How to Tile Walls Indoors - Installation Tutorial

how to install wall tile indoors

In this section, we'll focus on installing ceramic, porcelain or stone tile on indoor walls using two techniques: with mortar and with a backerboard.  These tile projects can include the typical installations of bathroom tile tubs, bathroom tile showers, and kitchen tile backsplashes,  It also includes various rooms with tiled wainscoting and tiled interior veneers.

Generally, ceramic, porcelain, and stone tile can be installed on interior walls that are structurally stable, on plane, and consist of a suitable substrate. Suitable substrates include masonry, backer-board, gypsum board (drywall), or mortar beds.

Current industry standards do not recommend using water resistant gypsum board for use in shower enclosures. Ceramic, porcelain, and stone tile can still be placed on this backing in tub enclosures provided that they are constructed properly to avoid moisture from entering the board from the tub interface, joints, and openings.

Ceramic, porcelain, and stone tile generally can be installed using Portland cement paste (on a workable-still plastic mortar bed), latex or dry set portland cement mortar, epoxy mortar, or organic adhesive. To select the proper adhesive, be sure to check with the adhesive manufacturer for the tile you choose.

In the following "how to" photos, tile will be placed on mortar beds and backer board using latex Portland cement mortar. The following steps can be used to install tile on gypsum board or masonry as well. 

As always, follow the Manufacturers recommendations for all the products you plan to use in interior wall tiling projects. Additionally, comply with federal, state, and local building codes and recommendations.

Tiling Interior Walls Using Mortar

In this wall tile installation, the mortar bed has been built and allowed to cure. For details on the one-coat mortar process visit "How to Tile a Bathtub"

This first photo shows latex Portland cement mortar being applied to the mortar bed. The mortar is first "keyed" into the mortar bed using the flat side of the ¼" x ¼" notched trowel then combed out to a uniform depth using the notched side.

Note that a ledger is not used to support the first row of tiles. This was because the tub was properly installed in a secure and level position.

Here we see the first two rows of tile placed and beaten in with a level. The tiles are held off the top of the tub 1/8" with spacers and/or wedges to a level position. The space between the tub and tile will be filled with a sealant rather than hard grout.

The ¼" x ¼" trowel size was selected for this tumbled marble tile because it afforded 95-100% coverage of thin set mortar after placement and "beat in."

The process proceeds up the walls until all of the wall tiles and the necessary trim are set in place.

The tile is allowed to cure following the Manufacturers recommendations for the curing of the thin set. At this point the grouting process is completed and the job is finished. 

In the following set of photos we see a shower enclosure being tiled in a similar fashion. However, a ledger is being used to support the lower rows of tile. Working lines are placed on the cured mortar bed walls where the ledger boards will be temporarily fastened.

The ledger boards are fastened well above the shower pan membrane underneath the mortar bed so that it is not punctured.

The process of tiling mirrors that of the previous section.

The difference in this method is that the ledger must then be removed and the lower tiles are placed and held during curing with duct tape.

All of the tiling including the grouting phase is completed and the job is finished.

Installing Tile on Walls Using a Backerboard

In the following photos, we see tile installed on backer board. This Manufacturer recommended wetting the backer board prior to applying the latex Portland cement mortar.

The mortar was installed in the same way as previously discussed.

The tile was then set, beaten in, aligned, and ultimately grouted.

Here are examples of decorative tile placed directly on gypsum board in dry areas. Look at these examples of porcelain tile being placed on water resistant gypsum board in a commercial bathroom. These photos are courtesy of Paramount Tile in Riverside, California. Paramount Tile is a union shop with professional crews.

Here a tile setter applies premium type-1 mastic to the drywall in preparation for setting the tile.

The job progresses as any other wall tiling project with the tile being placed in the freshly combed adhesive, beaten, and straightened with the working lines. The tiles are held in place by spacers, in this case a heavy red commercial type, until the mastic can set up and hold the tile without sagging.

Many people, including professionals, like to use good quality mastics due to their extended pot life and their extended "on the wall time." Good quality mastics can be applied on the wall and still be able to hang tile twice as long as portland cement thinset of equal quality. Caution must be exercised that the mastic does not "glaze over" rendering the mastic too dry to bond the tile to the wall.

Notice how the installers mark and cut tile to fit around obstructions.

In this particular project, the wall grout joints need to match the floor joints since the same tile is used for both. You'll notice the job foreman laying out the working lines with a helper. Sprit level, pencil, and chalk lines are the tools of the trade.

The efforts of the foreman pay off in a perfect layout where the wall joints flow into the floor joints.

Look at the professional cuts this crew is capable of accomplishing.

As previously noted in other areas, all that is left is grouting then sealing once the tiling is complete and allowed to cure according to the manufacturers specifications.