Introduction: Rainbow Tiled Bathroom
So, what happens when you combine the desires of an artist and a mad engineer into a single bathroom renovation? In this case, a soaker tub surrounded by a literal colour wheel of tiles, each hand painted in one of 34 different colours. That's what! For our basement bathroom renovation, my wife and I decided to go all-out with our colour palette, and the result is gloriously bright, fun, and happy. When the sun comes through the window just right, the bathroom lights up with bright, bold colours that scream, "DRAW A BATH AND PLUNGE INTO THE RAINBOW!"
Our design was inspired by a smattering of bathroom tiling ideas I found throughout the web, though none of those designs had gone to the extent of custom painting 34 different shades onto their tiles. The product that made this possible was the FolkArt Enamels line of ceramic and glass paint, which is scratchproof, waterproof (and dishwasher safe!) once baked.
The main focus of this instructable will be the painting and installation of the tiles themselves, though I will go over the installation of the tub and vanity a little bit as well. I will purposefully gloss over the details of the plumbing since I am not a plumber and don't want to lead anyone astray. I'm sure I did a fine job, but a mistake made while plumbing can lead to an expensive disaster. If you're not comfortable doing plumbing work yourself, then hire a certified plumber.
This is the second of three phases in my Epic Basement Renovation. The first phase cleared out the space and granted me an office/electronics workshop. The third phase will complete my wood shop.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
- Plain white 6x6" or smaller wall tiles, quantity as necessary for the size of the bathroom
- Floor tiles, as necessary, to complement the wall tiles. We used 8x8" white floor tiles.
- FolkArt Enamels paints, in as many colours as you need. We basically used half the available colours, and mixed them to the right shades.
- Wall adhesive
- Wall grout
- Floor tile mortar
- Floor tile grout
- tile spacers (1/8" for wall tiles, 3/16" for floor tiles)
If you're building a bathroom from scratch, you will also need additional materials like lumber, plywood, drywall, drywall mud, concrete board, plumbing fixtures, wall paint, construction adhesives, screws, etc.
- craft paint brushes
- an ordinary kitchen oven
- a wet tile saw (just go ahead and buy one, they go for as little as $50-60 new, which is less than renting)
- a tile hole cutter and drill press (optional, depending on the fixtures you use)
- a notched trowel
- a few putty knives
- a tile float
- sponge and bucket
- a shop vac for (lots) of cleanup
Again, if you're building a bathroom from scratch, you'll also need various construction tools like saws, drills, screwdrivers, levels, plumbing tools, etc.
Step 2: Renovate the Bathroom
In this step I'll discuss renovating an existing bathroom, to prepare it for new tiles (and possibly a new tub as well!) Visit the next step to see how I built a new bathroom in my basement.
What colour are your tiles now? Avocado green, perhaps? Maybe brown or orange or bright aquamarine? The 70s were not kind to home decorating. The tiles must come off. Maybe you've got an acrylic back splash instead (installed over existing tiles? Gasp!) the acrylic needs to go.
If you're planning to keep the tub in place, be sure to cover it securely so that falling tile debris doesn't scratch the enamel on the tub. If the tub will be replaced eventually, go ahead and let the tiles drop right in there. Its final purpose will be as a convenient catch basin for construction debris.
So how do you get the tiles off? Go nuts with a scraper. Hopefully, the adhesive will be old enough that it's flaking or crumbling a bit, and the tiles will fall right off. There's a good chance that whatever backer board was on there will take heavy damage; expect to replace it eventually as well. Be sure to wear gloves and eye protection when removing tiles, since they can break and may have edges as sharp as broken glass. The dust may be harmful to inhale.
An acrylic surround can similarly be scraped off. Find an edge that you can get a putty knife under, and gradually peel back the acrylic. It might help to have a friend pull as you scrape. Be prepared for nastiness hiding under the plastic; acrylic doesn't have a good reputation when it comes to sealing out moisture and mold.
Dispose of the old tile appropriately. In some regions you can toss it in the household curbside pickup, while in other places it must be brought to the dump.
Now you'll have a room covered in rather shoddy looking walls. There's a chance that you can reuse the walls without replacing them, but I wouldn't recommend it. First turn off the water and power to the room, then grab a crow bar or demolition hammer and start peeling away the old walls. Besides, now is a great time to check for water damage behind the walls and fix it! Be careful when tearing out the walls close to plumbing or electrical fixtures. You turned off the water and power (right???) but you want to avoid damaging them and incurring extra time and cost to the project.Reconstruction
With the room reduced to stud walls, new walls can be put up. If you're installing a soaker tub with no shower, then ordinary moisture-resistant drywall is enough for the walls (but check local building codes to be sure). Concrete board should be used for the tub surround and skirt. If the bath features a shower, then install concrete board all the way around the shower enclosure.
Concrete board is used just like drywall, but is far more water resistant. You can cut and snap it like drywall, but I prefer using a jigsaw with a carbide blade. It's faster and easier, though it makes more dust. Cut it outside if you can.
Mud and sand the drywall with ordinary drywall compound. Use something like Durabond (it's basically plaster of paris, for construction) for the concrete board for extra water resistance. I use a product called Durabond 90.
With new walls installed, it's time to plan out the tiles!
Step 3: Build a Bathroom
The first task was to build walls around the new bathroom area, based primarily on the size of the bathtub. We had bought a big soaker tub on clearance from a big box store a few months prior, in anticipation of this renovation.
After deciding on how much clearance would be needed on all sides of the tub, and on how much room the sink would need nestled between the tub and toilet, I marked out the locations of the footers on the concrete floor. Along these lines I screwed pressure-treated 2x4 lumber. It was necessary to use PT lumber because of moisture and condensation that can form on a concrete floor - you certainly don't want your footers to rot!
Based on the footers I plotted out where the headers should go along the ceiling. I did so using a laser level (still the best ten bucks I've ever spent on a tool). After that, the studs were installed on 16" centers.
The tub surround was built according to the tub manufacturer's suggestions, though with some modification for the concrete floor. Instead of excavating into the concrete to install a drain for the tub, I decided to use something called a grey water pump. The grey water pump sits on the floor below the level of a sink or tub, and pumps waste water up to a suitable waste pipe. In this case, the waste pipe was only a foot away. Since the pump must sit below the tub, I had to raise the tub off the floor a few inches to get adequate drainage. The height of the tub, the thickness of the materials and the rise-over-run of the drain pipe must all be taken into consideration when determining the height of the surround.
The tub surround was constructed by first screwing 2x4s onto the joists that formed three of the four sides of the surround. It is extremely important that these are all level , or the tub will not sit flat. A skirt was constructed for the fourth side of the surround, by framing in a two foot high wall with more lumber. Next, a piece of 3/4" plywood was cut to shape to fit inside the surround. Based on measurements of the tub, a hole was cut out of the center of the plywood to accommodate the tub. On top of the plywood a layer of concrete board is required to make it waterproof. I used the plywood as a template to cut out the concrete board. The plywood was screwed onto the wood frame, and the concrete board was glued onto the plywood using construction adhesive.
Plumbing comes next. I tapped into the pipes leading to the bathroom directly above, and ran the hot and cold pipes along the ceiling for a bit, then down the wall. I installed two valves to connect the sink, then continued the pipes to where the tub spout was to be located. With the spout temporarily installed, I connected the pipes as recommended by the manufacturer of the spout. Of course, all of this was done with the water shut off and drained!
I had a section of pipe cut out of the toilet stack, and a "Y" installed to connect the graywater pump. This was done by a licensed plumber.
Time for electrical. I installed a moisture-resistant pot light above the tub, and halogen spots above where the sink would eventually be located. These are controlled with a single switch. A second switch controls an exhaust vent located above the tub. The exhaust actually vents through the glass block window, through a specially made "block." Two outlets were installed, one close to the ground for the greywater pump, and one above the sink for plugging in electric toothbrushes and whatnot. Of course, the outlets are GFCI protected!
The bathroom was given its own circuit on the breaker panel. If you're not comfortable working with high voltage (a logical thing; it'll kill you without remorse if you give it the chance!) then hire a professional electrician.
With the plumbing and electrical in place, the drywall may be installed. I used moisture-resistant drywall on the walls and ceilings. If I had installed a shower, then concrete board would have been required around the tub. Tape, mud, and sand as usual. At least, I hope that's the case for you. In my bathroom there were a few low-hanging pipes that were so low, a flat ceiling would have reduced the height of the room to less than 6 feet! So, my expertly skilled father-in-law helped me install drywall and mud around the pipes. I think they turned out really well.
Prior to installing tile, I recommend painting any walls that need to be painted. The main reason is that you avoid any chance of dripping paint on the tiles or bath fixtures. But, it's also necessary to help seal the walls against moisture. The area that would eventually be tiled was painted with a coat of primer/sealer to help seal out moisture. The untiled walls were also primed, then given two coats of finish coat. My father, a professional house painter, helped out with this.
So there are the basics. Again, I didn't go into details regarding the plumbing and electrical, since I'm not a professional and I don't want to lead you astray. If you're unsure about working with water or electrical, hire a pro!
Step 4: Planning and Painting Tiles
Three words make it happen: Custom Painted Tiles.
It's not a task to be taken lightly, however. It will take time, space, and patience.
The first thing to do is to figure out approximately how many painted tiles you will need. Carefully measure the space that will be tiled, and transfer those measurements to a scale drawing. We used a sheet of graph paper, and drew each wall and surface that would be tiled. Since our tiles were 6" square, the surfaces were then divided into 6 inch squares. My wife broke out the pencil crayons and started filling out a pattern of colours. She chose 34 different shades that formed a colour wheel around the perimeter of the bath tub rim. Those colours were transferred to a "master chart" from which the paint colours were mixed later on.
We chose to have the coloured tiles "concentrate" at the tub, then taper off in a somewhat random fashion as they got further away. As a result, somewhere between four and eight tiles of each colour were required for our design. I highly recommend making extras though, since it will be troublesome later on to recreate a damaged or missing tile.
While FolkArt Enamels come in a large variety of colours, they didn't have all of the colours we needed! After choosing the colours of the tiles, my wife set to work mixing different combinations of the roughly 20 different colours we bought. Some of the colours could be used as-is, while others ended up as mixtures of three different paints. If you choose to do a colour wheel like we did, you'll need to do the same. Of course, you may choose any combination of colours. Being able to paint your own tiles in the exact shade you want opens a whole new world of tiling possibilities!
Painting the tiles is a multi-step process. We learned through a bit of trial and error, so heed these instructions if you want a good result.
- Do one colour at a time to avoid confusion. Start by laying out all the tiles that will be painted on a flat surface. Each one should be thoroughly cleaned with 99% rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol to remove any dirt and oils that would prevent paint adhesion.
- With a fine bristle brush, paint each tile as smoothly as possible. Keep all your brush strokes facing the same direction.
- Allow the tiles to fully dry in a dust-free environment. Try not to move the tiles while the paint is wet.
- For most colours, a second coat will be required. Once the first coat is fully dry, apply a second layer, again with brush strokes in the same direction as the first layer.
- Mark each of the painted tiles with a number or colour code on the back. This will make it easy to sort by colour later on, especially when you have five different shades of yellow...
- Some colours, like Cobalt Blue, do not dry glossy like the majority of the other colours. Add a coat of "Clear Medium" to make them match the gloss.
- When you are satisfied with the paint coverage, the tiles must be baked. Place the tiles in the center of a cold oven, ensuring they are not too close to the burners or the sides of the oven. We used a standard electric oven; I'm not sure if a convection oven will work the same (it'll probably be better, but I've never tried it).
- Set the oven to 350F, and allow it to warm up with the tiles already inside. Once the oven reaches 350F, set a timer for one hour. Allow the tiles to bake for the hour, and when an hour has passed turn the oven off. Do not remove the tiles or open the oven door until the oven has cooled on its own.
- Remove the baked tiles, marking each one on the back to indicate it has been baked. Again, this is to help keep track of which tiles were baked - crucial information when you're making dozens of tiles over the span of two or three weeks!
When all the tiles have been painted and baked, they may be installed. Onwards, to tiling!
Step 5: Tiling: Adhesive Time
When tiling a floor, you'll likely end up using powdered mortar instead of a pre-mixed adhesive. Aside from needing to mix it ahead of time, the usage is the same.
The basic idea is to spread a reasonably uniform layer of adhesive onto a surface using a putty knife or the flat edge of the trowel, then use the notched trowel to scrape notches into the adhesive. The notches ensure that the adhesive is of uniform height, and when a tile is pressed into the adhesive the raised notches spread out to fill the gaps. Got it? Let's do it step by step.
- Start by locating where you want to place the first tiles. It's not always as simple as starting in the most convenient corner. Sometimes you need to work around fixtures, or start in the middle so that the tiles match up with others that are already placed. If tiling a wall, start at the bottom and work upwards.
- To avoid going off-track, use a level (bubble level or laser level) or straightedge to mark reference lines on the wall prior to placing tiles. For instance, it's a good idea to mark a vertical line on a wall being tiled so that tiles may be placed along that line. If a wall or surface is very large, multiple lines may be required so that you can "check your work" and gradually move tiles back into alignment if they're a bit off.
- With a wide putty knife or trowel, spread a coat of adhesive onto the wall that is about 1/8 to 1/4" thick. Cover an area of about 4-8 square feet to start, if this is your first time. The adhesive has an open time of maybe 10 minutes, so work quickly.
- With the notched trowel, drag evenly spaced notches into the fresh adhesive. Bare wall should be visible in the "valleys" of the notches, and the peaks should be as tall at the notches in the trowel. If they aren't, use more adhesive.
- Grab your tiles and press them into the adhesive one at a time. Apply even pressure over the surface of the tile, wiggling it back and forth a bit to help squish the adhesive underneath. Once the tile is pressed down all the way, slide it into its final position.
- Lay down the next tiles in the same way. You can avoid excess "squeezeout" between the tiles by first pushing down the edge closest to a tile that has already been installed.
- With a tile spacer (or a special tool, I'm sure they're made...), clean out the excess adhesive between the tiles. The adhesive must be cleaned out before it dries, or it will prevent proper grout adhesion later on. Wipe off any adhesive sticking to the surface of the tiles with a damp rag.
- Stick tile spacers between the tiles so that they maintain an even spacing. I stick them in with only one end between the tiles - this makes them much easier to remove later on!
- Repeat steps 3 to 9 until the surface is covered with tiles. Once you get into the groove it goes pretty fast, though it's still hard work.
- If you need to stop before the wall is done, use the trowel to scrape any excess adhesive off the wall before it dries. Immediately seal up the tub of adhesive, and clean all your tools as well. The adhesive washes easily with water when it's wet, but is hard as a rock when it dries!
Of course, you will surely need to cut tiles at some point. See the next step for notes on cutting and drilling tiles.
Step 6: Tiling: Cutting and Drilling Tiles
If you need to tile around plumbing pipes and fixtures, I'd also recommend picking up an adjustable tile hole saw. It's pretty much the only way to drill a hole in tile.
Using a wet tile saw is easy. Inside the saw is a reservoir of water that keeps the diamond blade cool and lubricated. It also prevents (potentially toxic) ceramic dust from flying into the air. The saw will have an adjustable guide as well as a blade guard (which protects your hands from the blade, and prevents water from spraying all over the place). Most will also have a 45 degree pushing tool. Simply set the guide to the tile width you need, and switch on the saw. With even pressure, push the tile against the blade. It should slice through the tile with minimal effort. Ease up at the end to avoid chipping the corner of the cut edge. Immediately wipe off the tile to remove excess water and ceramic "mud" from the back and front.
You can cut more complex contours with a tile saw by cutting multiple "fingers" up to the edge of the contour. The fingers are easily broken off with pliers. Alternatively, you can buy a tile cutting bit for Dremel tools that will give a smoother edge.
Drilling tile is, in a word, nerve-wracking. OK, maybe that's a compound word. In my project I had to drill holes for the tub filler faucet and sprayer; four holes in all. To do so, I first tiled or laid out all of the non-drilled tiles to get the spacing right. I then marked the exact positions and diameters of the holes on the back of the tile, by tracing through the hole with a marker.
Before drilling the actual tiles, and especially before drilling a painted tile, it's important to do a few practice holes in a scrap tile. Set the proper hole diameter in the hole saw, then mount it in a drill press. Clamp the tile face-down on a block of sacrificial wood, with a piece of rag between the wood and tile. While operating the drill press with one hand, continually spray the tile with water using the other hand. There should be no puffs of ceramic dust escaping - if there are, you're not watering enough. Apply slow, steady pressure with as little force as possible. Take your time! The center hole will penetrate all the way through, but only allow the outer carbide cutter to go about halfway through the tile.
Once halfway through, flip the tile around and drill it from the top. Use the center hole for alignment, clamp down the tile, and drill as before with plenty of water. Eventually, the hole saw with break through and you should be left with a little ring of tile inside of a larger tile with a hole in it.
Step 7: Tiling: Grout
This is probably the step that frightens people the most. It's certainly what I worried about most. The basic idea here is to take the grout on your rubber tile float, and squidge it into the gaps between the tiles. A second pass using the edge of the float leaves the grout behind, and skims off all but a thin layer of grout on the surface of the tiles. That haze of grout is later washed off.
- Start by removing all of the tile spacers. You'll probably be able to re-use them, so set them aside if you've got more tiling to do. Inspect the gaps between the tiles and check for any adhesive inside the gaps or on the surface of the tiles. Carefully scrape it out or off.
- Mix up a batch of wall grout. DO NOT mix up the whole bag, or you'll end up throwing most of it away. I usually mixed up one ice cream container (about 2L) worth at a time, which is about as much as I was able to apply before it started drying. A professional tile installer could probably use up three times as much in the same time period. The mixed grout should have a smooth, thick consistency, though not as thick as the adhesive. If it slips easily off a trowel, it's too thin.
- Start anywhere on the tile surface. Use a trowel to load up the long edge of the float with grout, then slop it on. Work the grout into the gaps by squeezing the edge into the gap. When the gap is full the grout will squeeze back out a bit. Do this for about four square feet of tile at a time.
- Before the grout gets too dry, flip the float nearly onto its side, and drag it along the surface of the tiles, at a 45 degree angle to the gaps. This will prevent the edge of the float from sinking into the gaps, but will skim most of the grout from the tile surfaces.
- Proceed in this fashion, first grouting then skimming, a small section at a time. Avoid going over sections that have started to dry, or the grout may pull out of the gap.
- After 30 to 60 minutes (depending on the grout - read the label!) the grout will be dry enough to be wiped clean. You should be able to see a "haze" of grout on the tiles. Fill a large bucket with warm water and dampen a large, clean sponge. The sponge should be rung out as much as possible to avoid getting excess water on the tiles.
- Wipe down the tiles to clean off the haze, rinsing the sponge often. Chances are, you'll need to do more than one wipe-down. I found that I could drastically improve the amount of haze removed from the surface by first wiping with a damp sponge, then immediately drying with a rag. The reason is that the sponge leaves behind a lot of haze unless the rinse water is totally clean.
- You'll find that you can smooth and even out the grout a bit with the damp sponge. You may do this a bit, but try to avoid getting the grout wet once it has started to dry. It will lose strength and won't last as long if it gets too wet.
So there you go. Grouting isn't as hard as you'd think, though it's different I guess. I certainly have a new-found respect for people who do this for a living!
Step 8: Tiling: Finishing Touches
To use the edging strips, first cut to length with strong scissors or tin snips (if cutting metal edges). Locate where the edging needs to go, and tape it to the wall with masking tape. Now, simply tile up to the strip, making sure that the adhesive is spread between the gaps in the edging. It's the adhesive joint between the wall and tile that holds the edging in place.It's a good idea to apply a tile sealant once the grout has dried. After at least 48 hours, apply according to the manufacturer's instructions. The sealant I used is to be applied liberally, then wiped off after 5 minutes. Drying time is a few hours. The sealant helps the tiles resist moisture and oil, and inhibits mildew and mold growth. It does not seem to have any negative effects on the painted tiles, though I have no long term data yet.
The corners should also be sealed with caulking to prevent water from sneaking in under the tiles. Do a test with scrap tile first, to make sure the colour from the tile doesn't leech into the caulking.
Step 9: Tiling: Floors
Floor Tiling Tips
- If tiling on a concrete floor, all the paint must be removed using abrasives beforehand. Oh my, was this ever messy. Using an angle grinder, I removed two or three layers of floor paint from the floor in my bathroom. Had I know how messy this would be (and that it even needed to be done!), I would have done before the walls went up.
- If there are any hills or valleys, they must be ground down or filled in, respectively, before tiling. Otherwise, the tiles will be uneven and present a tripping hazard, breaking hazard, or just look bad.
- Choose smaller tiles if possible. It will be easier to tile slightly uneven floors because they can more closely fit the contour of the floor.
- If tiling a large area, start by tiling one long run of tiles against a reference, like a straightedge or laser line. Allow this run of tiles to dry before continuing. Once dry, this row of tiles may be used as a reference that all the other tiles are pushed against.
- Pay close attention to the edges of the tiles to make sure they are coplanar. Even if the floor is perfectly level, the tiles must also be pressed down equally so that there are no raised edges.
- Like the wall tiles, stick the tile spacers in so they are easy to remove. And, as with the wall tiles, clean out any mortar from between the tiles before it dries so it doesn't interfere with grout adhesion.
- Don't walk on the floor tiles until they are totally dry.
- When tiling and grouting, start at the far corner and work towards the door.
- Painted tiles (like the ones used on the walls) are not suitable for use on floors. They will not be able to handle the severe amounts of traffic.
Step 10: Installing the Plumbing
The tub was dropped into place with a helper's assistance. The drain assembly was installed and connected to the drain pipe, then leak-tested. Once I confirmed that nothing was leaking, I ran a bead of caulking around the tub. The faucet was connected to the household water supply, and also leak tested.
- An easy way to check for leaks in the tub is to fill it up with water and close the drain plug. If everything is sealed up, there will be no water leaking from around the drain.
- When draining the tub, place paper towels along the length of drain pipe, especially at joints. Once the tub has emptied (and there are no obvious leaks, characterized by gushing water and much cursing), check the paper towels to see if any of them are wet.
- The sink can be tested for leaks the same way as the tub.
Prior to (re)installing the toilet, I cleaned off all the old wax on the base of the toilet and from the toilet flange. Yuck. A new wax ring was placed on the flange, and then the toilet was pressed into the wax. Two bolts hold the toilet onto the flange. With the water supply hose reconnected, the toilet was leak-tested just like the tub and sink. When doing so, watch very carefully for water seeping out from between the toilet and floor. There likely won't be much water getting out, so check it over a period of a few days.
- Resist moving the toilet too much once pressed into the wax, or the seal may break.
Step 11: Finishing Touches
First up, the bathroom mirror. We found just the thing at IKEA, an inexpensive unit that included a little shelf, and (more importantly) fit in the space between the lights and sink. The mirror was installed in a few minutes according to the cute little wordless instructions.
Baseboards were installed on all the walls, and the towel alcove was framed with a bit of decorative edging.
Also installed were the towel bars and toilet paper holder. The towel bars are actually installed inside a recessed alcove I built into the wall opposite the tub. The alcove is a nice visual feature that helps break up the wall a bit, and it prevents the towels from sticking out into the room so much.
At some point we plan to add some little pieces of artwork to the walls as well.
So there you go. Hopefully this Instructable has been interesting, thanks for reading! Perhaps you were inspired to do something similar in your own house, using custom-painted tiles! Remember, you don't have to make a colour wheel - you could paint a few accent tiles, or restrict your palette to only a few colours to get the look you want. In short, you are no longer restricted to the half-dozen colours available from the local tile stores!
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