Can I install tile over drywall?
February 1, 2006 8:53 AM   Subscribe

Shower tile question.

I'd like to put a ceramic tile border above my fiberglass shower enclosure, yet I've read that it is not advisable to put tile against normal drywall. Has anyone done this and had lasting, good results? Are there any new material options that obviate the need to rip out the drywall and install a cementious backer board? The border would be 6 feet above the floor of the shower and wouldn't receive direct water flow.
posted by machaus to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How long are you planning to live there? How long have you been without the tile so far? Could you just go on without the tile? If so, you might be okay to put tile up. You might want to paint with Kilz first, though.
posted by acoutu at 9:08 AM on February 1, 2006

First: ask at the John Bridge forums. Way better advice than you'll get here (including mine).

My take: You should probably be ok. If there's any water infiltration you're screwed anyway with drywall there which is much more of a concern. Make sure you use the best of the recommended mortars, probably will be latex modified thinset. Don't try and hang 12 inch granite tiles either.

If you're worried and want to make it lasting just cut out the rectangle of drywall you want and replace with cement board. It shouldn't take long assuming you're handy enough to do the tiling.
posted by true at 9:27 AM on February 1, 2006

I can attest that the 50+ year old bathroom tile I just took down last year was adhered directly to run-of-the-mill drywall. They used string as a spacer.

It was the grout that failed, not the tile itself. I could have re-grouted, but my wife wanted a different color tile. I suspect the string took up some of the volume that should have been populated with grout. I'm sure this didn't help the longevity of the tile installation.

In short, I wouldn't sweat it. Just make sure to use the right mortar.
posted by Wild_Eep at 9:51 AM on February 1, 2006

Also, when you say you want to put up a border, how big is this border going to be? If it's just a couple of rows of regular tile/subway tile, I say go for it. I believe the main concern with putting tile on drywall is the weight concerned. A small amount should be just fine.

Like Wild_Eep, we've torn out two old bathrooms in our house that had tile directly on the drywall. When we got the house, things were pretty ugly, but then these were ooold bathrooms too.

Of course, I'm not a tiler. Mason? Whatever you call the people who do this sort of thing for a living.
posted by Moondoggie at 11:27 AM on February 1, 2006

I believe the main concern with putting tile on drywall is the weight concerned.

IANATM (tile man), but I play one on weekends and have read the JB forums for many more hours than I care to admit.

The main concern for tile substrate is movement/deflection, not weight. If your substrate moves, your installation will crack (probably at the grout lines).

That said, drywall can be a (barely) acceptable substrate. I would think that if you're willing to accept cracks, go for it. As it is an installation that's out of the way a bit, you can probably fudge. Also, you're not out much time+materials in the event of a problem anyway.

I would peruse the JB forums with an eye towards treating this as a backsplash installation , which this most closely represents. It's not really a shower install in the usual sense because there is no waterproofing, etc. considerations.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:57 AM on February 1, 2006

IWATM (I was a tile man)

Drywall is an acceptable surface in most cases. Chances are if you have a kitchen backsplash it was laid on drywall. Concrete backer board is usually used in the shower for its rigidity (it is a large surface being covered with tile, so flexing affects it more) and its water-resistant properties. However, this backer board rarely covers the entire tiled surface in the shower. It actually usually ends just before the last cap anywhere around the shower.

You will be fine tiling over this drywall, just make sure that the room itself is very dry when you lay the tile.

Oh, and if you don't already have the tile, try going to a small contractor and ask to buy the odd box for cheap. Different lots of the same color tile usually vary enough that you can't mix and match lots without the difference showing, meaning that a box or three of a lot usually goes to waste. This tile just takes up space, and most people are happy to get rid of it.
posted by Loto at 12:04 PM on February 1, 2006

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