How Hard Is It to Tile/Retile a Bathroom

Tiling is something people generally get a contractor to do because it’s quite labor-intensive. However, many people prefer to do things themselves and like to learn new skills. In this article, I will explain how hard it is to tile or retile a bathroom.

As a general rule, it can be done by a person who has never done it before. However, many steps are critical to ensure it looks professional, the tiles last a long time and don’t crack, and the bathroom is waterproof.

Although it’s not very complicated, it is not extremely easy. It’s important to understand what steps are involved in making sure you don’t miss something that could cause an issue. Below, I will explain each of the steps, the building code requirements, and how long tiles in a bathroom should last if they are done properly.

Can You Tile or Retile a Bathroom Yourself

Professional tilers have done many tiling jobs and commonly hold a license to show that they have completed an apprenticeship or gained certification that proves they can do professional quality work. 

But tiling is not extremely difficult, and virtually anyone can learn how to do it. However, here’s whether it’s possible to tile or retile a bathroom yourself.

Workers laying tiles on a bathroom wall. DIY, Do it yourself concept.

Overall, it can be done yourself. In rare cases, there will be issues underneath an existing tiling job that can require a carpenter or plumber. The walls and floor also need to be prepared prior to tiling and, in rare cases, can require professional help from a contractor.

The main steps involved and how difficult they are, are shown in the table below:

Steps required to tile or retile a bathroomDifficulty (easy, medium hard)
Preparing the walls and floorEasy to medium
WaterproofingEasy to medium
Removing existing fixtures (if required)Medium
Planning out where to start tilingEasy
Applying adhesive under the tilesEasy
Laying the tilesEasy
Grouting the tilesEasy

To know if you’ve done a job correctly, you can use the International Building Codes (IBC). They provide online versions of all of the requirements for doing different things in both residential and commercial buildings. 

You can browse through their guidelines to make sure you’re not missing something. For example, for bathrooms, they state things like:

“Materials used as a base for wall tile in tub and shower areas and wall and ceiling panels in shower areas shall be of materials listed in table 2509.2.”


They go on to show in table 2509.2 the types of materials and what standard they need to be. Here’s the table:

Glass mat gypsum backing panelASTM C1178
Non-asbestos fiber-cement backer boardASTM C1178
Non-asbestos fiber-mat reinforced cementitious backer unitASTM C1325

Note that ASTM stands for American Society for Testing and Materials, who test materials to make sure that they are high quality. They then allow a product manufacturer to state that their product has this standard. 

Therefore, if you’re in doubt about whether a certain product will be building compliant or if the method you are using to tile or retile a bathroom will be building compliant, you can refer to the International Code Council website and look up the most recent years residential building codes.

There are a few things that CAN be difficult but generally aren’t. These are mostly related to what work has already been done. These are:

  • Existing tiling or flooring is easy to remove
  • Removing existing fixtures and repairing areas behind them
  • Fixing a bathroom that has had a water issue

There are a range of contractors out there. While most people do their due diligence, it’s possible the previous work done on a bathroom was not done properly. When this is the case, it creates more work. 

For example, existing flooring or tiling work may have been done poorly. As you start to remove it, you can discover there is a water leak into the subfloor, it’s very difficult to remove, or the floor needs to be leveled.

The floor in bathrooms is commonly made of concrete or particle board. For concrete, there should not be an issue, but particle mold can develop mold and may need to be replaced. It’s not overly difficult to do this. 

But, requires you to learn how to do this with the help of Youtube videos or have a contractor remove the particle board subfloor and install new particle board.

How Do You Waterproof a Bathroom Before Tiling

Before tiling a bathroom, certain areas need to be waterproofed. Doing so ensures water doesn’t leak into the framing and areas behind the floors and walls. Here’s a rundown of how to waterproof a bathroom before you lay down the tiles.

Overall, you apply thin-set to all the areas that need to be waterproofed. For joins and stud holes, put down sheet membrane, Kurdi, or joint mesh tape. Then apply thin-set over the top. There are a range of options that can be used instead of thin-set. But, all of them are a liquid that dries hard.

It’s important to note that only the floors and the shower walls need to be waterproofed. Here’s a very good video from the Tile Coach where he shows how to waterproof a shower from start to finish:

Where Do You Start When Tiling a Bathroom

Laying tiles can go wrong if you start tiling from a place that is not perfectly vertical or horizontal. The tiles won’t be straight, which will be very noticeable once you get to an edge that needs to be straight, such as at the edge of shower walls. So, here’s where and how to start laying tiles in a bathroom.

As a general rule, start at a midpoint on the wall. It’s very important to start tiling from a perfectly level starting place. That way, the grout lines will be perfectly vertical and perfectly horizontal. A perfectly level starting place can be measured and marked using a spirit level.

It’s common to screen in a guide piece of wood in the center of a wall. This serves as a starting point. To do so, you use a spirit level, also called a bubble level, to mark a level straight line. Then screw in a piece of wood along this line. With the guide piece of wood, you can start your first row of tiles perfectly straight and tile above and below it.

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