Wall Tile Tips from a Pro
Installing wall tile is basically the same procedure as installing floor tile. And it offers the same advantages: flexibility of design; a wide range of colors, materials and patterns; and if installed correctly, years of durability. Ceramic or porcelain tile makes an attractive backsplash behind sinks and stoves, or encasing a bathroom or shower. It’s a strong and easy-to-clean material that offers great decorative advantages for areas exposed to water, while resisting moisture intrusion and protecting the walls of your home.
Extreme How-To caught up with Larry Ricketts, a 40-year veteran in the homebuilding and remodeling business, to get some professional insight on how to install wall tile. Ricketts was working in the home of Mr. Jeni Doshi, installing porcelain wall tile on a new shower enclosure, including a decorative border to give the shower a nice, finished look. He notes that while wall tile requires a similar installation procedure as floor tile, there are a few things to consider when choosing tile for areas exposed to water.
The Right Tile for the Job
Don’t base your tile selection only on color and size. Not all ceramic tiles absorb the same amount of water, so you’ll need to speak with your tile dealer about the right tile for a shower. “Nonvitreous” is the term for tiles that absorb the most water, and this type of tile should be avoided for showers, tubs and sink countertops. “Semivitreous” tiles are rated for low absorption, and can be used for splash areas. But for this shower enclosure, Ricketts went with a high-density, glazed porcelain tile that will absorb no moisture at all. Porcelain tile, specified by Mr. Doshi, ensures a long, attractive tile life in the shower and eliminates worries of water seeping behind the tile and rotting the wall beneath it.
The shape and size of tile is another option to consider. For flat areas, larger tiles of about 12 inches result in a nice, orderly appearance and are available in a wide range of materials. They can be cut to various sizes and shapes. Installing large pieces of tile can also be considerably easier than installing smaller tile. It simply takes less time to lay fewer pieces in the same amount of space, as opposed to an option such as mosaic tile. Mosaic is a good tile for small or curved areas because it is generally no larger than 1- to 2-inch squares. These small tiles can be more easily installed on a curve, because the joints between tiles allow the finished plane of tile to “bend” around problem areas rather than bridge them, which ensures the entire rear surface of the tile is securely anchored in mortar. Mosaic tiles are available with or without a moisture-resistant glaze.
Ceramic tile can generally be installed over nearly any clean, flat surface, as long as that surface can support the weight of the tile. However, for shower and tub enclosures, it is important to install 1/4- or 1/2-inch cement wallboard to support the tile. The wallboard, being a cementious material, will resist water should there be any cracks in the grout that allow water to seep behind the tile. Should this occur, the cement board will still protect the wall behind it.
Use a carbide blade or circular saw to cut the cement board to fit the area to be tiled. Anchor the board with thinset mortar and galvanized screws fastened about 6 inches apart. Fill the joints with thinset, and use fiberglass tape to seal the seams and joints where the cement board meets the original wall.
When it comes to tile installation, layout is crucial. The first and foremost rule of tile layout: Make sure your pattern is square. Before laying your first tile, snap a couple of chalk lines to guide the installation. First step is to measure and mark the midpoint of the wall’s location. Because wall tile doesn’t always extend up the entire wall, base the midpoint of the tile layout according to where the tile installation will begin and end. Snap intersecting chalk lines at the center point of the site, forming a square cross. Align an A-square at the chalk-line intersection to check that the lines form right angles. If that’s not the case, then readjust the chalk lines.
If you’re new to laying tile, it may help to mark the wall with guidelines that represent where the tiles will be located. Form a grid, with each line level and square. If you plan for thick mortar joints in your tile layout, then account for the spacing of the joints when you draw your grid. These lines will help you install the tile straight. If necessary, adjust the center of the grid so that the last tile at each edge of the wall is the same as its opposite side. In other words, the top and bottom rows of tiles should be the same size; the far left and right rows of tiles should be the same size. This ensures a symmetrical layout.
Aside from the basics of a symmetrical, level and square installation, the style of layout is left up to the installer. There are plenty of options available to spruce things up, such as decorative borders, cap molding and accent tiles. When working with these decorative features, Ricketts suggests paying close attention to the focal points of the layout. He explains that when someone walks into a room, their eyes are drawn to whatever is in front of them. Keep this in mind when installing patterned tile. Your pattern, as seen with the decorative border that Ricketts installs, will inevitably have to break at some point. Because the door in this bathroom is on the left-hand side of the room when facing the shower, Ricketts breaks the border’s pattern at the left-hand corner of the shower enclosure – the least noticeable focal point when someone walks through the door and into the bathroom.