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Deteriorating Plaster - Rip-out, Replace?

Deteriorating Plaster - Rip-out, Replace?

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  #1  
Old 04-21-15, 10:30 PM
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Deteriorating Plaster - Rip-out, Replace?

When I bought this house six years ago, there was some flaking ceiling and waviness to the plaster walls around the chimney. The realtor told us that when they replaced the roof, they didn't seal properly around the chimney, but it had been fixed.

I have every reason to believe this is true because in six years I've never noticed any moisture and the attic insulation has remained dry.

The problem is that the wall on all four sides of the chimney has continued to deteriorate. On two sides, there are pockets of powder behind the wallpaper and one section has split completely open, with a big pile of powder at the bottom of the tear. On the other side, the bathroom, the painted plaster has flaked and dropped powder, the walls are bowed under the tile and a couple outside the tub have fallen off.

Now we're getting ready to sell, so I have to do something with the mess.

I called a contractor and he told me that he couldn't remember what it's called... he thought "phosphate"... and that once the wall had been damaged, whatever it was continued to grow and that we'd need to take off the tile and treat the wall with some kind of spray that would kill the "phosphate" and it wouldn't be cheap. I don't think he really wanted the job because he said that he'd get me an estimate in a couple of weeks, suggested that I sell "as-is", didn't take any measurements and he didn't jump on my suggestion of replacing the tub tile with a surround as being significantly less expensive because he said the wall would still need to be treated.

Again, I don't think he wanted the job which brings me to one of the web's most helpful sites.

Could someone give me an indication of what he was talking about? I've searched the forum, but I'm not finding an answer. Also, is there some reason we can't just rip out the plaster and replace it with a tub surround on cement board? I had asked the contractor to provide me with options, but he was only here a few minutes and it really seemed like he didn't want the gig.

I'm fine with doing the demolition and cement board myself, but before I start tearing it apart, I'd like to know what y'all have to say.

BTW: Quite possibly, the plaster is from the 40s and the roof may have been done ten years ago.

Thanks.
 
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Old 04-22-15, 02:48 AM
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Maybe the coffee hasn't kicked in yet but I'm having a hard time following your post First you say chimney, then wallpaper and tile Is this 3 separate areas? Pics would be helpful.

edit;
coffee helped

I'd remove whatever is damaged and reassess it. If the plaster comes off down to the lath you might consider patching with drywall .... unless you have plaster skills or hire a plasterer. Under the tile you'll probably find a mud bed which may or may not need to be removed. If it's deteriorated you can replace it with cement board [might need to be shimmed out to match the thickness of the plaster]
 

Last edited by marksr; 04-22-15 at 03:46 AM.
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Old 04-22-15, 04:45 AM
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This is an excerpt from a govt. publication dealing with plaster.


"Plaster applied to a masonry wall is vulnerable to water damage if the wall is constantly wet. When salts from the masonry substrate come in contact with water, they migrate to the surface of the plaster, appearing as dry bubbles or efflorescence. The source of the moisture must be eliminated before replastering the damaged area.

Sources of Water Damage. Moisture problems occur for several reasons. Interior plumbing leaks in older houses are common. Roofs may leak, causing ceiling damage. Gutters and downspouts may also leak, pouring rain water next to the building foundation. In brick buildings, dampness at the foundation level can wick up into the above-grade walls. Another common source of moisture is splashback. When there is a paved area next to a masonry building, rainwater splashing up from the paving can dampen masonry walls. In both cases water travels through the masonry and damages interior plaster. Coatings applied to the interior are not effective over the long run. The moisture problem must be stopped on the outside of the wall."


Although the direct leak at the flashing may have been repaired in your case, the masonry that comprises the chimney may be absorbing water and as it dries to the inside it causes the flaking issues.

I have done a lot of plaster repairs and it can be very difficult to overcome a situation unless the root of the problem is rectified. An even worse issue with wetted plaster is saponification, a situation that results in soap like substances being developed as a result of wetting lime and its interaction with alkyd based paints. The result is a surface that is very waxy and with a high Ph and it will not hold paint or anything else.
 
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Old 04-22-15, 05:06 AM
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Based on Calvert's reply I would agree that you may want to "sell as is" if allowed. That will mean a reduction in asking price. Weight that against a professional doing the job. Call at least three contractors. And ask for reference on similar jobs they've done in the past. I also agree that something must be done if you can't "sell as is".
 
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Old 04-22-15, 08:03 AM
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@Norm201: As-is isn't really an option. I'm really needing methods for a fix.


@Everyone: Now that I'm concentrating on this problem and really studying the issue, give me a bit to write a few paragraphs and post a couple of pics. Thanks
 

Last edited by TryAgain; 04-22-15 at 10:21 AM.
  #6  
Old 04-22-15, 10:04 AM
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Basically, we're talking one chimney with damage on all sides. Every indication is that the roof issue has been addressed and the brick chimney plus plaster is of unknown age, but it's at least a few decades.

(I believe this part of the house was built in the 40s, though it could have been earlier, then it was moved to this lot in 1960 and set over a basement. The chimney goes all the way down to beside the furnace. There are original ducts on both floors of the house, so there has always been some kind of central system, but there's a coal room at the far end of the basement and there may have been furnace there at some time. Though if there were a chimney going up, you'd think that I'd be able to spot it and they wouldn't have gone to the trouble of enclosing a new chimney surrounded by house)

Now that I'm studying it, I believe there had been some damage when the roofers didn't seal around the chimney when they redid the roof, probably around ten years ago and the tub side is showing the most damage because there's no fan in the bath.

The following (bad) pic is from the in-shower side.
(Both pics are 2nd floor; no problems on first)

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The gray is cement-like, though it's not sidewalk-hard and it's over a hollow wall, while the chimney begins a few inches to the right and goes over to the edge. The chimney area isn't hollow and the rest of the house is very generous about having things enclosed in wood, so there's a good chance there's wood under the plaster, framing the chimney.

Otherwise, the peeling-looking stuff is wallpaper, underneath is a plaster coating and the powder mostly falls off, but it also accumulates on the top edge of the tile and I'm guessing that some has slipped behind, which is why the tile wall has bulged.

Everything's dry and though I've never touched it while showering, other than condensation on the paper, I've never touched any of it and felt it was wet.

Here's a pic of the opposite side.

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I've put my 4' level up and down on either side of the rip and across directly below it, all three measures had the bubbles in the center. The only problem on this side is really the big rip. The glossy-looking stuff below is like and eggshell coating over the plaster and then there's the raw spot that is always dry, powdery plaster. Puddled at the bottom of the rip is a bunch of powder that'll fall on the floor.

It's probably worth noting that up top, above the rip, the paper has come loose from the wall and the same can be said for the other wall on this side; the paper is loose at the top. There are also a couple of "bubbles" that feel filled with powder on this side, while opposite it (behind the bathroom door), it's just a lesser version of what's above the tub.

My instinct is to maybe start on the bedroom side. I'm thinking maybe taking all of it down, so that I could approximate the lip to the mouldings with just sheetrock. On the shower bath side, my wife apparently hates the tile and would rather we just take sledgehammers to it all (including the undamaged tub walls), put up Durock or greenboard and cover it with a surround. While I'm thinking that I could take off the tiles on the problem walls, scrape the white plaster off of the gray backing, then cover it with Durock and replace the tiles.

(If I'm reading it correctly, this also sounds like @marksr's suggestion)

I guess my questions are what do you think of my plan; which do you think would be the best, easiest and cheapest on the bathroom side and does anybody have any idea what the contractor meant by "spraying" and "treating" the "phosphates"?

As always, thanks.
 
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Old 04-22-15, 11:59 AM
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"I guess my questions are what do you think of my plan; which do you think would be the best, easiest and cheapest on the bathroom side and does anybody have any idea what the contractor meant by "spraying" and "treating" the "phosphates"?"

Forget what the contractor said. A weak acid such as vinegar has been used to treat plaster that has been wetted but your situation is beyond that. There is no magic for what you have going on. You have to find the source of the moisture and deal with it or isolate the chimney from contact with any wall covering you may decide to install, including cement board and tile.

Gypsum products or cement products are going to transmit damp, whether you are seeing that damp or not , if the products are in contact with a masonry surface that is acting as a sponge when it rains. Your damage is fairly intense so I would perhaps have a brick yard look at your chimney brick to determine just how porous it is.

You may also want to check your chimney. If this is an active chimney and has no flue liner you may be loading the masonry with moisture from combustion of fuels.
 
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Old 04-22-15, 02:39 PM
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My instinct is/was that there may have been damage from the improper sealing and it got bad on the bath side because there's no fan and the window will only do so much. I'm kind of perplexed how the chimney would have started to wick water. I get that masonry does, but I have every reason to believe the chimney has been in that spot for decades, if not 75 years and my gut makes me think the previous two owners were good at hiring people to fix things, so if somebody told them they needed to do something, especially the one before me I think would.

Here's a (blurry) pic of the chimney in the attic -- the wife has the good camera and I'm just using a phone -- there's about four feet of chimney between the roof and the ceiling frames and it's just over 6' inside the house in one direction, more than ten from the other. And while we're on the subject of measuring, going by the distance from the exterior wall to the exposed brick in the downstair's bath's closet, the chimney is about two inches behind the tile. (The fiberglass insulation had been pulled back, but I didn't dig through the old blown-in to see if it looks like the visible wooden frame extends down)

There is some efflorescence on the attic brick and that powder on top of the frame looks to be where it has been falling off. It is an attic under a metal roof and while there are a couple of vents, I'm sure there's moisture around, especially where the chimney is above the bath.

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I am looking for the best, easiest and cheapest fix. It sounds like you're thinking that if there's not an airgap or moisture barrier, then I might need one, but I don't want to send the trouble on down. The brick is exposed on the chimney in the downstair's bath's closet and there's no efflorescence there. (Though we rarely use that shower, so there's also not a lot of moisture coming from the room) I'm capable of doing a lot of stuff myself and am willing to hire people when needed. I just don't want to spend more than I need.

Any suggestions would be welcome. Again, thanks.
 
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Old 04-22-15, 02:52 PM
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Is the chimney active and does it have a cement crown on top that extends out past the brick. Does it have a clay or metal liner?
 
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Old 04-22-15, 03:18 PM
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Because I had to take it from a hill far away, I can't get a pic worth posting with my phone, but there's a cement platform crown that extends beyond the brick and there's a metal liner sticking out of a yellow masonry one. (There's no way I can get up there myself, but there's definitely a crown, a metal and a masonry liner. From the ground they all appear to be in good shape and there's no efflorescence on any of the four sides)

The chimney has a gas furnace connected to it in the basement. If you feel it's necessary, I guess I could disconnect the metal chimney from the brick and look inside at the liner, but I'd rather not and for whatever it's worth, there's no efflorescence in the basement or in the closet on the first floor.

BTW: The first floor closet has the brick chimney up one side, but the other three walls are plaster that should be as old as that on the second floor.
 

Last edited by TryAgain; 04-22-15 at 04:58 PM. Reason: Edited after I got better binoculars, saw that what I had thought was a metal cap is definitely a liner
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Old 04-22-15, 03:20 PM
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While it isn't something I know much about, they say that gas heat put's a lot of moisture into the exhaust. It isn't uncommon for a metal flue to be used with the gas heat .... presumably to limit moisture in the clay tile.
 
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Old 04-22-15, 03:52 PM
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Now that I've walked back outside, the thing that I thought was a metal cap could be a metal liner coming out of the clay liner and extending up another four inches. Tomorrow evening I could get some better binoculars, but I just have my son's weak ones now.

The house was originally heated with coal and there's a coal room in the basement that was obviously used after the house was moved. I know that the last fellow installed the current furnace, but I don't know if he's the one who converted the house to gas. He was the type that if someone told him that he needed a metal liner, he would have had the best one installed. Somewhere around here, I know that I have his bill for the furnace, but I'd have to look for it and I don't know that they would have been the ones to have installed the liner. I don't recall seeing a receipt for the roof.

And of course, again, there's no efflorescence in the downstairs closet and above the roof. I'm thinking the efflorescence in the attic could be because it's the attic and maybe because there's no exhaust fan in that bath. If I need to do something different around the chimney or look if anything's been done, I'll be happy to do it, but my focus is on fixing the wall.
 

Last edited by TryAgain; 04-22-15 at 04:59 PM.
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Old 04-22-15, 04:18 PM
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PS) Reading back through your first reply, my plan has been to do as you suggested, except I've been planning to take out (or scrape-down?) the four walls around the chimney (tile and all) and replace them with Durock, greenboard and regular drywall, depending on which side of the chimney I'm on, instead of leaving part in place and have to match the remainder's thickness.

To me replacement sounds like the best option. The contractor threw me when he talked about spraying and treating at an outrageously high price. That's why I need to know what to watch for, like maybe I need a barrier around the chimney that I didn't know about before.

(Cement board above the tub, greenboard on the bathroom side that's outside of the tub and sheetrock on the other two sides)
 
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Old 04-22-15, 04:58 PM
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Your bathroom tile should not be effected by any of the plaster issues you are showing. Removing the tile and mudbed walls will be a lot of work. Most surrounds are designed to go with specific tubs. Yours will not work with most of them. While your wife may not like the tile, leave it as it most likely is the strongest link in the mix of issues you currently have. If she really insists on a change, have the tub and walls re-glazed by a professional re-glazing company and move on.

As far as the walls, if everything you touch is dry, them this is old damage that is just now peeking out from behind either wallpaper or many coats of paint. Scrape off what is loose, review what needs to be replaced. If surface only issue, skim with a setting type compound, not regular joist compound. Make sure the surfaces are clean and dust free before proceeding with the skim coating.
 
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Old 04-22-15, 05:03 PM
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As an FYI, I edited my reply about the crown, cap and liner to say that there's definitely a metal liner sticking out of the masonry one. My wife came home with her super birdwatching binoculars before it got dark, while the sun was down enough that it was reflecting off of what I thought had been a cap to show me that it was a solid metal liner.

So, I corrected my post to say that there's a crown that looks in good shape, a yellow masonry liner sticking up out of it and a metal liner sticking out of that one.
 
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Old 04-22-15, 06:26 PM
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On the tub/shower wall, the top edge of the tile has leaned out and a couple outside of the tub, along the corner have fallen off. You can see that some of the powder has worked it's way down and behind.

Then, starting maybe two lines of tile (eight inches) below them, there's a definite wave that grows into a bulge. I don't know if it's because of the bulge or if the bulge is what caused them, but there are some definite and visible hairline cracks. This whole bulge/wave thing is in a straight vertical line and goes almost all the way down to the tub.

The other bathroom/chimney wall has tile up to like five feet, as does the rest of the room. That tile is level, except maybe slightly at the very top, where it's below a problem bit of wall.

The wife apparently doesn't like the tile. She thinks it looks old-fashioned. We're definitely going to have to straighten the tile on the problem wall. Her impression is that it'd be easier and cheaper to rip all the tub tile out, even on the walls without damage. I lean toward just replacing the tiles on the problem wall. If there's not a significant savings (with us doing the demolition ourselves), then she's going to want the surround because she thinks it'll appeal more to buyers.

The other two walls in the tub are structurally fine. If we were to do anything to them, I guess we'd take down the tile for the surround. Though I haven't yet looked at what's involved in taking down tile.

After spending all day thinking about how to proceed, your method sounds like something I could try in the bedroom and see how it works, then do the bath. If I'm understanding you correctly, you're suggesting that instead of sledgehammering or taking everything down to the brick chimney, I just scrape the problem areas, then skim setting compound over it to match?

Should I spray anything with vinegar or something from the blue box?

ETA: It's probably worth repeating that we're definitely moving and selling; as-is isn't an option.

Again, thanks. As is usually the case, everybody around these forums are so helpful and talking things through really helps me understand what I need to do.
 
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Old 04-22-15, 07:31 PM
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New information provided - Tiles are busting off the wall from the plaster... Knowing older construction methods, this is not possible. I don't think the two are related. Personally, I think you just have a house that has been drastically neglected and is in need of some help. Those pictures you provided are not something that usually is found in a well or partially maintained home. They are not found in a normally occupied house. That is neglect from an obviously abandoned home that you are trying to market. Please don't tell me you lived with the walls peeling as such. I would not believe it.
 
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Old 04-22-15, 08:11 PM
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The big problem is just a four foot section above the tub. It's gotten progressively worse, but I've just ignored it. I hadn't noticed the tile bulging issue until my wife pointed it out. Yes, we've been living in the home for the past six years. There's just some plaster coming off a little-seen section of wall in a room only the family uses. The torn wallpaper is behind a door we never close in a room I rarely go in.

I'm thinking the lady who owned the house before us may have done the tiles herself. She stayed at home, they had no kids and there were a few extra tiles in the basement on a workbench when we bought the place. There's also a bookcase full of the paint used throughout the house. I'm thinking that her thing was to decorate and she probably did the wallpaper too. (There were a couple of partial rolls and scraps of borders on the bench) I'm sure the walls probably weren't pretty when she bought the house -- the reputation around town is that the people before her did the stuff with the yard, then she and her husband fixed up the house.

But basically, I don't shower with my glasses, so I hadn't noticed the tiles. Outside of the problem around this chimney, the rest of the house is in great shape, there's just this little problem that I've ignored because I believe it to be rooted from the leak ten years ago and doing something about it hasn't been a priority until now. (And it's only now because it's time to move)

If you or anyone has any other tips, suggestions or things I should watch for, please throw it into the pot. My plan is tomorrow to start working on removing the wallpaper on the non-shower side, then when it's off, I'll scrape at the bad spot as you suggested before. All of the wallpaper came from Sherwin-Williams, so tomorrow I'll order enough to replace what I remove.
 

Last edited by TryAgain; 04-22-15 at 08:40 PM.
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Old 04-22-15, 08:41 PM
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Looking at the brickwork in the attic picture it does appear that there is an element of brown stain included in that efflorescence. If so, I would suspect the combustion of fossil fuel along with water vapor has been working through the chimney.

Since you see a clay and apparently a metal liner of some sort, I might expect that perhaps the prior owner may have been informed of an issue and had a liner installed. Further investigation may be needed to determine if that is indeed the situation. There are many, many old brick chimneys that originally had no liner and at some point a clay liner was installed just at the top of the assembly. The clay may not go all the way down the chimney. You should still verify that the metal liner is continuous and is attached to the flue pipe originating at the furnace.

I'm not sure how long you have owned the house but perhaps you might locate some paperwork that would indicate what was done.Did you have an inspection done when you bought the house? Does that indicate any review of the chimney/furnace situation?

It may be possible that the damage you see is the result of a situation that has been repaired . Although Czizzi implied that your tile "mud job " would not deteriorate I am sure he means that is if it were a tile installed in Portland cement setting bed. A lot of tile was installed with mastic over a regular gypsum plaster wall material. If that material gets wet the plaster as well as tile job will ultimately fail.

With regard to your statements about the walls on the lower level being ok, you have to understand that if the situation is originating from wicking through the brick from exterior wetting then the moisture would not likely make it down that far as it dries to warmer air in the upper level walls. If it is originating from furnace combustion the flue gasses tend to condense at a higher level in the chimney where the masonry structure is cooler.
 
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Old 04-22-15, 09:44 PM
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I'd have to disconnect the flue and I'm not going to do tonight. What's visible is a shiny metal pipe from the furnace over to a larger, older-looking, dull-colored, circular metal plate that is cemented into the chimney. As I said in one of my earlier replies, the previous owners spared no expense, so I have every reason to believe that if someone told him he'd need a metal liner (which installing it would give them a bigger payday) and there was none in place, he would have said, "go ahead".

We've been here six years. The previous owners had it for six also, but they may not have lived here fulltime. We did have a home inspection prior to purchase, but I'm not finding a copy right now. I do remember that all of it was stuff you could see, though there were a couple of things he explained. I think this was one of those people who would not open or do anything. I don't remember him saying anything about the chimney. I really don't think he disconnected the flue and there's no way he went onto the roof (and even if he did, it'd be another six feet at least to the top of the chimney).

(This was the only house we wanted, so as long as he found nothing bad, we were all set)

As for the tile... three little border squares have come off, outside of the shower curtain, along the corner. The two that came all the way off were likely attached with mastic. There's plain white smooth plaster underneath and no indication that anything had been ever been attached.

The other one that has come off, down further along that same corner, the ceramic part fell off and what remains is like a piece of cardboard with an embedded thread net underneath. You can see behind that there's nothing but plaster and there is that spot, plus a couple of other places (because that wall needs work), where you could fit a razor blade behind the tile. They are clearly not setting on anything and were glued into place. (I've yet to research tile, if you can't tell)

Again, thanks for all your help. I'm learning and having to think about lots of stuff.
 

Last edited by TryAgain; 04-22-15 at 10:03 PM.
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Old 04-23-15, 12:18 AM
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I should add that the hairline cracks are in the grout, not the tiles.

I wasn't clear about that, before.

And with them glued, I'm guessing they'll be easy to take down and possibly reuse.
 
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