Shower Pan confusion stand up shower make over questions

Discussion in 'Shower & Bathtub Forum & Blog' started by Scooter B, Feb 8, 2013.

  1. Scooter B

    Scooter B New Member

    Feb 8, 2013
    Oklahoma City
    I'm currently rehabbing a HUD on a limited LTD income so I am trying to do all the labor I can myself. For major plumbing, electrical and anything natural gas related I call in the pro's of course but I replaced the hot water heater myself. I have lots of woodworking experience and tools so I feel comfortable working with a wet saw etc regarding the tile.

    The stand up shower in the master bath had a plumbing leak at some point which was repaired but the home builder used dry wall backing for the shower and the lower two rows of tile on one wall were caving in due to water damaged dry wall. (My plumber confirmed there were no remaining leakage in the plumbing.) The home inspector indicated that the shower pan showed signs of a leak and should be replaced when I replace the walls (with cement board this time) and tile. The only shower pans I had seen previously or aware of were sloped fiberglass or some type of composite/plastic/resin that I assumed sat right on top of the slab and cemented or epoxied to the slab.

    I got the walls and ceiling torn out easily enough and the tiles chiseled off the pan surface and assumed I was seeing a remaining layer of thin set underneath. There appeared to be border of soft concrete or mortar surrounding three of the four sides approximately 1.5" -1.75" (around the thickness of a 2x4 that contrasted in appearance with what turned out be 3" of sloped poured concrete and not thin set over a preformed shower pan. The poured concrete pan sat on top of a black rubber moisture barrier that only rose 2" above the floor pan and had been screwed into the frame. The border chiseled out with little effort and as previously stated I was expecting to find a preformed shower pan of some kind with thin set over the surface and was naively shocked to find out it was all poured concrete. From my subsequent research I have found out that the sloped poured concrete is also an option instead of the preformed shower pans and that the moisture barrier should have been much higher up the sides and should NOT have been screwed in. Also I get the impression from some of my reading that the moisture barrier should not have been between the slab and the shower pan.

    I read some info a while back about the difference between a shower base and a shower pan and differing views about moisture barriers (layer/level to place it, how high up it should rise) and bookmarked several links but my brain got overwhelmed pretty quick trying to figure out what should work best as a DIY for me.

    I have the concrete panels ready to be cut and attached to the frame after I get a shower pan in. My dilemma is the open floor area inside the framework seems to be an odd size at 49.75" by 40.25" (inner edge to inner edge of framework). So I haven't been able to find anything "off the shelf" to exactly fit. I reviewed some recommended options for good shower pan products including some tile ready ones but the costs of a custom size and shipping are two to three times what I had expected compared to the off the shelf shower pan from Lowes or Home Depot etc that I budgeted for. I have no experience with mixing or pouring concrete and am definitely not comfortable trying to correctly slope a shower pan before the concrete dries. Other concerns are not getting the proportions right, not knowing how much concrete I would need to mix and being able to mix, get it all poured and formed by myself before it set. Therefore the DIY poured concrete floor pan while easily adapted to odd sized showers does not sound like an option for me.


    - My preference is to use tile over which ever shower pan I do end up using but its not an absolute depending how it impacts the cost and complexity of the job. I would prefer recommendations that would allow me to use tile but would be open to looking at alternatives.

    - The existing shower ceiling was too low (with the added 3" of concrete over the slab) to allow for a shower head to reach above my head and I am only 6'1". I pretty much planned to raise the ceiling frame 5"-6" to accommodate plenty of clearance which is easy enough to do. The added height would also help the smaller shower feel a little more spacious. On the other hand from the level of the slab however it appears I would have 1"-2" to spare at the existing ceiling height so if I found a custom fit shower pan which only added another 1"-1.25" above the slab in height it might simplify the project a little.

    - My other alternative I suppose is to try to find a "tile guy" that would be willing to just pour the shower pan for me. I'm not sure how many good ones would consider the trip and fee for a minimal project worth their time.

    I welcome and thank you in advance for any recommendations you could offer.
  2. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Sep 2, 2004
    Retired Systems engineer for defense industry.
    New England
    There are numerous ways that have been tested and approved to build a long-lasting shower. For the minimum height shower pan, you have a a few choices: pick up a premade one and adjust the size and placement of the walls so it will fit, or build one and use a surface membrane verses a traditional shower with liner. Both of those methods are more expensive in material verses a traditional one. The liner should go at least 3" above the top of the curb before there are any penetrations (i.e., screw or nail holes).

    FOr long term performance, the waterproof layer (this is NOT the tile) must be sloped. For a traditional shower, the mortar must be at least 1.25-1.5" thick, and you need two layers with a preslope, liner, setting bed. Over a slab, you can fudge the thickness of the first layer a little, but shouldn't on the setting bed layer. You don't really 'pour' a shower pan, you pack it. Correctly mixed/proportion deck mud is about 5:1 mix by volume of sand:portland cement, mixed with enough water to wet everything so it holds together when you squeeze a handful, but doesn't drip water. It's much like working with wet beach sand. You probably have about an hour to do one layer (then you'd let it cure overnight). With a level, some strips of wood, and a packing block, you can pack and shape it pretty easily...the materials are cheap enough so you can build a mockup and make a trial run and only waste maybe $20, so you wouldn't be out much if you wanted to try it.

    Personally, I find to be a good place for educating yourself on how to build a proper shower. Check out their 'Liberry'.

    A surface membrane like Kerdi uses a special drain and mates with a surface waterproofing membrane that attaches directly to the drain. This means you only need one layer, their preformed foam pans can be cut, but aren't close enough to your needed dimensions to be viable. But, the membrane works just as well over a deckmud layer. The advantage is, deckmud is MUCH cheaper than any premade pan, and you can get exactly the size you need with the drain exactly where it is. All pans come with some predetermined 'optimal' position or the drain, which may not work for you.
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  4. Scooter B

    Scooter B New Member

    Feb 8, 2013
    Oklahoma City
    Thank you Jadnashua and johnfrwhipple. I appreciate your responses.

    While your responses are not in complete agreement with each other they represent two ends of a continuum. I am definitely not risking making my own shower pan. It seems to me to be the element of highest risk of failure for DIY'er and would have the most serious consequences in cost and wasted time etc. I am very much aware that none of the steps involved in this project are a "one stop" start to completion exercise. Much like woodworking steps must be carefully planned out to allow for adequate drying time before moving onto another section of cutting or assembly. This is why I will be buying a tile saw and not renting one. Being in a hurry is a sure ticket to failure and regret.

    Believe me I have no illusions of being able to end up with the level of an artistic fit and finish of a skilled craftsman. It is simply a matter of necessity in that the only way I could afford a house at all is to buy a fixer upper that I can do most of the repair work.

    I would never imply that a skilled tile layer is less worthy of his craft than an electrician or a plumber dealing with a natural gas line. The deciding factors for me in going past my limits in electrical work or a natural gas line is the likelihood of death or serious injury to to myself or others. If I screw up a tile job of my own I am only risking my own money, time and clean up. This is a single dwelling structure so I have no liability issues regarding a leak to anyone but myself. No basement or crawl space and it has concrete slab foundation all they way through the house like most post 1950's houses in Oklahoma, USA.

    When I get someone out to give me an estimate on forming a shower base, pan and curb I would certainly entertain additional estimates for the tile work as well. If nothing else I saved some labor cost by doing my own tear out and disposal of the previous tile and damaged drywall etc. For some of us it is not a choice of whether a skilled craftsman's labor is worth the cost but; would I rather pay to have three or four projects professionally done and live without furniture for a year or more - or - would I prefer to do some research, buy some books, collect articles (all done to some extent) and still have some money for a used bed and a used couch. This is just the reality I currently live in.

    My plumber actually recommended I replace the water heater myself based on my financial situation secondary to new federal requirements of licensed plumbers to install expensive gas leak detector auto shut offs. This would have added more than $1,000 to the cost of the water heater. He showed me what to do with the connections and verified the main gas shut off valve worked properly. When I needed to call him back out for another job he even inspected and double checked my work no charge. I would hope someone coming out to form a shower pan etc for me would be equally understanding of my situation and circumstances.

    This is a 1980's simple ranch style house in the country so I am more focused on functional, utilitarian and aesthetically acceptable results for now in areas I am not experienced in. For cabinet work, staining and painting I will have a higher level of confidence and expectation of higher quality aesthetic results.

    As far as which thin set, believe me I will be reading all instructions specific to the type of tile I use (and its intended application, substrate etc) and will consult multiple sources both in books, articles and forums. I did pick up one book specific to bathroom remodeling besides the two larger home DIY how to reference books. I never trust just one source or book automatically but look for a consensus among several resources. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to take a workshop as well.

    I agree the John Bridge website is an excellent resource of knowledge and well organized for my needs.

    Thanks again
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