Tackling a shower tile backsplash - Pro Construction Guide
Tackling a shower tile backsplash

Tackling a shower tile backsplash

A tiled shower. Let’s face it – at some stage during the “we-need-to-renovate-the-look-of-the-house-now” stage, every bathroom is in line for a refresh. And when it comes to refreshing the bathroom, nothing ticks that box like a shower tile backsplash.

The other benefit to a shower tile backsplash is to head off any water damage. Water can be a feisty foe. Leak damage can make tiled walls vulnerable. Do it right and that tiled shower will not only look good, but also give your bathroom some sustainability. Ignore it, and you’re looking at mold, cracks and crumbling until replacement is the only option.

When you set out to tackle the shower tile backsplash, there are variety of options to choose from, including new tile, plastic tub surround kits and professionally installed solid-surface panels. Following are some steps to guide your project to tackle a shower tile backsplash:

Step 1: Prepping the shower wall

Remove the faucet trim and spout. Begin by prying the index cap from the faucet handle and then remove the handle screw.

After you get that squared away, prep the shower wall properly. While there are times when you can install over existing tile, it’s best to remove the old tile. And the old tile area must be smaller than the kit. Build up the surrounding wall to the level of the tile, usually with 1/4-inch drywall.

Put cardboard over the tub to protect it. Put on your safety goggles and then starting at the top, drive a small pry bar about 1/8 inches under the edge of each tile.

While the lower tiles may fall away from wallboard, the upper tiles will be stuck tight. You may have to break each tile and pry off the pieces. In some cases, you might have to cut the drywall and pull it down in a few pieces, and then put up new drywall or backing board to support the new surround.

Next, apply a waterproof membrane to the backer board, which ensures that water will not seep through and cause damage. Using a roller or brush, apply like you would a coat of paint.

Step 2: Tile layout

After you remove the old tile and prep the shower walls, you can start installing the new tile. Make sure you’ve measured properly and have enough tiles for the whole project. As with any tile project, you should have at least 10 percent more material on hand to cover waste and any mistakes made along the way.

Begin at the second row up from the bottom of the shower to make sure you keep everything squared up. Make sure the top row contains a full vertical tile. Measure a flat board to the height of your project and then lay out the tiles on the floor before you place them on the wall. This way you can eliminate potential problems and be able to choose where you cut tiles to fit your design. Use spacers in your dry run to ensure the measurements are precise.

Once you’ve determined your vertical starting point, mark it with a level board that extends from the right bottom corner to the right top corner. This will provide a level base for the first row of tile and help keep everything in place.

Next, lay out the tile on the floor using a board the same length as the wall where you are installing. From the center point, lay the tile along the base all the way to each end. You may have to cut the tiles when you get to the corners.

Step 3: Applying the mortar

Prepare the mortar, adjusting the mix until the consistency is like creamy mashed potatoes or peanut butter. Mix enough for about 30 minutes-worth of work.

Using the flat side of the tile trowel, spread a quarter inch coat of mortar in the area where you want to lay the tile. Make sure there are standing ridges throughout and be sure not to spread more thin-set than can be used in a 15-minute time span. You don’t want the mortar to set, which will reduce the effectiveness of the bond.

Step 4: Cutting the tile

Using a grease pencil, mark the cut lines on the tiles you need to trim. Make the necessary cut using your tile cutter or wet tile saw. If you’re cutting with a saw, use a wet tile saw with continuous water bath to avoid generation and breathing of tile dust.

Step 5: Installing the panels

Press the panel firmly into the corner until it sticks on one side. Press down the remaining side until the tape takes hold and then run your hand over the entire panel, top to bottom. This will ensure the adhesive comes in full contact with the wall. Repeat.

Step 6: Waterproofing

Use latex adhesive caulk to fill the gap between the walls and the panels around the perimeter, including the tops of the panels. For the fixture seams at the joint between the tub and surround and the vertical seams, use a small tube of white kitchen-and-bath silicone caulk.

To apply this caulk, use only what’s necessary to fill the joint. Don’t wait longer than about 45 seconds to smooth it with your finger. Apply a 12-inch to 16-inch bead, smooth it, and then apply the next section. If you find that you’ve applied too little, wait several hours and fill in the voids with a touchup application.


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