Should I DIY a Shower Pan and Tile?

Do it or hire a pro?


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StephP

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Okay kids, get comfy; long story. Thank you in advance to anyone who gets through it and comments. I love you.

September 2016: We move into our new house, built in 1952, remodeled extensively in 2008 by homeowner, a "soil engineer". Yep, we bought an engineer's house. First red flag. We did have an expensive if incompetent home inspection done, that somehow totally missed the fact that the acrylic shower pan in the guest bathroom was cracked and flexing upon pressure, resulting in observable but mild water damage to the adjacent baseboards. Complained about this and other problems; got our inspection money back. Had to ignore it for a while and get settled.

November 28, 2016: Engaged a contractor to remodel bathroom, primarily involving the construction of a concrete shower pan, installation of backer board and drywall as needed, waterproofing, shampoo niche, light plumbing work, and tiling. Job was estimated to take 5-7 days.

December 2016: Delays due to cold weather, illness, no-shows, non-communication, Contractor out of state doing side-work, etc.

Without consultation with us, the contractor and sub installed DensShield wallboard, waterproofed entirely with Redguard (two coats over joints and screws). I understand what DensShield is and how it works, and I'm okay with RedGuard, but I would have preferred Durock or Wonderboard. What I didn't know at the time was that the Sub also used DensShield on the surfaces of the curb, which is clearly and expressly forbidden by every single DensShield document. Sub installed the shower pan, including a preslope (hot mud I presume), Oatey membrane, lathe, mortar layer, marble "bow tie" pattern mosaic. Sub installed subway tiles on walls and niche.

Round one: The shower floor was visibly wavy and contained a number of areas out of slope towards the drain. The tile in the niche was indisputably badly done. Numerous field tiles had proud edges and a few were cracked (where thin sliver pieces were needed). Contractor (on one of his very few visits) agreed that the job was "an epic fail" and told Sub to redo entire shower floor (with new materials on him), entire shampoo niche, and any proud or cracked tiles.

Every time we raised an issue with the Contractor, the ONLY option he would give was to have the Sub fix the problem. Every time he defended the Sub's skills and methods, and offered a flimsy (IMO) excuse for why our concern was not really a problem (e.g., "The valve isn't leaking, it's condensation due to temperature change." It was in fact leaking from connections and had also been nicked by a screw farther up). We allowed that a few times, but when even the do-overs were poor quality, it seemed like the best course was to just stop. It wasn't the quality we had hoped for, but it would be functional until we recovered enough financially to pay someone to redo it properly -- maybe a year or two.

Round Two, Dec. 2016 - January 2017: Do-over job was just acceptable enough (aesthetically) that we decided to just pay them and be done with it. Negotiated a large discount for the aggravation, but still paid several thousand for all the labor (included acceptable electrical and drywall work and floor tile) and paid 100% of materials minus the cost of replacement materials for do-overs.

mid-January 2017: Used the shower exactly three times. Noticed that a small amount (a couple of tablespoons) would leak from the outside front corner of the curb after a few minutes of water running (and hitting the top surface of the curb). See picture below. Texted Contractor. Contractor sent Sub (UGH!!!) whose diagnosis was that it had been very cold during installation and that the grout at the miter on the curb surface (solid marble slabs) and at the inside edge where the slabs met the skirt tiles had shrunk and cracked; he would remove the cracked grout and replace with sanded caulk at the miter and interior plane changes, and with new grout at other places (unclear). We asked that he not do it that day since we had guests, and Contractor said he'd come Friday. Never came. After texting, Contractor said Sub would come the next morning at 8am. Never came. I texted Contractor later that morning to ask him to wave Sub off. He said Sub would be there in hour; we said no, thanks.

Visited our local tile store and asked for some advice. We were informed that the diagnosis was probably not too far off, and that we could easily remove the affected grout and replace it with either sanded caulk or just a better grout job (using an additive instead of water) and then seal and silicone.

Went home, started removing grout. Noticed what appeared to be a void beneath the curb slabs. Probing with the grout tool, I also noticed what appeared to be "play" in one of the slabs; i.e., a slight "prying" motion with fairly light pressure increased the gap between the slab and the skirt. I removed the shower doors (that Contractor and Sub had installed upside down on the DO-OVER trip), and in addition to water under the rails, found that the curb slabs could be lifted pretty easily.

What I found underneath was:
- Wet blobs of uncured adhesive; no buttering of either slab or curb. Wrong adhesive?
- A few wads of crumpled masking tape; shims? garbage? who knows.
- DensShield screwed into the curb, rust on several screws. DensShield literature very clear that you aren't supposed to use it on curbs.

Sent a video of this to Contractor. I won't share the entire text, but the first line of his response was, "That looks right." I think I'm within my right mind to conclude gross incompetence at this point. He also suggested that I "should have just let them fix it the first day" and that it was a quick fix. I did not reply.

Other issues:
- Second round of shower floor tile still a bit wavy.
- No blocking installed between studs supporting the membrane.
- Crappy, hodge-podge blocking behind shower valve and (wobbly) shower head.
- Lack of plumb at bottom inside corner of shower walls (i.e., no shimming behind backer), resulting in a visible "wave" of the grout line.
- Redguard and DensShield membrane were scraped off when the shower niche was retiled; I don't believe they re-applied RedGuard (to exposed gypsum).
- Re-do shampoo niche tile job still crappy.
- Tile on walls just "okay", but not "pretty".

At this point, I will obviously not allow these guys near my house. I've left out a number of other examples of poor workmanship that I believe justify my position unrelated to the tile job, so trust me. The question is: What do I do next?

Since last week, I've watched about a jillion hours of YouTube videos and read dozens of articles about concrete shower pans, shower waterproofing, and tile. I'm above-average handy, have good tools and can buy what I don't have, and have installed Durock on a kitchen wall before, but have never done anything like this. I'm feeling extremely tempted to re-do the entire shower myself, less because of the cost (probably $2,500) to pay someone to do a proper job, but because now I don't trust ANYONE to actually DO a proper job. I'd like to hear your thoughts on this, and any other tips and suggestions you want to offer.

Should I just hire someone to try to repair the curb and hobble along? Or should I rip it all out on the grounds that it's probably all garbage? Bonus round: Do I take Contractor to small claims court to pay for this or just call it a lesson learned?

If I do it myself, here's what I'm thinking:
1. Demo shower walls and entire shower pan/curb down to slab.
2. Pay a plumber to inspect the work done on the shower drain by Contractor.
3. Assuming #2 is okay or is addressed, install blocking between studs where needed, and install new tile backer: Durock w/ Schluter-Kerdi membrane or full Schluter-Kerdi system. (Anyone ever used Kemperol 022 over Durock? That stuff looks COOL)
3b. Install shampoo niche using pre-formed niche.
4. Construct new shower pan: Schluter-Kerdi? (but open to suggestion that I just do a full concrete pan)
5. Re-tile it all my damn self; slowly, carefully, following any and every tutorial and pro-tip I can find.
6. Enjoy my awesome shower.

Okay folks; let 'er rip.

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jadnashua

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What you have is not uncommon, but it is very wrong. First, you cannot use cement board screwed to the curb as it puts numerous holes through your waterproofing. Code requires that there be no penetrations lower than 2" above the top of the curb...so, how can you use screws through it and pass that regulation? Second, a properly built shower should not leak or show water damage even prior to the installation of the tile, grout, or caulk...those are decorative, wear surfaces. Depending on where you live, getting a tiled shower properly built for your target $2500 is not likely to happen...a true pro will need more time, but might be close if you're supplying a bunch of the materials.

There are numerous methods all laid out in the TCNA Handbook (Tile Council of North America), the industry bible, and any one of them can work reliably IF you follow the instructions. FWIW, painting RedGard on the screw penetrations is not an approved method based on the manufacturer's instructions.

Code also requires that the pan be flood tested to verify that it doesn't leak...was this done? That is something that a building permit and the inspector would require. IMHO, it would have quickly shown issues, but maybe not if they then screwed the panels over the curb after testing.

Industry guidelines also call for all tile in a shower to have 100% of the edges, and at least 90% of the rest of the field be covered with thinset...it appears from your teardown, that is not the case. So, you have at least a few issues that do not meet up with industry guidelines.

Most locales require you to let the contractor attempt to fix any problems prior to you suing them, but at least superficially, from what I can see, they've failed the test of providing a product built to minimum industry guidelines. It shouldn't be required for the customer to know how it should be done, just like you aren't supposed to be able to do brain surgery, but you assume those you pay both know and will perform at least to the minimum industry guidelines.

A person with some understanding, willing to learn, and moderate skills, can build a reliable shower. It will certainly take them longer than someone intimately familiar with building one, but the quality can be as good, and may often end up better than many so-called pros out there.

I've put a few articles in the Tutorial/Reference section on showers and tiling. They certainly won't make you an expert, but they will start to give you enough knowledge to evaluate any contractor's planned method. The www.johnbridge.com website is dedicated to tiling things, and has numerous professionals that participate as moderators and contributors...they can help you decide what to do, and guide you should you decide to attack this yourself, or offer professional opinions on what was done and how best to proceed.
 

Master Plumber Mark

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Where is the vinyl membrane over that threshold??
It does not appear to be up the walls either... The water will naturally
just follow those lines and get in behind that wall get under that marble ect....

You should not have paid them and now you are going to be better off
just to tear it all out and start over..... give the contractor that did the work
the chance to look at this mess and shake him down for the money...

if he dont want to pay you back the money...get on Yelp and on google and give
them all a bad review with these pictures .... also Angies list...
 

StephP

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Where is the vinyl membrane over that threshold??
It does not appear to be up the walls either... "


Thanks for replying MPM.

It's hard to tell from the pics, but there is a liner under the pan (above a preslope) and it does go up about 6" behind the walls, though they didn't install any blocking between the studs to support it. I haven't yet taken the curb apart to see if there is perhaps membrane under that layer of DensShield but over the 2x4s that he screwed through, which would be bad, but maybe slightly less bad than no liner wrapping the curb at all.

Either way, he has repeatedly defended the quality of his and his sub's work, so I'm done trying to convince him otherwise. He's either stupid or evil; I'm not sure which/how much of each, but it's a waste of my energy trying to change it.

Where we are in Colorado the courts offer mediation services, so I was thinking I'd try mediation first, then small claims court, where, even if I win, I understand collecting can be difficult. I'll wait for all of that to be resolved before going scorched earth on online reviews, but I absolutely will if and when that's appropriate.
 

MNshowerdude2

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November 28, 2016: Engaged a contractor to remodel bathroom,

This may feel like a kick in the teeth. But you made a poor hiring decision on the remodel and after buying an engineers home (Red flag?) which may have not been known to you at time of purchase. Now you are taking random online advice and possibly racing towards another bad decision that may be partially due to you making previous bad hiring choices.

Get a white flag, wave it in distress . I fear you are on the path to further bad decisions . Now as I take my foot out of your mouth, i will say teeth are overated and im sorry.
 
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StephP

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Wha? I don't you're qualified to forum properly. I think you're confusing me with someone else and/or just getting off on being ugly to a stranger online.

A. I haven't actually taken any random online advice (asking for and taking aren't the same thing).
B. I am not "racing" towards anything and I don't think anything I've said above suggests that.
C. What other post? What plumber? What stand pipe? I have posted exactly twice on this forum, and they are both in this thread.

Now, if we just take the gratuitous dickishness out and put a pin in it, I'll go ahead put a tick mark for you in the hire a pro column. K? Thanks.
 

MNshowerdude2

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you were prematurely guilty by association with the other colorado shower thread, slight oversight there. I meant to say take the foot out of my mouth. The rest i stand by. No tick mark please. But ill take that as a thx. Just trying to help Terrys site ratings up here and stirring the pot with you all....
 

Troutd0g

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I'm particularly interested in the thread and story by @StephP because it is the reason I decided to do as much of my remodel project as I can myself - I think we've all been there - spent big $$ to contract out a complex project only to be disappointed in the quality of the work product. @MNshowerdude2 is certainly correct about it being due to poor hiring choice(s) (in my cases for sure) but it's not like we're clicking on the first number that pops up in the google search and hiring that person. You can be assured I read every single review posted, asked people I knew for recommendations and hired the company that I believed would do a quality job. And despite all that, still ended up with work that had to be redone multiple times. Here's why I think that it is:

When I read @StephP 's original post, I see a person who, like me, has done considerable research. They are not professionals in the trade, but have done their homework. As a result, they realize the mistakes which would go unnoticed by an uninformed eye. They have just enough knowledge, academic though it may be, to push back on questionable explanations from the contractor. They aren't willing to accept the poor quality work product that apparently escapes the attention of the majority who aren't motivated to do all the research. Thus all the great reviews posted on google and other sites. Most people judge the work purely on final cosmetic appearance. We believe that those who work in the trades for a living are capable of doing the job with quality superior to our own. Often it's true - but not always.

I'm extremely grateful that we have both pro's and competent DIYers who are willing to share their advice and experience on forums such as these - it's invaluable!

So @StephP if you have the motivation and energy, I think you should strongly consider taking on as much of your project as you're comfortable with. It'll be your hobby for awhile, and whereas most hobbies cost money, this one has the potential to save you money :) Of course there is more risk when we take the DIY leap. But to me its less frustrating to curse myself for making a mistake than to have to point it out and deal with it when its a contracted third party. I plan to post progress of my project as I go and take critique. Like you, I've run into serial incompetence with some of the people i've hired, motivating me to try and do as much of it myself as I can. I'm willing to take my time. Some contractors are unfortunately rushed due to the reality of doing it for a living - and it seems to lead to mistakes. Looking forward to following your thread and seeing how it all turns out for you.
 

Master Plumber Mark

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Look at that whole room of potential talent....

I could pin a name on every one of those idiots for which
apprentice they reminded me of that worked for me over the years...

And this is what you are dealing with... The main man, or "maestro"
sends in a couple of these dumb asses and gives them basic simple instructions
on what he wants done on the job......THEN HE LEAVES and goes to
another job leaving these morons to fend for themselves.....thinking that they
can handle it.....

The morons take a cigarette break and forget about half of what they are told
but are too afraid to call the boss and ask so they just "wing it" and get it all
covered up before he gets back...





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