Just Because You Can Build A House Doesn’t Mean You Can Tile!

By Catherine Zola

Wood and nails for anyone who can use tools and has built a book shelf can be conquered to one degree or another. Plumbing however, is a problem. It took me three tries to get running water in my tiny house WITH help! I used my welding skills from college sculpting class, and wished I had learned more in algebra so I could calculate materials etc. But I didn’t cry until I got to wash my first dish in two years in warm, indoor running water. But those were tears of joy.

The shower however has been another story altogether. For the last two years I have showered in the garden, behind a rose bush, under a water tower. For six months of that the water was warmed in the hose by the sun until I discovered a wonderful invention called an outdoor propane water heater. Who knew such things existed. My outdoor shower recently got an upgrade with some free sliding glass doors that providence sent to me, probably out of pity. They help keep the elements at bay and provide a wonderful view of the mountains until I figure out the mystery of indoor shower creation. Which after two years and three months I am still doing.

And here is how it has been going:

Let me start with this: It is particularly important to trust the timing in projects when you don’t know what you are doing. It takes time to research materials, to discover new angles, to invent solutions when none exist, and to make modifications to fit insurmountable personal or material limitations. One needs to mull things over, cogitate, acquire new knowledge and skills for a huge project such as building a house. Unless of course you are lucky enough to be a carpenter. I have complained about how long an indoor shower has taken to figure out but if I had rushed I would never have found Schluter Kerdi.


I bought the heavy cement board one usually lines showers with but took it back after some consideration. Each panel was so heavy I couldn’t fathom fitting it into a house with weight restrictions. There has to be a way to make a shower water proof without that nonsense I cried. If I had not designed my tiny shower with a bench I would have broken down at that point and bought an RV plastic shower. But no, I had to do things the hard way because I figured if I was going to go to the trouble of building my own house I wanted it how I wanted it and that’s final! But I paid. It took me months of searching for alternative water barriers and cheap, thin, lightweight, glass tile. Finally found the tile: Bright orange was the only color they had. Good thing I like orange! And then I went into a tile place in town and the nice man behind the counter told me about Schluter Kerdi – a European shower system that uses cement and thin water proof paper. It was expensive and a lot of work, but I got it installed.

more shower prep

Then came the nightmare of cementing over that and placing the tiles. Something I should have taken a class on before attempting. Or maybe at least watched a couple dozen youtube videos. I am finally at the caulking stage and using a dark green color to tone down the color of the tiles. The bench of course just added to the pain and headache but in the end it really does compensate for the tiny size of the shower by allowing you to sit down to wash your hair etc.

Despite all the trauma and time I’m mostly pleased with the bathroom’s design because it is open and contributes to an ample feeling to the house. If you clock how much activity a bathroom gets it is small in comparison to the amount of space it takes up in tiny homes. I wanted the space to be usable when it wasn’t being used as a bathroom so I altered the original design and removed the door, and widened the doorway so the light from the bathroom window would enter the kitchen. Now the bathroom bench is usable for visitors to sit on while I cook.

Schluter Kerdi paper (coincidentally the same lovely orange as the cheap tile I found), paper backed tiles from hell (but they were 2.50 a sheet as opposed to the $15+ glass tile normally is) You get what you pay for my mother always said. And the paper removed. Ooooh almost looks like a shower. Wow!

To follow Catherine’s blog go here: catstinyhome.wordpress.com

shower almost completed

27 thoughts on “Just Because You Can Build A House Doesn’t Mean You Can Tile!”

    • The drain is the first thing you have to put in before tiles. That shot is of the bench since the bottom wasnt tiled yet. Did it last. All my plumbing is exterior to walls too for easy fixing. After living in many a moldy, plumbing challenged apartment I didn’t want my house to go that direction and figured it could since I knew even less than the folks who plumbed those moldy places I rented.

    • Thank you so much for being impressed. Almost makes the hours of cussing and crying worth it all. Hopefully will get the door finished tomorrow and take my first FIRST! indoor shower Sunday. I might just sit under the hot water and cry for awhile. I figure I earned that right. Good thing I designed a bench. So shower door is glass door from dump with glass taken out, frame spray painted, and glass replaced with lightweight plastic. Those glass doors weigh a TON!

    • I found some fabulous glass tile I LOVED that looked like pieces of turquoise. It would have looked like jewelry my shower, but alas they were about $20 a square foot. Found these paper fronted (which I don’t recommend as they are very hard to line up with the paper blocking view) at some clearance place for soooo cheap. If they had been brown or something I wouldn’t have done it but Orange is such a happy color.

  1. Catherine, even carpenters go through the phase of cogitation and research you described the the second they venture out of rote methods. I have built some beautiful things, in which the answers to problems, came with the making. Most showers only have three surfaces of tile, while a bench adds two more, plus you did a tile floor instead of a pan so another surface. Way to stick with it!

    • Thank you Curt for your very kind words and encouragement. I’m glad It isn’t just me then. Phew! Yup the bench better be as nice as I dreamed it might be.A sit down shower after all this hard work sounds FABULOUS! Ok, any shower after all this hard work would be great.

  2. KERDI. when i saw the orange i was overjoyed. kerdi is the best bar none. i’m a master plumber. ALL baths i do are kerdi. kerdi doesn’t leak. period. to be honest you only need the tile to protect the kerdi from wearing away.

    i’ve been to kerdi school. one of the things we did was build a bathtub from styrofoam and kerdi. filled it with water no leaks.

    i believe what you are seeing in the pic is the seat. doing the whole shower in kerdi keepd the condensation in the shower and out the frame of the building. the seat is a great idea. works well for woman shaving and old people to sit and rest. i’m 68. i don’t require a seat, just kerdi.

    did i tell you that i’m fond of kerdi?

    peaceup billy

      • Yes I’m with you. Kerdi is awesome. I wish many blessings on Jerry at Santa Rosa Tile for mentioning it to me one day when I was driving around town looking for answers. It was like the sky opened up and a beam of light appeared and angels sang… ok, well almost. It was the easy part of the job. The tile and plumbing were hard. HIGHLY recommend kerdi, which weighs nothing, to anyone making a tiny house shower. I think the kit including the pan and drain were in the $400 range. So really not too expensive comparatively. All hail Kerdi! So much more civilized than that stupid heavy cement board crap.

  3. a pre fab plastic shower surround would have saved a lot of expense and aggravation. Not to mention weight.Of course it wouldn’t
    be the same.

    • And huge. And pre-fab means exactly that. You don’t have any wiggle room, it is what is it. We had to take out the side of my house to replace one when it went bad. Not cheaper and definitely aggravating overall.

  4. I have to admit that all the work you did looks really good, but I am glad we didn’t do it that way on our 4 bedroom Jim Walter Columbia.

    We used PVC & PCV pipe and enclosed plastic corner shower for the hall bathroom and a heavy enameled bathtub and shower for the master bathroom.

    All the major fixtures were used because we bought them out of somebody’s yard as cheaply as we could. We replaced only what was completely worn out or missing.

  5. Oh I love it! You reminded me of when I had no indoor bathtub/shower for almost a year, and had to bathe in a galvanized animal water tub toting hot water. Washing my hair was a royal pain but baths on a cool autumn afternoon were almost like a sauna tub. Til I had to get out.
    Best wishes to you for getting innovative and dealing with your situation. Would like to see more practical pluck on this blog like you.

  6. Good job.
    I have done my tile work over the years as well. Showers are tedious and nerve wracking at times…especially when using some of the quicker drying products (I used Mapelastic). When we were building our little log house, we lived in a tent on site for months. We bought a couple Coleman solar shower bags (cheap), and I built a small temporary shower stall. The sun heated the water very well. We washed each others hair in a basin, and had clean showers everyday. When we moved into the basement, by winter, I heated the water on the camp stove or wood stove and filled the shower bags. Good memories.

  7. I am so grateful to read this post because I have been going through EXACT same, down to bench, but for a LOT longer period of time, so DON”T feel bad, I’m much worse! Your home is inspirational! Love the design of it. So glad you have not sold out and I cry at the the wonders as they slowly take shape!!! I never had shop class too, and calculus has not helped me, hehhe! Struggling along with you! Wow, someone with a bench in tiny area besides me. I did change the angles in there too! Cyber hugs! I wish I could have showered outside, what a dream.

  8. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    This is the answer to many many days of fruitless research trying to find a shower stall I didn’t want, that wouldn’t fit in the plans I have. Or go with those horrible metal walls I’ve seen in so many tiny houses, yuck.
    When I finally get to the bathroom, this is the way I’ll be going thanks to your post.


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