How to Tile a Bathroom Tub Surround

How to Tile a Bathroom Tub Surround

I prefer standard bathroom tubs enclosed by tiled walls. Tile is not only peerless in beauty and durability, but it also can be installed with minimal expertise.

The ideal layout for tiled tub surrounds produces a symmetrical appearance with minimal cutting. I start by aligning several tiles along a straightedge on the floor with a 1/8-in spacer in each joint. Although many tiles have integral spacing lugs, they typically create a grout joint that’s only 1/16-in wide, which I think is week looking. I like 1/8-in wide grout joints because they’re stronger and look crisp and clean.

Tile spacers — X-shaped pieces of plastic — are available in various widths from any tile store. The number of tiles represents the longest run I’ll have to tile – typically the distance from the top of the tub to the ceiling. I stretch a tape from one end of the tiles and record the distance to each point. Correlating these numbers with actual wall dimensions allow me to plan my cuts before tiling.

Back walls usually look best with identical vertical rows of cut tiles at each end. I make the vertical centerline of the wall, plumb a level to it and scribe a pencil line on the backer board from tub to ceiling. When laying the tile, I’ll work out from the centerline from both directions. End walls need one vertical line to mark the outboard edge of the field tiles. On this job, the plumbing wall would require one vertical row of cut tiles, which could be placed in the front or in the rear. Because the opposite wall would have full tiles all the way across, I choose to put full tiles in the back to match and to cut trim tiles at the front.

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Instead of drawing horizontal layout lines on the wall, I level a straightedge above the rim of the tub with shims (unless the tub is level enough to work off of, which is rare). I tile from the straight edge to the ceiling, remove the straightedge and then fill in the bottom courses. Horizontal rows of cut tiles can be placed against the tub, the ceiling or both, depending on personal preference. They also can take the form of a decorative band somewhere in between.