini

There are times when it's best to hire a professional contractor to remodel your home, especially if it's a complicated or extensive renovation. However, that doesn't mean you can't still flex your DIY muscles. Do the demolition work and you'll save a significant amount of money, and present the contractor with a clean slate.

Demolition work is well within the capabilities of even novice do-it-yourselfers. It doesn't require any particular skill—it's more brute force than subtle finesse—but it does require a few specialty tools, which you might not own, but you can rent.

For this project, we'll discuss the techniques and tools needed to tear up an old ceramic tile floor and prep the subfloor for a new tile floor. This is a very common project these days as more and more homeowners are updating their homes by replacing outdated ceramic floor tile with glazed-porcelain or natural-stone tiles.

Here are some of the tools normally required to remove an old tiled floor. Again, if you don't own these tools, you can rent them:

Caution: Note that demolition work is dusty, dirty and potentially dangerous, so be sure to always wear safety goggles, hearing protection, dust mask or respirator, work gloves, work boots and kneepads.

  1. Begin by using a flat bar to pry up the transition moldings from around the perimeter of the tiled floor. The moldings, which are usually made of wood, thin metal or marble are installed across thresholds and cased openings, where the tile floor abuts adjoining rooms or exterior doorways.
  2. There's no easy—or neat or quiet—way to remove ceramic tile. It's a dusty, noisy, time-consuming job. However, the work will be much less tedious if you rent a rotary hammer or demolition hammer. Both tools operate like small jackhammers. The main difference between the tools is that a rotary hammer can also be used as a drill, while the hammer-drill is for hammering only. A demolition hammer has no drilling modes; it's strictly for chipping and chiseling.
  3. If you've got a small room with relatively small tiles, rent a rotary hammer and switch it to the hammering-only mode. It's lightweight, compact and easy to maneuver in tight spaces. To clear large tiles from large rooms, rent a demolition hammer. It's much faster and more powerful.
  4. Insert a chisel-tip bit into the tool. Start working at the edge of the floor, where you had removed the transition molding. Place the chisel bit against the mortar joint beneath the tile. Tip the tool back at approximately 30 degrees and squeeze the trigger. Direct the hammering action at the mortar joint until tiles fractures and pops loose.
  5. Change the angle of the tool, as necessary, to prevent the bit from digging into the subfloor. It may take a few minutes, but you'll eventually get a feel for the optimum working angle to loosen the tiles. For best results, don't rush. Work deliberately and methodically, one tile at a time.
  6. Stop every 10 minutes or so and use a dustpan and broom to scoop up the busted tile shards. Dump the debris into 5-gallon pails. (Don't use large trashcans; they'll be too heavy to move once filled with tile.) Carry the full pails out of the house and empty them into a dumpster or other suitable refuse container.

Tool Rental Tip: When you rent a rotary hammer or demolition hammer, ask the rental associate to include both a chisel-tip bit and a bull-point bit. You'll use the chisel bit to bust loose a majority of the tile, but the bull-point bit is handy for breaking up tiles in corners, kickspaces and other thight spaces.

Rotary hammers (above top) have three operating modes: drilling, hammer-drilling and hammering only. Use the hammering mode to chip up tiled floors. Demolition hammers (above bottom) are designed specifically for chipping, hammering and chiseling out the hardest, toughest, most stubborn building materials.

  1. Continue to hammer away at the tiles until you've removed every one and exposed the plywood subfloor. Sweep and then vacuum the subfloor clean using a wet/dry vacuum. Don't use your household vacuum; the heavy, sharp tiles pieces could damage it. If you don't own a wet/dry vacuum, rent one for the day.
  2. Now carefully inspect the subfloor for signs of rot, water damage, delamination or other problems. If you find any, use the circular saw to cut out the damaged sections.
  3. Cut new plywood to patch the subfloor. Fasten the patch with construction adhesive and drywall screws. Then, if you're planning to install a new tile floor, cover the plywood subfloor with cement backerboard.
  4. Begin by renting a ½-inch electric drill with mixing paddle to mix up a batch of thin-set mortar. Don't try to mix the thick mortar with your standard household drill; you could burn out the motor. Spread the mortar across the subfloor with a notched trowel.

Rent a 1/2" drill with a mixing paddle to blend heavy-bodies materials,
such as mortar, drywall compound, grout and even thick paint.

  1. Set the cement backerboard down into the wet mortar, then use an impact driver to screw the backerboard to the subfloor. You can drive in backerboard screws with a standard cordless drill/driver, but an impact driver is faster and more powerful. Because an impact driver combines bit rotation with concussive impacts, it provides much greater control for driving each screw head to the exact correct depth: just slightly below the surface.
  2. Cover the seams between the backerboard sheets with fiberglass-mesh joint tape, then trowel a very thin layer of thin-set mortar over the tape. Once the mortar has hardened, call the tile contractor. The floor is now prepped and ready for tile.

Read more rental tool tips in these articles:

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About the author: Joe Truini is a home improvement expert who writes about a variety of topics related to carpentry and plumbing. Joe is also the author of numerous DIY books, including the best-selling "Building A Shed". To learn more about renting tools like those referenced by Joe, please visit the Home Depot website. All photos courtesy of Joe Truini or Makita.