How to Protect the Wall Above the Shower Wall Surround

Larry Simmons

A shower wall surround creates a water-resistant barrier around the shower, protecting the walls from water damage. However, most shower wall surrounds are limited in height, often rising little above the level of the shower head. Splashing water can reach above the surround and hit the wall, causing damage.

Protect the wall above your shower head from moisture with a tile backsplash.

Installing tile above the surround reflects the water back into the enclosure, extending the protection of the surround.

  1. Clean the wall above the shower wall surround with a sponge and a mild liquid soap to remove any dirt. Rinse gently with clean water and pat the surface dry with a clean cloth. Lightly sand the paint on the surface of the wall with sandpaper to remove any finish and to create a lightly textured surface for tiling.

  2. Hold a tile on the top of the shower wall surround, leaving an 1/8-inch gap between the bottom of the tile and the top of the surround, and mark the wall at the tile top using a pencil. Line up a straightedge with this mark and draw a line along the length of the wall above the shower. This line is the guideline to place the first row of tiles evenly.

  3. Measure the length of the area to be tiled and place a pencil mark at the center of the measurement. At this mark, draw a vertical line from the guideline down to the wall surround. Test the placement of the first tile by lining up the center of the tile with the vertical line. Line up the rest of the first row of tiles along the guideline until you reach the end of the tiling area. Hold the test tiles in place with a strip of masking tape across the tiles.

  4. Examine the position of the last tile in the row to determine whether it needs to be cut. End tiles often require cutting to fit, but all cut tiles should be at least half the size of a full tile. If the end piece will need to be cut to less than half its size, move the center tile position to the left or right, so that you can use partial tiles on either end of the row, both cut larger than half their size. Once the final positioning is set, use the pencil to mark the placement of the first tile on the wall and remove the test row.

  5. Spread a layer of mastic adhesive onto the wall using the notched side of a notched trowel. The mastic should be uniform in depth and should extend vertically from the top of the wall surround to the guideline and horizontally along the space. Apply only enough mastic to place about eight to 12 tiles at one time in order to avoid spread mastic beginning to dry before you reach it with the tile you're trying to place. Place the tiles onto the mastic beginning with the marked position of the first tile and moving out toward the sides of the shower wall. Place tile spacers in between every tile to create uniform joints. Place additional rows of tiles upward until the tiles are high enough to reflect any splashing water back into the shower wall surround. The splash point is indicated by discoloration along the walls created from previously splashed water.

  6. Cut the tiles for the corners and ends of the rows with a tile corner. Mark a cutting line across the top of the tile. Place the tile in a tile cutter with the cutting line aligned with the scribing blade along the top of the cutter. Press the blade down onto the tile and drag it across the tile's surface, scribing a line across the tile. Snap the tile across the scribed line using the metal bar along the base of the cutter to cut it along the marked line. To control mastic use, apply the mastic to the backs of end tiles individually and place them on the wall. Place corner tiles with the cut edges against the corner, applying the mastic to each corner tile rear individually as well. Allow the mastic to dry overnight.

  7. Remove the spacers between the tiles with pliers.

  8. Mix a batch of tile grout in a bucket using an electric drill with paddle bit attachment. Add water to the powdered grout until it is the consistency of peanut butter. Spread the grout over the face of the tile and push it into the joints with a grout float. Fill all of the joints except for the joint line between the tiles and the shower wall surround. Remove any excess grout from the tiles with a damp sponge immediately. Wait two hours and wipe the tiles again with a lint-free cloth to remove grout haze.

  9. Place a bead of caulk into the joints between the first tile row and the shower wall surround, between the corner joint and along the edges of the tiled surface where the tile meets the wall. Fill the joint with the caulk and then smooth the caulk out with a finger dipped in water.

  10. Allow the grout 24 hours curing time before using the shower. Wait an additional 10 days curing time and then brush a grout sealant over the grout lines.