Custom Shower Bases - Part 2 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.

 

Difficulty Level:
Time to Complete:
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Continue to Step 1

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.

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

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

Apply CPE solvent glue to one side, press the flap flat, then staple it in place. Staple only the top edge of the membrane to the blocking; do not staple below the top of the curb, or on the curb itself.


Step 2

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

At the shower curb, cut the membrane along the studs so it can be folded over the curb. Solvent glue a dam corner at each inside corner of the curb. Do not fasten the dam corners with staples.


Step 3

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

At the reinforced drain seal on the membrane, locate and mark the drain bolts. Press the membrane down around the bolts, then use a utility knife to carefully cut a slit just large enough for the bolts to poke through. Push the membrane down over the bolts.


Step 4

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

Use a utility knife to carefully cut away only enough of the membrane to expose the drain and allow the middle drain piece to fit in place. Remove the drain bolts, then position the middle drain piece over the bolt holes. Reinstall the bolts, tightening them evenly and firmly to create a watertight seal.


Step 5

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

Test the shower pan for leaks overnight. Fill the shower pan with water, to 1" below the top of the curb. Mark the water level and let the water sit overnight. If the water level
remains the same, the pan holds water. If the level is lower, locate and fix leaks in the pan using patches of membrane and CPE solvent.


Step 6

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

Install cementboard on the alcove walls, using 1 x 4" wood shims to lift the bottom edge off the CPE membrane. To prevent puncturing the membrane, do not use fasteners in the lower 8" of the cementboard. Cut a piece of metal lath to fit around the three sides of the curb. Bend the lath so it tightly conforms to the curb. Pressing the lath against the top of the curb, staple it to the outside face of the curb. Mix enough mortar for the two sides of the curb.


Step 7

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

Overhang the front edge of the curb with a straight 1x board so it is flush with the outer wall material. Apply mortar to the mesh with a trowel, building to the edge of the board. Clear away excess mortar, then use a torpedo level to check for plumb, making adjustments as needed. Repeat for the inside face of the curb. Note: The top of the curb will be finished after tile is installed (step 19). Allow the mortar to cure overnight.


Step 8

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

Attach the drain strainer piece to the drain, adjusting it to a minimum of 11 x 2" above the shower pan. On one wall, mark 11 x 2" up from the shower pan, then use a level to draw a reference line around the perimeter of the shower base. Because the pre pan establishes the 1 x 4" per foot slope, this measurement will maintain that slope.


Step 9

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

Spread tile spacers over the weep holes of the drain to prevent mortar from plugging the holes. Mix the floor mortar, then build up the shower floor to roughly half the planned thickness of this layer. Cut metal lath to cover the mortar bed, keeping it 1 x 2" from the drain (see photo in step 18).


Step 10

How to Build a Custom-tiled Shower Base

Continue to add mortar, building the floor to the reference line on the walls. Use a level to check the slope, and pack mortar into low spots with a trowel. Leave space around the drain flange for the thickness of the tile. Float the surface using a wood float until it is smooth and slopes evenly to the drain. When finished, allow the mortar to cure overnight before installing the tiles.


 
 

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