Tips for Achieving a Professional Ceramic
By Mark J. Donovan
Tiling a shower is a great way to add
beauty and charm to your bathroom. Even a light-weight do it yourselfer can
install ceramic wall tile. To tile shower walls all you need is some basic
upfront tile installation knowledge and a few inexpensive tools.
Shower Wall Preparation
When tiling shower walls it is imperative
that a backer board be first installed over the wall studs. I highly recommend
removing the existing drywall or green-board, and installing a cement backer
board, such as DUROCK. Make sure you install the rough side outwards, so that
it faces the tile.
There are newer alternatives to cement
backer board, such as Hardie backer board, however I am still a little bit old
school and wary when it comes to tiling shower walls. Cement backer board is
made out of cement, and consequently will not breakdown when exposed to water.
Other backer board products, however, have a fiberglass surface and a Gypsum
core. If the fiberglass surface is cracked and water penetrates into the Gypsum
core, the backer board will break down.
Cement backer board should be fastened to wall studs with
corrosion resistant screws on 6 to 8 inch centers.
An alkaline resistant fiberglass tape should then be applied
over the seams and imbedded into a skim coat layer of thinset mortar.
When tiling shower walls it is important to
use a thinset mortar. Mastic and other tile adhesives should not be used in wet
areas such as a shower.
Tiling Shower Walls – Drawing Reference
When it comes to tiling shower walls it is
best to start on the back wall.
To start the process of installing shower
wall tiles, find the horizontal and vertical centers of the back wall. Mark
these points with a pencil and then use a level to create pencil marks along the
entire width and height of the shower wall.
Vertical Line Adjustment
Next measure the width of the back wall and
divide it by the width of a tile. This will determine the number of tiles you
will need across the back wall.
Now transfer the wall width measurement and
horizontal center line point onto a nearby floor. Use a couple pieces of masking
tape to identify the end points and center point on the floor.
Next lay the calculated number of tiles out
on the floor between the endpoints, starting from the center point and working
your way outwards.
After laying out the tiles, confirm that
the end tiles are of even width. If they are not, adjust the location of the
horizontal center line so that they are. Transfer this difference between the
measured centerline and the adjusted centerline to the actual shower wall.
Now draw your new vertical line using your
level and pencil. You will use this line for installing your first shower wall
Repeat this process on the other shower
Horizontal Line Adjustment
In regards to finding the appropriate
vertical height, measure the distance between the horizontal line and the base
of the shower. Divide this distance by the length of a tile. If the result is a
whole number the existing horizontal line will be your other reference location
for starting wall tiles. If the result is not a whole number shift the
horizontal line either up or down so that it is, and draw a new horizontal line.
Run this horizontal line along the other
shower walls using your level as a guide.
Once you have marked your final set of
vertical and horizontal lines snap additional lines using a chalk line every 6
to 12 inches in both the vertical and horizontal direction. These lines will act
as reference lines as you install the shower wall tiles.
Finally, tack a piece of 1”x3” ledger board
on the horizontal lines using screws. Your first row of tiles will sit on this
Photo by Mark Donovan
Actually Tiling Shower Walls - Upper
Again use a thinset mortar for installing
the shower wall tiles. The thinset mortar should be mixed to a paste like
Use a ¼” notched trowel to trowel the
thinset mortar onto the backer board. Only cover about a 2’x2’ area and have it
start on either the right or left side of the center vertical line and just
above the ledger board.
First use the flat side of the trowel to
put on a skim coat of mortar. Then apply a second coat of mortar using the
notched side of the trowel. Make nice clean vertical rows when applying the
Now begin to install ceramic wall tiles
onto the shower walls, starting from the center and working your way outwards on
each wall. Push each wall tile into the thinset mortar and lightly tap and
twist it into place using the palm of your hand.
Install the wall tiles in a stair step
pattern alternating between going up and out.
Continue this process to complete the upper
half of the shower walls.
Install the bull nose wall tiles and cut
tiles last. I would suggest either buying or renting a tile cutter for cutting
long straight cuts. In addition, you will also need to purchase some tile
nippers for small curved cuts.
Make sure when installing shower wall tiles that
the mortar does not squeeze up between the tiles. If it does, wipe away the
excess mortar from between the cracks.
Allow the upper half shower wall tiles to
set up for about 16-24 hours.
Actually Tiling Shower Walls - Lower
First remove the ledger board.
Next apply thinset mortar to the lower half
of the shower unit in small sections as was done on the upper half.
Install a row of tiles.
Use a small piece of tape between each wall tile
and the tile just above it to hold it in place.
Install another row and repeat this
process, again applying tape between this row of wall tiles and the ones just
Continue this process until all of the
shower wall tiles have been installed.
Again, make sure when installing the tiles
that the mortar does not squeeze up between the wall tiles. If it does, wipe
away the excess mortar from between the cracks.
Allow the wall tiles to setup over night,
and then remove the tape.
You can then begin the process of grouting
the shower wall tiles.
My Shower Pan Installation Ebook to Learn How to Install a Mortar Shower Pan: For a detailed set of
instructions on building a shower pan, including pictures and a detailed
cross-sectional view of the make-up of a shower pan, see my “Shower Pan Membrane
information on tiling a custom ceramic tile shower, see the
How to Tile a Custom Ceramic Tile Shower Ebook
from HomeAdditionPlus.com. It provides detailed instructions for every
step in the process of tiling a custom ceramic tile shower and is loaded with
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