Tiling. The nitty gritty. (say it like Gloria from Modern Family)

First things first. Tiling is easier than leveling walls and backer-boarding. Ruben, you are superman for giving us level walls to which my tiling could successfully adhere, and I appreciate all of your behind the scenes work that is forever covered by my spotlight-stealing tile. :) With that said, tiling has a lot of steps, and I learned a lot by making mistakes on this first tiling task. Actually, there were certain mistakes that I have not yet learned from, so I feel slightly mystified and not 100% confident that my tiles won't slide off the wall. Only time will tell. Dun dun!

First, picking your tile. I think I picked the easiest tile in the entire world to work with. 3"x6" self-spacing subway tiles. Not ridiculously small and tedious, but not big and hard to make level. And not needing a million tiny spacers probably saved me hours and lots of sanity points. I actually picked it because it was cheaptastic, but in hindsight it was a very fortuitous choice, indeed. 

So, the tiling professionals say to start in the very middle of your wall, draw a grid and work outwards to the edges. I started marking my wall to do that, was about ready to start, and then when I got my level out, realized that the imprinted lines on my backerboard were not level with the edge of the tub! Whew, huge crisis averted, and I decided to just start at the bottom and work my way up. That way, I could place my tiles exactly how I wanted them to overlap the lip of the tub, and not have to rely on my faulty measuring skills and hoping that it would work out 3 feet down from center. If I tiled another tub, I'd do it this way again, because I really wouldn't want to have to cut that bottom tile and have it look all cray-cray.

Mastic. You will use more than the container claims, so just buy the bigger bucket. If you're like me, you'll get overly excited about tiling when you're done, and plan a bunch more projects, so it will go to good use. I bought one bucket, then had to go back for another, and will need another to finish the very top.

Why didn't I finish the very top? Excellent question. We didn't realize that we needed to finish the crack between the backer board and green board ceiling before we started, so I just left a couple rows up top so we will have space to do that. Moral: make sure the area is completely ready, so you can just get it all done in one go.

Cutting tile is annoying. Our friends lent us a wet saw, which was awesome, but it is also incredibly messy. The water from the saw is always spraying out, usually into your lap. And the water is mixed with tile clay stuff, and tiny shards of the tile finish. So if/when it gets on your skin and gets kindof dry, you feel like you've been bitten by mosquitos with glass mouths. And then you walk from the wet saw station outside to the bathroom seven million times, which makes your floors thoroughly dirty (if they're not already from the mastic). Just mentally prepare yourself to be really, really messy. Also, if you have a wet saw, don't bother with one of those tile nippers. They should be called tile breakers. No, I take that back, I'm sure most people can handle them successfully, but I clearly don't have that skill set. 

Grout. You'll need more than you expect. Also, it's really messy and you'll end up wasting a lot. And you'll be worried about the messy plops staining your tub so you'll be grouting while standing in a few inches of water, but that makes the experience all the better because you feel more like you're playing at the beach. Also, don't believe the girl at home depot who says you don't need to seal it, because I'm pretty sure she is the cause of your current grout drama. Just seal it. Let it dry really well and seal the huminahum out of it! 

Caulk. It's very awkward to pronounce, but I'm glad that we chose it for our corners rather than grout. If you run painters tape on both sides of the crack and then use your finger to smooth the line of caulk out, you'll have beautiful lines that make you look like a pro. It's like fingerpainting! But a little more controlled.
photo cred: ellie

In summary, I am so happy that we did the shower ourselves (plus friend help and expertise, of course!) for a few reasons. 
1. We had to struggle and figure out how to live without a shower for a long time. (we showered all over Portland. Thank you friends and neighbors!) I used to always say comfort is overrated, but I haven't really been uncomfortable in the basic-necessities kind of way in awhile. In college I used to do weird things just to become accustomed to discomfort, like not using a pillow for a year, not eating meat in solidarity with meat-is-a-luxury cultures, and not using chapstick (that one stopped when Ruben and I started dating, for the sake of kissing). I find that discomfort, or a questioning of what I've always taken for granted, tends to lead to growth for me. So yes, even though there were lots of frustrating moments, I feel like we have grown in gratitude and the understanding that things like showers are not a guarantee or a necessity for life. Sure, it was annoying if we worked on the shower at night and then it was too late to go to a real shower so we had to take a "bath" in the sink. But we got to experience our neighbors giving us crazy people the key to their house and welcoming us into their lives in a meaningful way. Blessed.
2. Marriage work. Doing basically our first home improvement project, eliminating in-home shower access, taking five times longer than expected...this all adds up to the perfect conditions for conflict, and thus, marriage work. We learned a ton about communication, forgiveness, working together, respecting and encouraging each other, and just seeing the nitty gritty of our character come to the surface through this project. Some not so proud moments, some really great moments. But it was awesome, and I'm excited to grow together as we do more projects!
3. We have a couple skills now! Next time someone says "Ugh, I have to tile my shower but I have no clue" I can be a help to someone! And maybe they will have a great tiling experience and get super excited about learning other skills and sharing them with people too! We have benefited so much from our friends' experience in all these home projects and felt so blessed by their patience and willingness to help, so it's exciting to know that we will be able to bless others too, as we put our home together! Sometimes this home improvement thing feels very what's the point?, but I think that it is valuable on more than a practical level. We are creative beings, so it's natural to want the space that we live to reflect our creativity. And in the context of community, I love that this process of making something creative out of a functional object is something that we can help and encourage each other in. 


  1. Great description of your tiling extravaganza! It makes me want to do some!

    1. do it mom! weren't you talking about redoing your shower...?

    2. Yes, indeed. Not ME, but SOMEONE redoing my shower. Preferably someone professional.

    3. wow!!! good job guys!!!! :D proud of you!


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