Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Bathroom Remodel Part 4: Shower Tile Prep

Part 1: Demolition
Part 2: Plumbing
Part 3: Material selection and Floor Tile

With our floor tile in, it was time to focus on the daunting task of doing up the shower walls. Let me just preface this post by saying that if there was ever a time to hire out a job, this would be it. There is just SO MUCH engineering that goes into this tiny little corner of the room that it's impossible to learn every detail as a first-time-bathroom-remodeler. And it's not just that the details are numerous; it's that they're all important too! Omitting any of them could result in disaster (in the form of leakage, rot and mold). For this reason, I'm going to try to include as many tips (in blue) and nuggets of information in this post for any of you out there trying to find advice. Disclaimer: I am NOT a professional, so if you want a professional's expert advice, consult a professional. I repeat, I am not a professional.

The first thing we had to do was build out the underlying structure to give the cement board a solid and immovable foundation. We added 2x4s in between the existing studs (and probably went overboard) for the Hardibacker to attach to. Here you can see my niche structure with a few of the added 2x4s. You'll also notice the Hardibacker attached to the right. That was a mistake. I'll explain later.

I rerouted the wiring for a guest-bedroom outlet to go around the new niche. Back in the day, electricians liked to wire things pretty tight, which meant I had no extra slack to work with. I had to feed new wire in, which required me to explore our attic for the first time! It was kind of exciting, but mostly hot, cramped, dark and scary. Also, I think I left some needle-nose pliers up there on accident.

So back to the Hardibacker cement board. Hanging this stuff was quite the ordeal for several reasons. The first was that the material is a bitch to cut; no matter what we did score-and-snap would not work, we couldn't use high-speed power tools because it kicked up ridiculous amounts of cancer-dust (and dulled the blades), and it melted most of our jigsaw blades.

After destroying many tools to cut up the biggest boards on the back wall, I thought, "there has GOT to be a better way". I don't know why we didn't look sooner, but I found this video that changed our lives. 
Here's your first TIP: Use a tile wet saw to cut Hardibacker! It's like a hot knife through butter and no cancer dust!

The 2nd reason Hardibacker sucks is that it's impossible to screw into with a regular drill. After being unable to sink the special screws so they were flush with the board, we resulted in drilling countersink holes (destroying several countersink bits in the process; Hardibacker is no joke) and using a hammer drill to get them flush, but that didn't solve the problem of the screws jacking the boards away from the studs. Um, infuriating?! We carried on like this for the entire back wall (probably 50 screws) before discovering that......


We forgot to shim the studs. Why is this step important, you ask? I refer you to the following diagram:

Notice that the Hardibacker needs to sit flush or slightly proud of the tub flange so that the tile can drop down to meet the tub deck. Because our Hardibacker was 1/4" thinner than the stuff we ripped out, it sat slightly behind the flange, which means we needed to shim. Which means we needed to take down the Hardibacker that took us forever to install. This realization brought on a lot of feels. Sad, angry feels.

TIP: Make sure your cement board is flush or proud of the flange!

For the shims, I bought some 1/4" thick redwood edging from Lowes (found in the gardening section). Then we just shimmed, shimmed, shimmed.

The niche wall got a double layer of shims since we had to scoot the tub closer to the plumbing to fit the existing drain pipe.

For take-two of cement board installation, we got smart and Googled once again. The internet revealed to us that there was indeed a special tool that we were missing called an impact driver drill. The internet promised that this amazing drill would make our lives easier in many aspects, including attaching cement board. Armed with a gift-card to Lowes, we set out to procure this legendary tool, and let me tell you something.... is *MAGICAL*.

It's a little hard to explain how magical this tool is, so we made a demonstration video for you. Really wish I had worn makeup for this one, but I did wear my chicken shirt so you win some, you lose some.

Things went SO MUCH FASTER with that drill, I can't even believe it. We still had to drill some countersinks with a masonry bit just to break through that first layer and keep from stripping the screws, but wow. Such fast, so amaze.

TIP: Use an impact driver drill to install cement board! It will make your screws flush and ensure that the board is tacked up tight against the studs. Also make sure you have extra impact-rated drill bits because you will break a few.

It was time to tackle the niche. There was only drywall in place here, so I cut a piece of plywood to fit the back and glued it in with Liquid Nails. No idea if that is the proper way to do it, but that's what happened. 

I secured the plywood in place with some scrap 2x4s to keep it from popping out while the glue dried. Then I got to work on the sides.

I used Liquid Nails and screws to secure a thin piece of cement board to the back of the niche, and with that final piece in place, we were DONE!

I think below is my very favorite image of the series because that damn cement board was so freaking hard to work with and screw into, and having to do it emotionally taxing. Basically there were many weekends where we would just look meekly at the half-up boards and turn away dejected, putting it off for yet another week. This image just reminds me of all those weekends where I thought we would NEVER finish this stupid bathroom remodel because we weren't skilled enough or knowledgeable enough. Finally though, we were over that hurdle. So let us take a moment to admire this achievement, shall we?


(So Boyfiancé thinks that I'm not properly capturing the elation we felt at finishing this part of the project, so let me describe it with this animated gif:

Imagine feeling that times, like....a hundred.)

Armed with renewed enthusiasm for this project, we moved right on to filling the holes and joints with mortar. I have to give Boyfiancé a pat on the head for this part. He got started without me and decided to use drywall compound to fill the holes (see the white spots?) because the container said "wall patch". Luckily his common sense kicked in after about seven holes and he decided to consult the internet. *pat pat*

And of course we taped the seams with alkali-resistant mesh tape. I hate taping seams because of the "speed bumps" (that's what the pros call them) they create, causing tile unevenness later, but it's gotta be done.

TIP: Scrape as much excess mortar from the seam as possible to get things as flat as possible. 

Since things were getting pretty messy, we ditched the ghetto blanket/plastic sheet combo that had been serving as our tub "protection" up until this point. Mostly it just sat in a tangle at the bottom of the tub, so we did it right, finally, and covered everything with paper and tape.

TIP: Do the paper thing early on, and tape up ALL the openings to prevent dust and crumbs from falling under the paper and scratching your tub. 

Then came the part I had been anxious to try: Redgard!

This is the new hot thing all the professionals are using. Basically you paint it on over your cement board and it creates a totally waterproof skin as well as providing a crack-prevention membrane so your tiles don't crack when there's movement below the surface. We opted to use this instead of a vapor barrier because I just feel like there's too much that could go wrong with hanging a piece of plastic behind cement board and expecting it to keep the water out of your walls. I know, professionals have been doing that for ages, but look at this's hot pink!

TIP: It is not recommended to use both a vapor barrier AND Redgard, otherwise you create a waterproofing "sandwich" where moisture will get trapped and cause mold. 

We chose to use the roller application technique, but you can also spray or trowel it on. It has the consistency of pudding, so that's fun.

TIP: Make sure to clean the cement board with a wet sponge thoroughly to remove any dust.

TIP: Because Hardibacker is so thirsty, Redgard people recommend doing a "primer" layer first, which is a 1:1 mixture of water and Redgard.

Each coat with the roller seemed a little thin, so we ended up doing about six coats total to get the recommended thickness. The stuff goes on hot pink but dries red. The result was kind of eerie/beautiful.

And with that, we were finally ready for some TILE yeahhhhhhh!! I'll leave you with one final tip.

TIP: Don't DIY a full bathroom remodel.


  1. Love that animated gif! I can't wait to "see your expression" for when the bathroom is done. Cool video about the difference between a 10v drill and impact driver, too. And the Redgard does look beautiful on the wall, the drips of red into the tub area are totally horror-movie inspiring. Can't wait to see that tile up. :)

    1. Hi Yvonne! I'll be on the lookout for the perfect "finished remodel" animated gif :)
      Thanks for reading!

  2. Whew! You're FAST. Our bath remodel has taken 3 years and finally ready to tile. Your reveal is ahhhmazing- sleek, modern & professional! Wondering, since your cost breakdown notes you already had paint.. if you wouldn't mind giving up your wall color? It's perfect. Many Thanks!