How To Tile Shower Walls | Video

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    Nothing breathes new life into your bathroom like freshly tiled shower walls. If you’re thinking about retiling or tiling a shower for the first time, you can do it on your own. All you need is a weekend and a little elbow grease. Here’s what you’ll need to take on this project:


    • ½” Thick Cement Backer Board
    • 1 ¼” Long Backer Board Screws
    • Thinset Mortar
    • Cement Board Tape
    • Paint Roller
    • 1x4s for Ledger
    • Tiles
    • Bullnose Tiles
    • Tile Spacers
    • Liquid Waterproofing Membrane
    • Grout
    • Silicone Caulk
    • Grout Sealer
    • Hammer
    • Utility Knife
    • Drywall Square
    • Hammer Drill
    • Mixing Paddle
    • Drywall Knife
    • Masonry Rubbing Stone
    • Large Sponge
    • Angle Grinder
    • Caulking Gun
    • Staple Gun
    • 4 Mil Plastic Sheeting
    • Level
    • Aluminum Tile Edging (If Needed)
    • Wet Saw (Optional)


    When taking on tiling a shower, be sure to equip yourself with the proper safety gear.

    Install vapor barrier. Start by installing a vapor barrier between the backer board and your wall studs. Staple the plastic sheeting to the studs, covering the entire surface. You can also use silicone instead of staples to adhere the sheeting to the studs. Whatever methods you decide to use, make sure you overlap all the edges. When you reach the bottom of the barrier, overlap the sheeting on the shower side of the tub or shower base. This will ensure that any water that runs down the plastic sheeting will roll into the shower instead of behind it.

    If your shower features a shampoo niche, cut a rectangular piece of sheeting and staple it to the top and bottom of the horizontal studs. Finish the niche by cutting and detaching some additional pieces to cover the vertical studs.

    Plan backer board cuts. Since it’s highly resistant to moisture, you’ll be using cement backer board for your shower walls. Backer board comes in 3×5 and 4×8 sheets and can be installed vertically or horizontally. The ends of each piece must be attached to framing. Plan your layout with as few joints as possible, staggering vertical joints so four sheets never meet. Keep in mind that one horizontal joint along the length of a wall is easier to finish than vertical joints.

    Install lower pieces. Once you’ve planned your cuts, set the board on a flat surface and align a straight edge along the cut line. Score with a utility knife and snap the piece off. Fasten with 1 ¼ inch backer board screws spaced about eight inches apart, keeping the screws at least 3/8 of an inch from the edges and two inches from the corners. Drive the screws flush, or just slightly below the surface.

    Cut trim holes. Cut a tile to fit over the shower valve. After checking manufacturer specifications, lay out a hole for the valve. While holes vary in size and positioning, most valves come with a template to trace onto your backer board. If yours doesn’t, lay out the cut with a compass. Score around the layout with a utility knife. Punch out with a hammer, clean the edges, and install.

    Install upper pieces. Check the distance between the ceiling and the lower piece or pieces of your shower. If the measurements differ, you’ll need to cut a taper on the upper piece. To do this, subtract 1/8 of an inch to determine the width of the upper pieces. Then score and cut as you did for the lower pieces. You’ll also need a 1/8 inch gap between backer board pieces. To create this gap, drive screws partially into the studs above the lower pieces. Then fasten the upper pieces into place as you did with the lower pieces.

    The hole for your shower head arm, also known as a stub-out, only needs to be about one inch in diameter. Drill with the appropriate bit or score and punch out with your hammer. Then install the piece.

    Tape and mortar. You can finish the backer board joints with the same thinset mortar you’ll be using to set the tiles. Mix according to manufacturer’s instructions, using a half inch corded drill equipped with a mixing paddle. Remove spacer screws from the backer board. Fill the spaces between boards with mortar. Use your drywall knife to knock off any [rough or round] (ph) screw holes. Cover each hole with mortar, then apply alkali-resistant fiberglass mesh cement board tape to all joints, including vertical corner joints, pressing the mesh into place with a drywall knife. Cover the tape with mortar, and press down firmly with a smooth trowel or drywall knife to flatten the joint and remove excess mortar. Let all mortar dry for 24 hours.

    Smooth and clean the joints. Use a masonry rubbing stone to smooth mortar joints. Then wipe down walls with a damp sponge to remove dust.

    Apply waterproofing. Waterproofing the backer boards adds an extra layer of protection against moisture seeping in behind shower walls. Before applying waterproofing, cover the base of your shower to prevent staining. Apply waterproofing to the backer board with a paint roller and let dry.

    Lay out first course height. Square tiles are typically laid with continuous vertical joints, while rectangular tiles are usually laid with each vertical joint centered over the tile below. The layout you choose will determine the height of the top of your first course. Once you’ve decided, add 1/8 of an inch for the grout line, and mark the height of the walls with a four foot level. Mark the center point on the back wall and draw a plumb line from that point to the ceiling.

    Install ledgers. Since your shower base may not be perfectly level, you’ll need to install temporary 1×4 ledgers along horizontal layout lines to ensure your courses are level. Fasten each ledger into studs with 2¼ inch screws.

    Set first course. Start your course at the wall that meets two corners. Depending on your layout and whether you’ve chosen continuous vertical joints or a running bond (ph), the first full tile may be centered on the vertical layout line or aligned to one side of the line. If your tile will be centered, mark the center point, spread a thin coat of mortar on the wall, then back butter the first tile as shown, running the trowel’s notches through the mortar to create ridges. Place the tile into place, wiggling it back and forth to set it firmly into the mortar. Once set, use a level to ensure it’s plumb. If you’re using larger tile, it may be easier to notch the shower walls instead of the tile. Continue adding full adding full tiles, applying mortar to the backer board in small areas, so it doesn’t dry out as you work. Back butter each tile as you set it, alternating sides of the course. As you work, place two 1/8 inch rubber spacers between tiles to create grout space.


    Add full-height courses. After setting the last full tile on each side of the course, measure the distance to each corner, and subtract an eighth of an inch for the grout joint. If you’re using ceramic or porcelain tiles, you can cut them with a score and snap tile cutter, but a wet saw will provide a better and faster cut. After marking your cut, draw the scoring wheel across the tile and push down to snap. Continue setting course of full-height tiles up the first wall, measuring and cutting end tiles as you go. If you have a shower ledge, install a scrap 2×4 to support the tile above it.


    Install top course. Check if the ceiling is level. If it’s not, you’ll have to taper the top course as you did the bottom. As you install each tile, measure between the course below and the ceiling. Cut the tiles an eighth of an inch less than that distance, and install them butted to the ceiling with spacers below. If you’re not using bullnose tiles, now is a good time to cut aluminum tile edging to size and secure along the outer edges.

    Tile the plumping wall. For the side walls, begin tiling above the ledger. Continue until you get to a tile that must be cut to fit over the spout stub. Depending on where tiles fall, you may have to cut more than one tile to fit around the shower valve. Make the cuts with an angle grinder. This will make lots of dust. Start by tracing the template or using a compass to lay out the hole. Don’t worry about making perfect cuts. Precision isn’t necessary. When you’re finished, install the tile or tiles and continue up the wall. When you reach the shower stub, lay out the center of the hole on the back of your tile and cut with a 1 and 1/8 inch diamond grit hole saw. Keep the cut wet with a large sponge, so you can avoid overheating and ruining the saw. Install the cut tile and continue towards the ceiling and above the ledger on the remaining wall.

    Install bottom course. Once your mortar is dry and the tile is set, remove the bottom ledgers. Place a tile in the middle of the course, covering the shower base flange. Mark both sides were it overlaps the tile above, subtract a fourth of an inch, and cut the tile to that height. Install with spacers between the tile and the course above. This will leave an eighth of an inch for caulking at the bottom of the course.

    Complete tiling. Install the side wall tiles that will meet the shower base. If you’re using bullnose tiles when tiling a shower, cut the two first course bullnoses to size, so they reach the floor, using an angle grinder if necessary to fit them around the shower base. Install, let the mortar harden overnight, and remove all spacers.

    Apply grout. Mix grout according to manufacturer’s instructions. Use a rubber float to work the grout into the joints, working diagonally so the float doesn’t remove the grout. You’ll only be filling wall joints. The ceiling, corners, and joints between your shower base and tiles don’t need to be grouted. Let the grout firm up for about 20 minutes. Then using a light touch, wipe diagonally across the tiles with a large, soft sponge to remove grout from the face of the tiles, wringing out the sponge often. When you’re done, wipe the walls again to remove any remaining grout. Once the tile is dry, you’ll probably see a haze develop on the tiles. Wait a few hours, then buff the haze off with a dry cotton cloth.

    Apply sealer. Grout is porous and needs to be sealed with a silicone grout sealer. Some tiles, such as stone, need to be sealed as well, so be sure to check manufacturer recommendations. In either case, let the grout cure for at least three days before sealing. Some grout sealers come with a built-in brush or applicator wheel to easily apply sealant to joints. If you’re sealing tiles as well as grout, apply the sealant with a sponge.

    Apply caulk. Apply a bead of high-quality silicone caulk to the corners and the joint where your new tiles meet the shower base. Smooth with a wet finger and keep a damp sponge handy to wipe excess caulk off tiles.

    Your installation is complete! Step back and admire your newly tiled shower!

    Looking for great tools to help get your project done?  Shop Stanley, Black & Decker and DeWALT for everything you need!


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