I live in a plain ol’ builder basic house.  While I typically find builder basic quite boring, it makes for a sort of blank canvas to get creative.  For quite some time, I’ve been trying to think of ways I could update my bathrooms without investing too much money.  This home is not my forever home so I want the most bang for my buck.  The bathrooms have been my slowest indoor renovation project because it’s taking me a while to figure out just what I want to do to them.

Over the past couple years, I’ve stained all of the cabinets dark brown from the ugly golden oak and replaced the countertops with granite.  I have a few more plans in the works but that’s for another post on another day.  Today I’m sharing with an update that provides as instant a change as a can of paint – peel and stick tiles!

When I used to hear the term “peel and stick tile”, I would think of the ugly square tiles with no personality and that almost had a linoleum quality look.  I can assure you that they have come a long way over the years.  Sometimes it’s even difficult to tell the difference to between real tile and the peel and stick tiles.  For this project, I am working with The Smart Tiles.  A portion of the tiles I received at no cost and the others were purchased at a reduced rate.  My review of them is my honest opinion.  I’ll be sharing my personal pros and cons at the end of the post.

Both of my bathrooms have a basic tub/shower insert.  While I’d love to gut the bathrooms and do a completely different shower set up, that’s just not going to happen in this house.  I also don’t think it fits the style of the house.  It is my plan to install crown moulding in every room of the house but I was concerned how being over the shower would affect the moulding.  While talking over my options with someone much more experienced than I am at installing mouldings, he made a comment about tile going all the way up to the ceiling over the shower which would provide me with a natural break on the wall for the moulding to stop prior to the shower.  This got the wheels in my head turning.  I decided that I could fancy up the bathroom a bit and solve my moulding issue by adding tile from the top of the shower insert to the ceiling.

I began looking at my different tile options.  I wanted something classic that matched the bare bones of the bathroom.  Incorporating non-neutral colors into something that isn’t easily changed is not something I like to do because, like I mentioned before, I won’t be staying here forever and I want to do upgrades that make for good resale.  I decided basic white subway tile would be my best bet.  And basic subway tile is cheap!  I’ve worked on a couple tile projects before and, while not overly difficult, it’s not particularly fun and it definitely requires a lot of work.  While perusing Instagram and Pinterest, I began to see people using peel and stick tiles that look like real subway tile.  Then I found The Smart Tiles.  Their tiles are perfect for kitchens and bathrooms because they are resistant to the heat of stovetops and the humidity of bathrooms, they can be quickly installed without any mess or specialized tools, and they are guaranteed to stick to your walls without any extra glue.  Since the area above my shower insert does not get any water on it, I made the decision to go with peel and stick tiles.  I chose the Metro Campagnola tiles.

There are sooo many fun colors and patterns to fit any décor.  The Smart Tiles has a calculator on their website that helps you figure out how many tiles you need to order.  I entered the dimensions for my space (roughly 20 square feet per bathroom) into the calculator and was told I needed 45 tiles per space.  I also ordered two packages of the Smart Edge Brillo tiles.

These are thin strips that you can use to put a nice finishing touch on the expose edges of your tiles.  I chose the silver look tiles because all of the fixtures in the bathroom are silver toned.

Before I installed the tiles, I repainted the ceilings in both bathrooms.  When I first moved into the house, I was a terrible painter and got paint on the ceilings in a few spots.  In addition to that, the ceilings just needed freshened up.  I’m on a mission to repaint every ceiling in the house but it’s a slow process because painting ceilings is like the worst of all painting jobs.  Anyway, once that was done, it was time to start on the tiles!

Literally the only tools you need to install the tiles area utility knife, a level, and a straight edge.

The instructions state to mark a level line on the wall to work from because walls are notoriously crooked in houses even though you may not notice it with your bare eye.  You’ll see some pictures of one wall I did that is crazy crooked.  I’ve lived here nearly nine years and never noticed it.  Now I can’t unsee it.  Anyway, I started with the line but I didn’t get it marked in the right spot to line my tiles up with so I just grabbed a small level and used it.  It was much easier.

I peeled the backing off of the first tile and started it on an outside corner of the shower insert.

I started placing the tiles flush with the top of the shower insert because it was the straightest and most level point in the space I was working in.  You’ll see that one side of the tile typically has a longer “grout” line than the other.  This is so you can overlap the tiles for the best fit.  Make sure the longer edge is positioned toward the direction you’re moving.

If you don’t get the tile positioned just right the first time, don’t worry.  The tiles easily peel off the wall and restick with no issue.  They do not cause damage to the wall but you may notice they pull a little of the paint off in small spots on textured walls.  If you accidentally stick a tile where you don’t want it, it would be a good idea to have a little touch up paint handy.

Using my straight edge and knife, I trimmed off the excess tile.  You can do this with each tile individually that needs trimmed as you install them or you can wait until they are all installed and cut them at once.

The second tile I had to install was where my shower head is.  While it may seem intimidating, this was a piece of cake to handle.  I removed the head of the shower and the flange that covers the hole where the pipe comes out of the wall.  I held my tile in place and marked on it with a pencil where the pipe was.

I then cut a circle in the tile where the pipe would go.  I used an X-acto knife because I couldn’t find my utility knife but I would recommend you use a utility knife with a sharp blade.  The hole doesn’t have to be perfect or pretty because the flange will cover it.

Once you get a hole cut, test the tile over the pipe to check the fit and adjust the hole as necessary.

When it fits, peel the backing off, stick it to the wall, and put the flange and shower head back in place.

The next hurdle you’ll run into is corners.  I’m going to show you how I did it.  It may not be the correct or best way but it’s what worked for me.  I held the tile in place and pressed it into the corner as much as I could.  If you need to, peel the backing off and stick it to the wall.  You can always pull it off the wall and lay it on the backing to make your cut.  I used my straight edge to help push it into the corner.

I scored the top and bottom of the tile with my knife where it met the corner.  I then took a straight edge, lined it up with the marks, and cut the tile.

You may need to make several passes with a knife to get it cut all the way through.  For the corner pieces, it’s important to get as clean a cut as possible.  Once it was cut, I positioned the pieces on the wall in their respective positions.  If your cut or joint ends up looking a bit ugly, don’t worry.  There’s caulk for that.

When it came time to start the last row next to the ceiling, the tiles were too tall.  I simply employed the same tactics I used for corners but a bit differently.  Instead of marking score marks on the tile and cutting it away from the wall, I stuck the tile to the wall and pushed it as far into the corner of the wall and ceiling as I could.  I held my straight edge up to the corner and cut off the excess.

I continued this process until the entire space was covered.  I completed the install by placing the edge tiles next to the cut tiles.

I had to break up the installation of the tiles in the first bathroom into a couple days because I did not have enough time in one day to get it started and finished.  Altogether, it took me a couple hours.  This included figuring out how to do it and stopping to take pictures for you.  When I did the second bathroom, I got everything installed in an hour and a half.  That’s pretty dang good!  In the end, I only used 39 tiles per bathroom.  While I did not need the excess, it’s good to have it in case you cut a tile wrong.

The final step of the project is to add caulk.  Caulking is possibly one of my favorite steps to any project.  First, it means I’m close to the end.  Second, caulking can cover so many mistakes.  Despite all of the tools I have for and experience with caulking, I still always manage to make a mess.  It is what it is.  To save me some grief, I taped off where I wanted the caulk to go.  I taped where the tile met the insert, the corners, and where the tile met the ceiling.  Taping isn’t always necessary but I’ll leave that decision up to you.

I used a caulk designed for tubs and showers in white.

I prefer to use the squeeze tubes of caulk because it seems easier to me but there are people out there who like to use a caulking gun.  Cut the tip of your tube off at an angle and get to work.  Just run a bead of caulk along the joints you want filled.

If you want to smooth it out, there are all kinds of tools you can purchase but a wet finger or rag works just as well.

When everything was caulked, I pulled my tape off.  Like paint, I’ve found that if I let my tape stay up until the caulk is completely dry, the tape may pull at some of the caulk and it won’t look as clean.  Be sure to check the dry time on the caulk that you purchase.  Mine said not to use water around it until it had dried for at least four hours.

That’s all there is to it!  Had I had enough time in one stretch, I could have tiled and caulked both bathrooms in half a day.  I love projects with a quick turnaround.

I have to add that one of my hopes with this project was that it would help brighten up the bathroom.  Despite there being a light (granted just an exhaust fan light) over the shower, it’s quite dark over the shower in both bathrooms.  I’m pleased to say that it definitely did brighten the shower area!  Like big time.

Now for my pros and cons of using peel and stick tiles for this project:

On the pro side, peel and stick tiles are MUCH faster than traditional tile.  The tools required are few and basic (many of which even the most novice of DIYers would likely have on hand) which means you don’t have to buy or rent a tile saw.  You don’t have to have a lot of skill to install the tiles.  There are, of course, some tips and tricks to be learned but the method in and of itself is super simple.  You also have the ability to easily remove or reposition the tiles if you need to.  There is no commitment required which makes them great for rental or temporary situations.  And we can’t forget how much less of a mess these make.  You’ll end up with a bunch of paper backing on your floor but I’ll gladly take that as opposed to cleaning up grout.

On the con side, first and foremost, they aren’t real tile.  While some companies like The Smart Tiles have come a long way in the appearance of peel and stick tile, you can still tell that they are in fact peel and stick tiles up close.  Real tile is more durable than peel and stick tile.  There are many more color, texture, and size options with real tile and you have more control over the pattern used when installing them.  Unlike peel and stick tiles, you are not limited on where you can install real tile.  While some peel and stick tile options are more cost effective than real tile, that was not the case for me on this project.  To order the number of The Smart Tile tiles I used, it would have cost me over $600 for both bathrooms.  I will mention, however, that on a trip to Home Depot one day, I saw the same tiles for sale in store for half the cost of what they are listed for on the company website.  I don’t know if this was a fluke or an all the time deal.  If I were to go with real subway tiles, it would have cost me approximately $225.  That breaks down to $75 for tiles (315 @ $0.22 each plus tax), $50 for a bucket of pre-mixed thinset, and $100 for two buckets of pre-mixed grout if I actually needed two.  Granted, I already have a tile saw so that was not an expense I needed to add.

Whenever it comes time to make your decision about which type of tile to go with, you have to look at several different factors (cost, location, ability, etc) and go with what suits your needs best.  And sometimes, it fun to try something new.  You never know how well something may work until you give it a go.

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