One of the quickest ways to transform a bathroom is to change the look of its walls. Before you choose paint, wallpaper, paneling or tile for a bathroom remodel, it’s important to remember that a bathroom wall covering must be able to stand up to moisture, heat and frequent cleaning. Mixing and matching materials for their different strengths is a good idea, especially if the room’s space is divided. Here are some tips to consider for three of the most common bathroom wall coverings:
Paint is the least expensive covering for bathroom walls and ceilings, and it’s also the easiest to change for aesthetic purposes. Besides choosing a color, you’ll also need to choose a finish type. Gloss and semi-gloss finishes work best in bathrooms because they repel water and clean easily. However, glossier paints exaggerate a wall’s lumps and bumps, so make sure you apply them to a flat, smooth surface.
Traditionally, alkyd (oil-based) paints outlast their latex (water-based) counterparts, but newer latex formulations rival alkyds for durability. Alkyds dry slowly and require paint thinner instead of soap and water for cleanup. Also, the use of alkyd paints is restricted in some parts of the United States due to environmental concerns. If the surface to be covered is tile, glass or porcelain, use epoxy paint instead.
Ceramic tile can be costly, but its advantages make it worth considering for at least some areas in your bathroom. It cleans easily, doesn’t fade or stain and, when installed correctly, is fully waterproof. Floor and wall tile comes glazed and unglazed, plain and patterned, and in an unlimited palette of colors. In addition to buying stock machine-finished tiles, you can purchase hand-painted tiles or design your own patterns. A common dimension for wall tiles is four- or six-inch squares, but many other sizes and shapes are available. You can apply ceramic tile to any drywall, plaster or plywood surface that’s smooth, sound and firm.
The Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) has developed a rating scale that can effectively guide you through the process of choosing the right ceramic tile for your particular application:
Class 1 (no foot traffic): Recommended for wall use only in residential and commercial applications.
Class 2 (light traffic): Recommended for both wall use and bathroom floor applications.
Class 3 (light to moderate traffic): Recommended for countertops, walls and floors that experience normal foot traffic.
Class 4 (moderate to heavy traffic): Recommended for all residential, medium commercial and light institutional applications.
Class 5 (heavy to extra heavy traffic): Recommended for all residential, heavy commercial and heavy institutional applications.
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Glass block is popular because of its sleek, modern look and ability to transmit light while preserving privacy. It can be used to create both walls and windows, but it’s very expensive compared to other materials—the cost can vary from $40 to $60 per square foot, depending on the complexity of the job, labor costs and type of block. Most glass block installations require mortar, so it’s best to hire a company with masonry capabilities to achieve the best results.