Installing The Ceramic Tile Tub Surround – My Old House Home Improvement

The new washroom has to be fully functional before I can start demolition on the old one, and that means it has to have a working sink, toilet and bathtub. While it’s certainly possible to use a bathtub that isn’t fully finished, it makes more sense to do as much as I can to prevent water damage around the tub. Besides that, it’s a welcome change of pace from the drudgery of the other work (namely plumbing) I’ve been doing lately.
This video goes through how I installed the ceramic tiles around the tub:

My choice for this is a simple 3″ x 6″ glazed white tile, often referred to as subway tiles. I think they have a more traditional look that is well suited to what I’m going for in this house.
I get started by stacking up some on the window sill, ready to set:

The tiles will only go up as high as the tile backer installed in an earlier chapter, and need to fit in neatly around the window trim.

I’m using two tools to cut the tiles, a regular mechanical tile cutter for the majority of the straight cuts, and a tub saw for the trickier one:

A notch trowel and spreader to apply the thinset mortar evenly to the wall. I’m also using 1/8″ spacers to keep the gap between the tiles consistent.
The bathtub still has the protective film on it and I’ve added the green tape around the perimeter where I had to peel the film back to install the backer.

To mix the mortar and grout, I like to use a paint stirring paddle. This is less aggressive and requires less power than a real mixer for mortar, but still does an excellent job:

I’m starting on the back wall and will be setting the tiles in a running bond pattern. I determined that a course will start with a full tile and end with a half tile:

It doesn’t take long to get a fair amount done when there are no obstructions. Since I was very careful to make the bathtub perfectly level, I’m using that to set the first course.
I’m using thinset mortar, since it is a lot stronger and less expensive than the premixed tile adhesive that’s available. Also, take note that I put fiberglass mesh tape on the backer joints before starting. This will help prevent cracks from forming in the future.

The right corner has a matching soap dish built in, and the tiles are cut around it. I cut a stick to hold it up until the tiles can be done on the end wall:

Cutting in the tiles around the window trim slows the progress considerably. A more standard way to do this is to do the tiles first, then trim the window over them. As the tiles only go part of the way up, this wasn’t a good solution here, as I would have had to shim the trim out above the tiles.

With the back wall done, I can move on to the left side end wall. This has the tub controls, so tiles need to be cut for these openings:

The right side end wall is easier to do, with only the soap dish to deal with.

With all of the field tiles set, I can get the border done. Normally I would use a metal termination strip to edge tiles like this, but I though a more appropriate look would be a bullnosed border tile. These are 2″ wide and rounded on one edge.
The tub saw is used to miter the corner tiles:

Rather than spreading the mortar on the wall for these, I “back buttered” each tile before setting it in place.

I used finish nails driven into the drywall to hold the border tiles up along the edges. The bottom tile doesn’t go to the floor, since there will be baseboard there:

Grouting And Installing The Tub Controls

This video shows the process of grouting the newly set ceramic tiles:

Grouting tile is near the top of my least favourite activities, but it has to be done. I’m using white non-sanded grout and mixed what I believe will be enough to do the whole job. Mixing grout is not fun either.
For the other tub control openings I was able to use the tub saw, as they were at the edges of the tiles. The hand-held shower falls in the middle of a full tile, so rather than try to cut it before installing it I set it in whole and drilled it out after the mortar had set. A regular carbide drill bit in my drill (not on hammer) is used to make a series of holes:

A rubber float is used to spread the grout and force it into the joints.

After screeding off the majority of the excess with the rubber float, I let the grout set for a few minutes before cleaning up the rest with a damp sponge:

After the grout was finished and dried for a few days I got started on installing the fixtures, starting with the control.

To keep the flange on the hand-held shower in place I squeezed in a glob of silicone behind it:

The faucet needs to have this piece of 1/2″ copper pipe with fittings on each end made up:

This needs to be the right length and that is difficult to measure, so I did a “best guess” and added a thick layer of Teflon tape to the threads.

The faucet screwed in and ended up tight against the tiles – a pretty good (or lucky) guess:

Overall I’m not 100% happy with this fixture. The controls are stiff and touchy and the hand-held shower hose seems like cheap plastic that won’t hang right. Of course, there were better ones available, but at nearly twice the price. Since this tub will be rarely used in the fully finished bathroom (there will be a separate shower stall), I didn’t want to “waste” money on a better one.

Next time I tackle the nasty job of tying in the new plumbing drain to the old cast iron drain out to the septic tank, and get some of the subfloor laid in the basement during a power outage.