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Tips for Tiling a Shower or Tub

Tile is by far the most popular choice for the surrounding walls of showers and bathtubs in new or remodeled bathrooms for a number of reasons. For starters, tile is impervious to water. It’s also easy to keep clean and available in hundreds of styles, colors and sizes. With some patience and the right tools and materials, tiling a shower or bath surround is a project any committed DIYer can do.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the steps of tiling a tub and shower combo using 4¼-inch ceramic tiles, which are easy to install and are the most common bath tiles used by today’s builders and remodelers. However, these tips for tiling a shower or tub detailed here can work with almost any type of wall tile, including glass or stone. Approximate Project Cost: $800-$1,700 Estimated Time: Three days Materials Needed:

  • Plastic drop cloth

  • Large bucket

  • Grout sponge

  • Dry cloth rag

  • Measuring tape

  • Leveler

  • Construction pencil

  • Tiles

  • Plastic tile spacers (If tile is not pre-spaced)

  • Tile trowel

  • Tile mastic

  • Unsanded tile grout

  • Acrylic silicone caulk and caulk gun

Tools Needed:

  • Tile cutter

  • Power drill

  • Hole saw diamond tip drill bits

  • Tile nippers

1. Mark the Layout Lines To start, measure the back wall from the edge of the tub to the ceiling or the top of the area you want tiled. Make a mark at the halfway point, but adjust the mark as needed to avoid having to lay shorter tiles at the bottom or top.

Next, calculate the number of tiles it will take to reach the lip of the tub from the center mark. If there is less than half of a tile needed at the lip of the tub, simply measure the height of the partial tile and bring the mark down accordingly. This will ensure you end up with a nice full tile at the top and bottom.

With a level in hand, draw a horizontal line at the mark across the entire wall to measure its width. Divide the width in half and draw a line straight down the center of the back wall. You may need to adjust the line to the left or right to end up with full tiles on both sides. 2. Trowel on the Mastic Now it’s time to get our hands a little dirty and trowel on the mastic. Begin where the two layout lines intersect by spreading tile mastic with the edge of the trowel onto one of the wall quadrants. Tile mastic only remains bondable for about 20 minutes or so. Therefore, it should only be applied to a small area no larger than three square feet, because it’s important for the mastic to remain tacky until the tile is set. When applying the mastic, use the trowel’s notched edge to rake the mastic and create deep ridges. 3. Start Tiling The first tile should be set where the two layout lines intersect. With the mastic spread, press the tile firmly to the wall, keeping its edges flush with the vertical and horizontal layout lines. Continue setting tiles along the two lines, working down towards the tub or shower floor and out to the edge of the wall. Apply more mastic as needed and continue setting tiles until one quadrant is filled in.

Make sure only to set full tiles and space them evenly at the right width for grout. Many tiles are self-spacing and have tiny nubs around the edges to ensure uniform spacing. However, if the tiles you’ve chosen are not self-spacing, plastic spacers can be used to maintain uniformity and consistent joints.

Space should also be left between the tub and the bottom of the tiles for caulk. 4. Cut Tiles to Fit Despite your best efforts, many times tiles need to be cut in order to fit against a ceiling or corner. When this happens, hold a tile in place and make a mark where it begins to overlap the full tile above, below, or beside it already in place on the wall.

Then, using a tile cutter, scour the tile at the mark. To do so, line the mark up with the cutting wheel and apply slight downward pressure while pulling the cutting wheel straight across the tile at the mark to score the glaze.

When done, snap the tile by pressing down on the handle. The tiles should be set with the cut edges facing out against the ceiling or corner.

Here’s a tip: After scouring the first tile, slide the tile cutter’s adjustable fence up to the edge of the tile. This allows us to cut the rest of the tiles without marking them. 5. Drill Tiles for the Shower and Tub Supply Pipes With one quadrant down, finish setting the tiles exactly the same way in the rest of the quadrants along the back wall. When finished, simply extend the horizontal line across the end walls. Then, set the tiles on both end walls following the same procedure used above.

When coming across protruding plumbing fixtures, like the mixer valves and shower/tub supply pipes, tile nippers must be used to carefully notch several tiles in order to make them fit around them.

However, if a valve or supply pipe is located within a single tile, a hole can be drilled using a hole saw with diamond grit. When the hole is drilled, the tile can simply slide right over the valve or pipe and adhere to the surrounding mastic. 6. Apply the Grout Each end wall should be completed with rounded bullnose tile positioned along the edges. The tiles should then be left untouched overnight to let the mastic cure.

The next day, mix fortified unsanded tile grout with water in a bucket until it reaches a similar consistency to mayonnaise. Latex additive can also be used in place of water for a little extra grout strength.

Using a rubber trowel, smear the grout diagonally across one of the tiled surfaces. Apply some pressure to force the grout into every joint. Do the same thing to the other two walls and let the grout cure for 20 minutes.

After it’s cured, use a damp sponge to wipe the tiles clean. Rinse the sponge with clean water as needed. That’s it for today.

On the following day, any remaining grout haze can be buffed with a dry cloth.

Lastly, choose an acrylic silicone caulk matching the color of your grout and fill in the joint between the first line of tiles and the tub. And that’s all there is to it. Follow these steps to install beautiful tiles in your home’s bathroom and make sure to come to Doug Ashy for the quality tools and materials you’ll need to get the job done. Happy tiling!


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