Make an informed choice

Tiling a shower

Prior to commencing tiling a shower, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself which may be as follows:

  • Have I got any water sensitive substrates?
  • Do I need to waterproof any areas?
  • What tiles are most suitable for the installation?
  • I want to have a wet room shower, I will need to have falls created for the water to drain

Contrary to popular belief , tiles and grout will not give you a 100% waterproof seal and be able to totally protect your substrate behind from potential water ingress and failure. Depending on which country we are discussing, there are various substrates that are utilised as substrates for tiling a shower. In the Uk for example we have a high percentage of plaster or plasterboard type walls in our properties, as the Uk is one of the highest consumers of gypsum based materials. Plaster is water sensitive and likely to degrade with constant contact with water, this will depend on a few factors though which include the following: How frequently the shower is used and the amount of time it is allowed to dry, the size of the tiles used, the quality of the tile fixing and the quality of the plastering.

When tiling a shower with larger tiles (especially ceramic or porcelain) there is less grout and therefore the plaster is protected from water ingress over a larger area, whereas mosaic installations are made up of mostly grout and are a potential failure waiting to happen directly onto plaster. The same can be said of Wood based boards used as a tiling substrate, it is not suitable at all due to the changes in dimension of the timber when coming into contact with water, or changes in temperature.

In continental Europe it is more common to be tiling a shower onto cement based substrates such as render or screed in all areas, which has virtually no potential risk of failure due to water ingress, even in extreme conditions. it is important to evaluate the type of substrate that you wish to tile and do a basic risk assessment. There is no excuse for incorrect tiling practices when tiling a shower these days as there are products which have been developed to overcome the potential issues in tiling in wet rooms and other shower areas.

tiling a shower

Wood based board with tanking applied

Tiling a shower- Tanking Systems

If you are unfortunate enough to already have a plaster or plasterboard or timber based board substrate to be tiled in your wet area, all is not lost. You can now purchase relatively cheaply, a waterproof tanking system to use prior to tiling which is available in a few different guises and has the ability to totally protect your substrate from water ingress and leaks which could potentially find their way downstairs. These tanking systems are available in either a paint on version which you apply with a brush and it dries as a rubber coating, also protecting corners with a fibreglass tape to allow for movement in vulnerable areas. The other types are sheets of waterproofing which are applied with a tile adhesive or other specified adhesive and you cover the areas which will be potentially areas of weakness prior to tiling a shower.

Both types have their pro’s and con’s. The paint on version takes approximately 24 hours to dry prior to tiling, but is relatively easy to apply correctly and can be used by a novice DIYer. The sheeting version may be a little more fiddly for someone inexperienced to apply to the substrate, but often has the advantage of being able to be tiled the same day.

Watch this video to the left to see just how easy it is to apply the coating type of waterproof tanking system to the substrate prior to tiling a shower

The tanking systems are usually available in a kit that contains enough to waterproof a traditional shower area (4.5 mtrs sq)

If you are constructing a wet room and require a larger quantity of tanking material then it is usually available  to buy as separate components which will invariable work out cheaper than buying the required amount in kits, please speak to your retailer for information.

You can also use tanking systems on the floor to create a total walk-in wet room, even if you have a wooden floor (certain specifications need to be followed)



Tiling a shower- waterproof Boards

If you are constructing a new shower room or en suite from scratch then you are lucky enough to be able to plan the installation to include using a waterproof backer board as a substrate in the wet areas before tiling a shower. You use these waterproof boards as a stud wall or to dry line over the existing water sensitive substrate. Please do not confuse the difference between waterproof and water-resistant boards.

Waterproof= Water cannot penetrate the material at all
Water Resistant= Water can pass through the material but the material itself will not degrade or change in properties and will dry out the same as before

You can safely use a water resistant tile backer board as a wall substrate in a shower area, but if you have a suspended wooden floor and line with water-resistant boards, there is a potential for water to leak through the cement board and into the level below, please make sure you use waterproof boards on the floor of a wet room.

Once you have chosen your tile backer boards, follow the manufacturers instructions in regards to its installation, most will require a fitting kit including washers and screws. You must obtain a rigid  and deflection free surface to receive a tiled finish. A water-resistant tile adhesive should be used when you onto a tile backer board, a cement based adhesive is desirable as it can dry out easily, even on a waterproof substrate whereas a ready mixed adhesive will take days and days to dry. Once a backer board is installed successfully and correctly, you can look forward to a trouble-free installation for many years. This would be the preferred method of constructing a waterproof installation as it will work out cheaper in the long run and provide the best bang for your buck.

Please watch this video which gives details of one of the many waterproof tile backer boards available.






Tiling a shower- types of tiles

Once you have your substrate in order, it is time to turn your attention to the type of tiles to use when tiling a shower. If you have prepared the substrate correctly, then you should have no trouble in selecting any choice of tile available from the traditional ceramic tiles to the en vogue use of natural stone. If you decide to use a large format tile on your shower room wall, then please check the weight restrictions of the substrate you are tiling onto to check suitability. Plenty of tiles these days are over 10mm thick and this adds a lot of weight to the overall installation when you include the extra adhesive needed to fit them also.  some typical examples of weight

tiling a shower

mosaics make a nice splashback design

limits are as follows, but please check with your supplier  as to the suitability of various tile backer boards.

Plaster: 20kg per sq mtr
Plasterboard: 32kg per sq mtr
Plywood: 30kg per sq mtr
Lightweight tile backing boards: Around 40kg per sq mtr but will depend on the thickness and type of board
Glass reinforced cement sheets: Up to 50kg per sq mtr

It is worthwile buying tiles that will fit nicely into the available space, it is possible to buy tiles that are over 1800mm x 1000mm and if this size of tile can only be installed with major cutting, then it may be worth reconsidering a smaller tile. Glass mosaics can create a unique effect, but if using glass then it is doubly important that whoever carries out the actual tile fixing achieves a 100% coverage behind the tiles so that you do not see gaps through the tiles. natural stone may need sealing depending on its porosity, this you will need to check with your supplier. Porcelain is the best all round tile to use in all installations in modern days due to its availability in many designs and durability as a material.

Tiling a shower- Floor tiles

When you create a wet-room environment, it is obviously important that you select floor tiles that have some degree of anti-slip. You are never going to achieve a 100% non slip tile as when any tile gets wet it is going to have some degree of risk involved. Choose a tile that has a rough surface or riven effect on its face, this creates a grip and the safest possible solution. If there is still a danger of slipping then it may be prudent to install a rubber mat of some kind to assist, or there are some chemicals that can give a key to the surface of tiles.  Mosaics that are used in swimming pools are also a good choice, they have a sanded type finish and are designed exactly for that purpose.


If you have any questions or comments in regards to tiling a shower, then please post in the comment section below.

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