Before starting such a project as tiling a shower or bathtub walls, you have to make sure and double-check all your supplies and tools. Once you roll up your sleeves and are ready to go to work you want to make sure that you have everything there that you are going to need.
Do the colors of the tiles match? Some discrepancies can be attractive, but that's a personal design choice. Sometimes it's a good idea to pull tiles out of different boxes as you work so any slight discrepancy is integrated into the overall look of the job.
Do you have enough quarter-round tile for the edges? Is the grout the right color?
Tracing your Layout's Guide Lines on the Walls
It is critical that you trace yourself some lines running both horizontally and vertically on the wall in order to create a layout of lines from which you can guide yourself to install your tiles for a straight, symmetrical, neat, and professional-looking job. All working lines should be bold and easy to see. The horizontal line should be laid out first, followed by the vertical lines. There are two ways this is done, the choice depending on if the bathtub or shower tray is set up on level or not.
For a Level Tub or Shower Pan
If the tub is level within 1/8-inch, you'll need to measure and trace a horizontal line from the high point of the tub since that small of a difference will be easy to disguise with the grout. At the high point of the tub, make a mark on the wall at 1/8 inch plus the width of a tile above the surface of the tub or the shower tray. If you are using standard square tiles, make a straight line using a level and a straight edge along the back wall and the two end walls.
Tub or Shower Tray not Level
If the tub is not level, you'll then need to start the horizontal line from the lower point or corner. This will make you have to trim some of the tiles to fit but will also avoid creating a wider and ugly gap under the bottom row of tiles. So starting from the lower corner, trace a level line along the back wall right up to the other corner wall. Again, this line should be 1/8 inch plus the width of a tile up from the surface of the tub or the shower tray, but you'll notice it getting closer and closer to the surface as you get closer to the adjacent wall. Trace a leveled line just like for a level tub, then run a batten directly under the line and fasten in place to use as a guide where the second row of tiles (which will be the first row to install) can sit during their installation. The bottom row will be installed afterward, once they are custom cut to fit.
The straight wooden batten nailed or screwed to the wall provides an exactly level surface on which to begin laying the tile can be removed once that second row is completed so that the row underneath can be done, custom cutting each tile to fit and be set in place.
Laying out the Vertical Working Line
To get the best results of your tile job, lay the tiles out by adjusting them so that both of the end tiles at each corner of the wall are the same width and never less than a half tile in width. To accomplish this, you must first locate the center of the wall's width and trace a vertical working line at that location, all the way up the wall (line "A" on the drawing), using a level and a straight edge.
You can then move on to determining the exact layout of your tiles to have them in perfect symmetry at both corners by measuring the distance from the corner of the wall to the vertical working line and divide that measurement by the width of one tile. The result (or quotient) will give you the number of tiles required to cover half the wall and could also possibly leave you with a remaining piece to finish covering right up to the adjacent wall, in the corner.
If the result is such that a full tile length reaches the corner or if there is a remainder equal to or greater than a half tile, line "A" will be the starting vertical line from which the first tile will be lined up.
If it turns out that the corner tile is less than half the width of a tile, move the vertical working line exactly one-half the width of a tile to the left or right of line "A" and trace your true vertical working line "B" which will be the actual starting point of the first tile's positioning thus readjusting the layout of your tile to avoid getting narrow tiles in the corners which are hard to cut, hard to install, and esthetically unattractive. Lining up the edge of the first tile on the proper vertical working line, the rest of the row of tiles can be installed consecutively up to the corner, then returning to the working line, the other half can be completed in the same manner before proceeding to the next row up.
Planning the End Walls
The vertical layout lines for the end walls are usually done after the back wall has been completely tiled. The end wall surface to be covered being between the corner and an edge trim or a glass wall or door assembly, determine the placement of the edge trim first if needed, and proceed as with the back wall to establish the location of the vertical working line, the only difference being with the use of edge trim, the tile against the trim can be a full tile providing that the corner tile at the other end is at least a half tile long or more. Ideally, all cut tiles should be placed in the corner and if at all possible, a full tile should sit against the trim, so there are no chips apparent.
Determine where you are going to put the soap dish or any other special accessory tiles or towel rods and mark their locations. These will be installed last. If your soap dish fits into the wall, position it to minimize or even eliminate the need to cut any tiles that will go around it.
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