Labor Cost to Install Subway Tile in Shower

Subway tile installation in a shower is a popular choice for homeowners due to its sleek appearance and timeless design. Labor costs for this type of project can vary depending on the size and complexity of the shower, as well as the region and the tile installer’s experience.

According to HomeAdvisor, the national average labor cost for subway tile installation in a shower ranges from $10 to $40 per square foot, with most homeowners spending between $450 and $1,300 on labor alone. Material costs are not included in these figures, which can also influence the overall project budget.

Labor Cost Factors

The cost of installing subway tiles in a shower varies due to several factors. This section examines the following: Tile Size and Complexity, Region and Market Prices, and the Experience and Skill Level of the installer.

Tile Size and Complexity

Tile size and pattern complexity play a significant role in labor costs. Smaller tiles and more intricate designs generally require additional time and labor, increasing the overall installation cost. For example, a standard 3×6-inch subway tile installation will likely have a lower labor cost than a more complex herringbone pattern using the same-sized tiles.

Region and Market Prices

Regional differences and market prices also affect labor costs. Urban areas, such as New York City or Los Angeles, may have higher labor costs due to increased competition and higher costs of living. The following table provides average labor costs per square foot in different regions of the United States:

RegionAverage Labor Cost per Square Foot
South$4 – $8
Midwest$5 – $9
West$6 – $10
Northeast$7 – $11

Experience and Skill Level

Finally, the experience and skill level of the tile installer contribute to labor costs. A more experienced professional may charge a higher rate, but their expertise may result in a more precise and efficient installation. Less experienced installers may charge less, but the risk of mistakes and a potentially longer installation time should be considered. It’s advisable to research the installer’s reviews and previous work to ensure a satisfactory outcome.

Materials and Tools

The installation of subway tile in a shower involves a variety of materials and tools necessary to ensure a professional and durable finish. Here, we break down these essentials into specific categories and delve into the importance of each.

Subway Tiles

Subway tiles are an integral part of this type of installation process. They typically measure 3×6 inches, but can be found in variations such as 4×8 and 4×12 inches. The most common materials used for these tiles are ceramic and glass. However, they can also be made from materials like porcelain, natural stone, and even recycled materials.

Selecting the appropriate subway tile depends on factors like the desired aesthetic, budget, and level of water exposure in the shower area. Some options to consider include:

  • Ceramic: A commonly used material that offers a vast variety of colors and finishes.
  • Porcelain: Highly durable and resistant to water absorption, making it a popular choice for shower areas.
  • Glass: A modern option that provides a sense of depth and light reflection.
  • Natural Stone: A more luxurious option that offers a unique look and texture in each tile.

Adhesive and Grout

Quality adhesive and grout are vital components in ensuring a long-lasting installation. Adhesives typically come in two forms: premixed and dry-set mortar. The choice of adhesive depends on factors such as the type of subway tile, the surface of the shower, and specific project requirements.

Grout, on the other hand, is used to fill the joints between the installed subway tiles. The two primary types of grout are sanded and unsanded. Sanded grout is often recommended for joints wider than 1/8 inch, while unsanded grout is used for smaller joints due to its smoother texture.

When selecting grout color, it’s important to consider how it will complement the subway tiles and the desired overall aesthetic of the shower area.

Other Essential Tools

Beyond the core materials of subway tiles, adhesive, and grout, there are several additional tools necessary for a successful installation:

Notched trowelUsed to evenly spread adhesive onto the surface.
Tile spacersHelps achieve uniform spacing between the tiles.
LevelEnsures that the installed tiles are horizontally and vertically aligned.
Tile cutterCuts the subway tiles to fit specific dimensions and shapes.
Grout floatUtilized for applying the grout into the joints between the tiles.
SpongeUsed to clean the surface of the tiles after applying grout.

Installation Process

The installation process of subway tile in a shower can be broken down into several steps. By following these steps, one can achieve a professional-looking result while considering the labor cost involved.

Surface Preparation

Before installing subway tiles, it is crucial to ensure the surface is clean, dry, and level. Removing any old tiles or fixtures, as well as repairing any damage to the wall, is essential for a successful installation.

Surface leveling can be accomplished using a straight edge, and imperfections can be corrected using patching compound. A waterproof membrane should also be installed to prevent water from penetrating the wall.

Tile Layout and Cutting

Planning the tile layout beforehand helps avoid potential issues during application. Begin by measuring the shower area and creating a reference line using a level or chalk line. It’s recommended to start from the center and work outwards, adjusting the tile size to fit the space if needed.

When cutting tiles, ensure proper measurements to achieve a clean, precise fit. A tile cutter or wet saw is highly recommended for cutting subway tiles.

Adhesive and Tile Application

Select a suitable adhesive for your tile material, following the manufacturer’s guidelines. Apply the adhesive using a notched trowel, keeping a consistent depth while spreading. Begin applying the subway tiles to the prepared surface, using spacers to maintain uniformity and level. Periodically, use a tile level to check the alignment and adjust as needed.

Grouting and Sealing

Once the adhesive has dried, remove the spacers and proceed to grouting. Apply the grout with a rubber float, pressing it firmly into the tile joints at a 45-degree angle. Wipe off excess grout with a damp sponge, being careful not to remove too much grout from the joints.

After the grout has cured, apply a grout sealer to protect from stains and moisture. Finally, install the shower fixtures, and enjoy your new subway tile shower.

Additional Cost Considerations

When calculating the labor cost for installing subway tiles in a shower, there are several additional factors to consider, which can impact the overall expenses. These include the tile pattern and design, waterproofing measures, and removal of old tiles. Each of these aspects may contribute to fluctuations in the total cost.

Tile Pattern and Design

Subway tiles can be arranged in various patterns and designs, which may affect installation labor costs. For example, intricate patterns, such as herringbone or crosshatch, typically require more precision and time compared to simple, horizontal layouts. As a result, the labor cost might increase based on the complexity of the design.


Waterproofing is an essential part of any shower installation, and it can also impact the total expenses. There are different options for waterproofing a shower, such as using waterproof membranes or cement boards. The choice of materials will not only affect the material costs but also the labor needed for the installation. It is critical to ensure that the chosen method aligns with the applicable building code regulations.

Removal of Old Tiles

If the project involves removing old tiles before installing new subway tiles, it should be factored into the overall cost. The labor cost for tile removal can vary depending on factors such as the type of tiles being removed, the adhesive used, and the underlying surface. Additionally, there may be costs associated with disposing of the old tiles and any necessary repairs to the substrate.

Hiring a Professional

When considering the labor cost to install subway tile in a shower, hiring a professional can ensure the job is done efficiently and to a high standard. This section will cover key aspects readers should consider when hiring a professional, including obtaining quotes, verifying credentials, and checking previous work.

Obtain Quotes

Before hiring a professional, it is important to get quotes from multiple sources. Gathering at least three quotes will provide the homeowner with a good understanding of the market rate for such labor. Make sure that each quote includes a detailed description of the work to be performed, materials to be used, and the estimated time of completion. This information will help the reader compare rates and choose the best professional for their project.

Verify Credentials

Another critical step in hiring a professional to install subway tile is verifying their credentials. To ensure the highest quality work, it is necessary to check for the contractor’s license and insurance. These certifications can be requested directly from the professional, or through their respective agencies in your area. Additionally, membership in trade organizations such as the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) or the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) can indicate a commitment to industry standards and best practices.

Check Previous Work

Finally, before making a decision, it is important to examine the previous work of the professional. Potential clients should request a portfolio of examples or visit completed projects in-person to evaluate the quality of the work. This step can provide valuable insights into their expertise and craftsmanship, which can help make an informed decision when hiring a professional for subway tile installation.

DIY vs. Professional Installation

Time and Skill Requirements

When considering installing subway tiles in your shower, it’s vital to assess the required time and skills for DIY versus hiring a professional. Installing subway tiles is not an overly complex task, but it does require precision and patience. For an average DIYer, it may take between 20 to 30 hours to complete the installation, whereas a professional can typically finish the job within 10 to 15 hours.

Subway tile installation requires knowledge of tools and techniques, including the use of a tile cutter, spacers, adhesive, and grout. Ensuring the tiles are level and evenly spaced plays a crucial role in achieving a good visual result. Experienced professionals are well-versed in these techniques.

Cost Savings

The primary motivation for opting for a DIY installation is the potential cost savings. The labor cost of professional installation ranges from $40 to $60 per hour, contributing to a significant portion of the overall project expenses. By performing the installation yourself, you can avoid these labor costs.

  • Average DIY material cost: $5 to $15 per square foot
  • Estimated DIY total cost: $250 to $750 for a 50-square-foot project
  • Average professional installation cost: $10 to $25 per square foot
  • Estimated professional total cost: $500 to $1250 for a 50-square-foot project

Please note that these estimates may vary depending on factors such as tile type, geographic location, and the complexity of the job.


When weighing the pros and cons of DIY versus professional installation, it’s important to consider several factors aside from cost savings. A professional installation generally comes with a warranty and guarantees a high-quality finish. Mistakes made during a novice DIY installation may lead to issues such as uneven grout lines, lippage, or improperly sealed tile that can ultimately result in water damage.

Deciding between DIY and professional installation ultimately comes down to the individual’s skill level, time availability, budget constraints, and desired project outcomes.

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