Sprucing Up Your Bathroom Tile

Get tips for repairing or replacing your aging tile.

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Replacing Bathroom Tile

Does your bathroom tile look as if it needs Geritol? Is it falling off the wall? For that matter, is the paint in the bathroom peeling like badly sunburned skin? I feel sorry for you because there’s nothing you can do but strip it all and start over. Sure, you can patch, but the problem will come back to haunt you until you do it right.

Whether you’re redoing or starting fresh, let me make some suggestions. Gypsum board and plywood are what are usually used behind the finished product. So far so good, but be sure the gypsum board is water-resistant “green board.” If you’ve ever seen gypsum board, it has a paper covering that’s gray or green. The gray is commonly used throughout the house, while the green should be used in the wet areas such as bathrooms and the kitchen.

Even though the green board is water-resistant — and the key word here is resistant — it’s not a panacea. Direct contact with water will cause the gypsum board to deteriorate, so for proper installation, cut corners and edges, particularly those surrounding plumbing, should be bound with waterproof tape.

The green board should be used for ceilings and walls outside the tub and shower area only. For the actual walls behind the tiled or marbled shower and tub, fiberglass-reinforced Portland cement board will do the trick because direct contact with water does not deter this material. If it’s a kitchen installation, the Portland cement should be used on the backsplash near the sink as well as the steamy stove area.

Even better than this is lathe and cement mortar, but this requires the expertise of a technician. It’s also an expensive and very messy job. The Portland cement, on the other hand, can be installed by a proficient do-it-yourselfer.

If you’re doing it yourself, note that the screws or nails used to attach the board to the studs must be water-resistant. The seams should be covered with fiberglass tape and then covered with the same mortar or mastic used to set the tile.

Half-inch-thick gypsum board is usually used for walls in homes, though a thicker board, from 5/8-inch to a full inch, is required for commercial buildings. Fire laws require that the commercial walls be able to resist fire for at least an hour. I guess they think it won't take you an hour to get out of your house.

Of course, if you want to be totally safe, use green board throughout the house and make it at least 5/8-inch thick. You won’t be the only one doing this. I know several homeowners who have or are in the process of constructing their homes this way.

Just think — if you've done the job right, you can splish-splash in the tub all you want.

(Rosemary Sadez Friedmann, an interior designer in Naples, Fla., is author of Mystery of Color.)

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