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Tips on Tiling Around the Tub

by Glyn Sheridan

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Black and white tile around the tub

Tile adds a touch of style in the bathroom while providing a water-resistant surface that is easy to clean. With many sizes and colors of tile to choose from, your project can be as simple or as elegant as you choose. Laying tile around the tub isn't a difficult job, but it does require precision, planning and the correct tools. When you're ready to tackle the job, a few tips will help you get started and ensure you're happy with your bath tile job.

Tiling Around the Tub:

  1. Preparation is key. Preparing the tile surface surrounding the tub is important to ensure quality installation. Traditional drywall and plywood are susceptible to deterioration from excessive moisture, so installing moisture-resistant drywall or cement board will help prevent water damage.

  2. Protect your existing fixtures. Cover the tub, faucets and surrounding floor with a heavy plastic drop cloth and tape it in place along the edges. Grout, bathroom tile and mortar can fall into the tub and may scratch the surface.

  3. Measuring and layout. If you are using a tile pattern, you will want to center the pattern on the spaces being covering with tile. This ensures an even pattern and you will only need to cut the tiles that meet at a wall edge or corner. Measure the dimensions of the exact area you're going to tile. Using tile spacers, lay the tile pattern on the floor, starting in the center of the pattern and building outward until you reach the measured size of the area you wish to tile. The end tiles may be too long, and you may need to cut each one with a tile saw to make them fit. Use this pattern to install the tiles on the wall. Cut the edge tiles, using a wet tile saw, before you begin laying the tile.

  4. Understanding mortar and glue. Tiles may be installed with either mortar or tile glue. Mortar comes as a powder, and you need to mix it with water before spreading it on the wall with a wide putty knife. Tile glue comes prepared in sealed buckets, and you will spread it with a notched-tooth trowel. Apply the glue or grout only to a small area at a time to prevent drying before the tiles are set. Typically, grout is applied approximately 1/8-inch thick, but tile glue may be applied in a thinner layer and still hold the tiles securely.

  5. Use tile installation tools. Tile spacers and a carpenter's level help make sure that your tile will lay straight and clean.

  6. Installing the tile in order. Place one tile at a time, starting with center of the bottom row. Press the tile firmly into the mortar or glue and insert two spacers on each edge before placing the next tile. Additional tiles should line up at the corners and rest snugly against the spacers to ensure uniformity. Install the entire bottom row and check several times with a carpenter's level to make sure the tiles are level and straight. Once the bottom row is correctly in place, repeat the process with the additional rows, working your way upward.

  7. Grout. After allowing the installed tiles to set until firmly attached, you will grout the joints with a mortar grout or a silicone caulking. Grout is applied with a small putty knife to the joints and smoothed into the cracks. You must apply sealer to grout once it dries. Silicone caulking squeezes into the joints from a tube and smoothes into place with a wet sponge. Silicone seals the tile.

  8. Uneven walls. Measure the angles of each corner in the areas where you want to lay tile. If they are more or less than 90 degrees, you will need to cut the first level of tiles at an angle to correct the corner angle. This will help your tile pattern align correctly on the wall. Typically, it's better for tile to be parallel to the vertical lines on any wall.

  9. Cover up your pattern edges. Tiling near the edge of a wall can be hard, and edges often end up looking sloppy. You can cover these edges or corners with molding, making all your edges look clean.

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