Every time we see a nice bathroom in a magazine article or on HGTV we’re always in awe. But we also wonder how the installers got the tile to look so beautiful.
If you’re curious like us then this post will help demystify the process.
Every tile job begins with the substrate, e.g. cement board, KERDI-BOARD, Wedi, etc.
Our previous tutorial dealt with attaching cement board to the back wall of my brother-in-law’s new bathtub recess.
Since cement board panels come in 3 ft x 5 ft sections ( or 32 inch by 5 ft sections) it makes the installation much easier than you’d think.
With that said, there are some tips that make the final steps of cement board installation less frustrating.
Cement Board Installation on Side Wall
Cement board panels come in sizes that accommodate the bathtub recess. In our case we bought 32 inch by 5 ft panels. Then, Rob cut out the existing drywall with a Bosch oscillating multi-tool.
Both of us love this kind of tool because it helps with so many different projects. If you don’t have one yet it might be something to look into.
I rested the cement board panel on the bathtub and pre-drilled cement board screws about a quarter inch into its face where there were studs.
The screws in the photo below were about 1 inch from the top of the panel to ensure I didn’t crack the cement between the mesh.
I’ve learned to do this when hanging heavy cement panels by myself. With no extra hands you need to be crafty to ensure you don’t get hurt and actually hang the panel the right way the first time.
We lifted the panel up to be flush with the purple board and made sure the bottom was above the roofing nails that held the tub lip to the studs.
At this point we drilled the screws the rest of the way through the cement board and into the studs. You should drill a screw every 8-10 inches up and down the stud. It’ll take the Incredible Hulk to yank the cement board off the wall.
We also used a piece of cement board to fill in the area next to the tub. It’s better to show you what I’m talking about in picture format.
This area is super prone to water damage. I’ve observed this first hand at my rental homes and learned my lesson not to use anything other than cement board for this section of the bathroom wall.
And it’s best to pay attention to this area when waterproofing it with something like RedGard or Ardex 8+9.
How to Cut Circles in Cement Board
The last thing you want when cutting a hole in your cement panel is realizing it’s in the wrong position.
But you only need patience, a measuring tape, and pencil.
In our tub we only had to worry about cutting a hole for the shower handle and the tub spout.
There were 6 simple actions we needed to take to eliminate the possibility of messing up these cuts.
- Remember the Cement Panel will be just above the roofing nails holding the tub lip in place
- Get the distance from the center of the Shower Handle stem to the back wall
- Measure the distance from the center of the Shower Handle stem to the top of the roofing nails
- Get the radius of the Shower Handle mounting hardware
- Measure the distance from the center of the Tub Spout Copper Pipe to the back wall
- Get the distance from the center of the Tub Spout Copper Pipe to the top of the roofing nails
The picture below shows the distances that we measured for the shower handle – it was 13 1/4 inches from the back wall and 36 5/8 inches from the top of the roofing nails.
This location marks the center of the shower handle on the cement panel.
We carefully measured the radius of the shower handle mounting hardware and determined it was 2 1/2 inches. But I wanted a little wiggle room for the final cement board hole and made it 2 13/16 inches.
Cutting a perfect hole in cement board is very easy, although it does take elbow grease. We made a scribe with two cement board screws and a sturdy piece of scrap wood about 2 inches wide by 6 inches in length to accomplish this task.
The first screw will need to be drilled through the wood 1 inch from the edge. The second screw will need to be drilled through the wood at a distance equal to the radius of the shower handle mounting hardware, so in my case 2 13/16 inches.
We drilled one of the scribe screws through the mark on the cement board that indicated the center of the shower handle.
Then we drilled the second scribe screw into the cement board about 1/8 of an inch. This allowed us to turn the scribe and cut through the mesh and cement in the panel.
At this point the hole is half way to completion. Turn the cement board over and insert the scribe in the center hole.
Use the scribe to cut through the mesh and cement on the back of the panel.
Now the scored circle can be removed from the cement board using a hammer. Give yourself a pat on the back, you’ve got a perfect hole for the shower handle.
We used the same measuring method to mark the center of the copper pipe for the tub spout.
And this time the hole was created using an old hole saw. If you don’t know what a hole saw is that’s okay.
They are used for cutting a hole into doors, specifically a 1 inch hole for the deadbolt, and can be bought at any hardware store.
The finished product doesn’t look too shabby.
We screwed this side wall cement panel into the studs the exact same way as all the other cement boards.
We went from having studs in the bathtub recess to cement board on all three walls in less than one day.
Having cement board as a substrate in your bathtub or shower will severely reduce the odds of developing mold.
It serves as a great substrate for ceramic, porcelain, and glass tiles. And it’s cheap ($10-12 per panel).
Rob and Janeen (my sister) want to use subway tiles for the tub surround, and having plumb (straight up & down) walls made from cement will ensure the whole job will go smoothly.
If you’re curious about how to waterproof this kind of space read our next tutorial.
Keep in mind that cement board isn’t the only type of backer board for showers. KERDI-BOARD and Wedi are also fantastic options.
If you’re doing a bathroom remodel and need help, join one of our online courses – they’ll make your bathroom renovation much easier!
Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to help.