Many home improvement shows make laying a tile shower look easy, but there are quite a few steps to getting it right. As with a prebuilt shower stall, building a walk-in shower requires that waterproofing be done first. After waterproofing is finished, put down underlayment such as cement board, on which to mount the tile. Then tile and, finally, install new hardware. The process will take several days to finish.
Shower Pan and Membrane
If the waterproof shower pan and membrane have been removed, replace them before doing any other work. The membrane needs to fit snugly into the pan and then be nailed to the wall studs at least 8 inches above the floor. Then tape and seal off the drain so it does not clog or get sealed accidentally.
If the waterproof membrane is exposed, put a layer of concrete on the floor and an underlayment of cement board on the walls before tiling. Lay a thin, sloped layer of concrete over the waterproof membrane. It should slope from about 2 1/2 inches on the wall edges to 1 1/4 inches at the drain. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for drying and curing the concrete. Once it has dried, mount cement board underlayment onto the wall studs with screws. Cut out holes for the shower head and faucet knobs on the cement board. Seal the corners with mesh tape and a thin, even layer of thin-set. Install the drain guard according to the manufacturer's instructions. Let the thin-set dry before moving on to tiling.
Measure and do a dry run with the tile. Use the dry run as a time to decide on a tile pattern. Make any necessary cuts on the tiles with a tile saw. Wet the cement board lightly with a sponge, then tile the walls first, leaving enough space between the bottom wall tiles and the floor for grouting. Use a notched trowel to apply a consistent grooved layer of premixed thin-set mortar to the bottom of the wall (don't apply more than can hold 2 tiles). Apply another consistent layer of thin-set to the back of the tile with the trowel and allow the notches to create grooves in the thin-set. Set the tile against the thin-set on the wall and wiggle to secure it. Put grout markers between the tiles and repeat the process to finish the walls and floor. Check the drain after the floor tiles are laid around it to be sure it is clear.
If installing shelves, measure and mark the height for them on the cement board before tiling. They should install the same way as the tile, but may need a support until the mortar dries a bit. Either hold the shelf up until the thin-set is set enough to hold it, or use a prop tall enough to support it. When all of the thin-set is dried and cured, remove the grout markers, then use a rubber, flat-edged trowel to apply grout. Wipe off the all excess grout with a wet sponge. Allow the grout to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Install the shower head, pipe assembly and faucet knobs according to the manufacturer's instructions. Seal the connections between pipes by wrapping waterproof Teflon tape around the grooved ends three times before screwing them together. Check for and repair any leaks on the shower head and knobs before caulking. Caulk around the base of the shower head, around the decorative plate for the knobs, and around the drain if the manufacturer's directions call for it, then give it time to dry.
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