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Installing Tile For a Bathtub Shower Surround

Remodeling a bathroom is challenging, time consuming, possibly stressful, but also rewarding when the job is completed. In my previous articles, I explained how to:
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  • Design a bathroom
  • Measure for tile
  • Demolition a bathroom
  • Install a bathtub, toilet, and etc
  • Design a layout

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To properly install tile, you need to first install a temporary ledger board. To determine where to install the ledger board, measure up from the tub deck the width of the bottom tile plus two grout lines. Working from an example in a previous article, the ledger board should be set at
8 5/16 inches from the tub deck.

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  • Tile width
    • 8 1/16 inches
  • Grout line between the tub deck and lower tile
    • 1/8 inches
  • Grout line between bottom tile and the second row off tile
    • 1/8 inches
  • Total
    • 8 1/16 + 1/8 + 1/8 = 8 5/16 inches

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After your ledger board is installed, it is now time to set the shower tile.

For setting wall tile in a shower, you will need a quick set mortar. The advantage of quick set mortar is the tile will stick to the wall better and not sag. Use sanded mortar thinset when applying to cement. Use a latex-modified mortar thinset if you’re applying to vinyl or wood substrates. Do not use mastic for setting shower the shower! Mastic will weaken over time from the moisture of the shower.

To mix the mud base, you will need a 5-gallon bucket and a water supply along with your drill and mixing bit. Mix the mortar as per the manufacturer – recommendation and mix in small batches, as it will dry quickly. When mixing the mortar in small batches, plan on mixing several batches of mortar to get through setting the shower tile.

With quick set mortar, you do not have to set a row of tile, wait 24 hours for the mortar to cure, set another row of tile, wait another 24 hours, and so on as you would with regular thinset mortar.

I encourage you to open up numerous boxes of the tile you are using for the shower. As you are setting the tile, use tile from a variety of boxes to help eliminate any color variations in the tile from box to box.

Plan on making cuts when setting tile. You can rent a ceramic tile saw to help with these cuts. If you are setting the tile by yourself, I recommend installing the full pieces of tile first. When you need to mix additional mortar is a good time to measure and cut the needed pieces of tile. This way you do not have to worry about the thinset drying out as you are measuring and cutting tile one at a time.

To start setting the tile, spread the mixed mortar on the tile. Use a square notched trowel 1/4 of an inch to 3/8 of an inch to spread the mortar on the tile. Refer to the manufacturer – directions for the mortar and use a proper sized trowel as per their specifications.

Press the tile onto the wall. Firmly press each tile in place and give it a slight twisting motion to be sure it makes good contact with the adhesive. As you work your way along the shower wall, place tile spacers on all four sides of each tile to help keep your grout lines consistent with the other tiles that are set. Do not slide the tile more than a of an inch to set in place. Remove your first couple pieces of tile to check and make sure the thinset is evenly applied over the tile.

When spreading the thinset, keep the thinset away from the edge of the tile. Wipe away any thinset that squeezes onto the surface of the tile. Make sure your first piece of tile is set square to your markings. If the first tile is off the rest of the tile will be off. You may need to tap on the tile with a rubber mallet to make the tile flush with the other tiles.

Be sure to check on the tile periodically to make sure the tile has not shifted. Stand back from the shower surround and look at the tile from a distance for any imperfections.

Repeat this process working your way down and up the wall until the entire field tile is set. Be sure to double check the tile as you move along the wall to be certain that the tile you set does not shift and to make sure your grout lines are consistent. Let the tile dry for 24 hours. Then, remove the ledger board and install the remaining field tile. You also install the trim tile at this point.

After the tile is set and you allowed it time to dry, it is time to grout the installed tile. If you are also installing tile on the bathroom floor, it is a good idea to install the tile for the entire bathroom and then grout the entire bathroom at the same time.

In the next article we will discuss setting floor tile. After the floor tile set we will discuss grouting the installed tile.

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