Finishing touch for bathroom and kitchen plumbing

The amateur plumber must not only be able to install pipes and fixtures, he must know how to finish the room in which he is working. The most important finishing jobs are those in the bathroom or kitchen. Depending on the nature of the plumbing work and the kind of finish you are using, you may decide to finish these rooms before or after the fixtures have been installed.

The walls and floors of the kitchen and bathroom are finished differently from those in other rooms. The kitchen and bathroom are subject to excess moisture from steam, to water being splashed on the floor, to a dozen demands not made of other rooms in the house. For these reasons, they must be resistant to stains, impervious to moisture, and easy to clean.

A good enamel will be satisfactory for most wall areas, but you will probably prefer to cover those that receive particularly rough treatment with a more rugged material. Linoleum or linoleum tile is excellent for floors, although to someone with skill and patience, ceramic or clay tile may be appealing.

Protection of pipes and fixtures

In most cases, it is safest and easiest to finish the walls—and sometimes the floor, too—before the fixtures are installed. This will also safeguard the fixtures themselves, many of which can easily be damaged. Leave them in their crates until the last possible moment. Protect them with burlap while they are being handled.

Pipes should also be protected if they are going to stand out of the floor or wall for any length of time before the fixture is attached. Wrap them in rags or burlap. This will, in addition, help to prevent damage to furniture that might be knocked against the pipes. Be especially careful with the connection to the water closet. Pack the opening with rags and cover it until you are ready to install the bowl.

Metal wall tile

Modern metal tile has several advantages over traditional tile. Made of aluminium or stainless steel with a finish of baked enamel or porcelain, it is light in weight and does not crack or chip. A square foot of standard 4 1/2" x 4 1/2" metal tile weighs only three pounds. Although there is a special foundation board for metal tile available, it can be placed over plaster, plasterboard, or wood composition board without extra reinforcement. The larger sizes of metal tile now available are worth consideration, for the fewer the number of tiles you have to install, the less time the job will take. Once metal tile has been installed, there are hardly any occasions for repair or replacement.

Metal tile is cemented to the wall with a special adhesive that is liquid and waterproof. You can install the tile before or after the fixtures. If you can do it beforehand, you will eliminate a good deal of cutting and fitting. But with some fixtures—for example, a built-in tub—it is impossible to tile the walls before completing the plumbing.


The first step in installing tile is to check the base to which it is going to adhere. The simplest base to work with is a special metal-tile foundation board, but as long as the base is plaster, plasterboard, or composition board, the base should give little trouble. Beware, however, of the more porous types of building board; they absorb moisture too rapidly.

Unless you are using a metal-tile foundation board, check the wall to ascertain whether it is perfectly level and true. Tile cannot be laid on an uneven surface. Should you find that it is imperfect, you will have to cover it with the metal-tile foundation board. This board is marked off with grooved, 1 1/2" squares and the rounded edges of the tile fit neatly into the grooves between the squares. This facilitates laying the tile evenly.

The foundation board is nailed and cemented to the wall. It must be perfectly level when installed, for if it is not the tile cannot be laid parallel to the floor. First, draw a line parallel to the floor with a level. This line should represent the height to which you intend to tile the wall. Except over a built-in tub with a shower, you will usually tile the lower half of the wall. The plumb line dropped from the level line will insure that vertical joints between tiles are perpendicular to the floor.

Give the back of each tile a coat of waterproof cement and then place it up against the foundation board. You can obtain applicators designed for putting the liquid adhesive on tiles. You can rent or buy special equipment for cutting holes in tile, but ordinary tin snips will also do the job.

Special tiles are used at the juncture of walls and floor. They are bent to form a cove base which eliminates cracks at this point. There are also special tiles for inside and outside corners. They not only aid in waterproofing the wall but make it more attractive as well.

Once the wall has been tiled, apply a waterproof grout to the surface. Press it into the joints and wipe off the excess with a squeegee. Do additional pointing of the joints with your fingers.

If you do not use a metal-tile foundation board, keep constant check on vertical and horizontal joints. For a really watertight wall, do not butt the tiles too close together. Leave a small gap between each tile and fill the space with special waterproof cement. This method takes a little longer but is good insurance against the possibility that water or moisture will get behind the tile and necessitate extensive repairs.

First, as was the case with the foundation board, make a level line at the height to which you are tiling the wall. Do not work up from the floor unless it is perfectly level. Otherwise, work down from the level line. This will give you a perfect starter row by which to gauge the rest of your work.

The seams where tile and plumbing fixtures meet should be completely sealed, for it is here that moisture is apt to work its way behind the tile and cause it to become loose. Metal moulding designed for the purpose will guarantee a watertight joint.

Plastic tile

Less expensive than metal tile, plastic tile can be installed in much the same way. The colour runs all the way through plastic tile, so there is no danger of its wearing off. The special adhesive used to cement plastic tile enables it to be placed directly over either plaster or plasterboard. Either special cutters or a fine-tooth saw will cut this type of tile.


Tileboard is comparatively simple to install because it comes in large sections. Made of composition wood or pressed wood, it has a baked enamel finish and is usually scored to look like tile. Some tileboard, however, is plain, and another kind has only horizontal lines. The grooves between squares are painted to resemble the cement between real tiles.

A single section of tileboard is 4 feet high and up to 8 feet long. You can cement it directly to a base of plaster or plasterboard. Its smooth, easily cleaned surface has made it particularly popular for repair and modernization work.


The surface to which the tileboard is going to be cemented should be prepared carefully. Furr out depressions, remove projections, and repair breaks in the plaster. Clear away the bad plaster and furr out the area with boards not larger than 1"x3". They should be 2" or less apart. The tileboard panel can then be cemented to the repaired surface.

Clean wallpaper thoroughly before attempting to place tileboard over it. Panelboard cement will enable you to put tileboard over a painted surface, but if the paint is not of a good quality and well bonded, remove it before installing the tileboard. Never place tileboard over a porous base.

The first step in cutting and fitting tileboard is to draw a level line 50 1/2" above the floor. If the floor is at all uneven, measure from the low point on the floor. This will allow the base moulding to cover at least 1" of the tileboard at all points. It will also keep each section of the tileboard even and level with sections on adjoining walls.

When finishing bathroom walls with tileboard, begin with the area over the tub. Cover the fixture wall first. Remove all projecting faucets and handles and measure the area.

Rough cut your tileboard 1/4" to 1/2" oversize so that you can fit it to uneven walls and the tub surface. Set the tileboard against the surface and scribe the vertical edge to fit loosely against the adjoining wall. Allow 3/8" for channel moulding, which will go in the inside corner, and 1/8" end clearance within each channel for expansion. Cut along this line with a fine-tooth saw. Proceed in a similar manner to fit the tileboard over the top edge of the tub.

You will have to cut holes in the tileboard for fixtures. Chalk pipes and set the tileboard in place against the wall. Then drill a hole in the tile-board where the chalk marks are with a brace and bit. If these holes have to be enlarged, use a keyhole saw.

Fill any space between the fixture and the original wall with filler. Also fill in grooves in the tub moulding and corner moulding with filler. When the tileboard is set into the moulding, filler should ooze out of every mortar line.

Walls free from fixtures are simpler to cover with tileboard. Install the base moulding and the corner moulding before the tileboard. The base moulding must be perfectly level or the tile-board will be uneven.

For the strongest bond between tileboard and wall, coat the wall surface with panelboard cement. Then apply liquid adhesive to the back of the tileboard with a notched spreader. You can buy this spreader or make one yourself. The purpose of the notches is to spread the cement in ridges. Cover the entire back of the tileboard section to within 2" of the edges. The space without glue will enable you to handle the tileboard without smearing.

The best way to put the tileboard on the wall is to bend its ends so that the first juncture is made at the centre. This will prevent pockets of air from forming. When the tileboard is in place, press its entire surface to make sure that it is everywhere in contact with the wall. Wipe off any excess cement before it begins to harden. You will find this cement very difficult to remove from your hands. If you coat your hands with soap before beginning to work with the cement, however, it will wipe off easily when the job is finished.

Wall linoleum

Wall linoleum is a special, lightweight linoleum designed for use in covering walls. It makes a good wall finish for the kitchen and will also serve in bathrooms, although it is not sufficiently moisture-resistant to be used over built-in tubs. You can install wall linoleum over either plaster or plasterboard.

Plaster walls must be smooth, dry, and perfectly plumb before you can cover them with wall linoleum. There should be no metal beading at corners. In fact, you can have no square corners at all. All outside corners will have to be rounded to a radius of 5/8". The linoleum will break if it is bent around square corners. The only other alternative is to have a joint at corners.

Hanging wall linoleum over a plasterboard wall presents several problems. In the first place, you need header studs at the top and bottom of the wall and every 2 feet between the top and bottom. The plasterboard should be joined with butt joints, and these should be reinforced with perforated tape. Countersink all nails, fill the holes with plastic filler, and sand smooth when the filler is dry.

Do not install fixtures until the linoleum is in place. Coat walls with a special size to prevent their absorbing the adhesive used to hang the linoleum. A metal strip of cap-moulding should be nailed in place on the wall before the linoleum is hung. Apply adhesive to its back and hang the wall linoleum in vertical sections from the cap strip down to the floor. Seams should be vertical and no nearer than 6" to the corners.

Laying floor linoleum

A linoleum floor is attractive and durable. It consists of a felt base cemented to the flooring and the linoleum itself, which is cemented to the felt base. Your best bet, unless you have a large workroom, is to have your linoleum dealer cut the linoleum and felt base to the size of your room.

The seams between sections of felt base run at right-angles to seams in the linoleum, so you should decide beforehand in which direction you want your linoleum laid. It is customary to lay the linoleum so that the grain runs in the same direction as the traffic in the room. When cutting linoleum, always leave a 3" waste allowance in its length and width. Since the cold makes linoleum brittle, leave it overnight in a heated room if you are doing your work during cold weather.


The first step in laying linoleum is to cement the felt base to the flooring. The felt must be laid smooth, with butt joints at the meeting of seams, and no overlapping. After cutting and fitting, apply the cement to the floor with a linoleum-paste spreader. Set the felt in position and roll it down to make it absolutely flat. You can do this easily with a kitchen roller.

The next step is the cutting and fitting of the linoleum itself. You should have a helper in installing the linoleum since it is difficult to manoeuvre into position. After removing as many fixtures as possible, raise the quarter-round moulding 1/4" from the floor.

Bring the material into the room and lay it diagonally across the short dimension facing the most regular long side of the room. Unroll about 5 feet of the material and hold the free end of the goods in the form of a U. Unroll the goods, swinging the linoleum until it is parallel with the regular, long wall which is to be the starting wall. The two men should gradually work away from one another until they have reached opposite walls.

With one man still holding the goods, the other flashes the linoleum against the second wall, and then crosses over to cut in any irregularities in the starting wall. Then any other fixtures should be cut in. At the walls, cut the linoleum so that there is a 1/4" to 3/8" clearance between the edge and the wall line.

Either a notched knife or a linoleum knife should be used for cutting. To prevent marring of the wall, hold the knife at a 45° angle from the wall. Doing this and at the same time maintaining a uniform clearance requires practice.

The linoleum is now cemented in place. Use a waterproof cement around seams where water could enter. This will prevent moisture from making the adhesive soft. When it has been laid and cemented, roll the linoleum with a 150-pound roller. This flattens it and joins it securely to the felt. You can rent a roller from your linoleum dealer.

Ceramic tile

Ceramic tile can be used on the walls and floors of either the kitchen or bathroom. At the present time, because of the many alternatives available, most homeowners use ceramic tile for the bathroom floor only. However, the setting of this tile is an extremely complex job and cannot be recommended to the amateur plumber, unless he is willing to do a great deal of extra work.

The setting of a ceramic or clay tile floor for the bathroom divides into three parts. The first is that of reinforcing joists and laying a concrete setting bed. The second is that of setting mortar over the concrete bed. The third is laying the tile. Each of these is a skilled job.

To lay the concrete setting bed, place two guide strips on the sub floor and spread concrete between them. Level the concrete with a straight edge and let it dry. The mortar is then laid over the concrete. It should be spread deep enough so that it comes to within the thickness of the tile of the finish floor line.

Spread the mortar with a trowel between two guide strips. It is most important that the mortar be perfectly even. To insure evenness, make a screed or float by notching out a level board; the notches should be the same thickness as a tile. The screed is pulled along the guide strips in order to level the mortar.

Lay your first row against one of the guide or screed strips. The way you lay your tile will depend on the pattern you are using and the shape of the tile. When it is first set in place, the tile will rise about 1/8" above the desired level for the finish floor. Your next job will be to beat in the tile.

Beating in the tile is accomplished with a rather large, flat block of wood called a beater. After a handful of dry cement mixed with an equal part of fine sand has been sprinkled over the surface of the tile and brushed into the joints, the beater is set on the tile and hammered until the tile is firmly set in the mortar. Begin in one corner and work along the wall. Work out from the wall until the entire area has been beaten down to the height of the finished floor.

A wooden frame around the tub supports the wire lath. The wire lath in turn supports the grout in which the tiles are set. This method can, of course, be used on the walls too, if there is no suitable surface for the grout or mastic.

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