Fiberglass or tile tub surround DIY??

mabeldingeldine_gwSeptember 6, 2012

DH and I had been planning a gut remodel of our primary bath, but circumstances changed and we will instead be putting our house on the market next year.

We are both skilled DIYers including basic plumbing and construction. We will be tearing out the existing tile on sheetrock shower surround down to the studs, but will not be moving any plumbing and we will be keeping the existing cast iron tub. The house is an 1880s cape so there is a very good chance the wall studs are not evenly spaced or square.

Given this information, I am wondering what would be easiest for us to DIY, a new fiberglass surround or a tile surround on cement backer board treated with RedGuard or Hydroban.

If fiberglass, please suggest brands you are happy with -- keeping in mind this is a budget job as a re-do will gain us no value for resale.

If tile, what would be be easier to work with, large square or rectangular tiles, subways or 4" square.

Thanks so much for your help!

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Tile would be more in keeping with the age of the house. Studs can be "trued up" if needed. No brain surgery there. I would look around for ideas on a tile that is "Period Correct."

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 11:34AM
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I've been happy with my Sterling tub and surround. Some of their surrounds come with a tile look, we have the one with tile look framed panels on 3 sides. They have some sort of sealing system built into the construction to make them watertight, and many also have no caulk installation.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 1:14PM
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If you were replacing the tub too, I would say fiberglass surround. However, with a cast iron tub, I would go tile. Larger format tiles will be easier & quicker to install. Check HD, Lowes and your local tile stores/outlets for clearance/sale tile and go from there. Don't know if you can still get it for this price, but Florida Tile was running a sale on their Pristine line for $2.00 sqft (note: not all dealers pass the sale savings on to the consumer). Here's a pic of it in our DS2's bath--the tiles are 9x18:

Hope this helps & good luck!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 1:42PM
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The larger format tiles can hide irregular walls better than smaller tile.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 3:05PM
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That is interesting, I would have assumed (an we all know what a bad idea that is!) that large format tiles would be more likely to show irregularities. Good to know!

mydream, did you DIY that bath? It looks great.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 8:43PM
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While I used to steer away from tile due to fear of the cleaning I now lean towards tile. It's not as hard to clean as remember when I will little, probably due to better grout etc.

You can see our recent DIY project here:

And here is a previous one:

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 9:29PM
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I'll respectfully disagree with some of the other posters. If your walls are irregular, ie, not flat or wavy due to out of plane studs, large format can be more difficult to install in terms of lippage, etc.

Where "larger tiles" help is if the individual wall planes are flat but the corners are not plumb. Example, let's say the walls are 1/2" out of plumb. If you tiled the walls with 4" tiles and your tile went from 4" at the top course of the wall to 3-1/2" at the bottom course of the wall, the 1/" differential would be more noticeable on that 4" tile than if you were using large format 18" tiles that went from 18" to 17-1/2".

"...easiest to DIY..." would probably be a fiberglass surround. Most attractive, and possibly even more appealing for resale, would be a well done tile surround.

If you're not familiar, since you are selling next year you could contact a realtor to see if one would be preferable to the other in terms of resale.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 1:32AM
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Mongo, that is extremely helpful info. I know for certain that is one of the problems we will be facing.

If the studs are not even enough to form a smooth plane, presumably I can fix that with shims or even sistering new wall studs under the cement board, am I correct in that notion?

We have spoken with a real estate agent. He said in our rural market, we just need a clearly well maintained bathroom, tile would not be a value added feature in itself.

I don't know why this project wigs me out so much, I've done much bigger projects. I guess it is the fear of being without a shower for longer than a couple of weeks.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 7:36AM
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"If the studs are not even enough to form a smooth plane, presumably I can fix that with shims or even sistering new wall studs under the cement board, am I correct in that notion? "

Yes, credit to StoneTech for mentioning that earlier. Stringing the wall is an easy way to get the new wall flat and plumb.

I do recommend kiln dried lumber as it's pretty stable being that it has a fairly stable moisture content. One thing that sometimes happens is if you buy green lumber (lumber that is not kiln dried) is that you might buy straight studs. But if they sit in your house for a few weeks they can bow or twist a bit as they acclimate to your house's environmental conditions.

So string the walls, then the least expensive build would be a 6-mil poly barrier stapled to the studs, then cement board over that, then tile on the cement board.

You shouldn't be without a shower for long. An easy schedule would be to do the demo and clean-up on Day One. String the walls, re-stud, add poly, and hang the cement board Day Two. Tile Day Three. Grout Day Four. Sleep in Day Five.

You could even combine Day One and Two above.

Though some try to do it with fast-setting compounds so they can plow through the project, I recommend NOT grouting on the same day you tile.

As to the "easiest tile to work with", if you are going to go with a subway or a 4" to 6" square type of tile, look for tile with the self-spacing nibs on them.

My technique? I want the wall tile to be level. The tops of tubs are not always level, so I level the tile independent of the tub.

I lay out a line on the wall where I want the BOTTOM EDGE of the second row of wall tile to fall. I'll then set a straight edge at that point, a "ledger" so to speak. I make it level, shimming it off the edge of the tub deck or rim.

Now you can thinset a few feet of the wall and run your tile up the wall. It can go quite quickly.

When done, remove the ledger and tile the bottom row.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 9:15AM
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Barb, that photo and your others is pretty reassuring. Thanks for sharing. I am impressed, they are lovely showers. You even had a window!

Mongo, thanks for the suggestions. I am definitely leaning toward tile as I think it will be easier fit tile into the space than fitting the surround, not to mention placing the plumbing in tile than the big fiberglass surround.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 1:19PM
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I just recently had to make that same decision...and I went with a Sterling tub and 3 pc surround in my 1930 home. Main reasons:
1. Tile was there before (c.1966) and caused a water leak that caused a quite large piece of plaster to fall from my kitchen ceiling...granted they didn't install tile back with a good backer board.
2. I had to get rid of the 1966 cast iron was not in good enough condition to keep.
3. I wanted a larger soaking cast iron was small! The Sterling tub is 18" tall and very wide...and has arm rests.
4. This was the hall bath. In a master bath, I would probably have gone with a tile surround.
5. My budget on this bathroom was the kitchen is coming up in January and that's where I want to put my $

So far, I love my Sterling tub/surround. And since I mainly take showers, my plumber raised the water controls up about a foot or so. I never would have thought to do that....but it's GREAT. Even my 11 year old son mentioned how he likes it better higher.

Here is a picture below.


    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 1:51PM
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Agree re larger tiles showing more undulations. Smaller tiles would be better in that regard. Sistering or stringing to make the wall true is a much better idea.

I'd take photos along the way so, if asked by buyer or home inspector, you can show you did it the right way. As for the poly barrier on the outside walls, consider this- you can't have a waterproofing treatment - Redgard, Kerdi etc PLUS the poly barrier. I think I'd prefer the former, so you stop any moisture penetration right under the tile, rather than letting it get through to the studs...especially since the poly will be perforated by the backerboard screws, so you will potentially be allowing moisture through.

Of course you want to insulate the wall nicely etc.

Tile's certainly nicer than a fibreglass surround, and, if you seal the grout, it's not that bad to maintain.

If you're doing it yourself, the cost won't be too bad, tile is or can be relatively cheap, it's the labour, which you'll be doing yourself.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 3:21PM
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We decided to bite the bullet and do tile. We are almost half done now, with new subfloor, floor, toilet, beadboard wainscot and sink very close to installation.

The plan calls for the tile tub surround and new valves to go in during CHristmas school vacation. We opted for 4 inch AO tiles with 1" marble mosaic accent tile. All you tile experts, please take pity on me and check in on the forum in the next few weeks, please!

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 6:03PM
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Kompy, we put that same tub and surround in this past February! Love it!

    Bookmark   December 7, 2012 at 10:50AM
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I'll bet it turns out beautifully!

    Bookmark   December 7, 2012 at 11:10AM
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Williamsem, We love it too. My plumber set the tub on a bed of concrete which gives it a really solid feel. The cost of the tub and surround were around $500. With labor to install plus the costs of tub faucet and shower investment was $1350. We gutted the old tub and 1960's tile surround ourselves...and the messy plaster and lath...and that saved us probably $800 to $1000 for demo!

This weekend, we drywall and mud. Then flooring. The cabinet comes in around the 17th. I can't wait. Will post pictures when I'm done.

Ps. Posting the horrible before tub/surround. I bought this house 2 yrs ago....why did I wait so long!!!!

    Bookmark   December 7, 2012 at 11:57AM
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mabeldingeldine, I love your selections you posted above. Very pretty. I like the wood tone and the yellows together, and the hint of gray. As I see your colors, the towel color I suggested to you over on Phylhl's towel search post probably wont go as the jubilee color may be too blue of a gray.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 12:57PM
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Kompy, your surround is very pretty. We are having the dilemma also and will probably go with a walls/tub or walls/shower base package to save money.

The pattern is pretty, which style /model did you choose? Thanks so much! Karen

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 4:25PM
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Thanks This old 1969,
I'm not sure of the exact model number, but I do remember it was called Sterling "Ensemble". Here's a link below!!!!

I think my tub model is #71121110 white gloss finish.
I think my surround is #71124110???

Here is a link that might be useful: Sterling Ensemble Tub and Surround

    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 4:36PM
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