Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How to Tile a Shower Surround Like an Amateur

My husband and I have had all the tools, mortar, tile and fixtures to remodel our shower purchased and sitting in the garage for a about two months. We really wanted to get the tiling done, but with six month old babies and two active older kids... it seemed like a daunting task. It was. This Memorial Day we decided to tackle the job. We did all the tiling in one day. It took about three hours to do each wall. . . factor taking care of kids and feeding them, it took a lot longer. We started at 8:30 AM and finished at 2:30 AM the next morning.

What follows are the details of our tiling adventure with a few tips for us (and anyone else) to remember in case we ever do anything like this again. Please know that neither of us had tiled before. We consulted professionals, books, internet web sites, and the hit and miss advice from the employees at Home Depot.

We had a 32X34 inch opening for our shower. It's nearly impossible to find a 32X34 inch shower pan. Believe me, I tried. And, when you do find one, you get really excited and then you see the price tag. Suddenly a 32X32 inch base doesn't seem so bad after all.

In The Beginning


We prepped our area with backer board and a fiber glass shower base. It's 32X32. As you can see, we didn't want to loose those extra inches, so my hubby and a friend framed a 2 inch shelf with 2X4's. This way, we have elbow room of 32X334 inches.

Mixing the Mortar


  • Lesson 1, that flimsy little wooden stick lasted about two seconds. We got smart quickly and used a our kid's metal shovel. This did a much better job. If you aren't as cheap as we are, I'm sure you could go out and buy one. You can also use a drill if you have all the fancy attachments for that. Naturally, we don't have those attachments. Besides, we were afraid we'd burn out the motor of our drill, so we used elbow grease instead. Cheap, yes, I know.
  • We mixed the mortar according to the directions. We were at least smart enough to mix a little at a time, since mortar dries fast enough. The lady at home depot said the mortar should have a consistency like peanut butter. That's pretty close to what it's like. But, don't try to stick in on your bread.
  • Some say to cut all your tile before you start laying it. In a perfect world, that would be great. But, nothing is as square as your plans on a graph paper. We chose to cut as we went. This was a very wise choice. My husband cut the tile using a wet saw we borrowed from a friend. I laid the tile.
Spreading the Mortar


I started on the wall with the shelf at the very bottom. All the sources we consulted advised finding and marking the middle line of the wall first. We did this. Next, we had to decide if we wanted our tiles to lay on either side of the line, or just one tile in the middle of the line. It's basically an aesthetic judgment. I wanted the wanted the tile to balance the mid line.

  • It's nice to have a putty knife as well as a trowel (size of trowel depends on size of tile) to help spread and handle the mortar. It's a pretty dirty job, so a few disposable (rather than reusable since the mortar dries hard) gloves would be advised.
  • Smooth the mortar with the smooth end of the trowel at about a 45 degree angle with even pressure. Next, score the mortar with the notched end of the trowel, same angle, even pressure.
Lay the Tile




  • I positioned the tile in the center of the line we marked and gave it a twist to make sure it made contact with the mortar. The pros advise taking off your first tile to check for even distribution of the mortar. I tried this. I couldn't get the thing off the wall. So, I figure the mortar was distributed evenly enough!
  • We used 12 inch porcelain tiles. Why did we choose porcelain over ceramic? They were on clearance for 99 cents a piece. Notice a theme here?
Stay tuned for more . . .

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