Dear James: We built our house on a tight budget years ago. Now that I am divorced, I would like to remodel and install ceramic tile in the bathroom. How do I prepare the new shower walls and add the tile? — Donna G.
Dear Donna: Ceramic tile is clearly the wall finishing material of choice for bathrooms. It is attractive, offers many options (color, patterns, textures) and is very durable. When it is installed properly and taken care of, ceramic tile in bathroom should last as long as the home.
The first thing to do is let your remodeler know you want to install the ceramic tile yourself. This is important because ceramic tiles are rectangular, flat and rigid. Your remodeler should make an extra effort to insure the walls are all square and plumb. If the walls are not square, you will have to cut and hand-fit a lot more tiles than expected.
Use cement backer board on the walls instead of standard drywall or water-resistance drywall. The cement board is more resistance to moisture and will create a much better surface upon which to apply the ceramic tile. Once the cement board is installed, all you have to do is fit and apply the tile.
First figure out how much tile you will need. Your home center store may have a computerized tile calculator for you. If not, plan on about a 1/16 to 3/32-inch grout line between the tiles. Tiles can be applied as much as 1/8-inch apart, but narrower grout lines will yield a more professional appearance. The tiles are identical in size to create uniform lines.
Most likely, you will have to cut the final tile to make it fit on the wall. If you have ever cut glass, you should have no problem cutting tile. Just make a score line with a tile cutter (has a hardened cutting edge) and bend the tile. It should snap along the line. Always score the glazed side so the break line is crisp on the side which will be seen.
When making narrow pieces, use a hacksaw with a hardened carbide blade to saw through the tile. If you try the first method, the narrow piece may break in several pieces. When notching the corner out of a piece of tile, saw it in one direction, score it in the other direction and snap off the corner.
If you have checked the walls and they are actually square, you can start at one wall and lay the tiles out along the longest edge. Generally though, it is best to start in the middle of a wall and work out to the ends. This will require cutting more tiles to fit each end, but it looks much better if the walls were not perfectly square to start with.
Once you have all the tiles installed on the walls, all that is left to do is to add the grout. Don't try to carefully put it in each of the gaps or you will be there for weeks. Cover an area and use a grout sponge to wipe it off the tiles so it remains just in the gaps.
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