Monday afternoon felt like Christmas morning at my house. Why, you ask? Because after 90+ hours of work — planning, cutting and adhering — my B&W pink ceramic wall tiles are all finally installed. When the very last tile was put into place, the happy dancing commenced. The pink tile makes it the space “glowy,” as Pam would say. And after having the floor covered up to protect it from mortar spills during the install, it finally came out of hiding to meet the wall tiles. Let me tell you — I am in love.
To commemorate the moment, I set up a tripod and snapped a few photos of myself acting like a weirdo. As soon as the photo shoot was over, those pants went in the trash. I have this bad habit from art school of wiping my hands on my pants, which has produced a lot of “designer jeans” over the years. These bad boys were encased in mortar and nearly stood up on their own. Yuck. I had also tossed the drywall jeans. So, better figure a clothing budget into all the 84 costs to consider for a bathroom remodel, if you’re doing it DIY.
Anyway, back to the bathroom. Prior to this marathon wall tile session, the only vertical tile installations in my repertoire were two, small, one-inch tile back splash jobs in my previous and current kitchen. So, given the size of this job, before beginning I researched tile installation as much as possible — trying to anticipate the unique challenges that may be encountered on my job. In reality, I’ve found that while it is great to do a lot of research to prepare for a job like this, you really do learn the most from actually doing the work. That being said and knowing what I know now, I was an absolute nut bag for attempting this tile job as my first foray into full bathroom tiling.
While installing wall tile was not as physical a strain lifting heavy pieces of drywall and cement board, figuring out the tile layout took me a day and a half of straight mental work. I’m a very visual person who is not a math expert, so doing the tile layout meant a lot of sketches. I measured and counted tiles, obsessed over the exact size of the grout lines and how their size affects everything, and agonized over how to make the transitions around all the corners in the bathroom. After finally deciding on a pleasing layout and getting the guide lines drawn on the walls, my brain was reduced to mush.
Once the layout was finalized, it was time to start putting up the full tiles. The seven-feet-high walls of of pink tile in the shower felt like an endless job. At one point, I thought I might die in there before all of the tile was installed. Tiling a shower plays games with your head.
See that niche? It took me a solid six hours to do just this small section of the shower. The inside of the niche was especially difficult. The slightly sloped angle (which allows water to drain out) made for difficult tile cutting. Proudly though, I managed to keep all the grout lines in line. Impressed?
Over Labor Day weekend, when I originally hoped to finish installing the wall tiles, I realized that the wood trim around the windows, door and closet needed to be installed before I could put in the tile near those spots. This necessitated my deciding just how I was going to frame the closet. I then had to take measurements and head off to the store to find acceptable trim for the job. During the trim shenanigans, I also accidentally hit my finger with a hammer, causing another slight delay until the throbbing slowed enough to continue.
So far, the closet opening is looking pretty good. Making the door for this closet terrifies me, but there is still plenty of time to figure that part out as it is not essential to finish before we can start using the bathroom.
The wall end-caps, the top of the partial wall, and the shower curb were difficult and slow going. It took me another whole day to do these areas. Making sure the everything was straight and that the curb sloped correctly were nerve wracking and very time consuming.
Now the only “hole” in the tile wall is where the vanity will be built. It was helpful both in planning the vanity and for tile layout purposes, to draw the outline of the vanity directly onto the wall. Doing this made it easy for me to see where the tile backsplash should go.
- Do spend the time agonizing over the layout. It is a lot easier to redraw lines on the wall than to remove tiles once they are adhered. The layout is, in my opinion, the hardest part of tiling.
- Set a low row or two of tiles for the length of the wall, making sure they are level and then let them dry overnight. This will create a good base for all of the tiles above to sit on.
- As you go, make sure to check that each new row of tile is level and plumb — maybe not every tile, but every row. This helps prevent your suddenly realizing that your whole wall went crooked somewhere.
- Try to make the wall as flat as possible. Lumps and humps where cement board seams meet or drywall bows a bit, happen. Do your best to keep things flush and flat.
- Buy, borrow or rent a tile saw. You will need it.
- Even if your tile has lugs (bumps on the edge that act as spacers), buy and use the plastic “x” spacers anyway. I bought a box of 1,200 spacers for $6. It was money well spent.
- Pre-mixed mortar is more expensive, but saves time — says the girl who spent “only” 90 hours installing wall tile.
- Make sure to buy extra tile. I bought 20% more 4.25″ square wall tiles than I needed, as well as extra specialty pieces like bullnose and cushion edge tiles. Some tiles will be chipped or broken in shipping and mistakes happen. Plus if 20 years down the road you need some replacements, you’ll have spares.
I’m totally jazzed that the tiling portion of this bathroom remodel is over. Since all the tile is on the wall instead of on a palette in the garage, my husband Jim can actually park his car in there again. That makes me months early on my promise to have it cleared out before the snow flies.
Now, on to grouting.