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How to Tile a Shower Wall

Beth Asaff
Shower Walls

If you're wondering how to tile a shower wall because you are planning on tackling the project yourself, you'll probably be surprised to learn that you can accomplish this task yourself within a weekend.

Laying Out Your Tiles

Before you begin any tile installation, you should complete what is known as a dry layout. A dry layout consists of laying your tiles out in the pattern you're going to install them without mortar. This will help you figure out the placement of the tiles, how many tiles to cut and how large your grout joints should be.

To start your dry layout, measure the shower wall you are planning on tiling. Mark off an area of equal size on a nearby worktable or floor so you have a space to lay the tiles on.

The first tile you lay, both in your dry layout and in the shower, should be placed in the bottom, center of the wall. Lay your next tiles evenly out to each side and above. This will give you a balanced layout with cuts of equal size on either side of the shower. When you are installing tile on three shower walls, start with the back wall first.

Cutting and Drilling Your Tile

Part of installing tile on a shower wall includes cutting tiles to fit and cutting holes for your plumbing to come through. Your shower valve, shower head and possibly a tub spout will all need to come through your tile, and you will need to make space for it.

When you measure your shower walls for the dry layout, you should also measure and mark where the plumbing will go. As you lay your tiles in the dry layout, you'll be making all the necessary cuts before you begin tiling.

Cutting tiles to fit on the sides of the shower is easier; simply cut straight lines on a tile saw. You can rent a tile saw from your local home improvement store for the job. Cutting holes for your plumbing is a little more time consuming, but definitely possible.

Start by marking the place where the plumbing will go with a pencil. Next, find the center of where the hole will be on the tile. Larger tiles may need an actual hole drilled in the tile; smaller tiles may only need a side of the tile cut away. In the former case, you will drill a hole with a diamond drill bit into the center of the tile; this will allow you to cut out a large enough hole. In both cases, you can use tile nippers to cut away the tile until you get a large enough opening for the plumbing to come through. Don't worry about making it perfect; the valve face plate and escutcheons will cover your holes.

Tiling a Shower Wall

Once you've completed your layout and made all your cuts, it's time to start tiling. Before you begin, check to make sure you have the right adhesive for the job. Ceramic wall tile can be installed with mastic, a pre-mixed wall tiling compound. Stone tiles, such as marble, limestone or slate should use a white, thin set mortar. Green and black marble tiles need a white epoxy thin set mortar and glass tiles should use a white, latex additive thin set mortar. Choosing the correct mortar is important because you want your tile job to last.

Spread a small amount of mortar along the bottom center of the shower wall and comb the mortar with the notched side of your trowel. The ridges you produce should be uniform in height. If you are installing glass tiles, smooth those ridges out again before installing; any other tile should be pressed into the ridges. Press the tiles one by one into the mortar in the same layout you determined by your dry layout. Twist each tile slightly into place to ensure a good bond with the mortar. Large format tiles, like porcelain or stone tiles, should be beaten into the wall with a wooden mallet.

Continue spreading just a little mortar at a time and pressing tiles in the pattern you determined until the wall is covered. Give the mortar about 24 hours to dry before you grout your tiles, and remember to run a bead of caulk into any 90-degree angle to help the tiles move in the case of house settlement.

By learning how to tile a shower wall, you can save a lot of money that would otherwise go to an installer. Take your time, double check all your measurements and adhesives and you'll have a beautiful new shower wall in no time.

How to Tile a Shower Wall