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Bathroom makeover: slate bathtub surround, part 4

This is part 4 of a five-part series, Bathroom makeover: slate bathtub surround

Now that you have selected your materials (Part 1), planned your project (Part 2) and have ripped out the old bathtub surround (Part 3), it is time to build your new slate surround. Here are three tips to help your project:

Building your slate tub surround

  1. Installing fixtures. If you are replacing fixtures, including new valves, now is the time to do the plumbing. If you are a wannabe DIY plumber, you can use this as a first step (though you ought to practice soldering copper pipe on some scraps first to get a feel for it). Paying a plumber always damages the budget. A word of caution: Soldering near the ceramic disk in the water valve can damage the disk -- usually you can safely solder within 5 inches of the valve. You should check with the manufacturer about removing the disk if you are going to be soldering close to the fixture.
  2. Plastic moisture barrier. Surrounds are a little different from other tile jobs you might have done because you must deal with water. Water doesn't need an invitation to enter your walls; all it needs is an opening, and it will barge right in. Your first layer of protection should be a draping of plastic across all the studs. If the surround does not go all the way to the ceiling, push it up under the drywall an inch or two. Staple it sparingly to hold it in place, and make the cutouts for the fixtures as small as possible. The top of your bathtub will have a flange that goes up the wall a little less than an inch as water protection. Let the plastic hang over the flange to just touch the top of the tub.
  3. Backer board. This is a cement-based board designed for use with tile and stone applications. There are a couple foam-based backer boards -- Wedi Tilebacker and Easy Backer -- that are extremely easy to work with and are waterproof when installed, according to the manufacturers' instructions. Unfortunately, you don't find them in all markets, but they cost only slightly more than the cement-based boards, and they'll save you a lot of effort in installation. Installation for various boards is similar. They can be nailed or screwed, with a 1/8-inch gap between seams. The seams are then filled with mortar and taped, much like a drywall seam. Waterproof adhesives are available.

Once you have your backer board installed, you can move on to the final phase of your slate bathtub surround project. In Part 5, the last part in this series, you'll find out how to finish this bathroom makeover by setting the slate.