You guys! I am so excited how this project turned out. It was a lot of work… I think 5 weekends but it is totally worth it. Before this project I had never tiled a wall before. We did tile on our back patio (patching the pilars of our foundation repair) but thankfully Cody knows what he is doing and taught me the ropes which now I’m passing onto you! I had always heard that tile is one of the trades you should leave to the experts, and I can see why that’s said, but if you’re willing to put in the effort and time, it is doable.
I’m going to walk through the steps we took from tile demo to completion. This is a big DIY to take on, but in my eyes it is so worth it! I’ve also linked everything we used. If you have any questions, just ask! I’d love to help.
I also have an instagram highlight of the entire process that you can check out here
This is a long DIY so maybe grab a cup of coffee for this read…
Demoing the Old Tile:
This was actually pretty fun. I felt like Chip Gaines on demo day. There’s not a lot of technique involved but the prep is very important. We cut a piece of plywood to cover the tub so the tile falling wouldn’t scratch the porcelain tub. I would highly suggest doing this or covering the tub with moving blankets to avoid damage. Next is safety. Broken tile is VERY sharp so wear rubber boots or some sort of good shin covering so the falling pieces don’t cut you. Additionally wear safety glasses to avoid getting chips in your eyes and (here’s where I failed) wear a mask! I didn’t realize how dusty broken tile would be and I couldn’t breath by the end of demo because I should have worn a mask. You’ll need to remove the shower head and faucet so we turned off the water and capped them for the demo.
Tile gets heavy very quickly so we moved out maybe 10 loads of the old tile instead of trying to get it all at once. We used contractor bags and had a few small rips in the bag but nothing too major.
Down to the Studs:
After you’ve removed all the tile, you’ll also need to remove the cement board or green board (whatever is back there) because likely it’s ripped from mortar pulling on it, or isn’t completely smooth. So there’s no saving it, this needs to be removed. Ours was pretty easy to pry off, then we just used a hammer to remove the nails. At this point if you need to redo plumbing or add studs, this is your chance. We removed our old galvanized piping and added pex pipe and added new studs as well. The plumbing alone took a full day but I won’t get into the details of that…
At this point you will hopefully have an idea of what faucet and shower head you want to use for your remodeled tub. Some faucets are single, double, and triple handles, so you’ll need to address your plumbing accordingly. Like I said- I’m not going to go into plumbing (mainly because I don’t know enough about it lol) to make it work for your new faucet. Or make it easy and buy the same type as you had previously, which would make things way easier.
Cement board is dusty. There is said it. So again I’m going to urge you to wear a mask when cutting it. We cut our cement board using a cement blade on Cody’s circular saw in the driveway. We started with the left wall, then the large back wall and lastly did the right wall with the faucet. We drilled the holes for the faucet with a diamond hole drill bit and we did not drill a hole for the shower head because we used the industrial, out of the wall look. We screwed the cement board on with “Rock On’ cement board screws. It’s important to get the right screws here.
Once the walls were up, we mixed a little mortar (mapei powder + water until it’s the constancy of cake batter) and put it on the seams, then ran mesh joint tape over the seams. We thought we’d be able to do the tape on it’s own and not have to use mortar to glue it down, but it wasn’t near sticky enough on it’s own.
The last step to getting the walls prepped for tile was the “Aqua Seal” the whole thing. We bought this gallon of aqua defense and didn’t even use half of it. We used a cheap roller for the main surface and a cheap chip brush for the seams. It doesn’t have to be perfect and we stopped about 3/4 of the way up the wall where the water wouldn’t be hitting the tile. I guess it’s debated if aqua seal is needed, but I’d rather be safe than sorry and not have mold growing behind our tiles please.
Okay now that the walls are ready for tile, the real fun begins. We mixed our mortar in a 5 gallon bucket. In all, we used two bags for the entire shower. We got a mixing arm attachment for the drill which came in handy to mix. Always start your mortar mix by putting a little water in the bucket before adding the mortar powder so it won’t get caked to the sides. As I mentioned earlier, the goal is cake batter consistency. So we would go back and forth adding more water or more powder until we got it the consistency we liked. We would make about 1/4 of a 5 gallon bucket at a time. I know, I’m giving you precise measurements here (JK) but it dries fast so if you’re taking time doing a lot of cuts, it will harden quickly so start it’s better to do a bunch of small batches. You don’t want it to go to waste.
How to Set Up the Herringbone Pattern:
Main question is what tile we used: I bought this antique blue ceramic tile in the 3×12 size from Floor and Decor.
We kept the sheet of plywood over the bathtub for the entirety of the project. This was great for three reasons: 1- it ensured nothing would fall and damage the porcelain tub. 2- it gave me (a shortie) a step stool, and 3- gave us a working table. To start the herringbone I drew a straight line on the plywood about 3/4 of the way down. (This is a lot easier to see in a video so check out my instagram highlight for a better visual). I measured the exact middle of the wall and marked that line as well. At the middle, I placed the square flat against the wall with the tip of the diagonal touching the middle line. I put a piece of tile there against the triangle and then built the herringbone pattern off of that. Starting with the square against the wall ensures you start at a proper 45 degree angle. When laying it out on the plywood I used spacers as well. Spacers are your best friend and ensure each tile is evenly spaced. We used these 1/8 inch spacers for our wall.
I built the herringbone pattern all the way down covering my 3/4 line then took a white paint pen and marked that 3/4 line across the pattern using a yard stick. This line told us where the bottom (the part sitting against the tub) cuts would be. Before picking them up to cut them, I marked 1,2,3,4 etc. on each tile (the side you’re keeping) so I could remember which piece goes where. The paint pens are great because they’re permanent enough to not come off on with the water from the tile saw, but also light enough to scratch off with your finger nail once it’s placed on the wall.
We cut all of the tiles on a tile saw in the driveway so we got our steps in walking back and forth each day haha. We would also use the square on the tile saw to ensure we were doing proper 45 degree angle cuts. In hind sight, we should have bought two squares for this project so one could stay in the tub and one could stay with the saw in the driveway. After all the pieces for the bottom row were cut, I’d lay them back down on the plywood pattern and make sure they all lined up before applying to the wall.
OMG it’s tile to start tiling:
To start, we added a thin layer of mortar to the wall itself using a trowel. Then I’d add the mortar the back of the tile (always using a trowel so you get the grooves.) I started in the middle, and worked my way to either side. Doing the main pattern is fun and pretty easy. You just build like block (always using spacers) until you reach a piece that would need to be cut. You’ll have the bottom and middle done, then need to cut pieces for your left and right edges, along with the ceiling. It was so exciting to finally have a wall up. To cut the edges, we were a little disappointed to learn our walls weren’t perfectly even. So we couldn’t “bulk cut” 18 tiles at once. We had to measure each tile one at a time. To measure the edge cuts, we’d measure the long diagonal. Then put a square on the tile and mark the 45 degree downwards. We went back and forth of measuring and cutting our own (so we could each tackle an edge) then would team up where I’d mark, Cody would cut, and I’d apply. It’s pretty time consuming but if your walls are straight, you could probably do a bulk cut!
Each wall took a full work day since we had to measure every single cut, mark the 45 degree, walk to the driveway to cut it, then come back in, measure again, usually cut again, or apply. So It was two full weekends of applying tile for us.
Sponge Bath & Spacer Removal:
After all of the tile was applied for the day, I’d take a damp cement sponge a “wash” all of the tiles down. The mortar is like cement so it’s important to get the excess off before it really hardens. It was at this point that we’d remove the spacers as well. Make sure your tile is staying put before removing the spacers (around 2 hours for us) before removing them so your pattern doesn’t shift. It’s a delicate timing balance to also remove the spacers before the mortar completely hardens and the spacer is stuck in there. I’m not going to lie we have 3 spacers stuck in our shower (we cut them off) because I let them sit too long.
Once all of your tile is up, you have to let it cure for at least 24 hours before applying grout. We bought 4 bags of unsanded grout in the shade “white”. I feel like that is misleading color name because true white is called “avalanche” and the stuff named “white” is actually a super light gray (which is what I wanted.) We would mix half a bag at a time again in a 5 gallon bucket. Again, we added water until it was about the consistency of cake batter. Grout hardens a lot faster than mortar so you have to work fast to get it all on the wall.
We used rubber gum grout float in varying motions to make sure there were no holes when adding it to the wall. It said to wait about 30 minutes before wiping it down, but probably the Texas heat and our hot hose water that we mixed it with made it dry a lot faster. As soon as we’d finish a wall, we’d have to follow up with the wet sponge and water and start wiping it down immediately because it was already hardening.
The first “sponge bath” is to get your grout seams to the right thickness. The second sponge down is to remove excess, and the third + is to remove film. We were running back and forth outside getting fresh water as much as possible while trying to not let the grout harden in wavy lines. It was seriously a work out and the most I have sweat in a long time haha. But by the end of the day it was all worth it when we stepped back and saw how great it looked.
I am so in love with the faucet/shower head combo we picked out (and by we I mean Cody is sweet and let me pick). The gold goes so well with the antique blue and its the perfect combination of antique, industrial, and modern. I also love the functionality of the sprayer hose. You’d never guess this was only $132 off Amazon! I’m going to try to find a drain plug and shower rod that matches this warm gold color as well. Fingers crossed I can match it!
Ceiling: (TRUTH- as I’m writing this, this step is NOT done yet)
Since the old ceiling was tiled (funny story: the ceiling, walls, and floor all had the same tile in this room) so we had to remove that sheet rock and we replaced it with cement board. We need to texture the ceiling and paint it to match the rest of the room. We have used a hopper and air compressor to do texture before, but since this is such a small space (and who REALLY cares what the texture of a shower ceiling looks like) we plan to just spray texture it and see how it looks. If it looks way too off, we’ll scrape the whole ceiling in there and hopper texture it to be a consistant look, but fingers crossed we won’t have to do that. Then after that all we have to do is paint.
Caulking: (TRUTH- as I’m writing this, this step is NOT done yet)
Also left on our list is to caulk the edges of the tub where the tile touches to porcelain to make sure no water can penetrate back there. This also will give the seam a clean look. I can’t wait to be done and to get to take a shower/bath in there!
I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT:
Like I said earlier, I’m soooo excited with how this turned out! It was definitely a lot of time and effort, but Cody and I enjoy doing projects together because we get to spend time together and we’re slowly (one weekend project at a time) building the house of our dreams. We are getting married in exactly two months, so the house projects may go on pause for a while as we put together all the DIYs and set up for our wedding (we’re hosting ourselves and are supplying everything) but we will be doing the master shower at some point soon!
Cody will NEVER let us do herringbone again (because of the time consuming 45 degree angle cuts) so the master will be a typical brick lay tile. We have different opinions on this thought because, although it was a ton of work, I would do it again because I just love the way it looks and feel like it really elevates a space so much more than a brick pattern. But I need my project buddy so I’ll settle for the master being normal haha.
Like I said earlier, if you have any questions please let me know! I’m not an expert but would love to pass on the knowledge I’ve gained from this project and others. How cool is it that if you’re willing to put in the time, you can make your home the home of your dreams?