How to Install Tile in a Bathroom Shower
Learn how to install subway tile with a decorative border in a bathroom shower.
In our project, we brought an old '70s bathroom into classic Art Deco style. We removed a wall where an old single vanity used to be in favor of a double vanity. To get the plumbing ready for the new vanity, a vented T was added (Image 1) and the drainpipe extended.
Since the backerboard is already installed around the tub, the tile is ready to be installed. In our project, the homeowner met with a tile expert for design advice and was impressed by handmade 3x6" subway tile. Compared to mechanical or machine-made tile which are lower priced, handmade tiles feature more pooling of the glazes at the edge and appear more textured (Image 2).
In our project, the homeowners decided to go with machine-made subway tile (about $2 to $4 per square foot) versus handmade tile (approximately $13 to $30 per square foot). Machine-made tile (Image 3) is easy to install yourself because the tile is beveled out. As a result, you don't have to use tile spacers. Both the subway tile and accent tiles we used are self-spacing in this way so they don't require spacers. These tiles have a small lip that creates a uniform gap between the tiles, forming perfectly spaced grout joints.
Note: Finishing options include top caps, called listellos, and the use of accent tile between the top cap and field tile. Field tiles are those in the main field of a floor or wall and they're flat in contrast to trim tiles which are shaped. Border tiles border around field tiles while accent tiles are used to add interest, usually intermixed with field tiles.
Before you begin to install the tile, figure out the layout of your tile scheme after measuring all areas to be tiled as well as the tiles. Make a diagram of each wall to help you decide placement of tiles (Image 4). Before you lay the field tile, determine where the accent and border tiles will go.
In our project, we used white subway tiles in the field areas and green glass tile as an accent border for the shower area and walls.
Black accent tiles (Image 5)were intermixed in the floor field tiles.
To start tiling, prepare by running a bead of silicone caulk around the perimeter of the area you are tiling to seal it (Image 1). Use the back of a plastic spoon to smooth the caulk.
Use a wet saw with a diamond blade to cut all the tiles. In our project, we cut two chair-rail tiles at a 45-degree angle to form a picture frame corner to border the shower. Tilting the saw base to 45 degrees gives the perfect cut.
Note: Diamond blades give a professional cut because they allow for more precision versus a score and snap tile cutter.
Use a 360-degree laser level to mark a line for laying the tiles.
With a 3/16" V-notched trowel, spread mastic just under the laser line and down the side of the tub wall to a small area.
Once you are ready to lay the tile, start at the corner, with the chair rail border (Image 2).
Start in the corner and make a miter cut at a 45-degree angle, otherwise it will be too short.
Make a series of reference marks for the top and bottom tiles (Image 1), that way you will know how many tiles to put on the wall. Set the wet saw table to 45-degrees to make miter cuts.
Use a 3/16" v-notched trowel to apply the mastic adhesive to the wall. Use mastic adhesive instead of thinset because the mastic creates a strong instant bond so the tiles won't slip down the wall once they are in place.
You can see why the laser line is so handy, a pencil mark would be covered by the mastic (Image 2).
Once you determine how many inches from the floor to place the border tile, use the laser level to continue to mark around the room. Mark the laser line so that once you start to set the field tiles you will know when you're ready for the accent tiles.
To lay out the tile, stagger the joints so that you have a classic brick style (Image 1). You don't want to set the tile flush with the wall because you will end up with slivers or small pieces of tiles at the edges.
Slide the tile in from the corner and if you have an irregular piece, split the difference and cap the corners with small pieces you cut to size (Image 2). This will give you a nice, clean line throughout the whole wall. For the second row, cut another tile so you can continue the staggered joint and then fill in the rest.
To set the tile, apply an even coat of mastic on only a small portion of the wall at a time. You have about five to 10 minutes to set the tile, so don't apply too much adhesive over a large area. Again, apply the tile with a slight twisting motion.
The accent tiles go on the same way (Image 3).
Allow at least 24 hours for the adhesive to dry before grouting. To prepare for applying the grout, tape to protect any neighboring walls or wallpaper.