Walk-in showers often feature tiled ceilings, both for the aesthetic appeal and to block moisture. But tiling a ceiling requires costly labor and materials, so some homeowners opt to install sheetrock, or drywall, instead. The decision is yours: You can spend money now for a high-quality shower, or you can save money but risk future moisture damage.
Generally, if your shower features a tight seal that locks moisture inside the stall, you should install tile. But if your walk-in shower allows moisture to escape during use, tile might not be necessary. Ask a contractor who specializes in bathrooms if you’re not sure which option to take.
If you decide to install tile, you must install cement board on the ceiling to act as a substrate. Also called backerboard, cement board provides a firm, waterproof foundation for tile. As you would with drywall, cut it to size by scoring it and then snapping at the score line. Use a carbide cement-board cutter, which is strong enough to penetrate the hard surface. Install backerboard screws every 4 inches to mount the board to the ceiling frame. The chief advantage of cement board is its complete resistance to water, but its rough texture makes it unsuitable for ceilings that won’t receive tile.
Tiling is a craft that takes many years to master. If you have no experience, don’t attempt to tile the ceiling yourself. Not only does poorly installed tile look bad, but it also allows steam to escape the shower stall, leading to moisture damage and mold growth. Hire a professional tile installer who can ensure the tiles are level and the seams are straight and well-sealed.
Drywall is your other option. Drywall is a chalky core wrapped in paper, so it’s vulnerable to water. Water-resistant varieties exist, but none is as effective at blocking moisture as tiled cement board. Called green board, water-resistant drywall has paper facing that is chemically treated to block moisture.
Finishing, priming and painting the drywall provides some extra moisture protection, but all paint degrades over time. If moisture works it way under the paint surface, bubbling and peeling will result. You might find it necessary to repaint your shower ceiling often to prevent damage to the underlying drywall.
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