The Details Behind the Tiles

A 2 Bed, 2 Bath and Kitchen Renovation in Brooklyn, NY

Cracked tiles, crumbling grout joints, mold, mildew…the list is long and ominous, but all of these things need to be considered and accounted for when renovating any bathroom space. And all of this happens before a single tile gets set in place! Which brings me to this months highlighted project – a 2-Bedroom, 2-Bathroom renovation overlooking Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

What you don’t see is more important that what you do

If you ask 5 tile installers how they waterproof their showers and bathtubs, you’d most likely get 6 different answers. Like anything else, there is more than one way to waterproof your bathroom. This post will discuss my preferred method and provide some tips if you are thinking about taking on a project of your own.

The first step in any installation is to double check your framing. All studs, whether existing or new, must be plumb and flat and all corners must be square – floor to ceiling. Flat meaning that every stud must sit on the same flat plane. This is critical especially if you are using large tiles. Taking the time here will save you hours of frustration and a bottle of aspirin!

Once this is accomplished it’s time to install your backer board. Many manufacturers will tell you it’s fine to install tile ongreen board (or mold resistant sheet rock). In theory this might be true but why chance it. Spend a couple extra bucks and never worry. Cement board will not support mold or mildew growth and provides a sturdier substrate that sheet rock, which will minimize grout cracks and failure. In the land of cement board, there are two major players: Durock and Hardibacker. Without getting into the details of each, I will simply say that I prefer using Durock for its ease of cutting and relatively minimal dust. With any brand its important to make sure that the boards sit perfectly flat on your framing members. The recommended screws are a bit of a hassle and can cause problems, using galvanized roofing or siding nails will work just fine and a pneumatic nailer makes quick work of the process while saving your arms (this obviously does not work when using steel studs). Using any of the backer board materials, you’ll want to be sure that all your fasteners are sitting just below the surface of the substrate and will therefore not interfere with your trowel.

Now we come to the crucial moment – waterproofing. Waterproofing can be messy, expensive and hard to install but there is a product I like to use that makes quick work of the whole process – KERDI Membrane by Schluter Systems. Schluter has created a membrane that is easy to install, lightweight, clean and makes the art of waterproofing more of a science. As a wise carpenter once told me…you just need to think like water! If there is one reason to hire a professional, this is it. Improper waterproofing can destroy a lot more than just the new tile you are installing.

Once the waterproofing is complete and has cured, the tile installation can begin. Before you mix your first batch of thinset, take a minute to think through your layout. Once you start mixing the clock starts and time-is-a tickin’ because your thinset has started to cure. The process of cutting, troweling on adhesive and installing tile is as much of an art form as any other specialty. Attention to details, methodical movements and a trusty level will improve your final product 100-fold.

Hopefully these tips will help you in your upcoming project and we welcome your comments and questions. Just remember that the longevity and quality of what you do see is all determined by what you don’t see.