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Custom Shower Pan


Ahhh and here we are...up until this point most of the renovation was pretty straight forward. It was laborious, but still straight forward work. My initial plan when I started was to get to this point and leave the crazy shower building stuff to the pros (My initial initial plan was to hand a check over to someone and have them do everything). I figured that was enough for me and I had no idea what the hell a shower pan even was. However, when I got to this point my feelings changed, I became emotionally involved and I did not want to come out of the game just yet. I already backfilled cement, mixed and thinsetted cement boards...I was in too deep now. Also the guy I planned on doing this was pretty backed up, and I didn't want some random coming in and screwing it up. I could just do that myself. I would attempt the unthinkable for a chump...BUILD A CUSTOM SHOWER MORTAR BED!! A lot of my contractor friends even told me that they never attempted this before as they had a "dedicated guy" they would call in for a feat of such magnitude. This intimidation only served as fuel.

I couldn't use a ready to tile shower pan since I needed a custom size for my space. Those things are not cheap either, like $500-$600, but probably worth it if you have a standard dimension that fits one. These 2 sites display pretty much everything you need to know to build a custom pan:

How to build pre-slope shower mortar bed
Step by step building tiled shower curb

In a nutshell those links describe EVERYTHING I did. If you want to see the perils I endured than check it out, there is no use for me to re-hash all here. Even a nice write up on How to mix the mud properly. In addition I was armed with a few books, and after plenty of research I felt I was ready. To begin I started by putting down a slurry of thinset on the concrete base for the pre-slope mortar bed to bond to. I than used the basic Home Depot Sand Topping Mix along with some general purpose sand for the pre-slope mud. I quickly learned that I should have used simple play sand since it is much easier to work and shape. I would not make this same mistake on the more important final mortar bed (which at the time I was "unsure" I would even attempt). Once cured I was able to successfully bounce a golf ball off the pre-slope, proving it was officially bonded to the concrete base (A contractor friend alerted me of this nifty trick). Looking back I would have definitely used Pre-Pitch, but at the time i didn't know of its existence. 

Next I put on the PVC pan liner following all the necessary instructions. I was tempted to try the slightly more expensive chloraloy membrane liners found only at plumbing supply shops. But I just went with what the big stores had. Chloraloy is supposedly much easier to work with, holds its form better, and does not bulge out your cement boards since they lay flat against the studs. I heard some dudes actually notch out the studs to compensate for the PVC liner. With chloraloy this is not even a concern I guess.  Also I would bet you don't even need to add the blocking around the perimeter in between each stud since it holds it shape almost like a self box:

I almost don't even think blocking was required with my PVC liner, but I didn't want to break ANY rules on my first time. Once the liner was installed I performed a 24 hour leak test with an inflatable test ball plug and failed within 15 minutes. I knew what I did wrong tho, fixed it and re-tested. After 24 hours with water sitting in the pan the water level was exactly the same. Good thing I did the test I suppose.



 Once the pan was done, I could finish installing the bottom of the wall cement boards. And yes I made sure not to put any screws low enough to puncture the liner, what do you think I am a chump? Finally mudded and taped all seams and corners using alkali tape and thinset.

Kirb Perfect & Quick-Pitch

To complete the shower curb I decided not to listen to my Home Depot book and instead used Kirb-Perfect. This was to avoid screwing cement boards into the curb walls. Probably would have been fine, but since all the experts on the forums cursed out people who chose this easier tactic I didn't want any trouble. Supposedly could lead to some leaks down the road since you are puncturing the inside liner. But I am sure if you just siliconed the back of your holes nicely would be set, especially since this shower is not the main shower of the house also. Anyhow, this product was literally a "snap" to install as it just snapped together! (I am an awesome writer). I just cut it to size and placed over the curb. I was all in now. Next I put together the Quick-Pitch Standard Kit that was going to help me form the final sloped mortar bed easier. Totally worth it for chumps and even non chumps to get this thing for $40. I snapped the float sticks together at the drain barrel which created a successive upward rise of 1/4 inch per foot. For the longest run which just fell short of making it to the rear I simply just sistered on another cut down stick with the blue tape.

Next I threw down the mud (I made sure to use play sand and not general purpose sand this time). For the rear return curb that covered the heating pipe I previously installed a piece of lathe that went up the curb then across and up the wall where it was secured under the cement board. I was able to shape the mud vertically like a champ. Again all this extra hassle with lathe and mud for the curb was to avoid any possible leaks that could arise if I were to secure cement boards for the inside portion of the curb. Like I said I bet a cement board curb is fine if you siliconed it up, but no one can ever F with me now. All in all it came out pretty sweet I thought. I placed a racquet ball at the back of the floor and smiled like a breast fed baby as it rolled down to the drain. Man I get emotional looking at the below picture. What a crazy chump!



Water Proofing Using RedGard

This step I felt was total overkill nonsense and would not do again, no thanks to my contractor friend for this sloppy suggestion. I did let him know by the way. The normal routine way of waterproofing a shower is to wrap plastic sheeting around the studs BEFORE the cement boards go up. This does not allow any water or moisture that wicks thru the cement board to hit the wooden studs and get into the exterior stud bays as well. RedGard on the other hand, or any other topical elastomeric membrane, is usually required in steam rooms and other ridiculous moisture ridden set ups. For a typical shower this is not only overkill but a bit of an expensive mess (2 pails = $100). This stuff does not go on as simple as paint, this shit is like a jello pudding consistency. Bit of a pain and have to get used to it, but by that time your done and have no use of this newly acquired skill anyways. In theory not even sure why anyone would bother to go thru the hassle of putting up cement boards if your just going to use this membrane anyways. Cement boards by design are allowed to live its life wet, and thus why you put it up in a shower. However with this membrane supposedly no moisture is getting thru now. So all that water capability of the cement board is wasted. Might as well put up simple drywall than. I am just saying. Looking back I would just use simple plastic sheeting and bare cement boards, but if for some reason I forgot to put the plastic up it's cool to know you can just use this weird looking stuff.

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