Build A Shower Pan — Layer By Layer

Build a shower pan properly and it should last for decades. Get it wrong and you soon find out. Building a shower pan often is left to pros, but even pros sometimes get in a mess. Here are the main steps to installing a shower pan the right way.

Drain Mystery Revealed

A tile shower drain contains more than meets the eye, at least more than you can see from the top of a finished shower. That’s because the drain actually contains drain holes on two layers. One layer you see in the floor. The mystery layer though is really buried down in the shower base itself. The lower drain catches the water that happens to seep down into the floor.

That happens because shower floors just naturally leak. Grout does not stop water and neither does some tile. Dealing with that water is core to proper functioning of a tile shower.

From The Ground Up

After the drain is set, the foundation for the tile must be solid so no movement happens. That demands reinforced sub-floor, whether it is wood or cement. Specs for movement exist so you can measure your floor and know whether it is rigid enough to at least meet what the codes call for.

Mud Layer One

As you build up from the sub-floor, each layer serves a purpose. The bottom or first mortar layer exists not just to build a solid foundation, but to build a slope to get the water moving toward the drain. Often this layer is not sloped and here’s what happens. A flat first layer means more water pools within the shower base. Pools of water in the floor are the perfect spot for mold to begin to multiply. What you could have then is a complete shower base full of mold. That’s why the slope matters.

The Critical Layer

What covers that first mud base is the central part of the base. It’s a sheet of vinyl called a shower membrane or shower liner. This vinyl sheet slopes up the sides of the base and keeps all the water that makes it into the base within the base. But there’s more. Since it is sloped, all the water moves right to that hidden level of drain holes and away it goes down the drain where it should be.

Mud Layer Two

Over the important liner goes another mud layer to serve as the final base for the tile itself. This mud base is built, like the first layer, of a mix called deck mud. It’s a proper mix of just three ingredients. You can get it ready mixed or mix it yourself.

The Easy Part

A tile shower floor without all that base work is sure to fail. With all the layers done properly up to now, the last part consists of just laying the tile just as if it were any other floor. Of course, there’s matching the tile to the drain, but after all that’s gone before, that’s a minor detail.

Build a shower pan properly and it should last for decades. Get one step wrong and you likely get water damage and major messes. Even if a pro does your project, it’s best to know how a shower pan goes together so you can check that every step gets done and done right. Get free help for tiling a shower at our article.

Check out our website for tips when starting a shower pan installation.

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