Tiling a shower all by yourself

Welcome to my Fall 2021 One Room Challenge update. We are on week 4 (of 8) and things are getting pretty spicy. It legit took me two weeks to tile the bathroom shower walls…just the walls.

If you’re thinking of doing this on your own, and have a life you can’t disappear from, hear it from me: it doesn’t go fast. When Mike and I tiled our bathroom shower together I think it took a few days. I could be wrong though, diy’s always seem less painful and eternal when you’re remembering them from the flip side. If you can get a helper, get a helper. I had to stop to mix thinset and make all the cuts and all that takes away from getting tile on the wall. Then I had to clean up everything too. I had on average 2 hours a day I could spend on it. Some days I spent one hour, some days none, some 8 hours. But I’d say that’s my average.

I used blue tape to help hold the tiles in place. The scallop tiles came on a mesh and I basically eyeballed my spacing. I found the cardboard it came on torn into small squares made great spacers. Blue tape sticks really well to Kerdi.

Choose an easy to apply tile

I had my heart set on the scallop tile for the shower ledge wall. That one short wall without any breaks in it (pipes/etc) took an entire day. When that was done I was seriously questioning my life choices. I was also dreading the scallop ledge wall I had planned for behind the sinks…the three sinks with the three drains and the three water supplies. Dear god. Compared to the scallops, the 4×12 tiles on the shower surround went up very easily.

I think it looks more natural to have the back wall installed first, then the side walls next, even though their is a grout joint I think it hides any jagged edges from view better.

I used a wet tile saw. Honestly, I had read that making a lot of straight cuts goes quickly with a manual tile saw. Mike made fun of me when I showed up from the tile store with one of those in hand…because we have two wet tile saws. I figured it would be less mess and yada yada. About 5 or 6 cuts in I was over the manual saw. It scores the tile, then you press on a lever and it breaks the tile along the score line…seemed easy enough. However, it kept making a small sharp jagged corner at the end of each tile. I read I was supposed to file those edges down.

I have zero regrets about that decision.

Over it, I packed the manual tile saw right back in it’s box and pulled out our Rubi tile saw. In order to avoid getting dust and water everywhere I set it up outside. Efficiency mistake number two. This bathroom is upstairs. I was walking up and down stairs about a 100 times for three days straight before I finally conceded and brought the saw upstairs in to the bathroom I was working in. Then, I tapped a blanket on the wall behind it and called myself stupid for not listening to Mike’s advice before he left for the fire up north regarding the saw. I returned the manual saw. I have zero regrets about that decision.

I worked my way up each side, this helped me establish where above the ledger wall the 4×12’s would tie in.

You need more thinset than you think.

Thinset is exactly what the name implies, it’s mortar or tile adhesive that is able to be spread thinly. It comes premixed and in 50 pound bags of dry powder you add water to. Kerdi requires unmodified thinset to apply tile. This meant I had to use the same bags of uncoupling mortar that I used for the waterproofing because that’s all there is in stock in my area right now. (thank you Covid). Thinset bags are heavy. They’re fifty pounds. I had to have my back adjusted after carrying the four or five bags of this stuff upstairs. My install time was disjointed and every time I had to stop (sometimes three times in one day) I had to throw away any unused thinset. There’s probably an entire bag of wasted thinset in my discard bucket. For the record, I had only bought two bags. I went through most of that on just the waterproofing. Luckily, Lowes had tons of this in stock and yes, it required two separate trips to get more.

Ceramic tile edges aren’t pretty, Mine will be covered by shiplap. But I used this edge to keep my line straight and to add some water protection to my shiplap. Plan for how you want to hide the edge of your tile when you’re planning your shower. I don’t like to use these edge pieces and will often add another layer of drywall to hide my tiled edges or use a bullnose or pencil tile or even just a nice steady bead of sanded caulk to hide the thinset but expose the edge of the tile if it’s a solid stone. On ledges I like to use full length stone or miter the tile and epoxy the edges.

Step 1: Find the middle of your wall

For the scallop tile I wanted the rounded edges at the top. We build the ledge wall to be at a height to avoid very small pieces of tile at the bottom, so I knew starting at the top wouldn’t be an issue. Make sure you take this in to account when you’re planning the height of everything in your shower.

I started in the middle of the wall so that the sides end cuts would be the same. This worked out great for my layout.

Step 2: draw a level line around shower to place a ledger

Once the scallop tiles were finished I used a scrap piece of wood to act as a ledger to install the 4×12 tiles in place. The ledger works in two ways: one it keeps the tile level as you install assuring you that all the tile grout lines will line up on all three sides of the shower, and two, it supports the base layer of tile while it cures.

A ledger is important if you plan to install the shower base tile last. I like to install the floor tile before the walls, but I also don’t like dripping thinset all over my freshly laid floor tiles that may or may not be grouted. I set my ledger at 12″ above the floor because that worked best for my layout top to bottom, and it also gave me a nice enough cushion to install the shower pan, curb and tile the shower floor then come back and finish the wall tile.

If you have a laser level this can make drawing the line easy. I used a long level and a sharpie which was also easy.

This is the wood ledger attached with foam tape supporting my base layer. I did the same thing on the other side wall.

Step 3: mix your thinset and install your tile

There’s plenty of information out there regarding installing tile and I’m not the expert. I like to use The Floor Elf’s website for information on installing tile. He’s a great resource. My tip would be to install your first row on the ledger, then let it cure overnight or for a few hours before continuing. Doing it this way allowed me to use double sided foam tape to attach my ledger to the Kerdi and still support the weight of the one row of tile I installed on top of it. So, I guess that’s my other tip: use double sided foam tape to hold the ledger against the Kerdi wall. When using Kerdi, patching holes isn’t fun, so screwing a ledger through the Kerdi would create holes in my newly waterproofed shower that I’d then need to seal. The foam tape helped me avoid any extra holes.

You can see that once I established the height of where the side tiles would tie in to the back wall, I could start the 4×12’s on the back wall.
Blue tape suspenders helped hold my tile in place while it dried. I let that sit over night (but an hour or so is probably good enough) removed the tape then tiled the back wall and sides. Making sure all my grout lines lined up evenly as I went.
I used 1/8″ grout spaces for the 4×12’s. If your tile has lugs you don’t need to use any spacers.
As I worked up the back wall I’d start working the side walls too to keep everything lined up.
I worked my way around the window using my blue suspenders along the top to establish another base layer for over the window. That had to dry before I could continue.
It felt like I’d been tiling for an eternity at this point and felt like I’d never reach the end. But finally the end is in sight.
First side wall done.
Very last ceiling tile left.

Step 4: install the shower pan

If you’re doing the Kerdi method and using one of their pre-made shower pans, you can install the shower drain and pan after you install the majority of the wall tiles. Mike was home to help with this part. The pan can be cut to fit in your space. I had bought a 3×5 pan with an off-center drain. This means the drain was on the end instead of in the middle of the pan. We cut it evenly on both sides and and then on the ends so that the drain hole in the pan lined up with the drain hole we had in the floor. We used the “no-access drain method” they talk about in their install manual. Which meant the drain flange had to be installed before the pan. Once the drain is set and the flange is installed with thinset, then the pan needs to be installed on a flat, level surface with thinset (the same stuff I’ve used up until this point).

Heres Mike installing the drain flange according to their instructions.
Here’s the shower pan and flange installed before the curb

Kerdi also makes curbs, we cut and installed one against the shower pan with (get this) more thinset. You waterproof the drain flange with a Kerdi collar that comes with the shower pan, then you waterproof all the seams and corners the same way as the shower walls. Once that’s done, you leak test.

You can see the curb, waterproofing and our leak test. That rubber tube is inserted into the drain and filled with air to create a seal. Draw a line on the pan, then fill water to the line. Wait over night or at least 4-6 hours to see if the water is still at the line.

Always do a leak test. Theres no time wasted with a leak test, because if you have a leak you’ve saved yourself money and time. We didn’t have any leaks. But I still wouldn’t have skipped this step ever.

Hope this helps you if you ever tile a shower on your own.

Thank’s for following along on my Fall 2021 ORC progress. Follow along with the others here. And check out the featured designer’s progress here.

Special thanks to Better Homes and Gardens for being the media sponsor of the event. All our sponsors who keep this challenge going and to Linda who created the One Room Challenge and continues to bring it all together.


Leave a Reply