Renovating a Slate Stone Water Feature

I was recently asked for a consultation from the current homeowner to see if anything could be done about this neglected water fountain.  The slate installation was at least 15 years old and the previous owner had not properly maintained it.  All the grout below the water line had degraded and turned to sand.  

Also, it was evident that a top surface-coating sealer had been applied, rather than a penetrating solvent based stone enhancing sealer.  This surface coating was peeling off in flakes.

Here you can see that all the grout disintegrated in the joints below the water line.  It appeared to me that the original installer did not use modified grout in between the slate tiles.  Modified grout contains ingredients to increase its strength.  This grout here appeared to be just sand and cement, which does not hold up well under harsh conditions.

In order to apply sealer, the stone and grout should be thoroughly cleaned first.  Here I am applying alkalai-based soap to the stone and grout.

After applying the soap, I used an industrial steamer to heat up the surface and clean the slate and grout joints.

Here is the re-grouted, cleaned and sealed water feature.

Here you can see that the colors in the stone are richer and deeper.  This is because I used a solvent-based enhancing sealer made specifically for natural stone.

Installing an outdoor kitchen countertop

It’s important that exterior 3/4″ CDX plywood is installed as a base for a mortar bed and tile.

Because this is an outdoor installation it is important to coat the plywood with a waterproofing membrane.  Here we used Ardex 8+9.

Next we installed mortar bed reinforcing wire directly to the membrane.

Sink rail is nailed around the perimeter to form a frame for the mortar bed.  In this case, we installed the sink rail sloping in one direction to allow rain to run off.

This installation was trimmed with surface bullnose on top of the deck with apron cuts underneath.  We used tape to temporarily hold the apron cuts in place after the bullnose was firmly set.  It is important to install bullnoses on TOP of the apron cuts.  When the apron cut protrudes past the bullnose an exposed grout joint would allow water to seep behind the apron cut. 

Prior to installing wire and metal sink rail we used plastic visqueen to wrap the existing cabinets for protection.

We grouted the countertops with Customs Fusion grout.  The advantage of this expensive and labor-intensive grout is that it remains a consistent color regardless of weather and temperature conditions and never needs sealing.

Outdoor shower mural

The homeowners ordered hand made tiles from an artist.  While waiting for the hand-made tiles to arrive the homeowners used paper cutouts to help decide on a layout. When the artist heard the tiles were going outside she double-fired them to make them more durable for temperature changes. 

Once the deco tiles arrived we played with the field tiles to decide on the final layout. 


Here we see the freshly grouted outdoor shower.  In this picture the grout has not yet cured; it will dry a lighter color.

Outdoor tile repair

These tiles had fallen off an exterior column of a commercial office building.   The tiles that had fallen off could be reused, so I cleaned off the backside, chiseled off the thinset on the columns and reset the grouted tiles.


Outdoor Paver Tile Walkway


Pavers from America, made in Lincoln California

First step was to dig our the garden soil to the correct depth.  It is important to leave undisturbed soil at the bottom of the dug out area.   We dug out about 4 inches of dirt and framed it in with wood boards on the outside edge making the top of the board level to the driveway.    We rented a mixer because this small area (approximately 45 sq. ft.) took 1/2 yard of concrete!  Next, I took a board and notched it for the depth of the tile plus a layer of thin set, to go underneath the tiles as a glue.  I used this board as a screed to rod off the excess mortar so that the finished walkway was level to the driveway.  To spread the thin set, I used a deep notched trowel, 3/8 inch AND we back buttered each piece to be sure we got 100 % coverage of thin set on the back of each tile.  Due to the slope and the crisp fall air, we had to throw a few handfuls of speed set into the thinset so that the tiles did not sag downhill.