Laying the foundation

When finishing our bathroom, the goal was to create a spa-like feel without spending a fortune, so I did a lot of comparison shopping, and at times progress was slower than I would have liked because I spent so much time looking for the “perfect” shower surround or tile.

It started with the shower enclosure. You can buy kits, but they range from about $400 – 1500, so I looked around for a few weeks trying to find one that would suit my needs and still be budget-friendly. To save money, I decided to go with a base and enclosure alone so I could tile the interior walls myself.

I found a Keystone/Maax kit that I liked (Magnolia Angle) at Home Depot for $449 and decided I’d bite the bullet and fork over the cash, but when I tried to locate the shower, it was nowhere to be found. I went to the customer service desk and discovered that it was on clearance. I ended up getting the kit for $290. Ka-ching!

On a budget yourself? Look for yellow tags, or ask the customer service desk if they have any items on clearance – they’ll happily point you in the right direction.

Before I could start tiling the walls of the shower or the floor, I had to install the shower base using the instructions included.

After installing the shower pan, I went to a few different specialty tile/stone stores to pick my tile, but the cost was outrageous. I looked at Home Depot, but the selection was limited, so I made the trek to Lowes. I usually like Home Depot better, and it’s much more conveniently located, but I was glad I made the trip – their tile selection was huge! I brought home a few sample tiles that I liked to make sure they looked okay. After picking the ones I liked best, I went back and purchased the tile.

I selected different tile for the walls of the shower and the floor, but made sure they matched. For the walls of the shower I paid $.77/sq ft for a glazed ceramic tile. For the floor, I chose porcelain, as it tends to be more chip resistant, shelling out $2.48/sq ft, because I found a tile that I fell in love with. I wanted to create a pattern, so I chose both a 12”x12” tile and a 6”x6” tile.

Like an elementary school art project, before gluing the tile down, I laid out all of the pieces. I then marked my cuts, and using the wet saw I rented a wet saw from Home Depot ($44/24 hours), made all of the cuts for the floor at once.

For the shower walls, I used 6”x6” tiles, but cut some in half so I could create a pattern as well.  Since I couldn’t lay the tiles out on the wall like I did on the floor, I used a spare piece of drywall, and laid out two rows, then did some quick math to determine how many tiles to cut, since the pattern simply repeated itself up the wall. To ensure I didn’t have another mold problem in the future, before adhering the tile to the walls, I lined the backerboard with “redgard,” a paint-on waterproofing membrane.

In order to start applying the tile, you just need to select a thinset mortar that suits your needs. I used one made for adhering both ceramic and porcelain tile to cement backerboard, and followed the directions on the bag for mixing.

Most bags, I’ve found, only list instructions for making an entire bag at once – since I had a small project, and plenty of thinset, I only mixed half. To mix smaller batches, the trick is to pour the water into your container first, and then add thinset mix until you have a cake frosting-like consistency.  A little water goes a long way, so start small.

Before you start, use a sponge to wet the backerboard or it will draw too much water out of the thinset to create a good bond. After you’ve moistened the backerboard, use a notched trowel to scoop the thinset onto the floor, and spread evenly in an area small enough that it can be covered with tile in about 20 minutes. Lay the tile in the pattern you like, using spacers to ensure your grout lines will be consistent across the entire floor.

After the mortared area has been covered, rinse and repeat.

Once the entire area has been tiled and it’s dried for 24 hours, you can grout. The color of the grout is really up to personal preference. Following the instructions on the packaging, I used a sanded grout for the floor, as the spaces were 1/4” and a non-sanded grout for the shower walls, as the spaces were 1/8”.

After mixing the grout, use a rubber grout float to press the grout into the spaces. To ensure all of the air is pressed out of the gaps, hold the float at a 45 degree angle and criss-cross the gap in a few different directions. After filling all of the spaces, wait 15 minutes to a half hour, then use a dampened grout sponge to wipe the excess away. Let everything dry for 24-48 hours and onto the next step in the process.

Tiling is pretty simple, just fairly tedious. I definitely recommend getting tile spacers, and if you don’t have your own wet saw, definitely rent one – it’s not worth the heart-ache of using a scorer to individually break each piece (I know from experience).

At this point, you should probably enjoy a beer (or 6) and a nice soak in the hot tub… you’re going to feel it tomorrow.

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