Waterproofing a Tile Tub Surround

The problem with old bungalows…

… is they often have a long history of bungled reno work. Half-assed previous bathroom renovations can leave problems for future homeowners. In this case, a tub surround that had been redone sometime in the 1980s with tile laid on drywall without any waterproofing at all needed to go. It was literally dissolving into a nasty moldy mess. This post gives some info for properly waterproofing a tile tub surround.

The fix was a demo to the studs and complete rebuild. The tub itself stayed, with a good quality reglazing. Everything else went, including the window. This project included adding a properly installed glass block window (as a nod to the 1950s house vintage).

And for the tile? Gorgeous aqua blue glazed subway with complementary mosaic.

The Planning

The most complicated step was merely deciding the new tub surround layout. With a to-the-studs demo and rebuild, you can do just about anything with the tile design and reframing for niche insets.


One of the nice things about soon to be demolished tile is you can draw all over it. This really helps to clearly communicate design details to the reno contractors.

The Process

After planning the layout and ordering the custom tile, it was demo and rebuild time. The client chose to go with Kerdi for the waterproofing. That would ensure this tile install would be the very last that the house would ever need.

These pics illustrate the install process pretty well:

The Result?

The original tile tub surround had ceramic tile installed directly on gypsum drywall with no waterproofing at all. Since tile and grout are NOT waterproof, the original tub surround tiles were literally popping off the walls from the nasty moldy water damage underneath. Ripping everything to the studs made it easy to replace all the water damaged wall framing (including the original wooden framed window).

Building everything back with a vinyl-framed glass block window and Kerdi waterproofing made a new tile tub surround that will now last a lifetime:


This installation still needs touch painting on the ceiling and walls (since brown grout in particular is quite messy around tile borders). But the client now has a super waterproofed and easy to maintain tub enclosure.

And they were super happy with the result! You can read their review here:

Read s m.'s review