Install a Bathtub Surround, Part 2

A bathtub surround in a bathroom under construction.

< Back to Part 1: Choosing the Surround and Prep

After going over the previous steps from Part 1, your shower/bathtub walls should be ready to go. Now, you’re just several steps away from a fresh new look for your bathroom.

Step 1 – Draw a Plumb Line

Your first job is to establish a vertical reference line you can count on. Use a carpenter's level to draw a plumb line, running up from the outside corners of your bathtub.

Step 2 – Install Corner Panels

The corner pieces are the first pieces of the tub surround to be installed. First, dry fit each one, and if your walls aren't square, adjust the fit by sanding the edges (or trimming, if the walls are really out of square).

The panels are often held in place by both adhesive tapes applied by the manufacturer, and additional adhesives applied during installation. Spread a bead of the adhesive around the perimeter of the panel, about an inch in from the tape. Also, run extras beads of adhesive across the back of the panel and around any built-ins (i.e., soap dish).

Remove the paper from the adhesive tape and set the first corner panel in place. Put one side in position and then apply pressure across the panel to the other side. Finally, run your hands over the entire panel, pressing firmly to make sure the glue on the backside adheres to the wall. Install the second corner panel in the same way.

Step 3 – Install Center Panels

Once the corners are installed, measure the distance between each of them, and determine the center point; then, mark it on the tub. Now, measure the center panel from the kit to find its center point and mark that point on the panel itself.

Apply adhesive to the back of the center panel and remove the paper backing from the adhesive tape. Set the center panel in place by aligning the two centerlines. Press the lower part of the panel against the wall and slowly work your way up to the top, pressing the panel against the wall. Then, run your hands across the entire panel surface, pushing it against the wall.

Step 4 – Side/End Panels

The first side/end panel (the one opposite the plumbing fixtures) will be attached in the same manner as the center panel, except the edge of the panel will be aligned with the vertical reference line you established earlier.

Step 5 – Cut Holes for Fixtures

You'll need to cut holes for the plumbing fixtures before installing the final end panel. Measure carefully from your vertical line to the center of the various fixtures, as well as from the bottom of the panel to the fixtures. Measure twice, then mark the locations on the panel. You might want to use a piece of cardboard as a trial template because you can't make a mistake when cutting holes for your fixtures.

Use a one-inch spade bit to cut the holes for the spout. Cutting the larger hole for the faucet will likely be a two-step process. Drill a starter hole, and then use a sabre saw to cut it to size.

Once the holes are cut, apply adhesives, remove the paper backing from the tape, and install the panel. Put the panel over the faucet and spout opening first; attach the bottom, and then work your way up to the top.

Step 6 – Waterproofing

Even though the panels overlap and are designed to prevent water from getting in-between them, you will need to ensure they are watertight. Use latex mildew-resistant caulking all around the bottom edge of the bathtub surround (where it meets the tub), along the seams between the panels and all along the top edge as well (where the tub surround meets the walls).

Reinstall your fixtures and wait a day for the adhesive to set. After this, you can start enjoying your beautiful new tub surround!