Fixing the Shower in the Master Bathroom - And going Curbless!

It’s sad to discover, that “professional” builders can make mistakes as bad as this one. I hope that by reading this, you can learn to ask the right questions of your builder or remodeling contractor.
No waterproofing under the glass so the wood rotted away.
See the glass block? It’s leaning an inch to the right because it is sinking into the floor. The entire shower could collapse into the cellar below. This started leaking right after the house was built.
  1. No waterproofing under the glass. They set the glass on top of 2×4’s and relied on a bead of silicone to make it watertight. Would YOU, the homeowner, think it’s OK to have bare wood in the shower?
  2. They put a rubber membrane under the shower but NAILED and STAPLED it in place. What good is that? It leaked and rotted out the subfloor.
  3.  No waterproofing under the shower seat. The water leaked through the grout and rusted out the metal lath in the concrete. The seat fell off.
  4. Also, do you notice there is NO DOOR separating the toilet (next to the shower) from the rest of the bath and bedroom? I’m going to add one.
  5. CURBLESS. Yes, I’m going to get rid of that trip hazard and have a level floor with a linear drain on the back wall. Barrier-Free is the New Way.
 
You MUST be the champion of your own house and never permit shoddy workmanship like this. Of course the builder won’t admit it’s crap and most homeowners aren’t there to see what’s done. Sadly, if you look on YouTube you can find countless videos of these same errors being done every day.
And… I had to rip it all out to fix it right.
Floor of Shower
The subfloor was rotted away
The shower seat lifted off easily. Water leaked though the mortar and rusted away the metal lath.
This is what's left of the floor joists. They will get repaired by sistering on new wood.
This is one of my favorites. You must always watch to see what is done “Behind the Scenes”.
For Lack of a Downward Tee, he used an Upward Tee

The goal is to run hot water from the overhead pipes DOWN to the mixing valve. You can see the Rube Goldberg way it was finally done.

  1. I figured he was all out of “Downward Tees” and had to use an Upward Tee with TWO 90 deg elbows (and you wonder why we had low water pressure?)
  2. Robert Hyduke deduced the Plumber knew that Hot Water rises so he was giving it a Head Start. Plus Upward Tees are cheaper.
  3. Or maybe he was paid by the number of elbows he used?
  4. The green on the copper is his failure to wipe off the flux.
  5. The insert shows how we replaced 2 elbows with a downward Tee and a single 45 deg elbow. Less resistance = less noise.
Yes, the Open-Plan Bathroom. As in “NO DOORS”!!?

This was the first house I had ever seen without a door to the bathroom. How many readers out there have no bathroom door?

And it’s easy to fix. I plan to cut a hole in the wall behind the old mixing valve (see red rectangle) and insert a 36″ wide pocket door. This will separate the toilet and shower from the rest of the bathroom.

Many people dislike pocket doors, but it’s usually because the hardware is cheap (builder grade) making the door hard to slide. If you pay a few bucks more and buy Commercial Grade, you can get a real nice-quality sliding mechanism, with extruded channels and ball-bearing wheels. I bought the 200PD from Johnson Hardware

I can remove this wall and insert a pocket door and new wall in its place.
Here's the pocket door in place
Door closed showing the Commercial Rollers. A glass transom light will go above the door.
While it’s apart — FIX IT NOW.

I never understand why people build showers with a single overhead light. The KGB Interrogation Lamp! I always put in two lights at least: Reduces shadows and makes a better appearance.  And fix the lousy switch arrangement.

This switch design looks like in belongs in a hospital

Do the switches on the left look good to YOU?

Yes, I know the NuTone fan, light and heater came with that ugly metal cover plate and cheap switches but you DID NOT HAVE TO USE IT.

LET’S FIX IT!

  • First, Let’s put in an electronic fan control. Pick a run time, hit the button and the fan shuts off after your selected time.
  • The switches on the far right control the Room Light (TOP) and Night Light (lower)
  • The Center one controls the Shower Lights (TOP)  and the Room Heater (lower)
Smarter switch layout with fan timer
Time to fix the Damage caused by careless Workmanship

You cannot FIX rotten wood. Best you can do is to SISTER good wood alongside the bad.

  • First, I had to treat the damaged wood to remove any mold and kill the awful smell. Two weeks of air-drying helped.

  • Next, I’ll install blocking headers under the floor. This cross-bracing not only stiffens the floor for tiling, but provides an anchor for the  old wall sole plates that rotted away.

  • Lastly, the new joists have a 1/4″ per foot slope cut into the top. This makes the entire floor slope to the rear where we’ll install a “Linear Drain” along the back wall.

  • The new Subfloor will be 3/4″ plywood glued to the floor joists. Everything we do is designed to create stiffness in the structure.
Rotted floor joists were strengthened by sistering new joists aloangside

New Building Techniques

We are going to use new material and methods to make sure the shower lasts a lifetime!

Builders and Politicians don’t hang around long enough to see first hand the failures of their work. If your shower fails after 5 years, the builder won’t return to do a post-mortem and update his construction methods. Indeed, many builders are just afraid to try anything new. It’s understandable: Continuing education takes time, new materials need new skills and it might even cost more. Also, you the homeowner, must see the advantages. Popular TV shows rebuild an entire house in a month. If only the TV program showed all the failures.

A New Mindset

This shower — like all projects — asks 3 questions:

  1. Is it Attractive?
    • Does it fit the architectural design of the house? Do you Smile when you see it?
    • Is it easy and fun to use? Can family members tall and short use it equally well? Is it wheelchair accessible? Barrier-Free?
    • Is the lighting bright without shadows?
    • Is it QUIET when you run the water? Do you hear it from other rooms? Reducing Noise is important.
    • Is there good ventilation with a timer so you don’t have return to turn off the fan?
  2. Is it Maintainable?
    • Is the design Robust? I see showers with flimsy little seats, so what if that seat breaks?
    • Are you using a waterproof design that cannot leak? Sorry, but I cannot understand shower liners. To me it’s like putting a kiddie wading pool in your shower. It will always fill with water that penetrates the grout.
    • What if the mixing valve fails? Is there a way to replace it without tearing the shower apart?
  3. Is it Easy to Clean and Keep looking like New?
    •  Grout is hard to keep clean, it is porous. If you have 1″ tiles on your floor, then 12-1/2% of the floor area is mortar (grout) and NOT tile. So our goal is to reduce the number of grout lines. Fortunately, the current trend in large format tiles helps that problem a bit.
    • If the structure of the shower is not stiff, you can get cracked grout and seams will need re-caulking.
    • Shower walls with intricate designs are a wonder to me. Who cleans those intricate little bits?
What’s NEW Here?
To make it attractive and easy to use, we’re installing a Linear Drain. Instead of a single small drain in the center of a funnel-sloped floor, the Linear drain goes against the back wall. This changes everything: The floor is now a Flat, Sloped Plane that directs the water to the wall. We can use Large tiles on the floor and so have fewer grout lines, AND we don’t have to use a Curb anymore and the shower floor will be flush with the floor of the room. Barrier-Free! No Trip Hazard!
 
Most shower valves are soldered in place during construction. If the valve fails, you often have to tear the shower apart. Instead, we’ll use a Rough-in Fixture that works just like a light socket. The Mixing value just bolts into place. If it ever fails — just as you unscrew a burned-out light bulb, you just unscrew the valve and insert a new one. Yeah, it added about $80 to the total cost.
 
Waterproofing. Remember? Bad (actually NONE) waterproofing was why this shower failed. I’m installing Schlüter Kerdi Membrane over concrete board. I’ve done this with other showers before and it will NEVER leak.
 
ADA: The Americans with Disabilities Act has a set of standards specifying optimal heights of fixtures and grab bars in showers. It’s not required where I live, but it seems good practice to follow these guidlines. So I did.
Instead of the typical center drain, I'll use a long Linear drain that runs along the back wall.
A Rough-In for the Mixing Valve.
A waterproofing membrane ensures no water getrs past the tile.
Insulate Pipes, Walls while you can! Keeps water Hot and cuts Noise.
Pipes insulation keeps the water hot and cuts noise

Why don’t people insulate pipes and walls?

This shower was Noisy before. And I could hear the shower above this in the 2nd story, too. So there are several things you can do to cut noise. This is your only chance while the walls are exposed.

When I ran the copper pipe I used 45 deg elbows where ever possible.  Cut water resistance and you cut noise.

All cracks and gaps are sealed with foam insulation. You can see some of it on the upper left of the picture.

I insulated ALL the pipes — Hot & Cold — everywhere.

All the walls were insulated with rockwool insulation. The floor of the 2nd story above the shower was already insulated with 6″ of fiberglass, but I fixed the spots they skipped.

The Rough-In Mixer valve is installed over a noise-isolating membrane and I use rubber-gasketed screws.

This wall on the left, will get insulated, too. I started where the water pipes enter the ceiling.

The ADA standards state that the height of the mixer valve should be a max of 48″. Also inserted 2×8 blocking in the walls for the option to install Grab Bars later. The maximum height of the horizontal bars is 36″.

3/4" Plywood Glued and Screwed onto joists

Finishing the Subfloor and Cement Boards

It’s always the little details that matter. Skip them and you have a mess later. (hole in rear is exit for linear drain)

So the plywood subfloor is Glued to the floor joists. Yeah, they actually make a Subfloor adhesive. The screws are Torx head, 2″, coated flooring screws. They are tough little buggers.

Likewise, you have to use special coated screws on the Cement board. Drywall screws are not strong enough and the cement will corrode them.

The cement board is adhered to the plywood with both Modified Thinset (it has some latex in it) and flooring screws. Don’t skip the thinset, it makes the floor stiff.

Today there are many products you can use in place of Cement board. I just like the heavier mass of the cement board, but it’s a personal choice and trade-off.

Installing the Linear Drain (Channel Body)

Installing the Linear Drain Housing

More little details… To install this drain, you must use UN-Modified thinset (No Latex). I use a 1/4″ square-notched trowel.

  1. You set the frame in first – Check it’s level
  2. Apply a layer of thinset over the frame and Insert the Channel Body (drain). Make sure it’s level too. Top of channel should be level with Subfloor.

In case you are wondering… Yes, I have access to the plumbing from below and have already dry-fit the 2″ PVC for the drain. Once you mortar the drain in place, it’s NOT coming out again! So make sure the plumbing works!

Making it WATER-TIGHT.
Kerdi Membrane on Walls & Floors

The Schlüter Kerdi Membrane is 1 meter wide. So it’s easier just to use a metric measuring tape when installing it.

On seams, you either overlap by 2″ (50 mm), or butt-join and use a 125mm tape overtop the seam.

Important to use the Un-Modified Thinset. To help maintain the warranty, I just use the Schlüter branded thinset called “Set”.

The cement board will suck the moisture out of the mortar so it’s best to wipe the board with a wet sponge first. It’s not hard to do, but it takes time.

The Shower is Now Water-Tight.

Membrane around the Mixing Valve Housing
The solid wood pocket door matches rest of doors in house

FINISHING TOUCHES

It feels GOOD to be adding the finish details after so many months of tearing things apart.

WE FIXED IT: No more Open-Plan Bathroom!

  • The original house had NO DOOR separating the Toilet & Shower Room from the bedroom. There is one now!
  • Solid doors are Heavy and this one floats on commercial hardware with 8 ball-bearing wheels.
  •  Used heavy chromed door pulls from Baldwin. Look good but also large enough for a man’s fingers to operate.
Close-up of Chromed Door pulls
Hey, the Tile Arrived !

After searching about 10 distributors trying to find travertine, we ran into the best customer service at the Tile Shop in Knoxville, TN. In one day we confirmed the quantity we needed, placed the order and they had it loaded it onto a truck at the warehouse in Virginia. A few days later a 40-foot Holland truck arrived. It won’t get down our narrow road, so we dropped it off at a crossroads. Neighbors helped us ferry the 1550lbs of stone to the job site. Of course it was below freezing outside!

Glass Transom

The idea to to make to space above the door appear open when the pocket door is retracted. I found Fab Glass and Mirror online and ordered a custom-cut sheet of 1/4″ tempered glass. 14 days later the glass arrived in the best packaging I’d ever seen. My tolerances were tight and the glass was cut within 1/16″. Used an oscillating multi-tool to cut a slot in the crown molding and the glass fit PERFECTLY.