DIY Tiling Bathrooms — Can I Tile My Own Bathroom?

So you’ve decided to take on a DIY bathroom renovation. Can you tile it yourself? The answer? Maybe. Here are a few things to take into consideration.

  • The material the tile is made of
  • The structural soundness of the substrate
  • Do you have the tools needed?
  • Can you find dependable setting materials?

Tile is made from numerous materials. Mainly these are ceramic, porcelain, natural stone and glass. Glass tile and marble are typically the most expensive, while ceramic and porcelain sell for much less. This isn’t always the case as I have worked with handmade ceramic with a crackle glaze that retailed for around $40 per square foot.

Unless you are absolutely set on marble, I would recommend choosing a glazed porcelain tile. Many of these have the look of natural stone at a fraction of the cost, and they do not require the maintenance of a natural stone product.

Although ceramic tile is about the same price as porcelain, I would not recommend using it on floors as it does not have the same durability. Glass tile can also be fragile on floors, and I would only use it on walls.

Each type has different installation techniques. Be sure that you understand the proper way to install your tile. For example, tumbled marble needs to be sealed before it is grouted or you risk permanent damage to the stone. Don’t make a mistake that will ruin your tile.

The floor and walls of your bathroom need to be structurally sound and prepared for tile. You will want minimal movement of the subfloor and a suitable wall board for wet areas such as a tub or shower. There are many options to choose from. The two I’ve seen used most is Durock solid concrete board and Hardi-Backer, which is mold resistant material similar to cement board. Again, make sure you visit the manufacturers’ website for complete installation instructions. Both of these materials can be used as a sub floor when installed properly.

Aside from the tools needed to prep your bathroom for tile, you will also need tools to set the tile itself. Here are the bare minimums you will need.

  • Notched trowel
  • Tile cutter or wet saw
  • Margin trowel
  • Buckets and good sponges
  • Grout float

The notched trowel you will need depends on the tile you have selected. Trowels range in price from a few dollars to $20 depending on the brand that you purchase. Marshalltown and Barwalt make professional quality trowels that will last a lifetime if properly cared for. You will also need a way to cut your tile. Most tool rental stores have wet saws available. Unless you really want to own a tile cutter, you are better off renting a wet saw as these retail around $1,000. A decent grout float will run you about $15.

There are some other tools that will greatly aid you with your project as well.

  • Good levels
  • Tile nippers
  • Mixing drill and paddle
  • Spacers

Finally, you will want to make sure you can get quality setting materials. Your local tile supply store should be able to help you select the right product for the job. Remember, quality and cheap are not synonymous. Choosing a high quality latex modified thinset will give you better results that a less expensive mortar that does not bond as well. Some good products are TEC Superflex and Mapei Ultraflex 2. Mapei Ultraflex LFT is excellent for large format tiles. Mastic for shower walls depends on the type of tile you will be using. Durabond 2001 is good for ceramic and porcelain, but may damage natural stone. TEC Double Duty Plus can be used for stone products. Glass should only be installed with thinset and I would use Mapei Ultralite for that application.

By taking these suggestions into consideration, you can decide whether or not you want to take on the project. If you’re uncertain about your ability to do the job, I recommend calling a professional. Some of the new materials on the market today are challenging for experienced installers and a novice may struggle with them, so much so that the tile gets damaged and thrown out. Paying a little more to have your job done right, the first time, is a better value in the long run.

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