One of my favorite things to do at the end of a long day is to relax in a long hot shower. As one who, as a child, was taught the environmental benefits of a “military shower,” the occasional long hot shower is a luxury to me. Unfortunately the long shower sometimes becomes an opportunity to notice just how badly my shower needs to be redone.
Yes, the old adage about the “cobbler’s kids needing shoes” does translate perfectly to a designer’s home. My house was built in 1978, and the shower has never been updated. As I am currently employed at a Portland-based custom tile manufacturer, tile has been at the top of my list.
When working with homeowners on their renovation projects, I ask lots of questions. Who is going to use the bathroom? For example, the materials that would be best for a master bath might not be the best for a children’s bath. Same thing is true about maintenance.
Maintenance is something everyone knows about, but doesn’t really want to do. I try to find out how much or (in most cases) how little one wants to spend in their bathroom on maintenance. Most people are of the mindset that they want to do as little as possible. That may be true, but many homeowners don’t do the research on the products they have installed until it’s too late.
Since there are so many products for your bathroom, this article could end up being a book — so let’s start with one aspect (and my personal favorite) — TILE.
What I love about tile is that it is the perfect material for a bathroom. Having three boys, I have had dreams of a fully tiled bathroom (floor, walls, and ceiling) with wall-hung fixtures and a drain in the center of the room so that the entire room could be hosed down (kind of like Hercules and the stables). I’ve tried selling this idea to my husband, but he didn’t go for it.
Let’s look at each area of the bathroom and the tile options available.
Your shower and tub area are prone to high moisture and soap scum build-up. The type of tile you choose in this area will add to or minimize your maintenance factor exponentially.
Soap Scum: This one is easy to fix. All types of surrounds from fiberglass to stone benefit from the daily use of a squeegee. Many families make it a rule that in the morning, the last person to use the shower needs to use the squeegee on the walls. This will remove the water and soap residue, preventing buildup. Another big benefit is how it will help with the teenager who hates to get up in the morning. No one will want to be the last one up!
Moisture: Your shower/tub is the main source of moisture for your bathroom. Here is where it is important to pay attention to the type of glaze on your ceramic tile.
Tile with a crackle glaze needs to be sealed with a penetrating sealer on a regular basis (every three to five years) to prevent moisture getting behind the glaze and creating a mold build-up. This is true of all crackle glazes. Before you throw out the idea of using crackle glazed tile, let me tell you that sealing your tile is not that hard and your cleaning products will determine how often you need to reseal. If you use a product that has a neutral pH and is recommended by the company of your sealer, then three to five years will be sufficient for resealing. Please note that this is true of all sealers, including grout and stone sealers.
It is recommended that crackle-glazed tile is sealed with a penetrating sealer prior to installation and then again prior to grouting. If you are using a cement grout, then the tile will be sealed a third time when the grout gets sealed. This is a great foundation for your crackle-glazed tile to have a long and beautiful life in your shower. Then clean as stated above and life will be just grand! Additionally, crackle glazes are not recommended for steam showers, even if they are sealed.
Bathrooms can be a dangerous place — moisture and slick tile can add up to falls. But don’t be deterred; you can still have the benefits of tile in your bathroom as long as you take some precautions.
Tile for the floor in the bathroom is perfect because it easy to clean. And moisture should not be a problem if you choose the right products.
Tile for the bathroom floor may be ceramic, porcelain, or quarry tile. The best option is a product that is glazed with a glaze that is also recommended for floor use. If your style leans towards a contemporary look, and you are interested in a large-format tile, be aware that the larger the tile, the greater the risk for slipping. This problem may be minimized by using smaller-format tile closer to the tub and shower. Also be sure to use a bath mat to absorb water as you step out of the shower.
As a designer, I usually recommend smaller tile because the grout helps to prevent slipping. You can still achieve a contemporary look. Smaller tile doesn’t have to mean 1” hexagons; it could be 4” x 24” planking. Be creative and use the grout lines as a design element.
Shower floors need tile of a smaller size (4” or smaller) due to the slope that helps the shower pan drain, but there are still options available. With the new linear drains, you can use longer, narrower tile shapes.
I love how the new sizes of porcelain tile offered by many manufacturers includes 4” x 24” and 18” x 18” sizes. The 4” x 24” is perfect to use in the shower and right outside the shower to minimize slippage, and the larger-format tile (some up to 24” x 24”) in the main part of the bathroom (and away from the tub and shower) — perfect for a contemporary look.
During the financial bliss times, most of us believed that slab stone was the standard for every bathroom remodel. Although it is a wonderful material, it may not fit in everyone’s current budget. Don’t fret! Tile is a great option for countertops with little to none of the maintenance issues of stone. With the large-format tile of 24” x 24”, you have relatively little or no grout lines.
A word of caution: If you choose to use tile on your countertop with an undermount sink, the large-format tile can be problematic for many installers. Labor costs and breakage can get expensive. Before you have your heart set, have a conversation with your tile setter. Better to be safe than sorry!
Smaller ceramic tile often has trim pieces available to aid in an undermount installation. This may be a more cost-effective option. The traditional installation is also very appropriate for Portland’s older homes.
Stone is a wonderful option for bathrooms; just be aware of the continued maintenance issues.
There is an attitude in America that we want everything to stay “new” and “clean.” When it becomes old, we want to replace it. On the other hand, in Europe, the attitude about stone is that it ages, and the patina is desired.
If you want to use stone in your bathroom, be aware that moisture and oils will darken your stone. If you do not want this to happen, then you must be diligent about using a penetrating sealer and cleaning with only neutral-pH products. Otherwise, embrace the natural aging of your stone and move on!
Just remember that with every material choice come maintenance issues. No product is perfect, but working with a good designer or contractor will help you to find the right product for your bathroom that is perfect for you. And in the end, that’s all that matters.
Robin Rigby-Fisher, CMKBD, CAPS, has over 27 years of experience in the design/build industry. Contact her at 503-630-3395 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. All photos courtesy of Pratt & Larson Tile.