How to Attach Tile to Drywall Above a Shower Surround

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Tile adds a layer of moisture protection to drywall.
Image Credit: hikesterson/iStock/GettyImages

Attach tile to drywall above a shower surround to give your bathroom a finished upscale look with an easy shower remodel. Your shower surround keeps water from coming into contact with the wall behind it. While it probably does a decent job, the drywall above the surround may suffer from water that sprays up or from moisture that accumulates on the drywall. One way to protect the wall above the surround is to install tile. The tile, when grouted and sealed, acts as a moisture barrier, protecting the wall and keeping water where it belongs … in the shower.

Step 1: Create a Template

Measure each proposed tile area above your shower surround and draw a matching, to-scale outline on a large cardboard sheet. For example, if one wall's tiled area will measure 36 inches wide by 18 inches high, you would draw a rectangle that is 36 inches wide and 18 inches high on a piece of cardboard.

Step 2: Lay Out Your Tile Pattern

Lay out your tile pattern on the cardboard template. This gives you a visual idea of what the tile will look like before you transfer the tiles to the wall. Use tile spacers if you want distinct grout lines.

Step 3: Cut Edge Tiles

Use a tile saw to cut edge tiles that are too large to fit and to cut tiles for making patterns.

Step 4: Create Chalk Lines

Pop a chalk line on the wall to represent the top line of each tile row. Measure up from the corners of your shower surround to the height of your tile. For example, if you're installing 4-inch tile, you would measure up 4 inches on the wall and pop a level line.

Step 5: Apply Tile Glue

Spread tile glue on the wall above the shower surround with a notched trowel. Read the recommended notch size on the glue container. Spread the glue on evenly, covering the area where the bottom row of tile will go.

Step 6: Attach the Tiles

Transfer your tiles, one by one, to the wall. Once the tile is on the wall, you have only a few seconds to fine-tune its placement before the glue sets. If you're using spacers, hold a spacer against the edge of the last tile with one hand while you place the new tile right next to the spacer.

Step 7: Make Additional Chalk Lines

Add the height of the tile, plus the width of your grout line when popping the next chalk line. For the 4-inch tiles, add 4 inches to the grout line, estimated here to be 1/8 inch thick. Pop the new chalk line 4 1/8 inches above the top of the first tile row. Check it for level.

Step 8: Finish Attaching Tiles

Continue gluing and placing the tiles until you've completed that wall. Repeat the procedure with any adjacent walls that may extend above the shower surround. Allow the tiles to cure for one to two days

Step 9: Grout the Tile Lines

Fill the joints between the tiles with grout using a rubber grout float held diagonally to press the grout into all of the joints. Remove excess grout with the float. After 15 to 30 minutes, wipe the remaining grout from the tiles gently using a damp sponge.

Step 10: Apply Grout Sealer

Apply grout sealer to the finished grout after two to four days or as directed on the grout package. Grout sealer helps protect the grout and prevent water from penetrating it, which could cause cracking and flaking of the grout or rotting in the wall. Give the grout sealer two or three days to cure before using the shower.

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Glenda Taylor

Glenda Taylor is a contractor and a full-time writer specializing in construction writing. She also enjoys writing business and finance, food and drink and pet-related articles. Her education includes marketing and a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.