limestone shower benchI get a LOT of questions about how to build and waterproof a bench in your shower. I’ll touch on the easiest method here, but there are a couple of different methods you can use.

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.

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Completed nicheIn 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.

Just sayin’.

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.

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Glass wall tile

NOT just an accent

Glass! Awesome! (I like glass tile…)

It is, however, fairly spendy. It is also a highly specialized installation when used for the whole installation. You need to understand the type of glass (there are three different manufacturing processes), acceptable processes, proper installation procedures and what type of glass can be used where.

It’s a lot.

So when you’ve found that perfect glass tile that would look great in your shower three things will happen:


  1. You will look at the price and multiply that by the square footage of your shower
  2. You will immediately go into shock
  3. You will decide that maybe a porcelain shower will look okay after all…

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Proper Expectations and Applications

Not seal -Sealer - Seal-E-R!

Not seal -Sealer – Seal-E-R!

In Tile and Stone Sealers Part 1 I explained how sealers work. If you haven’t yet read that please do so. It will give you a base understanding of how they get into your tile and what they protect against. It will help you understand what you’re looking for and also help decode some of the terms you may find here.

When choosing a sealer the first decision you should make is what you are trying to protect against. Silicone-based sealers protect against water-based stains – coffee, tea, beer Pepsi, stuff like that. Fluoropolymer-based sealers protect against oil-based stains – cooking oil, body oil, shampoo, stuff like that.

Easy enough so far?

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See that tub right there? Find the access panel. Completed access panel

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.

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How to Drill a Hole in TileMake a hole!!! Ummm, sorry, had a little flashback there for a second. Where was I? Oh yeah, drilling a hole in a tile. When you tile your shower wall you will usually have at least one or two holes that need to be taken out of your tile. This is often a huge pain in the ass and sometimes difficult to do without cracking the tile. So I’m gonna show you how I do it. This will not guarantee that your tile will not crack! It does, however, greatly diminish the possibility. This method works with all ceramics and porcelains as well as natural stones such as granite, marble and travertine.

If at all possible try to lay out your tile so that any pipes or fixtures fall on a grout line. If you can do this you can simply cut a small square out of the edge of it with the wet saw and forgo the whole drillin’ a hole thing. I know, it’s not always possible. In fact it rarely happens in a normal tub surround. So lets drill a hole in that sucker!

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We, meaning us evil, scheming people in the tile industry, have a bad habit of using words that are not easily understood or recognized by the general public – and that’s a bad thing. Well, I think it’s a bad thing anyway, since the general public are the ones buying the tile – Hello, McFly??? Take for instance those three ridiculously nondescript words up there: Honed, rectified, and gauged – as well as the word ‘nondescript’. Okay, we’ll leave the last one out of this discussion.

Taken alone they each have very distinct meanings – easy enough. However, when used next to the word tile or stone, they tend to confuse. So I’m gonna try to clear it up a little bit for you so you know what a gauged slate is when you see it, as well as help you find the word you need when you know what you’re looking for but don’t know what word you need. (Is anyone else dizzy right now? No? Just me? okay…)

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Installing the tile

So now that you have a big waterproofed hole in your shower wall whaddya gonna do with it? (If you do not have a waterproof hole in your wall start with Building a Shower Niche Part 1 and Building a Shower Niche Part 2.) I’ll just kick back and finish my beer Pepsi while you read those.

Once your niche space is waterproofed you can do just about anything you want with it as far as design is concerned. That is not to say you should cut out and build the niche space then decide what to do with it – you need to know what you’re going to do with it before you start.

Finished waterproof shower niche

Run tile up to niche sides

The niche I’m using for these posts is simply an empty shelf in the wall. There are no additional shelves or design elements incorporated into it. We’ll get to that in a bit. This one is very simple, though. We will just place one full tile in the back and install bullnose pieces on the sides.

You can start by running the remainder of the wall tile up to and around the bottom of the niche and the sides. (I did not do both sides of my niche yet because of the distance to the back wall – you should.) Do not run the tile over the top of the niche yet.

If you’ve planned it correctly your grout lines should be lined up with the top and bottom of the niche like they are in the photo. Depending on your layout, design, or framing this is not always possible but if you can line them up it looks better most of the time.

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Before installing tile on your floor you must make sure your floor is properly prepared.  A properly prepared floor does not have to be level. It must, however, be flat.

The only time the levelness (is that a word?) must be taken into consideration is when drainage is an issue, such as on a porch or in a shower. In those cases you must make sure your floor is not level – it has to be angled toward a drainage area.

If your floor will not be subjected to water regularly, such as a kitchen or bathroom floor, it does not necessarily have to be level. That does not mean you can have a 45 degree angle from your door to the cabinet (although I suppose you could if you wanted), it just means if your floor is not absolutely level it will not negatively affect your tile installation.

One of the things you must make sure of, among other things, is that your floor is flat. If it is not it will be difficult to set your tiles without what we call “lippage”. That’s a ridiculous word, isn’t it? Lippage simply describes the difference in the height of two adjacent tiles. If you have a tile that sticks up higher than the tile next to it you have lippage. You don’t want that. Starting with a flat floor helps prevent it.

When prepping your floor for tile trade your level for a straight edge. Don’t be concerned with how level your floor is, be concerned with how flat it is.

The size of grout lines for tile is something that comes up on almost every tile installation. The secret no professional will tell you is there is really no set or absolute proper size for your grout lines. There are some guidelines that need to be followed but the actual size is more of a personal choice than it is a set width.

Grout line guidelines

Since grout line widths are generally a personal preference I’ll let you know what mine are. I separate most tiles into three different categories:

  • Small format tile – Tiles up to and including 8 X 8 inches square.
  • Regular – 12 X 12 up to 16 X 16 inches square.
  • Large format tile – 18 X 18 inches and larger.

These are not technically official category names for tile sizes – it’s just what I call them. I’m weird like that.

Small format tile

A lot of smaller format tiles are self-spacing. That means that on either two or four sides of each tile there are what are called “lugs”. Lugged tile have small bumps or protrusions on the sides which are set directly against the tile next to it. Most of these tiles are made specifically for vertical applications, those are shower walls, backsplashes, etc., rather than floors.

The lugs on the tiles allow them to be stacked atop one another and keep the grout lines consistent throughout the installation. For tiles with lugs on only two sides of each tile you must make sure they are all stacked in the same direction, that the lugs are not butted against each other. Normally the lugs will create grout lines that are 1/32 to 1/16 of an inch.

For small format tiles that do not have lugs I will usually use 1/16″ spacers. Depending upon the texture and consistency of the tiles I may use 1/8″ spacers on occasion. For instance 8 inch slate tiles will usually look better with a slightly larger grout line.

If you prefer larger grout lines but have lugged tiles – don’t panic. You can still use spacers with the lugs. To ensure consistency you need to make sure that you either put the spacers between all the lugs or between the spaces the lugs are not. In other words do not put a spacer between the lugs on one tile and between spaces where there are not lugs on another. To figure out the size of your grout lines you also need to add the size of the lugs to the size of the spacer if you use the spacers between them. [click to continue…]

There are three basic types of grout available for your tile installation. They are:

  • Non-Sanded (also known as Unsanded)
  • Sanded
  • Epoxy

Choosing the correct grout for your particular installation will not only complete the job correctly, it will also cut down on maintenance. Properly installed and sealed grout will last for the life of your tile. So which to use and when?

Non-Sanded (or Unsanded) Grout

Unsanded grout is made specifically for grout lines smaller than 1/8 inch wide.  This is a general rule. I use unsanded grout only in tile with grout lines smaller than 1/16″. Unsanded grout (all grout to different degrees) will shrink as it cures. The reason for only using it in smaller grout lines is the wider the grout lines, the more grout must be used to fill them. The more grout you have, the more it will shrink. If you try to fill grout lines that are too large the grout will shrink enough to pull away from the sides of the tile.

Unsanded grout is easier to work with, especially on vertical surfaces such as a shower wall, because  it is “stickier” than the sanded variety. You can spread it onto the wall and it will stick there while you force it into the grout lines. It is also much easier on the hands than sanded.  Although it is easier to work with, you need to make sure that the application for which you are using it is correct. [click to continue…]

Which tile to choose depends mostly upon where you plan to install it and, of course, whether or not is has the look you want for that specific application.For the former I will explain several things to take into consideration. The latter is entirely up to you (unless you’re the husband, in which case it’s up to your wife). So before you choose your tile you need to consider a couple of things.

Where are you installing the tile?

If it will be installed on a wall in a non-wet area, you do not need to worry about much except whether or not you like the way it looks. A non-wet area is defined as an area that is not regularly exposed to a significant amount of water. Wainscots, backsplashes, and fireplaces are examples on non-wet areas.

If it will be installed in a wet area, such as a shower, you need to take into consideration the absorption rate of the tile to an extent. Although it is not that dire to consider this, the lower the percentage of absorption, the better it will be for your application.

You can install travertine in a shower but porcelain will be easier to take care of. An application such as a steam shower or exterior patio would suggest a lower absorption rate. A good rule of thumb is the higher the chance of exposure to moisture and temperature, the lower the absorption rate you want.

If the tile will be installed on a floor you will also want to consider what is called the Static Coefficient of Friction. That’s just a big phrase to describe how slippery a tile is.

This number will (usually) be below one.  Just consider this number to be between 1 and 10. For instance, consider a SCOF (Static Coefficient of Friction) or COF of 0.5 to be a 5. This is the number which most standards consider “slip resistant”.The higher the number, the less slippery it will be.

Tile will have two COF numbers – one for wet and one for dry. You may want to consider both numbers for an application such as a bathroom or shower floor or a patio. Consider a 1 (0.1) to be akin to ice and a 10 (1.0) to be sandpaper.

Other factors to take into consideration include the size of the tile as well as the size of the grout lines (to a smaller degree).  If you have 2 inch by 2 inch tile with fairly large grout lines, such as a shower floor mosaic,  it will have more friction than 18 X 18 inch tiles with 1/16 grout lines. The grout lines add friction because they are uneven and break up the flat, continuous surface of the tile.

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