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How to Install a Tile Shower Surround

This intermediate-level home improvement project will bring new life to a bathroom with tired tile or a grungy old plastic/acrylic surround. Here are five steps to follow when installing tile in your shower surround.

Step One: Remove Hardware


Removing your shower hardware can be tricky. You’ll need a tool such as a flat head screwdriver to pry off the decorative caps. Use a hex wrench and a pipe wrench to remove the spout. Make sure you turn off the water to the tub/shower and run out any water left in the pipes before you start.

Step Two: Strip the Walls

If you already have tile in your shower, carefully remove it with a hammer and chisel. Lay down a piece of cardboard or a cloth tarp in the bottom of your shower or tub to prevent damage and ease cleanup. Also, make sure you wear goggles and gloves!

Chisel the existing tiles from the wall but try not to damage the cement backer board underneath. If the backer board remains in one piece, you can skip step three.

If you don’t have existing tile or a cement back board in your shower, demo the entire wall down to the studs to prepare for backer board installation.

Step Three: Install Backer board

Seal the edges of the tub flange with asphalt roofing cement. Staple 4mm thick (or thicker) plastic sheeting to the wall studs to form a vapor barrier that overlaps with the tub flange and extends at least six feet from the floor.

Get backer board that fits your shower’s measurements and is the same thickness as drywall elsewhere in the bathroom. You can cut backer board by scoring it and snapping the piece off, unless you need a curved cut. Then you should use a jigsaw.

Attach the backer board to the studs with special concrete screws. Then, apply fiberglass tape and thin mortar to the seams between sheets of backer board and any seams surrounding the drywall. After the mortar has dried, paint on two coats of waterproof membrane.

Step Four: Install Tile


Center your ceramic or porcelain tiles horizontally and cut edge tiles to fit. Start laying tile from the second row up and cut bottom edge tiles, since the edge of your tub might not be perfectly level. Apply your thin set with a trowel to a small work area and use the notched side of the trowel to create a ridged pattern. Lay the tiles using tile spacers between them.

Step Five: Grout & Seal

Once the tile has set for 24-hours, remove the spacers and apply grout with a rubber float in a diagonal pattern. Wipe away excess grout. After a few days of full drying, apply the grout sealer. Grout sealer isn’t needed if you mix in a grout additive when you first mix the grout. After grouting, use a silicon sealant to fill the remaining joints and corners. Finally, reattach the shower fixtures.

After cleaning up your mess from demoing and buffing the new tiles to a gorgeous shine, you’ll be able to see just how beautiful your new shower surround really is. All you have to do next is try to hold yourself back from using the shower until all the sealant is completely dry.

What style of tiles are you thinking of for your updated shower surround?

Browse our selection of stunning Wall Tile & Mosaics here. Create your dream bathroom.

(2) Comments

  1. Surprise found under tile in my 1966 ranch house. The pre-existing concrete backing extends 1/2 underneath surface of wall above and beside the shower. I planned on removing the existing backing and replace with hardibacker. The existing concrete backer was damaged in some spots in removal of some of the tile. Because of the depth of the original backer, I’m concerned I can’t replace it with the thnner hardibacker. Can I patch it? Must I chisel it out?

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team

      Hi John,

      Thank you for your inquiry. It does sound like you would have to chisel it out. Unfortunately, as we aren’t able to see the actual area we can’t comment on how to properly fix the issue. I would definitely suggest getting in touch with a professional installer just to take a look over the area to find the best solution. Please let us know if you have any other questions!

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