Tiling a shower personalizes your bathroom. All aspects of the tiled shower are your choice: tile type, size, tiled vs. premade shower pan, and even extras like cubbies, shelves, and seats. When your tiled shower is done, it will be a truly unique creation that reflects you.
When you tile your own shower, you save considerable money over hiring professional tile workers. Tiling a wet area is a highly satisfying do-it-yourself project that rewards patience and attention to detail.
Because of the importance of waterproofing in this project, it’s best left to licensed contractors with proper permits or only experienced DIYers. Whoever completes this project, it’s important to have the shower wall and shower pan inspected afterward to ensure the waterproofing is done correctly.
When to Tile a Shower
A cracked tile or two can be replaced. Poor or discolored grout alone usually isn’t cause to retile the shower, as grout can be tinted, repaired, or replaced. But when much of the existing shower tile is cracked, missing, or leaking water, it may be time to tile your shower walls and floors.
During a bathroom remodel, tiling the shower usually happens after the room has been stripped or demolished, basic plumbing and electrical services have been installed, and walls framed. After the shower has been tiled, the bathroom floor and cabinets are installed and the walls are painted.
Before You Begin
Tiling a shower is a major undertaking for most do-it-yourselfers. So, consider your shower tiling project within the context of your bathroom as a whole.
Do you also want tile on the bathroom floor and walls? Bathroom floor tile and wall tile are separate projects from tiling the shower, as they often use different tile materials and have different waterproofing needs. Even so, it’s helpful to incorporate them in these early planning stages so you can coordinate styles.
Budget enough time so that you can work at a slow but steady pace. Rushing tile work isn’t advisable because it’s so difficult to back the errors out. You also cannot speed up tile work because you need to build in sufficient waiting time for tile grout and mortar to fully dry.
Have alternative bathing facilities lined up before you start tiling. The shower will be out of commission for at least one week—likely longer.
Staging Area for Materials
If you have available space outside of the bathroom, use it to store building materials. Creating a staging area outside of the bathroom is important because you will need the bathroom floor to lay out the tile before applying it to the shower.
Open the tile boxes immediately to check for damage, then close them back up for protection. Store backer board and plywood on edge. Water from the wet tile saw can damage floors, so locate the saw outdoors or in a garage, if possible.
Tiling a shower isn’t a quick, easy fix. If you just need a basic, serviceable shower, pre-fabricated shower units made of acrylic or fiberglass install quickly, are usually reasonably priced, and have no installation waiting periods. Pre-fab units work well if you don’t mind sticking with predetermined sizes and styles.
Type of Tile to Use for Showers
Shower tile should meet or exceed waterproofing specifications for both the walls and the floor. For the floor, the tile should provide enough grip to stand on when showering.
Shower Wall Tile
Any tile expressly labeled as being porcelain tile can be used for shower walls. Porcelain tile has a water absorption rate of 0.5 percent or lower—essentially, it is waterproof.
You can identify porcelain tile by the Porcelain Tile Certification Agency (PTCA) trademark on boxes and product literature. On its website, the PTCA maintains a list of Certified Product Lines.
Porcelain isn’t the only type of tile you can use in a shower. Most glazed ceramic tile can be used on shower walls. Glass tile isn’t ceramic or porcelain, yet it’s an excellent shower tile for its brilliant color register, near-zero water absorption rate, and easy cleanability.
Tile water absorption rates, DCOF slip resistance, break strength, and PEI abrasion resistance ratings are listed by tile manufacturers on the specification sheet. You’ll find these sheets on manufacturer or retailer sites or on product literature. Some manufacturers’ sites help you filter out tiles that do not meet specifications for shower walls and floors.
Shower Floor Tile
With water and soap underfoot, shower floor tile can get slippery and dangerous. So, you want your shower floor tile to provide enough grip for bare feet.
The coefficient of friction, or COF, is a standard for rating how slippery any item is. In the tile industry, this is usually called the DCOF wet target or value.
Shower floor tile should have a DCOF value of equal to or greater than 0.42. This is the standard for interior level tiles that are expected to be walked upon when wet. Higher numbers mean greater slip resistance.
Different factors can affect slip resistance. For example, some mosaic tiles may have poor slip resistance, but the great number of wide grout lines provides friction for bare feet.
Building or Adding a Shower Pan
While this project assumes that a fully plumbed, operable shower pan is in place, you may want a new shower pan. You can either build a shower pan from scratch with tile and mortar or you can use a pre-built shower pan.
- Tiled Shower Pan: You can build a shower pan with shower floor tile, layering a base of mortar to create a slope that moves water toward a central drain. While this method affords you the most creative freedom and has a sleeker look, there’s also a greater chance of water leakage.
- Pre-Built Shower Pan: Even if you want to use tile on your shower walls, you can still pair the tile with a pre-built, single-piece fiberglass or acrylic shower pan. The look is plain and functional but the chance of water leakage is greatly reduced. Plus, it’s easier and faster to install. For many do-it-yourselfers, combining tile walls with a pre-built shower pan is the best of both worlds.
Cost of Tiling a Basic Shower
The tile purchase comprises most of the cost of tiling the shower. Tile prices greatly vary, ranging from $1 per square foot for basic, glossy white subway tile to $50 to $75 per square foot for designer artisan tile.
In general, estimate on about $5 to $10 per square foot for tile. Setting materials will cost another $4 to $6 per square foot.
Because shower projects often uncover water damage to the underlying structure, figure in another $200 to $600 for any necessary do-it-yourself repairs.
- Turn off all electrical circuits that service wires running through walls adjacent to the shower.
- When using the wet tile saw, make sure that the water is fully bathing the cutting area before you begin cutting.
- Water not only holds down dust, it also partially helps to prevent tile chips from shooting back at you.
- Use eye, hearing, and breathing protection when cutting tile or when demolishing the existing shower.
Source: The Spruce