How to level shower surround when tub and ceiling are NOT level


Old 01-10-15, 06:55 AM
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How to level shower surround when tub and ceiling are NOT level

I am not the most handy person around, but I have less money than I am not handy . Had to redo the shower surround so I figured I'd give it a go considering the outrageous(IMO) quotes I got.

Anyway, my house is 37 years old and NOTHING was done correctly in it. The tub is not level and neither is the ceiling. I don't know what to use as a reference point on how to determine the leveling of the tiles on the same wall and across walls. What should I do to make sure the 1st row of tile is level? Where should the "1st" laid row be?

Thanks for the help in advance!

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Old 01-10-15, 07:08 AM
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I look at the area and try to figure the best way to hide the error. The sze of tile and pattern can hide errors. In general larger tiles can be trimmed as a 1/4" taper cut into a 12" squre tile is harder to spot than the same 1/4" cut out of a smaller tile.

Tile pattern can help. If you set tiles in a line you need to keep the grout lines straight and inline as any deviation is easy to spot. More complex patterns that don't have long straight grout lines hide out of level and square problems better but the patterns are harder to work with.

If you do a simple tile pattern with straight grout lines trimming the tiles is a good way to hide room errors. Make a horizontal line on the walls around your tub to indicate the top of your first row. Then trim the bottom of your first row tiles to meet the tub. Sometimes if it's really crooked trimming the tile the full amount to make it level would be noticeable so you might decide to only conceal part of the error, maybe soaking up the rest of the error by also trimming the top row of tiles. You have to remember to be mindful of how your tile pattern for adjoining walls will meet in the corners which could throw off vertical grout lines.
Old 01-10-15, 07:18 AM
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Welcome to the forums! I would look into leveling the tub, first, if possible. If not, then measure up the height of your tile at the lowest point of the tub and draw a level line on all three walls. Screw a ledger board along that line, with the line on top. Lay all your wall tiles, trimming as necessary at the ceiling. Then, remove the ledger and determine the cuts necessary on the lower tiles, cut them one at a time and install them. Yeah, it ain't perfect, but working with what you have is important.

I agree with Dane, that the larger tiles will show less of the aberration in the levelness of the tub.
Old 01-12-15, 04:58 PM
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I've done this more than 21 times, and I agree with Chandler's advice to fasten a STRAIGHT piece of wood molding to the long wall above the tub using a spirit level to ensure the wood molding is horizontal (or close to).

Now, use your spirit level to fasten two more pieces of STRAIGHT wood molding to the front and back walls of the tub surround that will be at the same elevation as the wood molding on the long wall.

Now, set your bottom row of full tiles on those pieces of wood molding, and also cut and set the tiles at the corners above the wood molding. Set all your tiles above those pieces of wood molding, and if it turns out that you'll be installing a thin tile near the ceiling, add a horizontal row of border tiles so that you have a tall tile near the ceiling.

Finally, remove that wood molding and cut the bottom row of tiles to fit down to the tub. That way, no matter how cockeyed the tub and ceiling are, and no matter how out of plumb your walls are, your tiling will still be straight.

You want to do some measuring in advance so that you only cut a little bit off that bottom row of tub tiles so that they look like full tiles to anyone who's not scrutenizing your work with a tape measure, but don't cut it too close. You want to give yourself a good 1/2 to 3/4 inch of wiggle room if for no other reason than to make the tiles easier to cut (with a tile nipper if you can't cut them on a tile cutter). You use plastic wedges (or even tooth picks or wooden matches) to support that bottom row of tiles while your thin set cures to hold them in place, and then remove the plastic wedges. You can buy those plastic wedges at any hardware store, but if you're only doing the one tub, matches or toothpicks will work equally well.

It really helps to lay out two rows of tile on your floor somewhere; one with the tiles set side-by-side and another with the tiles set end-to-end, and in both cases with tile spacers between them, so that you can better determine where your full tiles will start and end on the horizontal wood moldings on each wall, and where the full tiles will stop near the wall corners and near the ceiling. (And, where to place your border tiles, if any.)

I like to mark off the area of wall I want to tile and use masking tape to mask off that area before spreading thin set on the wall. Then, pull the tape off and toss it into a garbage cardboard box before back buttering each tile and setting it in place. That way, even if the thin set on the wall skins over, the fresh thin set on the back of the tiles will reactivate the skinned over thin set and the tile will stick as well as if you were pushing wet thin set into wet thin set.

I find that 6X8 rectangular tiles are about the best size because they're the largest tile you can comfortably hold in one hand while you back butter the tile with thin set with a trowel held in the other hand.

I find that setting 6" X 8" rectangular tiles in "landscape" mode instead of the much more common "portrait" mode makes for a custom look even if you use plain Jane tiles. You almost never see rectangular tiles installed in landscape mode even though there's no reason not to do that, and it immediately strikes people as unique. And, whomever sees it thinks "Whomever did this tiling was confident enough in their tiling ability to intentionally venture off the well beaten path."

And, it's important to leave a good 1/8 of an inch or more gap between the tiles right at the corners where wall meets wall. Grout will not stick well to the glazed faces of the tile, so you need a gap between those glazed faces that the grout in the corner can hold onto. If you think you're doing a better job by cutting the tiles so precisely that they meet in the corners, you're not leaving the grout anything to grip so that it stays in place and doesn't fall out. You want to be a bit lousy when it comes to cutting those corner tiles to provide a good gap the grout can hold onto.

If you have a bathroom sink next to your tub, consider extending your tiles so that you have a matching backsplash over your bathroom sink. It's also always a good idea to extend your tiling past the edge of the tub and down to the baseboards so that water splashed over the edge of the tub won't damage the walls there.

Last edited by Nestor; 01-12-15 at 06:01 PM.

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