September 22, 2015 - Tilespect

Tile Selection for Your Bathroom #1

Fundamental tile selection criteria:

Bathrooms are a weird combination of functionality, indulgence and personal intimacy. For most of us, a bathroom is a an intimate space and it gives us the chance to be alone with ourselves and our physicality for a brief moment.

Now I know this might seem obvious but the point is, you have to feel comfortable in it and feel good about the way a bathroom is designed. Its important that it has the following built in;


  • Amenity –  everything works and is convenient to use
  • Visual appeal so you can feel good about yourself too!
  • Proportion and Scale and a sense of balance
  • Privacy

REMEMBER – this room is just for you. It is a kind of retreat where you can indulge a little time to yourself.

Right – so first I am going to spend some time discuss some tile selection technicalities before we return to this theme but when we do, we will exposing some of the elements you want to be aware of when you are choosing bathroom tiles.
Unless you have unlimited funds, for most of us our choice of tiles is going to be constrained by the following factors which we will discuss in turn;

  • Technical limitations
  • Functional limitations
  • Cost
  • Personal taste
  • The skill, or willingness of your tiler to do the job


Technical Limitations;

I make this one first because unless you have an unlimited budget, your tile size choices are going to be limited by the strength, the flatness and the expansion properties of your laying surface. And on top of that, the tiler needs to perform the right surface preparation  for the job or nothing will go right.

Unfortunately, not all internal bathroom walls or floors are built to the same standard. Often the a wall or floor surface is simply not suitable for tiling. If it flexes or is weak, it won’t allow tiles of a certain weight or size to be installed. If it is uneven then selecting large tiles may not be possible.

Its important to understand early this while still developing your bathroom design project..

If these considerations are made at the beginning of your bathroom design work then you avoid having to make changes to your bathroom tile selection at the last minute. This would limit your tiling options to the tile stocks that are available NOW…not a good situation to be in.

Let us look more closely at some of the reasons why your choice of wall or floor tiles could not be accomodated;

How to inspect tiles

basin and mesh tiles

Below are two typical wall types  illustrated –

1) Panels such as plasterboard supported by a timber frame (studs) and

2)  masonry; which could be concrete, brick or cement block walls;

Number 1) the stud-panel (or board over timber frame) type wall needs to be strengthened to take the weight of the tiles.  On one of the four tiled walls (sketched in profile view) the wall simply was too flexible. It bows or flexes with the weight of the tiles. This is a common problem with many new homes.  These deficiencies often affect brand new homes and I have personally seen poorly attached wall paneling in display homes – not very impressive at any price.

So when your wall is not up to the task it can’t be tiled over it until it is fixed.

If you can create a flat surface, but not to the required strength, the your choices are to either choose a lighter weight tile (usually a smaller size) or to strengthen the wall by replacing or adding more fixing components.



stud wall 45


Number 2 is  a masonry (brick, concrete block) wall. This is strong enough, but needs to be properly prepared in order to allow your tiles to be laid. In many cases if the issue is a mild case of poor surface rendering, proper surface preparation can fix the issue.


masonry wall 45


A further issue with masonry is rising damp, concrete rot, degraded cement render so on and so forth, but these issues don’t really affect tile choice, they simply need to be fixed no matter what type of tiles you decide on!

Wet areas also have their requirements, particularly shower wall systems which require water proofing and a specific installation procedure. This is essentially a specialized laying surface preparation.

Where wall paneling, typically plasterboard, is of a standard thickness of around 10 mm (2/5″) or 13 mm (1/2″), there exists a maximum spacing between crews/nails bonding the paneling to the time frame. Usually these are specified. In some cases builders and tilers will simply opt for the best option, which may add to the cost.

If you get the choice because the home is still in its early construction phase, you could specify that the bathroom wall paneling have a minimum thickness of 16 mm (5/8″). This thicker panel when combined with the right stud fixture spacing has been shown to provide a sufficiently rigid surface.

The specific situation seems to fall into broad strength categories. The first is for tiles that weigh up to 12.5 kg/sq m (2.56 lb/sq ft) and the second covers tiles that weight up to  32 kg/ sq m (6.55 lb /sq ft). Mostly builders, tilers and bathroom installation companies will refer to local guidelines to decide on specific requirements. Guidelines are usually published by local panel board manufacturers.

With regards to tile size there is one further limitation and it has to do with drains, especially in shower spaces. Many tilers will resist laying large tiles if they are too large to accommodate the fall to the floor drain, while other tilers relish the challenge. The scenario is illustrated here.


Solutions include making lots of cuts to large tiles, or enjoying the huge range of smaller tiles available. If you design requires a wall-floor match, you can often replace the tiles in that space with  a feature mosaic. Even better you can take the tiles to a cutting and meshing service who will laser cuts the larger pieces and lay them on a sheet as a mosaic. While it costs more, it does allow you to honor the original color and pattern intent.

One further solution, only really feasible if you specify it early in a new construction,  is to ensure a flat surface by installing a gutter drain. The shower stall floor is flat and rigid but it does has a slight, imperceptible tilt to it which provides a good sub-surface for any sized tile.

I’ve illustrated this here;

Shower gutter drain solution

In certain cases the tiling surface is unworkable and needs to be fixed. A host of solutions exist, including flexible adhesives and grouts, resurfacing with paneling and so on….

Unworkable floor tiling conditions

This covers a brief overview of technical limitations and these are mostly related to the properties of the under-surface.

Remember that none of the above replaces professional advice!

That wraps up my first article on bathroom tile selection. Let me know your thoughts and suggestions about what more can we add to this article.

Please share your issues on our forum page.

In the second article I am going to cover functional criteria……..keep an eye out for it.


Style tile selection /