How to Build a Ceramic Tile Shower

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Building a ceramic tile shower is not a particularly hard project--it just takes about a week and a lot of patience. Planning everything out and having all the tools and materials you need will make the project go much smoother. Creating the shower pan is the most difficult part, but you can purchase a pre-made one if you don't like to do cement work.

Things You'll Need

  • Plywood
  • 2-by-4 wood boards
  • 2-by-10 wood boards
  • Roofing paper
  • Wire mesh
  • Mortar mix
  • Shower pan liner
  • Utility knife
  • Cement backerboard
  • Seam Tape
  • Cement screws
  • Saw
  • Hole saw
  • Thinset
  • Ceramic Tile
  • Tile spacers
  • Tile snips
  • Epoxy tile grout
  • Power screwdriver
  • Trowel
  • Bucket
  • Sponges
  • Grout float
  • Level
  • Wet saw

The Shower Pan

  • Measure the floor area that must be covered for your new shower. Measure the drain hole. Cut 3/4-inch plywood to fit and cut out the drain hole. Assuming you have gutted the area where a tub or old shower used to be, nail the plywood to the floor studs.

  • Cut pieces of a 2-by-10 to fit between the studs in the walls on three sides of the shower. Nail them in place between the studs. You can do this by nailing two small pieces of wood inside each stud back far enough so when you nail the 2-by-10 to them, it will be flush with the studs.

  • Build a curb. If you've taken out a bathtub, most likely you will need to build a curb to keep water from running out of the shower. Nail in three 2-by-4s on top of each other. Laying them down flat, with the 4 inches being the width and the 2 inches being the height, go from one end of the shower to the other.

  • Measure and cut the roofing paper to cover the bottom of the shower (remember to cut for the drain hole). Cover the paper with a wire mesh to hold in the mortar. Staple them both in place. Install the bottom flange of the drain.

  • Mix the mortar mix for the shower pan slab. You can add a latex additive to the mortar mix to add to the compression strength of the bed, but it is not necessary. Scoop the mortar mix into the shower floor towards the outer walls. The mortar mix must slope from 1 1/2 inches to 3/8 inches thick from the outer walls to the drain. Pack it down with a trowel and then use a piece of 2-by-4 to scrape high spots and get the mortar flat. Allow the mortar to dry overnight.

  • Install the shower pan liner. Lay the liner in the shower and maneuver until it goes up to the tops of the 2-by-10's and over the top of the curb. Staple the liner only at the highest levels of the 2-by-10's and curb. Anything over that can be cut off with a utility knife. Feel for the drain flange and carefully cut around it. Take the flange out and cut out the area of the weep holes. Apply a sealant to the liner for the flange, being careful not to block the weep holes, and reattach the flange.

  • Install the cement board to the shower walls. Use a hole saw to cut out the shower pipe and handles.Use cement screws to screw the cement board into the studs. Leave a small gap between the cement board and the liner to prevent the water from getting soaked into the board.

  • Mold the wire mesh to the curb and only staple it to the outside. Mix cement for the floor of the shower. Place tile spacers around the drain to prevent the cement from clogging the weep holes. Attach the top of the drain assembly. Place the cement on the shower floor to 1 1/4 inches thick. This will follow the slope if you keep the thickness uniform. Start along the outside walls and use a level, then work your way to the drain. Make sure to leave enough room for your tile and thinset under the top part of your drain. Push the cement tight up against the wire mesh for the curb to hold it in properly. Now cement your curb. Use a 2-by-4 and level to make sure the curb is level all the way across. Allow the pan to dry for 48 hours before moving on to the shower walls.

Tiling the Shower

  • Tape and apply thinset to the joints of the cement board walls. Mix some thinset. Use a bucket and warm water and dampen the bottom of the cement board. Use a laser level and draw a straight line across the board to use as a guide for your tile. Using a notched trowel, place some thinset on the bottom of one wall and start to install your tile. Pull your first tile off to make sure the thinset is covering most of it. If not, you know you need to use more, but if it is oozing through the gaps, you may be using too much. Use small tile spacers to keep your tile evenly spaced. Let the bottom row dry for 24 hours. This will help keep the later rows straight.

  • Mix more thinset and work your way up the shower. When you get to the top, use edging tile that has a rounded edge at the top. It is easiest to cut the tile with a wet saw, but you may have to use tile snips to cut the tiles that go around the pipes. Work very carefully with these, as it is easy to crack the tiles.

  • Tile the floor and curb. Repeat the same process on the tile floor and over the curb. Use the rounded edged tiles for the inner and outer top tile on the curb. Allow the tile to dry for 48 hours. Remove the spacers.

  • Grout the tile. Use an epoxy grout for your shower, because it is much more water- and stain-resistant than mortar-type grout. You can find it already premixed and in various colors. Apply the grout with a grout float and press it into the gaps. This grout is a little difficult to work with, so use some elbow grease. Once you have a small are done, wipe the excess off with a damp sponge. Continue to do small sections until you have completed the project. Allow the grout to set for 48 hours.

  • Apply grout sealer. You can get a liquid sealer that you apply with a sponge. Seal the entire shower, allow it to dry for an hour and repeat. Now you can put your shower head and handles back on, and you have just built a new shower.

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  • Photo Credit Sergejs Razvodovskis
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