Custom Shower Bases - Part 1 of 3

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Choosing a custom shower base gives you a myriad of options for the shape and size of your shower.

 

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Time to Complete:
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Overview

Building a custom-tiled shower base lets you choose the shape and size of your shower rather than having its dimensions dictated by available products. Building the base is quite simple, though it does require time and some knowledge of basic masonry techniques because the base is formed primarily using mortar. What you get for your time and trouble can be spectacular.
Before designing a shower base, contact your local building department regarding code restrictions and to secure the necessary permits. Most codes require water controls to be accessible from outside the shower and describe acceptable door positions and operation. Requirements like these influence the size and position of the base.
Choosing the tile before finalizing the design lets you size the base to require mostly or only full tiles. Consider using small tile and gradate the color from top to bottom or in a sweep across the walls. Or, use trim tile and listellos on the walls to create an interesting focal point.
Whatever tile you choose, remember to seal the grout in your new shower and to maintain it carefully over the years. Water-resistant grout protects the structure of the shower and prolongs its useful life.Tips for Building a Custom Shower Base

A custom-tiled shower base is built in three layers to ensure proper water drainage: the pre pan, the shower pan, and the shower floor. A mortar pre pan is first built on top of the subfloor, establishing a slope toward the drain of 1 x 4" for every 12" of shower floor. Next, a waterproof chlorinated polyethylene (CPE) membrane forms the shower pan, providing a watertight seal for the shower base. Finally, a second mortar bed reinforced with wire mesh is installed for the shower floor, providing a surface for tile installation. If water penetrates the tiled shower floor, the shower pan and sloped pre pan will direct it to the weep holes of the 3-piece drain.
One of the most important steps in building a custom-tiled shower base is testing the shower pan after installation. This allows you to locate and fix any leaks to prevent costly damage.

What You'll Need

Tools:

Tape measure
Circular saw
Hammer
Utility knife
Stapler
2-ft. level
Mortar mixing box
Trowel
Wood float
Felt-tip marker
Ratchet wrench
Expandable stopper
Drill
Tin snips
Torpedo level
Tools & materials for installing tile
2 x 4 and 2 x 10 framing lumber
Thinset mortar
16d galvanized common nails
15# building paper
3-piece shower drain
PVC primer & cement
Galvanized finish nails
Galvanized metal lath
Thick-bed floor mortar
Latex mortar additive
CPE waterproof membrane & preformed dam corners
CPE membrane solvent glue
CPE membrane sealant
Cementboard & materials
Utility knife
Straightedge

Materials:

Tape measure
Circular saw
Hammer
Utility knife
Stapler
2-ft. level
Mortar mixing box
Trowel
Wood float
Felt-tip marker
Ratchet wrench
Expandable stopper
Drill
Tin snips
Torpedo level
Tools & materials for installing tile
2 x 4 and 2 x 10 framing lumber
Thinset mortar
16d galvanized common nails
15# building paper
3-piece shower drain
PVC primer & cement
Galvanized finish nails
Galvanized metal lath
Thick-bed floor mortar
Latex mortar additive
CPE waterproof membrane & preformed dam corners
CPE membrane solvent glue
CPE membrane sealant
Cementboard & materials
Utility knife
Straightedge

 

Step 1

Cross-section of a Shower Pan

A custom shower pan is a fairly intricate, multi-layed construction, but choosing to build one gives you the ultimate design flexibility.


Step 2

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

Remove building materials to expose subfloor and stud walls. Cut three 2 x 4s for the curb and fasten them to the floor joists and the studs at the shower threshold with 16d galvanized common nails. Also cut 2 x 10 lumber to size and install in the stud bays around the perimeter of the shower base. Install (or have installed) drain and supply plumbing.


Step 3

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

Staple 15# building paper to the subfloor of the shower base. Disassemble the 3‑piece shower drain and glue the bottom piece to the drain pipe with PVC cement. Partially screw the drain bolts into the drain piece, and stuff a rag into the drain pipe to prevent mortar from falling into the drain.


Step 4

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

Mark the height of the bottom drain piece on the wall farthest from the center of the drain. Measure from the center of the drain straight across to that wall, then raise the height mark 1 x 4" for every 12" of shower floor to slope the pre pan toward the drain. Trace a reference line at the height mark around the perimeter of the entire alcove, using a level.


Step 5

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

Staple galvanized metal lath over the building paper; cut a hole in the lath 1 x 2" from the drain.


Step 6

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

Mix thinset mortar to a fairly dry consistency, using a latex additive for strength; mortar should hold its shape when squeezed. Trowel the mortar onto the subfloor, building the pre pan from the flange of the drain piece to the height line on the perimeter of the walls.


Step 7

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

Continue using the trowel to form the pre pan, checking the slope using a level and filling any low spots with mortar. Finish the surface of the pre pan with a wood float until it is even and smooth. Allow the mortar to cure  overnight.


Step 8

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

Measure the dimensions of the shower floor, and mark it out on a sheet of CPE waterproof membrane, using a felt-tipped marker. From the floor outline, measure out and mark an additional 8" for each wall and 16" for the curb end. Cut the membrane to size, using a utility knife and straightedge. Be careful to cut on a clean, smooth surface to prevent puncturing the membrane. Lay the membrane onto the shower pan.


Step 9

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

Measure to find the exact location of the drain and mark it on the membrane, outlining the outer diameter of the drain flange. Cut a circular piece of CPE membrane roughly 2" larger than the drain flange, then use CPE membrane solvent glue to weld it into place and reinforce the seal at the drain.


Step 10

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

Apply CPE sealant around the drain. Fold the membrane along the floor outline. Set the membrane over the pre pan so the reinforced drain seal is centered over the drain bolts. Working from the drain to the walls, carefully tuck the membrane tight into each corner, folding the extra material into triangular flaps.


 
 

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