Shower Tiles

Can I tile my shower?

Installing tile is one of those things that even avid DIYers are often a little afraid of. (Including me!) And after completing my first tile job, I can certainly see why; tiling is no joke! It is, however, 100% possible to do it yourself.

Which leaves a few questions – should it be a DIY job or should you pay a pro? And if you are going to do it yourself, what do you need to know to make sure the whole thing goes smoothly?

It’s hard to know how to tile a shower properly, nevertheless how to make it a simple DIY project. No need to go through all the trial and error to tile a nice shower, however. We’ve done all the dirty work. So, after you’ve selected the perfect tile for your shower floor and/or shower walls and it’s time to begin laying tile, follow these tips for an easier way to complete your tiling project.

Showers used to be simple boxes for fear that any special architectural features could lead to a leak—and expensive repairs. But modern tiling materials, especially spreadable waterproof membranes, can put these fears to rest. Now you can build in a bench or other structure with confidence and make showering more convenient and pleasant with this how-to tile a shower guide.

In this article, we’ll show you how to build in three features for your tile shower: a bench, a shelf and an alcove. We’ll include the key planning steps and the waterproofing and how to tile a shower using special tiling techniques and shower wall tile. This project isn’t for a tiling rookie. You should have some hands-on tiling experience before tackling a complex project like this one. But suppose you have rudimentary framing skills and have successfully tiled floors. In that case, backsplashes or simple shower surrounds, the advanced techniques we show here will enable you to move on to a shower tiling project like this.

How to tile a shower as we show here will take you about four full days. The shower tiling alone will take two days. Shower tile and shower tiling supplies will cost about $600 if you choose standard tile. If you want fancy glass tile accents like the ones we show, brace yourself. Glass tile can be expensive, so it’s wise to think of it as an accent only. It pays to rent or buy a “score and snaps” tile cutter if you’re using 4 x 4-in. tiles as we show. But if you’re using natural stone or larger tiles and your shower wall tile layout requires lots of cuts, especially notching, rent a tile saw for a day. You can score and snap glass tile (small mosaic tiles only), but you’ll break about every 10th tile—not a big deal if you plan the tile layout well and only have to cut a few.

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Should I install my tile or hire a professional?

This is a huge question, and the answer comes down to three things: money, time, and quality.

Money is a huge factor. Tiling is expensive. On average, having a shower surround like ours tiled professionally can cost anywhere from $800 to $5000. Of course, the costs depend on a lot of factors, including what type of tiles you choose and where you live.

If money is tight, you can save a lot by doing it yourself. For our project, I used classic white subway tile, one of the more inexpensive tiles around. And because I did all of the labour myself, the entire project cost only a couple of hundred dollars which covered the tile, adhesive, grout, caulk, and basic tile cutting tools.

But then, on the other hand, there is the time issue. Installing tile takes a long time. I’m talking eons. Seriously. It took me a month to tile our little shower because I was only able to work on it on my husband’s days off. (Tile and toddlers don’t mix. Trust me.) But even if I had been working on tile eight hours a day, it would have taken several days to finish the job. Tiling isn’t necessarily difficult, but it is very time-consuming. I’m sure it gets much faster with experience, but for a newbie, it’s a big job. So if you don’t have a lot of time to work on it or if you are on a tight deadline for your renovation, you may need to consider hiring a pro.

Shower Tiles

How to Prep for DIY Shower Tile

Want to refresh your subway tile shower? Begin by removing the old tile or the fibreglass shower wall. This is a dusty job, so use plastic to cover your doorways, wear a respirator that’s rated for dust, cover the floor with a drop cloth and make sure there’s plenty of ventilation. Also, tile is heavy so put down moving blankets to protect the floors and tub from being damaged by falling pieces.

How to Tile a Shower

Plan the layout

Plan the framing and tile layout for each wall on rosin paper cut to match the size of each wall.

First, make sure you have enough space in your shower to add a bench. You’ll need to leave at least 3 ft. of shower area so you can still move around. This bathroom originally had a 5-ft. tub, which we tore out and replaced with a 4-ft. shower base. This left a 1-ft. space for the bench and the overhead shelf at the end of the shower.

The key to an exceptional how to tile a shower tiling job is to plan the shower with the actual tile you intend to use. Use the tile to decide on exact dimensions and positions of benches, alcoves and even wall thicknesses so you can use whole tiles as much as possible and minimize cutting.

A foolproof method of how to tile a shower is to draw a full-scale template of each wall on rosin paper (Figure A and Photo 1). Be sure to draw the walls including the thickness of the backer board and any plywood that’s needed, like on the bench seat. Then mark existing studs that outline alcove positions. Next, lay the tile on the template to decide on the heights, widths and depths of shower features like benches, alcoves and shelves.

Try to wind up with full tiles outlining or covering those features whenever possible. Notice that full tiles surround our alcove. Those tiles determined the final position and size of the alcove. (It’s easier to deal with cutting the tiles that cover the back of the alcove than the ones that border it.) Notice also that the exact height of the bench allowed for full tiles around it—no cutting needed.

Also, adjust the thicknesses of walls and ledges for full tiles. We furred out the 2×4 wall with strips of 1/2-in. Plywood so the glass tile would cap the end without any cutting. We chose framing and sheathing thicknesses to achieve the same aim with the shelf edge. If possible, plan the tile for the large wall expanses so that you’ll have columns of similar-width tiles at both ends of each wall—Study Figure A to make all of this clear. You won’t be able to avoid all tile cutting, of course. The goal is to simplify the tile work as much as possible. The more effort you put into planning how to tile a shower tiling project, the easier it will be to install the shower tile. And you’ll be rewarded with a first-class tile job.

Frame the tile shower

Add blocking to the top and bottom of the alcove, shimming the sides as needed, and fill in the back with foam board. Frame the end wall and then the bench.

If you have a space between the shower base and the wall, as we show, start by framing a continuous wall for this how-to tile a shower tiling project, floor to ceiling, between the base and the wall. If there’s no framing behind the ceiling for anchoring the wall, screw it to the drywall and then add a bead of construction adhesive around the ceiling plate. Next, frame in the alcove. Use your template to establish the height of the top and bottom and then add blocking there. Fur out the side(s) if needed to accommodate tile sizes within and surrounding the opening. If your alcove is on an outside wall, glue 1-in.-thick foam insulation against the outside sheathing using special foam adhesive.

Frame the bench with a 1/4-in. Slope so water won’t pool—Cap the bench with 3/4-in. Plywood, screwing it with 1-5/8-in. Screws. Lastly, add 2×6 blocking to anchor any shelves and any missing blocking at any inside corners.

Cement board tile backer is commonly used for shower walls, but we used a drywall-type tile backer called DensShield for this tile shower. It’s slightly more expensive than cement board but much easier to work with. You score it, snap it and cut it just like drywall.

Whatever material you use, anchor it with 1-1/4-in. Cement board screws spaced every 4 in. at seams and every 6 in. everywhere else. If you have a premade shower base, keep the bottom row of the backer board just above the lip. The shower tile will hang down over the lip to direct water into the base.

Next lay a strip of fibreglass mesh tape (the type for use with thin-set mortar) over all seams and corners. It has adhesive on one side, but many brands don’t stick very well or for very long. If you have trouble, use staples to hold it in place. Mix up about a quart of thin-set mortar to the consistency of creamy peanut butter and trowel it over all the seams with a 6-in. taping knife. Try to avoid big buildups during this how to tile a shower task, which keeps the tile from lying flat.

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Apply waterproofing membrane

Coat water-prone areas with two coats of the waterproofing membrane.

Any area that will be exposed to lots of water during this how to tile a shower wall task should be coated with two coats of a brush-on waterproofing membrane (available at some home centres and all tile stores). Use disposable brushes and let the first coat dry thoroughly before recoating. The product we show goes on pink and dries to red when it’s ready for a second coat. Focus on areas that will get the lion’s share of showerhead water, especially corners and horizontal bench surfaces and recessed alcoves. For extra protection in your tile shower, also coat all of the screw heads in areas that’ll get deluged. As with the thin-set, try to avoid big buildups.

Tile the alcove wall

Spread thin-set on the back of the alcove with a 1/4-in. Notched trowel and then embed the mosaic tile into the adhesive.

Use your template as a guide to snap exact tile layout lines. First, establish lines for the rows of tiles surrounding the alcove. Then dry-stack and measure tiles to get an exact measurement from the bottom of the alcove to the top of the first row of tile. Draw a level line and screw a 1×2 ledger to the wall. The ledger will ensure a perfectly straight bottom course of tiles and keep them from sliding down the wall before the adhesive sets. (You’ll remove the ledger and add the bottom row of tiles later, cutting them to the height if needed.)

Mix up about a quart of thin-set at a time (follow the directions on the bag). Comb the thin-set onto the back of the alcove with a 1/4-in—notched trowel. Then press the mosaic tile sections into the thin-set. Lightly tap the tiles with a grout float to embed each small tile evenly with its neighbours. Look carefully for grout that works its way out between the tiles and wipe it off with a damp rag; it’s tough to scrape off after it sets.

Begin setting the field (wall) tile following your layout lines. After you set each tile, give it a little rap with your fist to better embed it. Dip tiles in water before sticking them to the wall, so they form a better bond with the thin-set. Continually check the rows of tile for straightness. When the thin-set is still fresh, you can even out rows just by pushing a level against several tiles at once. Finish tiling the wall, cutting the top row to fit as needed as you work on this how to tile a shower project. Leave out the row of tiles where the shelf will rest.

Tile the alcove sill and then the sides and top. Slightly slope the sill tiles toward the shower for drainage by piling on a little extra thin-set on the backside. Match the slope on the bottom tiles at the side by taping the bottom tile even with the row above it and scribing the angle with a full tile.

Tile the bench

Tile the front of the bench first. Cut the mosaic tiles into strips if you need to adjust the spacing to get a better fit with less cutting.

Starting at one end, set the tile on the face of the bench. If you’re left with a gap at the other end, cut the mosaic into strips and slightly expand the grout lines between rows. Small variations in the width of the lines won’t be noticeable in this how-to tile a shower demonstration. Lay tile on the seat to gauge the final grout line width between the seat and the face tile. Then add the seat tile, working from front to back and aligning the grout lines with the face tile. Make sure the seat tile edges align perfectly with the face tile surface—they shouldn’t be backset or overhanging. Finish tiling the rest of the field tile above the bench, stopping at the shelf.

Mount and tile the shelf

Frame the shelf in your tile shower. Sheathe the bottom with backer board, rest it on the tile and screw the sides into the blocking. Add the 3/4-in. Plywood and cover the exposed wood with backer board.

Build the shelf 1/8 in. narrower than the opening so you can tip it into place. Leave off the plywood top but add a backer board to the underside. Rest the shelf on the field tile and screw it to the blocking behind the backer board with two 3-in. screws at each side. Then screw the 3/4-in. Plywood top to the framing with 1-5/8-in. Screws and add the backer board to the top and the front edge.

Tile the edge first, supporting it with a ledger screwed to the shelf underside. Remove the ledger after an hour or so, and then finish tiling the underside and top and the field tile above it. Lastly, remove the 1×2 ledgers and add the bottom row of tiles. Also, keep that shower tile looking fresh in the future by regrouting wall tile.

Important Tips to Make Tiling a Shower Easier

Check the Stud Walls

Before laying any tile or even prepping the backer board, you’ll need to check your shower stud walls to make sure they are plumb and level. To do this, place a 4-foot level across all studs. Repeat this action vertically, horizontally, and diagonally.

Studs need to be plumb and level so that walls are waterproof and tiles don’t end up looking irregular, especially in corners. According to Home Repair Tutor, the easiest way to fix studs is to sister a second stud to the crooked one. Use 3-inch deck screws or nails to attach the new stud to the old one and check that it’s now plumb and level.

Prep the Backer Board

Preparation is an important part of laying tiling for a shower floor or shower walls. Of course, you’ll first want to remove the old tile. Then, place a cement backer board as a foundation to install your shower tiles. During this step, check to ensure the cement backer board is sound and sturdy.

If the cement backer board is not soundly in place, you’ll need to add the additional step of removing the old backer board before installing a new cement backer board altogether.

Plan the Layout For the Tile

Preparing a layout for your tile will prevent slivers of tile at the ceiling or corners and will provide you with a distinct guideline to follow. All you need for this step is a pen, paper, and measuring tape.

While in the layout prepping stage, plan to begin on the second row up from the bottom of the shower when tiling. Often, the floor of the shower or the top of the tub won’t be completely square and starting here can lead to a crooked tile installing.

Apply Tape and Mask Edges

Now that your walls are well-prepped, you’ll want first to apply mesh tape. Run pieces of this tape over the seams of the cement board. Then, use painters tape to tape off the edges. You can spread a drop cloth over the shower pan during this step to make the masking easier.

Keep Your Shower Pan in Place

Tiling a shower by yourself can be especially hard. If you’re able to keep the shower pan in place, it will remain an overall straight-forward project for the most part. You can build up a shower pan by scratch using tile and mortar. Or, you could even use a ready-made fibreglass pan. These options may add a few kinks to the project because of the inherent nature of pans to leak, The Spruce says.

Find the Centre and Measure Properly

An important step in tiling a shower is measuring to make sure you have enough tiles to finish the project and cover your entire shower. Note that you should always have 10% more material on hand than you need to finish the project. This will cover your back (and walls) if any mistakes are made while tiling the shower.

Once you’ve properly measured and are good to go, locate and mark the centre of the wall you’re tiling with a pencil. Then, draw a plumb line as a reference mark as well as a level line, DIY Network recommends. To draw a level line, measure up 13 inches. This is the height of one row of tiles in addition to the grout line. These two marked lines will be your initial guide while tiling a shower.

Use Nice, Expensive Thin-Set Mortar

When tiling, apply premium thin-set mortar to the bottom row area. While shopping for the mortar, look for the more costly and premixed mortar in buckets. Opt for this over the less expensive mortar, which is powdered and more difficult to use.

For example, keep an eye out for ARDEX X77 superior sagless thin-set mortar, as suggested by Home Repair Tutor. If used properly, this mortar won’t slide down the wall, and it’s a great option for ceilings being tiled as well.

We have a wide range of Melbourne tiling renovations to help you choose in creating a new design for your house. 

Keep Grout Joints Small

Home Repair Tutor suggests using small grout joints between 1/8 inch and 1/16 inch because they’ll keep cleaning maintenance low for your tile shower. Also, grout joints are likely to expand, so using smaller grout joints can be helpful and also look better than larger ones in general.

And the final consideration – do you have what it takes to do a high-quality tile job yourself. Installing tile is not that tough, but it is incredibly repetitive and requires a high level of attention to detail. If that sounds like you, you can probably handle tiling yourself. This was my first time installing tile, but I’m a total nerd and happen to love repetitive, detailed tasks, and my tile turned out darn near perfect if I do say so myself. (And in case you think I’m just full of myself when our contractor stopped by, he told my husband he was incredibly impressed.)

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