Tile Shower Pan Installation Tips can help you build a ceramic shower yourself. Also the more you know about how to build a shower pan, the better you can work with the tradesman who actually builds your shower for you.
The traditional way to build a shower pan is to use masonry to build a base upon which the tile is set and grouted. This is a simple concept but not so simple to actually do. There are several tricks that tile setters use that make it hard for a normal handy person to build a shower pan. The stakes are high when building a shower pan. Most of the critical elements of a shower floor get covered up during construction. If you make mistakes and the shower leaks, there is no easy way to redo your mistakes so everything must be torn out and you get to start over.
See the real reason for a shower pan is that a shower floor naturally leaks. The grout does anyway. The grout in a shower floor is porous…water goes through it. Without a waterproof liner under the floor, some of the water in the shower will go right through the shower base and rot the subfloor. So a shower pan has a waterproof liner underneath the ceramic tile designed to route any water coming through the grout to the drain. The drain is specially designed with weep holes under the surface of the floor to catch the runoff that moves through the grout.
The steps to building the pan are these basic processes.
- Build a solid subfloor, either wood or concrete.
- Set the drain so the finished height is at the finished level of the floor.
- Pour the first base layer of mortar sloped to the base of the drain.
- Put in the vinyl pan liner six inches up the walls and glue to the base of the drain.
- Put gravel in lower drain holes to keep the hole open.
- Pour top base masonry level sloped to the drain.
- Lay tile with thinset over the cured base.
- Grout tile.
That’s the concept and it’s a fairly simple concept with quite a few tricks and also many variations. For example, some people put the vinyl membrane on the bottom and just pour and slope one coat of masonry.
The way to avoid all this process is with a tile ready shower. At least three companies make complete systems that include pans with built in drains all ready for tile to be installed after the pans are set in place. Some systems use foam and vinyl sheets to make the pans in any configuration. Others use standard pans which may or may not fit your application. But the tile ready shower pans save a lot of time and require less skill. The disadvantage is cost. Complete traditionally constructed tile showers can cost less than just the parts for some of the tile ready showers.
Also, you can get fiberglass shower pans to use as shower floors. These pans are probably available at your local building supply store. You can use a fiberglass pan as a base and put tile on the rest of the shower. Fiberglass shower pans are not made for tile installation over the pan. Also, anything other than standard sizes will be unavailable or very expensive.
You can see there are alternatives to a traditional masonry shower, but there are good reasons why most tile showers are still built the “old” way!