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I haven’t published a home makeover blog post in almost 6 months, but Jun and I have actually been quite busy renovating our hallway bathroom for months now (if you follow me on Instagram, you’re probably familiar with our near-daily renovation updates)! Originally, we wanted to get this shower completed by the end of last year, but after falling ill and being bedridden for 3 months, that deadline was impossible. We picked this project back up in late December and have pushed to get this done!
Originally, we wanted to renovate our master bathroom, but we needed to do the hallway bathroom first so that we had an accessible bathroom while the master was under construction. Admittedly, I had a fear of touching the hallway bathroom because it was so dingy and unclean. I had a feeling that the previous owners may have had an older individual receiving hospice care in this bathroom, so it needed a lot of TLC.
Aside from the yellowed vinyl flooring and stained walls, the shower also had a running leak that would not stop no matter what fixes we did. There was always this slight moldy smell in this bathroom, so I had major anxiety about the possibility of hidden black mold hiding behind the shower walls causing the smell. Luckily, we didn’t have that kind of mold (we definitely had some mold, but not the dangerous kind).
If you’re thinking of upgrading your own tub and shower combo, be sure to bookmark this post or pin it to Pinterest so you have an instructional guide! I’ve written out all of the steps we did as per my readers’ requests of wanting to learn how to DIY their own bathroom renovation. I’ve also included a free shower renovation checklist that includes a list of materials, my favorite tiles from Tilebar, as well as a step-by-step guide. Download it below!
Step 1: Tear Down the Shower
Teardown was pretty simple: Jun simply used a pry bar at the edge of the tile and hit it with a hammer to wedge it underneath the tile (check this Youtube video for a demonstration: Removing Ceramic Wall Tiles from Shower Video). Very strategically, he placed a garbage bin right outside the shower window and tossed everything out for easy cleanup.
The process for removing the tub was simple as well: Jun sawed it in half down the middle to break it in half and then carried it out. Our old tub was porcelain-on-steel, so it was pretty heavy, which means if you do the same thing with your tub, you’ll likely need help with carrying the tub out.
When we ripped out the shower tile, we actually discovered that the previous owners installed a new tub, but didn’t nail it to the wall, nor properly level it. This actually allowed water to seep into the foundations and caused some mold, but luckily, it wasn’t black mold, nor was it bad enough for us to need to replace the 2x4s, so we used a 1:1 solution of bleach and water and sprayed it well. After that, the moldy smell was gone.
Step 2: Upgrading the Underlayment
The old insulation had some mold on it and was pretty outdated, so we put in some new insulation (check out this Youtube video for visual instruction: How to Install Fiberglass Insulation). Afterward, Jun took out all the old pipes and replaced them with copper ones. He soldered the pipes together to ensure that there were no leaks at any of the fittings.
I also wanted to have a shower niche built into the wall to store bath products, as I dislike having to line the edge of the tub with products only for them to fall over. The decision wasn’t complicated: There was a perfect spot directly underneath the shower window that would be visually appealing, so Jun cut down one of the 2x4s in the middle and then placed a new one horizontally beneath the two vertical studs. Voila, a shower niche! Check out this Youtube video for visual instruction: How To Build Shower Niche.
Step 3: Tub Installation
The tub installation is a really delicate, fragile process, and definitely requires a lot of careful planning as well as extra help to lift and fit the tub into place. Even the slightest budge against the wall can cause a hairline crack, which you definitely do not want. I highly recommend having an extra pair (or two pairs) of hands with you because it will likely be impossible for you to get the tub into place without help. If your toilet is next to your tub, I also recommended moving it out of the way so that you have more space for tub installation.
Youtube video for visual instruction: How To Install a Bath Tub.
Another crucial part of tub installation is leveling the floor and ensuring that the base of the tub is on level ground. Some contractors will place a thick bed of mortar at the base of the tub and then manipulating the tub into the mortar until it’s level. Another option is if you have a built-in bathtub support like our Delta 400 bathtub has (available at Home Depot) is to use spray foam insulation at the base as well. Luckily for us, the floor beneath the tub was pretty level, so Jun only had to sand down a few spots to get it perfect. After getting the tub into place, he nailed the flange of the tub into the surrounding studs.
One critical thing you must take note of when buying your tub is making sure the tub drain is positioned at the corresponding side of where your plumbing is! It seems like common sense, but actually many people don’t realize this and wind up ordering or taking home the wrong tub.
Step 4: Installing the Cement Board
The next step is installing the cement board: we got a few 3×5 ft. sheets of HardieBacker cement board (available at Lowe’s or Home Depot), which is a tile underlayment specially designed for wet areas like kitchens and bathrooms. While it’s possible to put tile on drywall in low-moisture areas, it isn’t recommended for behind the shower walls, because any moisture that can seep through the tile grout can cause serious mold problems when exposed to drywall. That would mean having to rip out all of your tile and breaking down the wall to address the mold problem and rebuild it again, which can cost thousands.
Youtube video for visual instruction: How to Install Cement Board for Beginners.
Side note: our previous shower wasn’t tiled up to the ceiling and made the room feel small and ceilings look low. We decided to tile all the way up to the ceiling, which really opened up the space. I highly recommend installing the cement board up to the ceiling and tiling all the way up!
Jun took his measurements and started by cutting and installing all the pieces for the shower niche first. Then he progressed onto the larger pieces for the remaining walls. They were all drilled into place with cement board screws (available at Lowe’s or Home Depot) – you’ll want to use these instead of regular screws since they have a coating that makes them resistant to corrosion and also has a stronger grip.
After all the cement board was installed, I had to tape up the seams using fiberglass mesh tape. Many contractors will advise using standard drywall joint tape, but if in the event water gets past the tile, this tape can actually dissolve. After much research, we felt it was the best choice to use alkali-resistant cement board joint tape, as it will not break down when exposed to moisture. Double-check that it’s a dark grey tape (available at Lowe’s or Home Depot), and not the standard white joint tape.
The last step of cement board preparation is to mortar the seams. Mix the thinset mortar with water in a 5-gallon bucket using a mixing paddle attachment and a power drill. Then, using a stainless steel putty knife, apply the mortar in a thin coat over the seams, ensuring that it overlaps past the edge of the tape. Be careful not to mix too much as you’ll wind up needing to dispose of the unused mixture; mix small batches and continue to make more after you finish up the current batch.
Here’s a Youtube video that shows how to tape and mortar the joints: Taping Cement Board Joints-Step By Step Tutorial
Step 5: Waterproofing
Waterproofing is the most important part of all of this! As we tore down the previous shower we noticed that the cement board was not waterproofed, which contributed to the water getting through to the wall studs and creating mold. We wanted to ensure that this time around everything was completely waterproofed so we didn’t have to deal with it again.
Some contractors are loyal to either 2 types of popular waterproofing membranes: Kerdi, which comes in sheets, or Redgard, which is a liquid membrane that you paint-on. Kerdi is pricier and has a learning curve for application – you need to cut the Kerdi into the right-size pieces and apply it using a non-polymer-enriched or “unmodified” mortar called Mapei Kerabond (not regular VersaBond thinset mortar). Redgard, on the other hand, just needs to be mixed well and then applied using a paint roller and brush. Ultimately, we wound up using Redgard for the majority of the shower, and Kerdi-Band to waterproof the surrounding edges of our shower window.
I didn’t want to run the risk of water getting into the underlayment through the seams in the shower window, despite the window and niche were both pitched to prevent water settling in the middle. I got a roll of Kerdi-Band, applied it with Mapei Kerabond, and then did a bead of Kerdi-fix at the edge of the windows.
Youtube video for Kerdi installation: Tips on preparing KERDI & KERDI-BAND
Applying the Redgard was simple: first I used a brush to paint all the seams and then allowed it to dry. Then I painted over everything using a roller brush, let it dry, and then applied a 2nd coat. Here’s a Youtube video for Redgard: How to red gard shower walls and pan Red guard.
Step 6: Tile & Trim Installation
Long before we finished the underlayment and waterproofing, I was already choosing both the shower tile and floor tile. I spent a lot of time going from company to company, but I wasn’t really impressed with the typical selections most home improvement stores had to offer. I really wanted something different, and Tilebar was the perfect answer: they’ve curated the most gorgeous tiles to pick from, so picking the perfect tile wasn’t a challenging process at all!
You can also get 5 tile samples for only $5 + free shipping, which allows you to buy with confidence instead of blindly purchasing a ton of boxes. Before buying you must feel the texture of the tile, place it in the designated space, and see how the color changes in both natural and ambient light. I definitely do not recommend buying solely on the product image alone.
I got a few different samples of black tile but was ultimately stuck between Tilebar’s Tessuto Carbone 4×12 tile or their Aliante black 4×12 picket tile. Although I love the variety of textures that the Tessuto tile offers, I felt it would be a little too masculine and too modern for the vibe I was aiming for in this bathroom. I also adore Tessuto against black grout, but seeing that we only have a single window in the bathroom, I didn’t want the black tile to get “lost” in black grout with less light.
After much indecision between all their beautiful black tile selections we finally settled on their beautiful Aliante black tile: it’s a picket-style porcelain tile that has such a unique shape, and paired with a light gray grout, would look absolutely gorgeous in the shower. This project would have been much quicker had we settled on a square or rectangular tile, but the hexagonal shape and small size meant we had to do a lot of cutting and measuring.
On figuring out how many tiles you will need: basic math will get you this answer. Measure the length and width of each wall, multiply them, and you have the amount of sq. ft. you will need for one of your walls. Do this with your other 2 walls and then add all 3 numbers up, and you now have the total minimum amount of tile you need to cover the surface.
You will need extra tiles in the event that you crack a tile or make some incorrect cuts. I recommend ordering an extra 5% more. We needed a total of 65 sq. ft., but I ordered 72 sq. ft. to make room for any possible errors.
Our Tilebar order came packaged extremely secure on a shipping pallet. Not a single tile was damaged, which was really impressive to me, considering when you buy tile in bulk you’re bound to have a few broken, cracked or chipped tiles from shipping!
Jun used a wet tile saw to cut the tile. We started tiling the bottom row first and worked our way upwards. Using a 1/4-inch notched trowel, we applied Versabond thinset mortar onto the wall and applied the tile, using 1/8 tile-spacers in-between each to ensure even spacing (as well as below the bottom row of tile to have space for grout). Then we let it sit overnight, as we didn’t want to start the second row and run the risk of the tiles sagging under the extra weight.
Here’s a really helpful Youtube video that shows how to install shower tile: How To Tile A Shower | From A to Z
Jun went the extra mile and did some seriously accurate measuring and cutting to make sure all of the tiles inside the niche matched the surrounding tiles. This was no easy feat, considering the shape of the picket tiles!
Many tiles will have a matching bullnose tile to finish the edges of the shower, but this was not the case with our tile choice. Our solution was to use this beautiful graphite aluminum trim by Schluter to finish the edges. It worked perfectly: it creates a really minimal, upscale look that compliments the tile.
Applying the trim was pretty straightforward, but we had to make sure to get the right size trim that matched the same thickness of the tile. We settled on 3/8-inches. To apply, you need to put down the thinset mortar, put the edging on, slab on another layer of thinset over the edge of the trim, and then apply the tile. We did this for the edge of the shower tile as well as the edge of the niche and window, so we used about 3 pieces of 8-feet trim.
There are a few different ways to install tile trim, but Schluter has a video with their recommended way of installing the same trim that we followed: Tips on finishing a shower niche.
Next step is grout: I wanted a light color for grout, but not white, as it has a tendency to show dirt and can be a major pain to clean. I settled on Timberwolf by Mapei: while the swatch looks significantly darker, it dries to a really nice light grey that really makes these tiles pop.
To grout, mix the powder with water in a 5-gallon bucket and use a grout float to apply it to the wall in a sweeping motion. Make sure to get into those corners and underneath the bottom row of tile! After you grout it, you want to use a sponge with water to wipe down the surface of the tile. This is a great Youtube video that shows the grouting process: How To Grout | DIY for Beginners
Mapei’s Ultracolor Plus FA grout has a high resistance to stains and doesn’t require sealing, which is why I chose this brand over other grout brands. Grout is porous and usually needs to be sealed, otherwise, water can get trapped in it, causing mold (and not to mention, it can seep right through into the underlayment).
We allowed the grout to dry for about 2 days and then used a grout release solution mixed with 5 parts water. When grout dries on the surface of the tile it creates a dusty-looking haze, so using a grout release solution with a sponge and rag helps remove it.
After a few days, we used black caulk for the top of the shower where the tile meets the ceiling, and a clear caulk for the bottom where the tile meets the tub.
Step 7: Frosting the Window
Although I love natural window light, the shower window actually faces the street, and like most people, I wouldn’t be comfortable giving my neighbors a peep show. The original shower had some blinds for this window, but I’m not a fan of having blinds in the shower. I took those down and frosted the window instead. Rustoleum has this great Frosted Glass spray that is incredibly easy to apply: simply clean the window as best as you can, tape off the edges and non-paintable areas, and then spray it. It took me about 3 coats to get the amount of frost that I wanted. It’s totally worth it for shower windows or even front door windows!
Step 8: Shower Door Installation
While it’s more cost-effective (and easier) to install a shower curtain, I didn’t want to hide the shower tile in any way since my intention was to make it one of the main focal points in the bathroom. This also meant opting for a clear glass shower door instead of a frosted one.
Our local Home Depot sells glass doors separately from the shower door hardware, so you can completely customize your shower door. Plain glass doors were the cheapest option, so we had more budget for the hardware. I wanted a frameless shower door, but the assembly kits for that particular style tend to be much more expensive, so we settled on this Delta Contemporary Sliding Door Kit that was $309. We followed the included directions so we didn’t really follow a video, although here’s a Youtube video that shows an installation of the same Delta shower door kit: How to install a Delta Tub and Shower Sliding Glass doors
Unfortunately, the glass door hardware didn’t come in a gold finish, and I wanted all the hardware in this bathroom to be gold, so I asked my local hardware shops to see if they could plate all of the shower hardware in a universal gold, and many of them quoted me well over $1,500 for the job! Powder coating would have been another great option, but I was still quoted around $500-$600, and that cost was just far too much for me to spend on just our hardware.
After some extensive research, I decided to spray paint all our hardware with Rustoleum Automotive Primer (it’s designed for cars, so it will stick) and then spraying with Rustoleum Universal Formula Metallic spray paint in Pure Gold. I’ll likely publish a separate post for this since the job was so extensive, but in a nutshell, I had to remove all of the rubber from the pieces, sand down the metal to remove the finish, spray it with 2 coats of primer, let it cure, and then spray about 2-3 layers of gold spray paint. I actually followed this blog post for guidance: they taped off their shower hardware and spray painted it, but I found it easier to just remove all my hardware first and spray paint everything in the backyard on some old cardboard.
It was a troublesome and time-extensive project, but at the end of the day, I’m glad I did this because I saved a massive amount of money and got the color I wanted. The spray paint formulas I used are designed to withstand water exposure and long-term use, but I’m sure after several years I’ll have to touch it up. I’m already planning ahead to have another set plated for actual long-term use (or maybe we’ll want to redesign our shower again and do something completely different, haha!).
Installing the shower door was pretty straightforward, although very time-intensive: Jun had to carefully measure the width of our shower as it wasn’t a full 60 inches because of the tile thickness. This meant he had to cut down the top and bottom supporting bars down to size and also drill holes into the porcelain tile. There was basically no going back after this step. But in the end, it looks great, especially for the price we paid!
The last step of installing the shower door was to caulk all the seams with a clear Tub & Tile caulk.
How We Saved Money Doing This Renovation Ourselves
Jun is quite handy thanks to the knowledge from his full-time construction job, and I spent a lot of time designing the bathroom and ensuring that our choices were sensible, achievable, and within our budget.
Staying within a reasonable budget involved these factors:
- Designing the bathroom ourselves instead of hiring an interior designer
- Doing the labor ourselves instead of hiring contractors
- Splurging on certain materials while saving on others
The most important part aside from doing our own labor was being wise about where we allocated the budget. I wanted the shower to have a really different look than typical builder-grade designs, so I was willing to choose a pricier tile that was unique, rather than a standard, lackluster one.
I wanted to have a custom built-in tub, but the labor and price of materials would have blown us far out of our budget. Instead, we opted for an acrylic alcove tub, which was the cheapest option, and have plans in the future to build a DIY tub skirt using beadboard to create that custom built-in look we are going for.
While the shower hardware looks expensive, it’s a really inexpensive option compared to brands like Delta or Kohler. I got our shower hardware set from Amazon for less than $250! The only matching style tub spout I could find was from Moen for $77, and the matching tub drain kit was $68. Keep in mind that if you pick unconventional hardware colors like gold, you’ll have a harder time mix-and-matching hardware and may have to get them plated, powder-coated, or spray paint it yourself if you want everything to match. None of our hardware matched, so I took the liberty of getting 1 can of primer and 3 cans of spray paint to paint everything myself, which cost me less than $30. This was much cheaper than the $1500 we were quoted to have everything plated!
Our glass door was a plain glass door from Delta, and cost $120. The matching glass hardware kit was about $309 and also one of the cheapest options available for the minimal look I wanted to achieve.
However, none of the hardware matched, so I took the liberty of purchasing 1 can of primer and 3 cans of spray paint to paint everything myself, which cost me less than $30. This was much cheaper than the $1500 we were quoted to have everything plated!
Saving money on your renovation project involves a lot of give-and-take decisions. You may not get everything you want, but as long as you’re willing to make the effort to research and find more affordable alternatives, you can save a ton of money.
How Much Our Shower Renovation Cost
I know I’m going to get a lot of questions about how much this project cost, so for transparency’s sake, here’s a list of the items we needed for this project. Keep in mind we already had most of the tools like a power drill and tile cutter, so this itemized list includes the materials only.
- Insulation: $34.98
- (1) 2×4: $3.18
- 2 copper pipes: $10.36 x 2 = $20.72
- Bathtub: $251.10
- Shims: $1.48
- Cement board screws: $9.58
- Cement board tape: $7.38
- Mixing bucket: $3.25
- Mixing paddle: $13.68
- Putty Knife: $12.49
- 2-50 lb bag of Versabond thinset mortar: $12.57 x 2 = $25.14
- 3 sheets Hardiebacker cement board: $8.98 x 3 = $26.94
- 1 gallon Redgard: $47.87
- Paint tray kit: $8.88
- 1 bottle Kerdi-fix: $15.55
- 1 roll Kerdi-band: $18.98
- 1 bag Kerabond: $12.88
- Plastic sheeting: $17.98
- Painter’s tape: $6.58
- Trowel: $4.97
- Tile: 72 sq ft x $8.67/sq ft = $624.24
- Tile spacers: $3.18
- 4 pc Schlüter trim: $26.44 x 4 = $105.76
- 25 lb bag grout: $13.24
- Groat float: $7.47
- Grout cleaner: $9.98
- 2 Sponges: $2.58 x 2 = $5.16
- 3 bottles caulk: $5.37 x 3 = $16.11
- Shower door: $120
- Shower door hardware: $309
- Shower hardware set: $248
- Tub spout: $77.62
- Tub hardware: $68.87
- 1 Can Rustoleum Frosted Glass spray paint: $3.98
- 3 cans Rustoleum gold spray paint: $6.98 x 3 = $20.94
- 1 can Rustoleum Automotive Primer: $4.27
Grand total: $2,181.43 + tax
This total gives an idea of the costs to expect when upgrading your own shower. Keep in mind that there are a few things on this list that you may not need, such as new insulation, new copper pipes, and spray paint. You could also save several hundred by opting for a more affordable tile, but I fell in love with our Aliante tile and had to have it. Tilebar has some amazing picks that fall into an even more budget-friendly price point, and I’ve included my recommendations under $10/sq. ft. in the Shower Renovation Checklist in this post!
Remember that we also didn’t hire contractors: the range that contractors charge per hour is anywhere between $25 – $85, and that can add up – it would be $1,800 for $25/hour at 72 hours (nine 8-hour workdays). And that’s just for the shower alone, not the entire bathroom.
Overall, this shower renovation was a real eye-opener in terms of the many steps that need to be taken to ensure adequate waterproofing. The waterproofing process was long and tedious, but we made sure to get it done right before getting to all of the fun with tiling.
To be completely transparent, this project was a little challenging, so for the average homeowner and novice handyman I wouldn’t expect to get this done in a single weekend unless you have a few extra helping hands. But it is 100% possible to do it on your own like we did! To take all the guesswork out of your shower renovation, I’ve included all of this information on our downloadable Shower Renovation Checklist. Be sure to download it below so you know know what materials to buy and steps to take!
Next week, I’ll be sharing another update on this bathroom: the floors! We finished the floors before the shower was complete, but it definitely deserved its own separate blog post. If you want to see our process through videos, check out my Instagram story highlights “1 BATH RENO,” “2 BATH RENO,” and “3 BATH RENO.” Also be sure to subscribe to my newsletter below so you can stay updated on all of our renovation projects!
My Tub & Shower Choices:
- Grout (Color: Timberwolf)
- Alcove Tub
- Shower Hardware
- Tub Spout | Tub Drain
- Gold Spray Paint (Color: Pure Gold)
- Glass Doors
- Glass Door Hardware Kit
For a full list of supplies and materials, download the Shower Renovation Checklist.
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- Master Bedroom Update: Budget-Friendly Decor & Furniture