Sometimes I get asked how to backbutter mosaic tiles. I constantly have to tell people that you really don’t need to. There are very few instances when you’ll need to backbutter a mosaic tile. Normally if you feel the need to backbutter mosaics it is easier to simply use a larger trowel on your substrate.
I get quite a few questions here concerning cracking grout on a shower bench. In some form or another people are mostly asking whether they should caulk or grout the outside corner, where the bench top meets the vertical tile on the face. The reason for asking me this, however, is what I will address in this post.
Most people begin with something like ‘my grout has cracked and now water is getting behind my tile and my bench is starting to swell, there was an eclipse, my dog has burst into flames…it’s a whole thing. Should I grout or caulk that?’
Unfortunately this happens a lot (the bench, not the eclipse or k-9 flames…), and everyone thinks about it backwards. It is not the grout (or missing grout) that caused water to leak into your bench and swell the framing, it was the swelling of the framing that caused your grout to crack. Tile and grout are not waterproof. The reason you have this issue is because your bench was not properly waterproofed before tile was installed.
When I answer questions on my site I am always telling people to backbutter their tile. It has recently been brought to my attention that normal people (the ones who don’t stand in showers all day) have no idea what that means.
Backbuttering tile simply means spreading a flat layer of thinset onto the back of the tile before installing it on your wall or floor or whatever.
First you have to ‘comb’ the thinset onto the substrate – that means it is spread with the notched side of the trowel leaving little ridges. It should look like that first photo there on the right with the ridges all combed in one direction. This allows any air to escape from beneath your tile more easily.
Everything I normally write is about building your brand new awesome shower. However, to do that you must first remove the old, outdated, non-awesome shower. There are several ways to do this, I’m gonna show you the easiest.
A lot of people will go in and chip every tile off the wall (don’t laugh, they do it…), then remove the drywall (or what’s left of it) to get down to the studs in order to build the new stuff. You don’t need to do that. It’s time-consuming, messy and will give you a fairly crappy attitude about the project right from the get-go. (Did I just type ‘get-go’??? I need a beer…)
Most existing tiled showers being torn out are ‘builder’s grade’ showers, that means 4×4 or 6×6 tiles with a bullnose tile, normally 2″ wide, along the edges. Chipping each tile off the wall will waste an entire day. So you’re going to remove entire portions of the wall at a time.
The first thing you want to do is chip off the bullnose, or little rounded pieces, along the edges (and top, if you’re not going to the ceiling) of the shower. If you notice in the photo to the right I’ve already done this. [click to continue…]
I will describe simple framing of a bench with your substrate over it. You can also use after-market, pre-fabricated benches. Better Benches (google it) attach directly to your wall substrate, the top gets filled with deck mud and it gets tile. There are also several different Styrofoam products available from companies like Schluter and Laticrete. They are made from the same type of foam used for their shower bases. Although they are ‘foam’, once tiled they are more than sturdy enough to support your tile.
While you ‘can’ build a bench in your shower after you form the shower floor with deck mud, it’s always easier to make your bench first. Your floor substrate is flat, your shower floor (should be) sloped. It’s difficult to build a level bench on a sloped floor.
But you can do it if you wanna.
In my previous post I showed you how to make a niche for your shower out of Kerdi-board. If you haven’t read that you probably should. It’s gonna be really difficult to install a Kerdi-board niche if you don’t have one.
When I install shower niches I prefer for the edge of the niche to be lined up with the grout lines in the tile installation. This way it looks like it belongs there rather than looking like something that was an afterthought (I HATE that…). So it requires planning.
When I build my niche I make it the same size as the tile I’m installing (or a multiple of those tiles, like two tiles high by one tile wide). This will be the INSIDE dimension of your niche when you build it. So again – more planning.
One of the problems with waterproofing a shower is the fact that you NEED to have holes in it. The cutouts for the shower head, shower or bath controls and any other fancy stuff you saw in that magazine. The problem with holes in a waterproof shower is that they make it not so waterproof.
So how do you waterproof a hole? (Please DO NOT email me with the punchline to that joke!)
In the first part of this tutorial I showed you how to frame up your access panel and get the magnetic latches on it and all lined up. So right now you should have an access panel in the side of your fancy-pants tub and a box of tile just sitting there and laughing at you. If you don’t have that check out the link above. I’ll wait.
That post is the meat and potatoes of building your access panel. This one simply describes the basics of installing your tile as well as placing an insert, if need be, into the access panel.
The biggest thing you’ll need to pay attention to as you install your tile is the perimeter of your access panel. You don’t want to get thinset into it or otherwise block it. If you do – it simply becomes a wall with a lot of pieces.
It’s there. Really.
When you tile around a jacuzzi or heated tub you need to have an access panel in order to work on the motor or heater or fix any problems that may suddenly appear with your brand new fancy-pants uppity bathtub. You also need access to any outlets. This is required by code – DON’T SKIP IT!
Many bathtubs can have access panels on the backside of the wall in a closet or something similar right next to the bathroom.
If you have a tub like the one pictured there – this isn’t always possible. When that’s the case you need to create one in the tile installation itself and magically make it disappear so no one knows it’s there.
This is how I do that.
I’ve finally gone and done something worthwhile! Well, that’s a matter of opinion, I guess, namely mine. I have written complete manuals on properly building and waterproofing your shower utilizing the different waterproofing methods.
Each manual describes a specific method so you don’t get bogged down with a bunch of information you don’t need for your chosen project. Not sure which method you want? Not sure which methods are available? Didn’t know there were different methods? Start with the free manual here: Shower Waterproofing Manual. That will help you decide which one you want to use based on time, skill and cost.
Once you figure that out you can get the manual that is specific to your particular project. Although these are all mostly completed it’s a whole process to get them ready for you guys. It’s difficult to describe but it includes half a watermelon, platypus eyelashes and a full moon – weird, right? Let’s just say I’ve been writing the damn things for close to two years – it’s not a short process.
Anyway, I do have two of them all finished up, uploaded and ready for you to devour!
I have the complete shower manual utilizing the traditional waterproofing method for walls and floors. This will walk you through the entire process for complete shower floor and wall building and waterproofing. If you are going to have a tiled shower floor and walls and need to construct the entire thing – this is the one you need. You can get it here: Complete traditional shower waterproofing method (Price goes up next week!)
And I have the manual using the traditional method for just your shower walls. If you already have a tub or pre-formed base (like acrylic or Swanstone) this is the one you need. You can get it here: Traditional waterproofing for your shower walls
You can always just click the yellow highlighted ‘Library’ tab at the top to see what’s currently available. If you have any questions just feel free to ask them in any of the comment sections on the site. I always answer them – I’m just super cool like that. I will add the new manuals to the library section as I finish them up.
I get a LOT of questions from my readers about basic shower construction. I understand that my readers don’t consider this stuff basic and there’s no problem with that. The problem is that I end up answering the same questions over and over and over… So, to save what very little is left of my sanity (which is a number roughly equivalent to absolute zero) I will cover some basic things here so I can simply reply ‘read this’.
If you’ve been channeled to this page by one of my smart-ass comments please take no offense to it, I’m here to help. Please understand that I currently have over 12,000 comments (questions) on this site (seriously) which I’ve answered – every one of them. I’m just trying to make your life (mine) easier. I will continue to answer every question I’m asked, I’m just super cool like that. If, after reading through this, you still have questions feel free to ask them in the comments below.
You can also download my shower waterproofing manual which should answer a lot of questions and cover basic techniques and methods you may be confused about. Go ahead, it’s free. So without further ado (doesn’t even look like a word, does it?) let’s get on with it. (For all my readers who feel the need to correct me: I KNOW it’s actually ‘adieu’ – I was being facetious. Thanks. )
When you tear out and rebuild your shower walls you are left with a transition between the old, existing drywall and the new stuff – cement backerboard or drywall (if you’re using kerdi). Whaddya do with it? And how do you do it? And why am I the one asking questions – that seems backwards.
If at all possible, when you remove the old stuff you want to cut a straight line down the drywall to make for a clean transition. If it isn’t straight or was simply torn out without any regards to actually rebuilding it, then find a spot where you can cut a straight line from top to bottom. You want to have a level line for your transition.
So before you begin you want something similar to that horrible graphic right there I just created with a bottle of scotch and my toes. The left side is looking into the wall cavity with one stud, that big brown looking thing? Yeah, it’s supposed to be a wall stud. You are not allowed to give me crap about my lack of Photoshop skills!