This project will take about 3 to 4 days of your time.
You’ll spend a lot on supplies, but you may still save money by DIYing.
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What you'll need:
Level (bubble or laser)
Chalk snap line
1/4-inch notched trowel
Wet tile saw
Hole cutter drill bit
Rubber grout float
Wooden story pole
Protective floor tarp
Wet and dry vacuum cleaner
Personal protective equipment
Shower wall tile
Cement backer board
Cement board tape
Liquid waterproofing membrane
Grout haze cleaner
Is there anything more exciting to an expert DIYer than the tile aisle of the hardware store? From delicate glass tiles to white-and-black subway tiles, shower tile ideas for your bathroom are truly endless. Tiling a shower wall by yourself can save you a couple of thousand dollars, but only if you're incredibly confident in your measuring, leveling, waterproofing, and wet saw skills. We'll walk you through how to prepare your shower wall and—fingers crossed—install wall tile that is even, sealed, and stunning.
Prepping Your Area
Tiling a shower wall comes with a hefty list of materials. And since time is of the essence—especially if you only have one bathroom—it's essential to gather all of your supplies before you begin. Turn off the electricity for circuits behind your shower wall. You'll be securing the backer board into studs and don't want to risk hitting a live wire.
Unless you're adding tile to a brand-new bathroom, you’ll likely need to remove the old tiles or cut away the original plastic stall with a reciprocating saw. Protect surfaces by laying down a cloth tarp on your floors and shower pan, and get ready to dive in. Clean up any debris as you go with a wet and dry vacuum cleaner to avoid slipping.
Ensure the wall behind the old drywall or backer board is clean and void of mold or water damage. This is just one reason why it's invaluable to have an alternate bathroom available during construction. If you find any issues behind the old tile, you'll need to call a local water damage restoration company before proceeding.
One last thing: we recommend setting aside an outdoor workstation before beginning. It's best to cut concrete backer boards outside to avoid breathing in silica dust. We also recommend designating a staging area for your tiles so you know that everything fits and looks great before breaking out the thin-set.
Let's start with the fun part and pick those tiles. Shower wall tiles come in a few common materials: porcelain, ceramic, glass, and travertine. You can also go out on a limb with unique spa-like materials, such as pebbles, granite, and slate. Each of these is waterproof enough to handle the shower water but varies in durability and price.
Stage Your Tile Layout
It should be easier to envision the ideal layout of your tiles once you have them in hand. While a standard grid pattern is most traditional—and easiest for newbies—you can also opt for alternating brickwork or subway tile patterns, diamond shapes, or a combination of small and large tiles.
Choose your tile spacers in this stage as well, as these small separations will play a large role in your measurements. Measure the size of your shower wall and lay out your intended tile design on the floor to double-check your math. Also, since your tiles are unlikely to fit the exact measurements of your wall, you'll need to cut the tiles that butt up against any corners.
To ensure horizontal symmetry, split the difference between two tiles on either side of the wall instead of only cutting the last tile that meets one side of the wall. It's best to have full-sized tiles at the top of the wall and partial tiles at the bottom, so be sure to measure accordingly from the ceiling.
Waterproof the Wall
Measure the empty wall and cut your cement backer board to the proper shape. It's best to work with a thicker backer board—about 1/2 inch is best. Due to its thickness, you'll need a cut-off tool or angle grinder to cut through the cement and a hole saw to make way for the faucet and knobs.
Attach the backer board to your wall with concrete screws and a drill, applying screws every 4 inches along the seams and every 6 inches inside the board. Don't worry about the separation between the cement boards and your cutouts. Close up this area with cement board tape, and smooth it down with a small amount of thin-set and the flat side of your trowel.
Last but not least, break out the paint roller to apply a layer of waterproof membrane according to the can's instructions. During the several-hour drying phase (this varies), take a well-earned break.
Create what's known as a story pole to help transfer the tiles from the mock layout to your wall. Mark the standard distance between tiles and your tile spacers, so you don't have to measure every time.
When you add the tiles to the wall, start with the second row from the bottom. As we mentioned earlier, the very bottom row will likely include partial tiles precisely measured to fit that row, so add a piece of pre-measured scrap wood in place of this row for now.
Measure the top of the second row again and confirm with a spare tile. Using a level, mark the row with a snap chalk line.
Apply the Thin-Set
Mix the thin-set according to the label's instructions, either by hand or with a mixing tool on your drill. Once the thin-set matches the consistency of peanut butter, apply a thin layer to the area directly behind where the first two or three tiles will go. Thin-set dries quickly, so only apply one layer of thin-set and tiles at a time.
Most professionals recommend beginning at the center of your tile grid and working your way out to the edges and complete the trimmed tiles last. Smooth the thin-set with the notched side of your trowel for texture.
“We always request that our tile installers start from the middle of the wall and work to the edges,” says Bob Tschudi, Angi Expert Review Board member and Raleigh, NC-based general contractor. “Otherwise, you can get a lopsided pattern, with full tiles on one side and cut tile on the other.”
Secure the Tiles
If you're working with larger tiles, add a small amount of leftover thin-set from your trowel to the back of the tile as well—though this isn't necessary for small tiles. Press the tile firmly but gently enough to keep the cement from spreading too far. You can wiggle the tile slightly to ensure it’s connected. Remember to add tile spacers between each tile and its neighbors.
Add your rows upwards toward the top of the wall until you reach the ceiling, leaving space along the edge of the walls for any partial tiles. Remeasure the remaining spaces, and add the trimmed tiles to the bottom and side rows.
After the thin-set fully dries—which typically takes between 24 and 48 hours—prepare your grout and spread it with a rubber float across the new tile. Make sure it fills every tile joint. You'll need to wait an additional 24 to 72 hoursfor the grout to dry before you can use the grout sealant—an important step for waterproofing shower tile.
Clear away the remaining unwanted grout and sealant with a grout haze cleaner and a soft cloth.
DIY Tiling a Shower Wall vs. Hiring a Pro
Just a quick glance at the tools and supplies list is enough to show that this is no small DIY feat. However, if you already have most of the necessary power tools, you could save a good deal of money by doing it yourself. The average cost of pro bathroom tile installation is $2,000. But you can save between $600 and $800 on your overall budget by cutting out the cost of labor.
The final cost will also come down to the type of tile you choose, the cost of initial deconstruction, if you change out the shower pan, and whether you choose to bring in a local waterproofing expert to check your work.
“When tiling or re-tiling a shower, we always specify the installation of a new shower pan,” says Tschudi. “Otherwise, you risk having a brand-new tiled shower that leaks.”
Frequently Asked Questions
While every shower tiling project is a bit different, there are a few frequently asked questions from home DIYers.
Is there an ideal temperature for tiling a wall?
If your bathroom gets too hot or cold, the various adhesives will not secure as tightly. Before starting, be sure your bathroom temperature falls between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
How much does it cost to repair wall tiles?
Replacing a section of shower wall tiles is a much smaller project than starting from scratch. You may not need to remove and replace the backer board or re-waterproof the area. A typical DIY tiling repair project costs about $22 per square foot, or between $280 and $340 if you hire a local tiling pro.
When should I call a professional?
Since tiling your shower wall is already a large undertaking, small details can push it from a DIY to a pro project. Mold, water damage, and structural changes—such as adding a shower niche—all require the eye of an expert. Also, if you need to adjust the plumbing or wiring surrounding the shower wall, you may need a permit and a licensed professional.