Transform Your Bathroom with Tile

Tackle a trendy tile project yourself with these techniques and video tips.

This circa-1990 bathroom desperately needed an update.

The shower is one of the trickiest areas in any home to get right. Even experienced contractors can have a hard time waterproofing a space that is so frequently inundated with moisture — all while aiming to create an attractive design.

The truth is most wall materials aren’t meant to get wet, and even those that are touted as water-resistant can sometimes fail to prevent damage in the wettest of spaces. But there are materials and installation techniques that you can use to prevent water seepage and create a stunning look. Read on to find out how we transformed a shower space from damp and dated to watertight and with-it.

Removing Tile
Whether you’re replacing just one broken tile or redoing an entire shower, it is important to use care when removing the old pieces. You don’t want to damage the surrounding materials and make more work for yourself. A multitool with accessories for grout removal and scraping off adhesive speeds up this task, but you can do it with a trusty hammer and a cold chisel. And once you get started, you’ll be rolling along in no time.

If your project calls for replacing the backerboard, removing the tiles becomes a less-tedious task. Be sure to protect the tub with a drop cloth before demolition.

Watch this video tip about how to successfully remove one tile without damaging the surrounding materials:

Backerboard Basics
It’s often difficult to detect water seepage behind existing tile surfaces before problems such as mold have already taken hold. Because tiles and especially grout can crack over time without notice, it is imperative that the walls behind these materials are waterproof and won’t disintegrate when exposed to moisture. Cement board offers these characteristics, and it’s easy to install.

First, measure and cut it to fit within the shower space, making sure to include about 1/2 in. of space between the bottom of the board and the top of the tub. This will help to prevent water from coming in contact with the bottom of the board. An angle grinder with a diamond blade makes quick work of cutting cement board. (Be sure to wear safety glasses and a respirator when cutting cement board.) Attach the backerboard to the studs with galvanized nails or rust-resistant screws. Finally, seal the seams and fasteners with fiberglass mesh tape and thinset.

TIP: Be sure to purchase backerboard that is the same thickness as the drywall adjacent to the shower space. This will provide a seamless transition from the edge of the bathroom wall to the edge of the tile.

Trending Up
Tiling a vertical surface can be tricky, especially when you’re installing long, narrow tiles soldier-style (tightly spaced and each course aligned rather than staggered). But we DIYers like a challenge, right? And the finished look is certainly sleek and trendy.

With any wall-tiling project, always start at the center. Mark a line and set the first tile so that it is centered on that line. From there, work your way toward the corners. Keep in mind that all seemingly identical tiles vary slightly in size and shape, and these small differences can add up to a big mess by the time you reach the last course. That’s why we recommend using wedge-shape spacers when tiling a vertical surface, as they allow for minute spacing adjustments to level each course as you go. For this project, we used 3 x 12-in. Allan + Roth glass wall tile in Smoke, available at Lowe’s.

It's challenging, but you can perfectly align and level each course of tile with wedge-shape spacers. Watch this video to learn the proper techniques for perfect tile spacing and grouting:

TIP: Yet another use for good ol’ duct tape is holding tile in place while the thinset cures in areas where there are no supporting tiles below.

Cutting Glass
Glass tile doesn’t cut the same as ceramic, natural-stone or other tile materials, but you can still use standard tile-cutting tools on it. For this project, we used a wet tile saw with a fine-grit diamond blade. If you don’t have access to a wet tile saw, a manual double-bar tile cutter works just as well, though you’ll need to follow up the cut by knocking down the sharp edges with a sanding stone.

Whichever tool you use, the most important factor in cutting success is the quality of the color backing on the tiles. Before you purchase a large amount of tile, test cut a sample to see whether the color comes off. If it does, look for better-quality glass tile.

Watch this video to see these glass-tile-cutting methods in action:

Framing a Niche
Though inexpensive to create, a built-in shower niche provides a high-end look. It’s best to wait to frame a niche until after you have cement board and several courses of tile installed on an adjacent wall. That way, you can plan for full tiles surrounding (and inside) the niche.

To create a niche, first loosely install cement board on the wall with the stud locations marked. After tiling several courses on the adjacent wall, mark the niche location on the cement board. Next, remove the cement board from the wall and cut out the niche location. Then add the framing pieces between the studs in the wall. Permanently install the cement board, adding pieces to the inside of the niche. Note: Create a 15-degree slope away from the wall with the piece of cement board that is the shelf of the niche. This will prevent water from collecting inside the niche. Finish by adding fiberglass mesh tape, thinset and waterproof membrane to all of the fasteners and seams.

This small project with big impact needn’t be restricted to shower spaces; you can add a niche to almost any wall, and we have detailed plans for how to do it.

Grouting Guidelines
With tightly spaced tiles such as those shown in the photos, there isn’t much room for grout. To make the most of the available space, first scrape out any excess thinset between the tiles using a utility knife. Then create a 3:1 mixture of grout and thinset. This will help to thicken the grout so it adheres better to the tools and joints.

After working the grout into the joints, wipe off the excess using a damp sponge. Continue to wipe the grout off of the tiles, rinsing the sponge after each pass. Let it cure and then finish the tiling project by applying grout sealer.

Bonus Video: