I start my day the same way countless others do, with a sleepy stagger into the bathroom for a warm shower to clean up and wake up. Making sure that our guests start their day off on a positive note is important to us so we decided to completely renovate the bathroom in the Urban Caribou Bed and Breakfast. We will discuss some of the other improvements (heated tile floor, new vanity and sink, new fixtures throughout, and new soundproofing/drywall/paint) in other posts but wanted to walk our readers through the shower replacement process.
It started with an honest assessment of the current shower. There was nothing wrong with the unit, except that the tub surround was actually flooring linoleum and the space didn’t have a clean crisp inviting feel to it. So we decided to strip it down to the studs and start fresh. Demolition is my specialty, I find it amazing how quickly you can remove components of your house and equally astounding how long it takes to get a nice finished product back in place.
After we got down to studs and confirmed there was no water damage from undetected leaks we started thinking about how we wanted the shower to look. Did we want a tub insert, plastic wall panels, or tile? We landed on tile because of its timeless look, durability, and clean style. I did a lot of reading on constructing a tile tub surround and determined that as with most projects, starting with a solid base or foundation is paramount to achieving a quality final product. I meticulously shimmed each stud to guarantee a flat tiling surface once the substrate was hung.
Selecting a substrate to tile onto is where I got really bogged down in the depths of the internet reading posts and tutorials all claiming that one approach or product was superior to any other, only to land on the next page claiming the exact opposite. At the end of the day we landed on ½” Durock cement board as the rigid base for our tiling project. We filled the joints between sheets with thinset mortar, fibre tape, and then more thinset mortar.
For most folks that would be enough, you can tile right onto the cement board and call it a day. Not for us, we are investing a lot in this renovation and don’t want to have to redo this tub surround in the foreseeable future so we took it to the next level with the application of a waterproofing membrane, RedGard. A Pepto-Bismol pink, paintable membrane that dries to a crimson red and smells like a hairdressing perm chemicals. The idea being that if micro cracks develop in the grout any moisture from the shower will be stopped by the RedGard before even reaching the cement board.
Finally, we were ready to begin hanging tile. We chose a traditional white 4×8” porcelain subway tile in an offset pattern with a medium gray (titanium) grout. We have undertaken several significant tiling projects to date and have developed a finely tuned dance in which we each have our respective roles. I draw on my experience as a geotechnical engineer testing concrete for building foundations to mix the mortar and grout to the ideal consistency. Lea taps into her artistic side to visualize the pattern and bed the tiles. I run the wet tile saw because of the noise and mess and feed her tiles for placement. I float the grout into the joints, which I can’t seem to do without getting blisters every single time. It must be because of the continuous motion and sanded grout grinding between the float handle and my hands. Lea finishes our tiling tango with the sponging and washing of the joints because I cannot leave a joint alone unless it is perfect. This is problematic because the worst thing you can do for any cementitious product is overwork it.
It feels great to have the tub surround complete and we are both very happy with the finished product. Now we will focus on finishing the remainder of the bathroom around it. I’m particularly excited about the heated tile flooring project – it’s something I’ve never done before.