Laying the Bathroom Floor: Part 1

If you like long posts with lots of pictures, then good news, this post is for you. Pour yourself a cup of coffee or whatever you drink (I’m a hot chocolate guy), and let me tell you the story of installing our bathroom floor.

We decided to tile the bathroom floor ourselves. There were two reasons for this. First, labor is expensive, and tiling is a lot of labor with a lot of down time. So it was a great place to save some money. Second, I just wanted to learn how to do it. I’ve watched enough HGTV and YouTube videos to realize that I could try this myself. Because there was some plumbing that had to move, we decided to pay the guys who did our kitchen and downstairs bath to demo the bathroom, patch up the drywall (a task I’m not confident in yet), and then basically leave the room for us.

Gutted bathroom | Burritos and Bubbly

With a blank canvas, it was sort of hard to know where to start, but the most important thing in any sort of flooring project is to make sure your subfloor is level and in good shape. For the most part, we were okay. There was a pretty large area underneath where the shower had been that needed a new sheet of quarter inch plywood. This area also needed a few detail cuts to get around all the piping that’s coming out of the floor.

Fixing the subfloor | Burritos and Bubbly

The only other area that needed to be leveled out was underneath where the sink had been. Oddly enough there was some gross vinyl here that I think was reused from an old kitchen floor at some point. I just covered it up so some day maybe a future owner will discover it. Although if I find out that anyone ever removes this tile we bought I’m going to come back and have stern words for them. Stern words!

Patching the subfloor | Burritos and Bubbly

After all the subfloor was in good shape, we moved on to cement board. Cement board is crucial to bathrooms because it’s water resistant, so if water gets underneath your tile somehow, it won’t get to your wood subfloor. So this will help prevent rotting, which I’m fairly certain is a good thing. I’m pretty sure.

This process was actually scary for me because it’s the first time either of us had ever used thinset. I had never seen the stuff in real life and I certainly had never mixed it. All we had ever heard is that it should be the consistency of peanut butter and/or toothpaste. I’m very familiar with peanut butter (smooth all the way – get that crunchy garbage out of my house), and mixing this stuff was actually a lot easier than I expected. The only thing that surprised me was how much thinset powder is needed compared to the amount of water. If you’re doing this on your own, don’t be afraid to put more powder in than you’d expect. You can always add more water.

Cement board in bathroom | Burritos and Bubbly

As we were moving along with the subfloor, we got to a few spots that needed some special cuts. One of the more difficult ones was around where the toilet is going to be. We needed to cut almost a full circle out of one of the cement boards. I learned a little trick on how to do this while watching YouTube videos. I took a scrap piece of wood, drilled a screw through the wood into the center of where my circle needed to be, and then drilled another screw 4 inches away from the center screw. This second screw just barely poked through, so it was just scraping the cement board.

Cutting hole in cement board | Burritos and Bubbly

Once it was all set up, I just did a quick spin (or 80) around, using the outer screw to cut a circle into the cement board. After it was sufficiently scored, a quick whack with the hammer knocked out a perfect circle. Stay in school, kids. Math is real.

Cutting circle in cement board | Burritos and Bubbly

After laying down all the cement board, the next step was just screwing in a bunch of screws. There are special screws for this job – make sure you get them when you’re buying your cement board. They’re usually right next to each other. Also, the more observant among you might notice that over the course of these pictures, I’ve suddenly changed drills. That’s because while drilling screws into the cement board, we realized our 6+ year old drill didn’t have the power for this kind of job. It would start drilling and then just stop on every screw. We had to run to Home Depot and pick up this Ryobi Drill and Impact Driver combo. After charging the battery for about 15 minutes, the impact driver was powering through the cement board with absolutely no problem. I can’t wait to use this thing more.

New drill | Burritos and Bubbly

The final step of laying all this cement board (which I’ve deemed the “essential yet invisible” aspect of this job) was taping and mudding all the seems. I should have pointed it out earlier: when laying down the cement board it is important to leave a little bit of a gap in between each board. Just about a quarter inch. There is sticky mesh tape you buy to put over the gaps, and then you take more thinset and smooth it out over the tape. There is a special tool for this which I didn’t have, but I found that you can use the straight side of the trowel and it works just fine. For any experts reading this: don’t judge. I’m still learning. Next time I’ll get that fancy tool. This time … just be proud that I made it this far.


And that’s where I will leave you in this project. Cement board down and done. We were told that it’s important to let this dry for a day before we started working on putting the tile down. We decided to be extra special careful and waited about two weeks. Super dry!


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2 thoughts on “Laying the Bathroom Floor: Part 1

  1. Great job! Tile is so much fun. My favorite part was doing the grout at the end. Good luck. Jason and I did our kitchen and upstairs bathroom. It was exhausting, but we made it through without too much drama. Now tile on the walls in the shower is a different story. Glad I was at work while Jason did that. He said it was a real PITA. Do you already have a tile saw? We have one you could borrow, but renting one is easy too. If you want to borrow let us know. Jason is coming to town on the 18th.

    1. My original plan was to tile our downstairs bathroom myself, and I was going to do an all tile shower. I was talked out of that by a few people who knew better and I’m glad I didn’t go through with it. I think it’s better to have our first tiling project be a floor – where gravity is in our favor. And we did borrow a wet saw from a friend. I’m hoping to fire that up soon (aka Part 2 of this series).

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