Most, but not all, contractors and tile installers understand what needs to be done to accommodate a frameless shower door. Even a good tile contractor may take a few short cuts especially if the customer applies pressure to keep the “costs” down. What actually may cost you is not focusing on quality. It is always a good idea to have an explicit discussion to be sure you and the contractors are on the same page so here are the main points to discuss:
- One of the biggest mistakes is the construction of the shower floor!! More often than not, the contractor applies the protective shower liner (referred to as a shower pan) on the flat floor surface because of time and cost. The correct way is to have the shower floor “pre-sloped” or pitched toward the drain PRIOR to applying the liner and then an additional layer of cement formed over the liner that the tile will be applied to. The pre-slope is typically created using cement. Proper shower floor construction will have a total of two layers of cement for conventional tile methods. The short cut most guys use is installing the pan on the flat floor. This has been wrongly justified buy some guys by applying a paintable water proofing membrane (commonly referred to as Red Guard) to the floor before tiling. THIS IS WRONG!! Inevitably moisture will get trapped with nowhere to go. Discuss with the tile contractor the proper way to create the pre-sloping shower pan so you know you will not have leaks or have a problem battling mold and mildew forming in the grout lines.
- One more issue to discuss with the installer is to not cut the corners of the pan liner on top of the shower curb or anywhere. The liner needs to be folded tightly against the wall which is a bit frustrating. I have seen a method that may work (not preferred) where additional membrane materials are glued over the top of the cut corners. (I will provide pictures)
- Grout and natural stone tiles are porous and soak in moisture. If the pan underneath is not properly sloped towards the drain, the grout and the stone will begin to age quickly and look bad in a year or two.
- You can research alternative shower pan products such as Schluter and Wedi. These are great products, but they are not cheap. These systems also offer long term warranties.
- Preformed acrylic pans can work will but also present an issue if installed improperly. Many pans require a Cementous base (most guys use sheet rock mud which is fine) underneath to for structural support. Usually, they pour the sheetrock mud on the floor and set the pan on top. If this is not done the shower pan can crack. You will feel a bounce in the floor if this step is not done. Also with these pans, the wall substrate, usually a cement board, should never be installed where it has direct contact with the top of pan surface. The cement board should sit about one inch above the shower pan. The tile will cover the space. Yes, there will be a small void behind the tile going around the top of the pan. Most pans have a weep hole that allows any water buildup to drain. READ INSTRUCTIONS if inserting a new preformed pan. (insert link)
- Make sure there is wood blocking in the wall where the shower hinges are. This can be achieved using 2x4s or scrap wood installed vertically inline with the curb in the wall. There should not be any plumbing or electrical in this portion of the wall (CODE VIOLATION!). Typically, we install shower hinges between8" and 10" from the top of the glass enclosure and from the bottom of the glass door that will sit above the curb.
- Spend a few extra dollars and apply a paintable waterproofing membrane like Red Guard to the cement wall board.
- To avoid broken tiles, which can occur when drilling for hardware (shower door glass, grab bars, or other hardware items) tiles guys should coat the back of the tile with Thinset/Mortar as well as the wall for maximum adhesion. It should be spread evenly along the entire backside of each tile and evenly on the wall board.
- All horizontal-laying tiles should be sloped between1/8" and 3/16" inwards toward the drain to avoid any water accumulation. This applies to the shower curb and the seat, if you are installing one, and any shelves.
- Use top quality grout even if it is expensive. I used Spectralock 1 on one of my personal showers and I am very pleased with the ease of use and performance. Epoxy grout is also very good (and very expensive) but problematic for installers to apply. Do not use the epoxy grout unless the installer is experienced with the product and plan to pay extra for the difficulty.
To summarize the key points:
- Interview tile guy with knowledge of what you expect and set expectations.
- Know what type of shower pan you want and make sure the contractor knows how to install properly.
- Do not cheap out on materials. Todays’ materials are much better than 25years ago so you can achieve a shower to last a lifetime.