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How to use Deck Tiles for Resurfacing an old Concrete Patio

A porch, patio or courtyard can be one of the most useful exterior areas of your home if covered with an attractive surface material, cleared of all excess junk and with a little thought given to landscaping the area.

Unfortunately all too often such useful spaces are covered with bland concrete. As well as looking rather dull and dreary the concrete has probably developed cracks or become stained with grease, oil etc with years of use. Restoring these areas so you'd be proud to use them for entertaining, outdoor dining or just relaxing often seems such a daunting task. And indeed if the concrete is badly cracked and the surface uneven, generally there's no practical alternative but to rip the lot up and start all over again.

However if the surface only has hairline cracks and you're certain that reinforcing mesh was installed when the concrete was originally laid, it's probable that existing cracks will not open up further (unless your concrete pad happens to be suffering from root damage due to nearby trees). In this case there are a number of possible alternatives that could enhance the appearance.

Ceramic, slate or terracotta tiles have traditionally been seen as the solution to brightening up a dull patio or porch. But unless you're reasonably confident that existing cracks in the base concrete slab will not open any further, it's likely that any tiles laid over these cracks could also suffer the same fate over time. It may be possible to minimize this problem by using a flexible adhesive when installing the tiles rather than a mortar based product, but you should seek expert advice beforehand.

Due care should also be taken with terracotta tiles or ceramic tiles for patios that the tiles chosen are suitable for the prevailing conditions. Terracotta or ceramic tiles can vary considerably in water absorption properties and tiles with high water absorption can crack in freezing conditions. Highly glazed tiles generally have lower water absorption properties but are more prone to slipping in wet conditions.

Clay pavers can be another useful alternative and are generally less susceptible to frost damage but are typically thicker. So they may not suit all applications where the height of the pavers would raise the patio surface being too much.

Natural stone – sandstone, granite, slate etc. can be very attractive but generally requires more skill in laying and thus a higher installed cost. Slate and sandstone may also need to be sealed to avoid the possibility of staining, especially if installed around BBQ or other exterior cooking areas

Perhaps one of the best options for covering old concrete is to use interlocking modular tiles for a patio floor. These are simply placed over the surface of the patio or porch and require no adhesives, nails, screws or special surface preparation. Not only are these tiles quite forgiving of small cracks and slight unevenness of the surface, but they can be laid both quickly and easily by anyone without any special skills or tools being required. And as they're not permanently fixed to the concrete base, they can be taken up, moved or added to at will. If you decide to move house, simply take the tiles with you and lay them down in your new location.

Modular decking tiles are available in several wood species as well as different styles. Recently an interlocking stone and ceramic version has been introduced with similar design features and same ease of installation, giving additional opportunities to mix and match to create your own unique exterior space.

Modular Wood Tiles

Wood tiles can be divided into two basic types. The earliest designs, which are still available today, are constructed of solid wood slats attached to wood bearers underneath. The top wood slats may be either screwed or nailed to the bearers or in some cases, metal staples have been used. Tiles with nailed or stapled slats should be used with caution as the fixings are likely to corrode and/or the slats can work loose from the bearers.

Screwed slats are the much preferred system, but check that screws are corrosion resistant or better still, of stainless steel. Most wood tiles are supplied as single modules with no integral interconnecting devices. Some designs provide limited interconnectivity by means of offset bearers which fit under the adjacent tile. However these tiles are generally not held together with fixed connectors but tend to rely on the outside retaining walls to keep them from moving.

An important consideration with the all wood tile design is that the wood bearers could be subject to prolonged contact with water. Whilst most such tiles are constructed of durable timber, prolonged exposure to water may result in some premature rotting of the bearers, or at the very least, it is possible that the bearers could twist or warp under certain conditions. With no means of interconnection of the tiles, there is a potential for adjacent tile surfaces to be uneven in height, leading to the possibility of tripping.

In the latest, more advanced generation of exterior wood tiles, the wood slats are attached to a plastic mesh base. This not only lifts the wood clear of the concrete which allows any water under the tiles to drain away quickly, but also provides a convenient means to interconnect the tiles. With some tile designs the wood slats have holes drilled in the underside which slot into pins molded on the plastic base so the slats are a loose fit on the plastic base. In other designs the slats are “press fit” onto the base. The most secure design which is also the simplest to install has a multiple of pre-molded screw holes in the plastic base through which screws are inserted to keep the slats securely fixed to the base.

Another advantage of the plastic mesh based tiles compared with the solid wood tiles is that they can be easily cut with a saw or jigsaw to fit around pipes etc. The mesh base has numerous molded “feet” which keeps the tile stable even if a section is removed. This gives the tiles with screwed slats an advantage over the loose or press fit slat design as it may be necessary to install an extra screw or two through the pre-molded holes in the base to fix any loose slats after cutting any tiles.

Whilst some designs use separate clips to connect the tiles, the majority of designs use inbuilt connectors which makes installation faster and easier. These tiles may have “pegs” on two sides and corresponding “loops” on the other two sides, so in certain cases a left hand and right hand version are required.

Probably the easiest and quickest exterior tile to lay however is the type which has an identical set of connecting tabs on each side which mesh with corresponding tabs on adjacent tiles, irrespective of the orientation of the tile. This has the added advantage of allowing more options for the tile maker to produce different tile designs and for the installer to be more creative in the overall patterns in which the tiles can be laid.

As tiles raise the surface level approx. 1 ¼” – 1 ½” care needs to be taken at the outer edge of the tiled area to avoid any danger of tripping. The main manufacturers supply transition strips to overcome this potential problem and generally just clip onto the outer row of tiles. These reducers also successfully cover up the plastic tabs on the outer row of tiles.

Tile Sizes

The majority of the interlocking tiles are approx. 12” x 12” which makes estimating the number of tiles required a simple easy task. Many of the all wood tiles and some plastic framed tiles with softwood slats may however be up to 20” x 20” in size, or even larger in some cases. Whilst these can be suitable for large areas or laying as landscape accessories, they are generally not so versatile for smaller areas or areas where tiles must be cut to fit inside confined areas or installed in irregular shaped areas.

Wood Species

All wood tiles designed for installation in exposed exterior situations should be constructed of timber species rated as highly durable under normal conditions and not prone to warping or twisting or significant cracking. There are a number of lumber species with the above properties which are commonly used by wood tile manufacturers and indeed final selection may often be based on preferred colour of the tiles. Hardwood is normally the timber of choice although pressure treated softwood tiles are also available, particularly in larger 2’ x 2’ tiles.

Hardwood species of the highest rated durability include Ipe, Jarrah, Bangkirai, Cumaru, Teak and River Red Gum Other species such as Kempas, Jatoba etc. are rated as slightly lower durability but can also be used in exposed outdoors applications in most circumstances.

Most outside tiles use wood slats approx. 15mm (5/8’) thick. With highly durable and stable lumber species such as Ipe, tiles may be 10 or 12mm thick (approx.1/2”) with no significant disadvantages or longevity issues.

Sustainability

The issue of sustainable harvesting of lumber, especially that obtained from tropical regions, is an important issue to be considered when selecting any wood based product. A number of wood tiles on the market are certified as being manufactured from lumber harvested under FSC procedures and protocols or under the local government’s own certification. Normally such tiles will bear the FSC logo (or equivalent mark) but you may need to check with the maker or importer.

Maintenance

Whilst the use of high durability lumber species helps in assuring that the tiles will be virtually maintenance-free, all hardwoods will fade to a silvery grey over time unless a regime of re-oiling is carried out at regular intervals. Most tiles are pre-coated with preservative oil which enhances the timber colour and gives a degree of initial protection from the elements. However it is normally suggested that re-oiling with a good quality deck oil should be carried out on 6 to12 monthly intervals, depending on the prevailing weather conditions and degree of exterior exposure. It is possible to restore colour to a weathered wood deck to some extent by using chemical cleaners or sanding back the weathered surface, but this can be a quite a tedious process.