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How to Tile a Shower

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Tile a shower yourself? You have already tossed around the idea of whether to install a prefab shower or a tiled shower...and the tiled shower won out.

Tools and Materials

1. Shower Stall is Stripped to Studs

We are assuming that the shower stall is already completely stripped down to the studs. This means everything except for floor pan: walls, ceiling, hardware. If you're having trouble contemplating the sheer ugliness of demolition, this is your second chance to hire a remodeling contractor. (We are not covering shower pan replacement in this article, so either assume that the same pan remains or that you are replacing one-for-one with another pan)

2. Install Cement Backer Board

Install cement backer board over 4 mil plastic stapled to studs. Common types available are Wonderboard or Hardibacker (James Hardie Industries). Cement board is a material designed for intense water applications, as opposed to drywall greenboard. Greenboard is for the outlying areas, not for the shower itself.

For detailed information, see our step-by-step cement board installation guide.

3. Mark First Row of Tiles

Using a level, mark the location of your first row of tiles with a contractor's pencil - this will be the bottom row. Avoid having the bottom edge of the tiles exactly hit the bottom of the cement board. Instead, make sure there is an overlap of about a half-inch.

4. Mortar Bottom Row

Apply thinset mortar to bottom row area. When purchasing thinset mortar, my advice is to buy the more expensive premixed mortar (in buckets), instead of the less expensive but more difficult powdered mortar.

5. Install First Row of Tile

Use your notched trowel to lay down a thin coat of mortar. Firmly press in your first row of tiles. Tile should stick without any other aid. Let this row set for at least half a day, because all other rows depend on this row.

6. Continue Rows of Tile Upward

Install upper rows, keeping them spaced away on all four sides with tile spacers (inexpensive plastic "crosses" available at your hardware store). Keep in mind proper tile spacing technique. Continue to top. Unless you are lucky enough for the upper-most row to be an exact fit (highly unlikely), you will need to cut to size with your wet tile saw or snap cutter

7. Grout the Tile

Let tile set for 48 hours. Use your rubber float to press grout into the open seams. No doubt you will want to choose a type of grout whose color complements your tile. Continue to press wet grout into the seams, scraping away the excess. Follow with a wet sponge to further smooth the grout into the tiles. If you apply too much pressure or wipe parallel to the seams, you will remove the grout from between the tiles. Be sure to see our video about applying grout to tile.

8. Remove Grout Haze and Seal Seams

Repeat process until haze is nearly removed (haze cleaners are available to further remove grout haze). Finally, seal seams with special grout sealer. Failure to seal seams means that water can work into the seams and behind the tile, eventually destroying your careful work.
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