Top Tips for Getting Bathroom Tile Right
By Jim Thompson
Good planning is essential for bathroom tile that’s set properly and works with the rest of your renovation. These tips help you do it right
Tile layout is king in any bathroom renovation. Planning tile layout carefully from the start can aid in everything from framing changes to niche locations to fixture locations to lighting locations. Without careful planning, your results might be close to what you wanted — but not quite perfect.
I have a lot of rules I follow when building a bathroom. Some are industry guidelines, most are local codes — and many are just my own. Here are my 10 top rules for good bathroom tile installation.
1. Plan it all out. This is my home. I wanted three shower niches (one for each of my girls) and one large niche for shampoo bottles.
To achieve this look, I needed some custom framing and a header above the tub on the long wall. This was planned from the beginning, and I made sure that the plumber and electrician would not need to run power or plumbing lines through these wall cavities.
Tip: Mark the wall studs with spray paint or mark all sides with a permanent marker, informing all tradespeople that the space is reserved for the tiler.
Other details, such as recessed medicine cabinets, downlights and fans, also should be specified at the start of a project and checked before the other tradespeople come to install the plumbing lines, water lines, electrical lines, heating lines, cooling lines, ductwork and low-voltage wiring.
2. Double-check tile sizes. The single biggest mistake I see people make in tile layout is assuming a 12-inch by 24-inch tile is in fact 12 inches by 24 inches. Most tile is sold in European sizing, and the tile size is 30 centimeters by 60 centimeters. This size could also have a grout joint factored in, so your tile could be closer to 11 3/8 inches.
By purchasing a good sample of tiles you can lay them out, check your tiles for warping and soak-test them for quality control.
3. Lay your tile from the ceiling down. Many shower niches end up with cut tiles, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Lay out your tile pattern from the beginning so that the mitered pieces start exactly on a grout joint. I find that laying out the tile pattern from the finished ceiling hts makes it easier to get it right. We will often draw up the design on the wall board prior to waterproofing to make sure the layout is right before installing the tile.
If your current wall studs are hindering the plumbing fixtures from being placed where you want them, now is a good time to address this.
When working with a linear drain that has a tile insert, your grout joints should run through the drain for a flowing look. This shower is a gem, set by Tarkus Tile. A good setter will blend the inventory of tile and switch up the veining or grain of a tile. This shower is a great example of both.
4. Be careful around doors and windows. Tile layout around doors and windows is critical. Every window or door has its own challenge, and the best way of waterproofing the assembly may be a challenge.
Make sure your shower or bath’s waterproofing system is designed with the windows in mind. This way you can prevent water from getting behind the tile and into the window framing. Having tilted sills and room for expansion will ensure the tile job holds up well for years to come.
5. Get the drain right. Setting the drain requires a lot more than just dropping it in somewhere in the middle. Many drains have zero room for adjustment, and getting them perfect requires exact planning. This drain is made by Schluter Systems and offers up a little wiggle room in final position. Not all do, so plan this out before your plumber arrives.
Have your plumber position the drain pipe close to, but not exactly in, the finished position until after you and your tile installer determine the best tile layout for the shower. A shower will need flood testing, so this work will be checked later.
6. Guard against leaks. Grading the areas outside the shower back to the shower is a safeguard against leaks. The extra inlay tile detail around this barrier-free shower is tipped toward the shower like a traditional shower curb.
7. Pay attention to pebbled floors. When designing showers with a river rock floor, remember that they are slower to drain. Increasing the pitch and using epoxy grouts can help with quicker dry-out times between showers.
I would not build a pebble shower floor with a pitch less than 2 percent, or 1/4 inch per foot.
8. Cure between steps. Sealing tile and natural stone can enhance many tiles. A solid practice is to prepare a sample tile board and seal it before sealing an entire bathroom or shower — all of which should be done prior to installing the floor tile.
Make sure you stay off these floors until they’re fully cured, and wait as long as possible before sealing the job. Don’t let your crew install the tile in two days, grout the third and then seal the following day. Each stage needs time to dry before proceeding.
9. Detail makes a difference. Notice the detail in the corners of this photo, where the tile has been wrapped around the edge. Good design and attention to detail make these areas look polished.
Wrapping means that the tile used to finish the wall and return the short corner is the same tile. This allows the grain of the tile to continue around the corner and makes for a more polished look.
10. Design your niches bigger, not smaller. When framing in a shower niche, first decide on a finished measurement and then build the shower niche 1 to 2 inches larger. Most tile is 3/8 inches thick, and this allows for a little adjustment to align everything with the grout joints.
You can always make your shower niches smaller, but making them bigger is a much more detailed and labor-intensive process.