A tiled shower offers many advantages: myriad designs and colours to choose from, durability and sturdiness, not to mention ease of maintenance. Building the shower stall is the first step and is a relatively simple job that can be done in just a few days.
This project describes how to build a shower with a mortar bed base. Alternatively, you could use a prefabricated expanded polystyrene base, which simplifies the task and allows you to tile the floor. A preformed acrylic base is even quicker and easier to install and can also look very stylish.
Before you start, draw an accurate plan showing the location of your new shower as well as all pipes, valves and fittings. Shut off the water supply and assemble the new plumbing lines. The faucet needs to be 48" above the floor and the shower head 78".
The walls must be covered with cement backer board and the surface smooth and even.
Decide what type of shower base you want – mortar bed, expanded polystyrene or preformed acrylic – and choose the shower door and/or glass panels. Read the manufacturer's instructions on how to install them.
Decide on the pattern and layout of your tiles: straight or diagonal design, square or rectangular tiles, or other combinations. If your tiling layout is simple and straightforward, you do not necessarily need to draw a plan. However, if you want to include special patterns or borders, or if your walls are not completely straight, it is best to make a tiling plan. Measure the wall and copy the measurements to scale on graph paper (1 square = 1 sq. ft.). Remember to include all the existing plumbing features.
As a general rule, you should place as many full tiles as possible in the most visible areas and locate cut tiles in the least noticeable places. You may therefore need to adjust your reference line to avoid having very small pieces of tile at the edges. If necessary, move the central reference line to the left or right slightly, so that you have as many full tiles as possible and the most symmetrical pattern.
Calculate the surface area and add a percentage to allow for breakages and spares. Add 5% for tiles laid out in straight lines and 10-15% for a diagonal layout (which involves more wastage).
Follow the recommended drying times. The adhesive needs to set for at least 24 hours. The grout must also be left to dry for 24 hours before being sealed. Finally, you should wait at least 10 days before caulking expansion joints. When planning your tile layout for the walls and floor, aim for a symmetrical overall look.
Also calculate the amount of material needed: insulation, cement board, waterproof membrane, mortar and adhesive.
1.1. If you have not already done so, remove the existing shower walls to expose the framework.
1.2. Inspect the plumbing. Water lines and shower controls should jut out from the wall at the right distance and be ready to connect up.
1.3. Add furring strips between the studs to ensure sufficient nailing surface when attaching the cement boards. Add ¾" plywood if you plan to install a grip bar.
1.4. Insulate the hot water pipes to reduce heat loss.
1.5. Fill the gaps between the studs with acoustic batt insulation.
1.6. Build the structure of the base (curb) by stacking pieces of 2" x 4" to the desired height. If your design includes a low wall, build this wall the same way you would a regular wall.
1.7. Check the drain height; it should be as high as the thickness of the cement board, membrane and tiles, including the mortar.
2.1. Mark the measurements of the shower walls, floor and curb, as well as the location of water inlet and drainage pipes, onto the cement boards.
2.2. Using a carbide-tipped utility knife and a T-rule, cut the boards to size and cut the openings.
2.3. Place the boards with the rough side facing the inside of the shower stall and fasten them to the wall studs and base structure with treated-wood screws or 1 ½" galvanized roofing nails.
2.4. Cover all the joints with fibreglass joint tape and coat well with polymer adhesive, paying special attention to corners and junctions.
3.1. Place a sponge in the drain to keep out dust and debris.
3.2. The mortar bed must slope up and away from the drain. To calculate the slope, add ¼" for every foot of floor between the drain and the wall. Using a level from the drain, mark the walls at the appropriate height. Draw a level horizontal line at this mark, around the shower wall. This will be the cement level.
3.3. Draw another line, in red, approximately 1" above the first. This will be your guide line. Make sure you always have about 1" between the cement level and this red line.
3.4. Pour the cement and smooth it with a float, sloping it towards the drain as described previously. Leave it to dry for 24 hours, then lightly sand the surface and remove the dust.
3.5. Remove the sponge from the drain.
4.1. Cover all the surfaces – walls and shower base – with a waterproof sealant. Pay special attention to the corners.
4.2. Fasten a gusset (preformed membrane corner) in each corner of the shower base using thinset mortar.
4.3. Lay waterproof strips along the wall-floor joint, with 3" on the floor and 3" up the side of the wall. Overlap joints by 3" to completely seal the seams. Cut the strips in the waterproof membrane.
4.4. Seal the corners of the walls in the same way.
4.5. Press down on the strips with a rubber roller to help them adhere.
4.6. Spread the membrane out on the floor and cut it to size, adding 3" around the edges to go up the walls and ½" for inserting in the drain hole.
4.7. Apply thinset mortar to the entire surface and lay the membrane on the floor, pressing it down with a rubber roller to help it adhere.
4.8. Spread the membrane up the walls, to a height of about 3".
5.1. Arrange the tiles on the shower floor according to your chosen design. Refer back to your layout plan. If necessary, draw the reference lines directly on the floor, using a square as a guide.
5.2. Place a sponge in the drain to keep out dust and debris.
5.3. Start by laying the tiles around the drain. Measure the diameter of the drain opening and cut the corresponding hole in the tile or tiles, depending on your layout.
5.4. Spread a layer of thinset on the floor and on the back of the tile using a notched trowel, then set the tile(s) around the drain.
5.5. Cover the entire shower floor in this way, removing and replacing the tiles one at a time and cutting them if necessary. Use plastic spacers as needed.
5.6. Leave the mortar to dry before walking on the tiles and removing the spacers.
This step provides instructions on how to set tiles on the wall in a straight layout pattern. Refer to your layout plan to draw the reference lines and adjust them as necessary. For a more complex layout, draw your reference lines directly on the wall.
6.1. Snap a vertical chalk line in the centre of the wall, at joints or on the outside edge, depending on the desired pattern.
6.2. Snap a horizontal line, perpendicular to the first, to indicate the top edge of the first (bottom) row of tiles. Make sure that this line is level and square, and that the tiles will not be touching the floor.
6.3. Install tile finishing trim on the outside edges along the wall, using flat head nails.
7.1. Using a notched trowel, spread the thinset or tile adhesive over a small section of wall to one side of the vertical centre line. Hold the trowel at a 45o angle. Make sure that the reference lines stay visible. For large format tiles, use fast setting mortar. Bear in mind, however, that this type of adhesive dries very quickly, so the tiles must be installed without delay.
7.2. Cover an area of three to four linear feet at a time.
7.3. Make grooves in the adhesive using the notched side of the trowel; the grooves should all be facing in the same direction. For tiles measuring 4" × 4", 4" × 6" and 6" × 6", use a 3/16" trowel. For tiles measuring 8" × 8" or more, choose a ¼" trowel.
7.4. Dampen the adhesive if it starts to harden.
7.5. Apply adhesive to the back of the first tile as well, and place it at the base of the wall, twisting it slightly to make sure it adheres well.
7.6. Use the reference lines as a guide to make sure the tile is positioned correctly.
7.7. Check the tile for level and adjust as needed.
8.1. Lay the tiles, starting from the centre and working outwards in a pyramid or step-like arrangement. Keep an eye on the reference lines.
8.2. Use plastic spacers to keep even gaps between the tiles. The spacers must stay in place while the adhesive dries, to prevent the tiles from moving. Do not push the spacers in too deep.
8.3. Continue one section at a time until the entire surface is covered. Incorporate any borders that you planned in your layout.
8.4. Cut the tiles as necessary to fit around the faucet and shower head.
8.5. Also cover the inside and outside of the curb, if applicable.
9.1. When you have set all the tiles, wipe off the excess adhesive with a damp sponge.
9.2. Wait 24-48 hours before grouting.
9.3. Remove the spacers and dampen the tiles with clean water.
Note that the adhesive must be completely dry before moving on to this step.
10.1. Begin with the wall surfaces. Dampen the tiles with clean water before starting to apply the grout. That way, the mixture will be easier to apply and will have less tendency to stick to the surface of the tiles, which makes them easier to wipe clean afterwards.
10.2. Mix the grout according to the manufacturer's instructions. The grout should be a uniform colour and the consistency of toothpaste.
10.3. Pour some of the grout directly onto the tiles and work it into the joints using a rubber float.
10.4. Apply the grout section by section, covering an area no bigger than 10 sq. ft. at a time. Hold the float at a 45° angle.
10.5. Do not grout gaps separating the tiles from other types of material, the shower curb, or faucets. These gaps must act as expansion joints and will be sealed later.
10.6. Since grout dries fairly quickly, it is a good idea to have someone help you at this stage; one person trowels in the grout while the other wipes off the excess a few minutes later, both working in the same direction.
10.7. Grout the floor tiles and the curb.
10.8. Use the float to remove the excess grout from the entire tiled surface.
10.9. Clean the surface with a damp sponge, working diagonally over the tiles. Rinse the sponge often, using as little water as possible so as not to dilute the grout. Remove as much milky residue as you can.
10.10. After 24 hours, when the grout is completely dry, apply grout sealer to the joints. Avoid spreading the sealer onto the tiles. Apply another layer thirty minutes later.
10.11. As an alternative you can use epoxy grout, which is both stain and mildew resistant and easy to clean. This type of grout is more difficult to apply, however, because it sets very quickly.
11.1. Spread adhesive on the top of the curb, applying more at the outside edge so that the sill slopes slightly towards the inside of the shower, helping the water to flow to the drain.
11.2. Glue the door sill.
11.3. Leave to dry then seal the joints.
12.1. Install the faucet and shower head.
12.2. Put up shelves and accessories. If you need to drill into the tile, cover the tile with masking tape and make a mark on the tape to show where to bore the hole. The tape helps prevents the tile from cracking.
12.3. Fasten the door frame and panels according to the manufacturer's instructions.
12.4. Dust all surfaces with a dry cloth.
12.5. Remove the sponge from the drain and firmly screw on the drain cover.
12.6. Apply silicone caulk to seal the gaps around plumbing fittings and along the door frame and walls.