How to Make a Relatively Sweet Shower – Cheap

Our new shower - for the duration of this trip

Our new shower – for the duration of this trip

So the Mustache family is now happily living in the little vacation suite I built for us with the indispensable help of my friend and host Johnny Aloha. There are still some finishing touches to add (including paint), but for the most part everything works now.

The nicest part of this place is the shower, which you can see there in the picture on the left. Ooh, ahh.. looks cozy, doesn’t it? Well I like it, anyway, and I wanted to build something that would serve as a centerpiece to this future rental unit that would anchor it in the luxury market and thus allow it to earn higher rents forever.

The cool part is, it didn’t really cost much to build. Those floor-to-ceiling travertine tiles, dark slate, river rock floor stones, and even the handle and valve set were all found on Craigslist at a deep discount. The shampoo nook which keeps your wife’s shaving razors from messing with your personal space is just a few extra cuts on the tile saw. And the sloped pan that allows water to run to the drain was custom made from plain old concrete and masonry mix, at a fraction of the cost of even an off-the-shelf plastic showerpan. And yet, the whole thing took only a few days of work to create from a blank plywood-and-studs slate (which in turn I made from the even blanker slate of what was formerly unused space in their carport).

A fancy shower can add $10,000 or more to the value of a house in a nice area. It is also very pleasant to use even if you’re not planning to sell your house – I built a similar shower in my own house and we’ve enjoyed it very much for the past several years. But if you ask a bathroom contractor to make you one of these things, you’ll often get a quote of $5,000 or more, and as a result, most of us are stuck showering in metal bathtubs or plastic showerpans framed by old moldy white tiles.

The key to this whole deal is a feature called the “poured showerpan”. It’s an elusive black-ops creation that almost nobody knows how to build in this country, which is why you see so many plastic showerpans out there. Some professional tile installers can do it, but they will charge you a fortune, and it may still not come out the way you want it. But once you unlock its secrets, you are free to build shower pans in any shape and size, at a surprisingly low cost (about $60 bucks including the drain and the waterproofing*). And today I will show you how to make one.

The basic idea is this: we’re making an absolutely waterproof concrete bowl with a drain in the middle. Usually there will be a raised “curb” at the edge, and a nice tile or stone surface above the concrete. After you finish the bowl, tile it, and grout the tiles, you move on up to tile the rest of the shower walls. But it all starts with the poured showerpan.

Step 1: The Curb

The easiest way to go about this is to make the curb first. This involves creating a wooden form and filling it with concrete. I usually make these things 5″ tall and 4″ thick, so you simply cut two 5″ boards to length, screw them to the floor and walls as needed, and be sure there is a 4″ space between them.

Here’s an example of an irregularly shaped angle form I made last year to squeeze a shower into the small bathroom of The Foreclosure Project:

An angled form. Reinforced with screws and wire.

An angled form. Reinforced with screws and wire.

Note that for extra strength in this case, I put some large 4″ screws into the floor at each joint, and ran some steel reinforcing wire along the length of the form’s center, to create more tensile strength (and thus crack resistance) in the finished form. This is not usually necessary, I just find it really fun to make strong concrete things. The black material at the bottom is roofing paper – just to isolate the concrete from the plywood so the moisture from the wet concrete would not wick out into the floor. A general good practice for concrete over wood.

In the most recent shower, our curb looked like this:

Drain is in place - top surface about 2" above the plywood.

Drain is in place – top surface about 2″ above the plywood.

If you’re also doing your own drain plumbing, you’ll want the drain pipe to end just about flush with the plywood floor, so that when you glue on the shower drain, it is about 2″ above the floor. Thus, when we pour the concrete at the next step, the minimum thickness will be 2″.

Step 2: Pouring the Sloped Concrete

This is the part where things get exciting, and this article will hopefully save DIY shower builders some time and money. In the olden days (and still today for the most part), poured showerpans were done in three steps: the poured pre-slope, the rubber liner, then the poured top slope. It looked roughly like this:

poured_old

Old showerpan method – concrete, rubber, concrete, tile.

The thing is, the old method has not been updated to reflect a more recent invention: trowel-on waterproofing materials like Redguard and Aquaguard. This stuff is basically liquid rubber in a bucket, and it overcomes the old shortcoming of rubber by combining full waterproofing with a surface to which you can stick tiles directly. With the new technology, you can skip one layer of concrete, and you end up with this:

poured_new

Easier new showerpan method: concrete, redguard, tile.

Note that this method is something I more or less invented for myself by puzzling through the product’s poorly written technical documentation and trying it out. The tile installers I know still do things the old way and some might scoff at the innovation. But I’ve built at least 20 showers like this now, and I can still look at the oldest one from below and verify perfectly dry wood beneath- no leaks. It would be virtually impossible for this design not to be watertight, as long as you do tidy work.

Now that you understand the basics, let’s check out a couple of action pictures to show the pouring, forming, and waterproofing in detail.

Preparation:

The top of your drain should be about 2″ off the floor. To create a uniform slope, use a ruler or level to draw a line all around the perimeter of the showerpan that is about 2.75″ off the floor. This will provide a nice 3/4″ slope to allow water to flow down into the drain.

The Mix:

the_mix

 

You’ll want a fairly dry (almost crumbly) mix of cement. But not regular concrete with gravel aggregate in it, here we use mason’s mix, which is just portland cement and sand – the same stuff used for brick mortar. Available right next to regular bags of concrete in the store. About 3 bags will do a 32×48 shower.

Spreading it around:

Mix the cement outside in a wheelbarrow one bag at a time, and carry it in to the house in a 5 gallon bucket. Dump it into your future shower, and it will look like this:

the_dump

Dump it in, spread it around. Note that the drain’s removable/adjustable top is removed for this step. But cover the remaining part of the drain with tape, lest you get concrete into the trap!

From here on in, it is all smoothing – use a variety of straight edges to scrape and smooth the concrete, adding more bags of it until you end up with a nice smooth bowl:

 

smoothing

 

When it starts looking smooth, I shine a flashlight horizontally across the surface to higlight any bumps and waves, which can be scraped out and re-smoothed:

flashlight

 

And finally, when everything is ready to retire for the night, it should look roughly like this:

Here's a completed pan, still wet. All the tools involved are shown too.

Here’s a completed pan, still wet. All the tools involved are shown too.

Step 3: Final Waterproofing

After this cures for a couple of days, you have a solid chunk of smooth concrete that in theory will already drain water straight into the drain. But we want even better waterproofing, and thus you are ready for the Redguard step. This goes right over the concrete, over the plastic edge of the drain, and up the walls a few feet. Then you can screw in the final drain top part, which you crank down to align with your finished tiles, like this:

red

This is the latest Hawaiian shower, waterproofed and ready for floor tile.

 

After this dries, you’re back to a standard tile job: Do the floor and grout it first (for greatest waterproofing), then work your way up the walls the next day. I don’t have space left in this article to explain the entire art of tiling a shower, but perhaps I’ll have a chance to work with you in person on one of these things someday.

The Poured Showerpan may seem like an elusive and tricky task, but the whole thing is about 4 hours of work from start to finish once you work out the kinks (and still under 8 even the first time). After that, it will take you another 8-16 hours to tile and grout the remainder of the shower and its curb. For many DIY home renovators, learning this skill it is an investment with enormous returns.

If this shower makes our new rental worth $100 more per month, it is providing equivalent cashflow to a $30,000 investment yielding 4% after inflation. Just another example of the wonderful synergy between practical skills and financial independence.

 

*The 60 bucks is just for the showerpan, of course. Then you’ll add about 12 square feet of floor tile, 75 sqft of cementboard and wall tile, tile adhesive, grout, and a valve set. The total can still be only a few hundred dollars if you shop well (ours was even less, due to Craigslist).

Welcome New Readers! Take a look around. Feeling Hardcore? Start at the first article and read your way through using the links at the bottom of each article. Casual Sampler? Browse the complete list of all posts since the beginning of time. Hope to see you around here more often. ~ Love, Mr. Money Mustache

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90 Responses to “How to Make a Relatively Sweet Shower – Cheap”

  1. ben December 21, 2012 at 4:00 am #

    nice job

    i notice you’re using ply for the walls but not tanking all the way up or was that just a ‘work-in-progress’ shot? – is that not a bit risky in case of water ingress behind the tiles. Are you tiling the walls straight on to the ply?

    I have a similar job re-tiling a bath/shower – was going to use cement-board (knauff aqua-panel ) to avoid the need for tanking everything – you can just tile on directly, aparently these boards stay sound even if fully submerged!

    • GE Miller December 21, 2012 at 8:39 am #

      I noticed the same on the wall waterproofing. It looks like he’s using cement board in the personal shower, but on the latest, it looks like particle board or plywood. I’d be concerned about waterproofing as well.

      Also – you realize you’ve opened yourself to a grouting/tiling 101 article request now, MMM?

      • ben December 21, 2012 at 9:16 am #

        the personal shower looks like it could be plasterboard! but hard to tell from photo – I think you can get moisture resistant plasterboard for bathroom use but that would still need tanking for a shower area.

      • TK December 21, 2012 at 9:22 am #

        He is using hardibacker on the latest one, which is water resistant but not waterproof. This should be fine when combined with tile and grout (remember that water is not resting/pooling on walls) but there should be a moisture barrier placed between the hardibacker and the studs.

        I like kerdi boards better though – true waterproofing but more expensive.

        • ben December 21, 2012 at 10:39 am #

          good spot – so its not ply at all, learning the US DIY terminology here – hardibacker and kerdi-boards, great stuff

    • PK December 21, 2012 at 9:58 am #

      Since he already started up the wall for the last foot or so he could just run the RedGuard up the wall. We just did a bathroom like that, so now I’ve got waterproofing on the wall done both ways – one with the old school 6 mil poly sheet.

      The sheet wasn’t going to work when I did an inset shelf in the master, so RedGuard it was – cool stuff. No water penetration that I can tell, and it’s been a month.

  2. lurker December 21, 2012 at 5:04 am #

    sweet!

  3. Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies December 21, 2012 at 5:18 am #

    Just curious, MMM – how much of the planning and material sourcing was done before you were on the ground there? How much more time do you think was spent finding project materials on the cheap than if you were just running to home depot?

    Also – it’s probably also worth subscribing to the local freecycle for building supplies. We’ve put extras on there after a project is done when it’s not worth going through the hassle of Craigslist.

  4. Honest Bob December 21, 2012 at 5:58 am #

    I love that type of shower! To know that it can be done on the cheap makes it more of a reality than I thought.

  5. Mandy @ MoneyMasterMom December 21, 2012 at 7:01 am #

    Mr Money Mustache turns DIY. Love it! If we ever move and build again the shower in the ensuite will be tiled, and maybe even big enough for two :)

    • Derek @ Freeat33 December 21, 2012 at 7:03 am #

      I’m definitely making it big enough for two, now I’ll be able to do it on the cheap too :)

  6. Ross December 21, 2012 at 7:20 am #

    The thing that scares me about concrete work is that if you mess up, you can’t fix it. Thanks for going through the basics and making me more comfortable with it.

    • Tobias December 22, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

      For a project like this, if you end up doing the concrete wrong you can bust it out with less than an hour of hammering with a sledgehammer or deadblow hammer. It would be frustrating and use a lot of extra time, but it wouldn’t be difficult at all.

  7. Carl December 21, 2012 at 7:38 am #

    This is great. I just got through building a shower base using the old method and this is definitely easier. The only thing that I’d worry about with your method is that I don’t think it would protect against a crack in the base as well as using the old method. No membrane to back you up.

    Tiling is one of the best skills for a “do it yourselfer.” It isn’t hard, saves a ton of money and the results look awesome. Lots of bang for the buck.

    To build on that, one of the most useful tools I ever purchased was the cheapo Home Depot tile saw (http://goo.gl/HbTkt). Mine is over 10 years old and has served me well for over 30 projects.

    • bdub December 21, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

      I have the older version of that saw and have easily laid 1000 sq. ft. of tile over the last 8 years a + I have loaned to 2 friends for their jobs. It was the 2nd best tiling purchase. Best tiling purchase: knee pads!

  8. jump December 21, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    Great looking shower! I literally just finished one in our rental and it looks great. Even with using the cheap tile that Lowes sells. Throw a nice little mosaic strip and bam, looks awesome. I just built my first shower pan too, mostly because I didn’t want to pay the $100+ price tag for prefab crap. It was pretty easy actually. One thing I’ve got a question on though is waterproofing the walls. I went ahead and used a membrane on the floor and up the walls. By going with the concrete board are there no worries behind the tile?

    • Jerry September 22, 2013 at 9:23 am #

      IMO, the best option here is to continue the Redguard all the way up the walls (exactly as recommended by the manufacturer). I love this method of waterproofing the pan, but I don’t understand why you wouldn’t continue with the walls.

  9. Headed Home December 21, 2012 at 8:38 am #

    Timely article! My wife and I are probably going to make a custom shower in our house this week. I was going to limit myself to standard sized plastic shower pans, but maybe I’ll reconsider. Thanks!

  10. GE Miller December 21, 2012 at 8:44 am #

    What are your thoughts on the rigid foam sloped trays? I’ve seen these be used to create the slope. Any big positives/negatives to using one?

    • Jump December 21, 2012 at 8:48 am #

      They are pricey, IMO

  11. Chris December 21, 2012 at 9:00 am #

    This is awesome! I’m kind of handy and have laid a few tile floors, hopefully I can take it to the next level and build something like this to replace our moldy plastic shower basin. Just found your site a few days ago. Oh what i’ve been missing! In our last house I paid someone a lot of money to put in a nice shower like this and he used a “kerdi” drain system? (Some german shower kit?) is something like that necessary to prevent leakage?

    Thanks!

  12. Lucas December 21, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    Awesome job. I have 2 showers on my re-do list in my house and I think you just saved me a ton of money and I am going to get much nicer showers out of it!! This blog post is getting an immediate bookmark!

  13. Freeze December 21, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    I did a very similar tile shower in my basement 2 years ago. The whole thing cost less than $400 total in materials and it is the nicest shower in our house. Can’t wait to do an oversized one in our master. I used the old method for the sloped base, I’m excited to try out Redguard or Aquaguard instead, thanks for the tip.

  14. Johnny @ Our Freaking Budget December 21, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    Really awesome. Well done. I’ve got some “make stuff with my hands” goals for the new year, but this is probably a little overly ambitious for me. I’ll need to start with a bench or office table before even contemplating a shower.

    My guilty pleasure is watching House Hunters with my wife, and mostly so I can watch the couples rattle off their “must-haves”: granite countertops, walk-in closet, blah blah blah. You’d think these people were buying an outfit at Nordstrom’s, not a freaking abode. So it’s not surprising to hear you say that a nice shower can up your home’s value $10k. It’s mind-blowing, but awesome if you’re on the receiving end.

    • David W December 21, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

      Not to mention stainless appliances. How could you ever cook anything without professional grade stainless appliances?

    • Brian January 4, 2013 at 10:13 am #

      I have actually seen a woman who admittedly doesn’t cook but needs granite countertops in her kitchen on that show. My wife and I watch it for the same reasons you do.

  15. Alex | Perfecting Dad December 21, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    Very nice. I just completed the concrete pan on my own shower. Used wood instead of cement for the curb, but otherwise very similar. You gave me a great idea on the ledge instead of buying some expensive soap holder tile piece. Any idea about glass? My shower is a corner that is tiled on two walls and glass on the other two. It will have to be custom glass because the door is actually at an angle, so the glass will be three sides with the door cutting off the corner.

    • TomTX December 24, 2012 at 6:15 am #

      The easiest/cheapest soap holder I’ve seen is to cut a tile in half diagonally, then set that triangle in a corner at whatever height you want – or use both triangles for two soap shelves. Extra luxury!

      If you tip the tile back slightly to avoid soap slipping off, just clip the back corner as a drain hole.

    • trisha October 22, 2013 at 10:42 am #

      When you did your curb with wood only, did you just waterproof it with the redguard? did you use any other materials to water proof or secure it? I currently have a square tiny corner shower that I am trying to make feel a bit bigger by making a hexagonal (neoangle shower) that will allow the door to open to the center of the room rather than into the sink counter. If you have any tips for this shape shower please let me know. Also did you get prefabbed glass doors for it or did you have them custom made?

  16. Lucas December 21, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    Are you going to do a glass door or just use a shower curtain? I like the look of glass but have had a terrible time keeping it “clean” or keeping the calcium deposits off of it in every house I have had glass before? Assuming you are going with glass for the luxury feel?

    • John June 6, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

      Actually I was just told of a great way to fix that issue. Rain-X. You can rain-x your shower glass every so often and the water/soap scum/mineral scale sheets right off. I couldn’t believe that I never thought about it myself actually. Plus a bottle of regular rain-x costs next to nothing really

  17. PW December 21, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    Nice post – this is info I can really use!
    Any tips on a grout job that resists mould/stains. IMHO the biggest issue on showers like this is keeping the grout clean. Thanks

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 22, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

      I find that you just need to use a good grout sealer right when you’re building it (put in grout, let it cure for as long as you can stand to wait, seal). Or after you do a thorough cleaning and let it dry.

      My own shower in Colorado only needs cleaning every few months, because of the sealed grout, plus it dries quickly after use, and the dry air there causes fast evaporation. Then it is easy to clean with a scrub brush when the time comes.

    • 205guy January 6, 2013 at 12:52 am #

      Invest in a squeegee (window wiper) that you can hang in your shower. After every shower, wipe the tile down to get most of the water off. Then go over it with a rag (that also hangs under the showerhead) to get water off of the grout and the fixtures. It takes a minute or two after every shower (or only for the second shower of the morning), but you never have to clean or scrub or use cleaning products on your tile–and no water spots either. You can also wipe down the curtain with a little practice and do the tub or pan as well.

    • Tile Elf February 25, 2013 at 7:19 am #

      Mold resistant is epoxy grout. To save money buy epoxy grout and sanded grout from Laticrete same color. Use epoxy for shower rest sanded grout.

  18. Jared Chmielecki December 21, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    I just recently learned how to and did this myself. I think your ‘old way’ diagram is wrong, the liner goes behind the cement board, and a 6 mil sheet of plastic is behind the cement board because it is still permeable enough that water will wick through it.
    I guess it does not really matter that much if you are doing the new method, but check local codes. I had to have the thick vinyl liner to make the inspector happy, so I just did the whole thing the ‘old way’

  19. David W December 21, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    I put shower nooks in as well when I did the bathrooms in my house and it’s all anyone talks about when they use it.

    “Wow, I love the little shelf you put in there. How did you do it?”
    “Uh… a 2×4 and 2 extra tiles.”

  20. mike crosby December 21, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    Fantastic MMM. Very clear. And it’s information that I truly appreciate.

    I’ve always loved construction and have gotten many a book from the library to learn about building houses.

    As I mentioned just yesterday on another blog, my dream is to build 300-600 square foot units. If they could be built at $75-$100/square foot, so many people would be able to afford housing, without having an albatross.

    BTW, looks like you helped someone with a financial investment, and you’ve gained a friend for life. I like those opportunity fringe benefits.

  21. Jack December 21, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

    What are the pros and cons of Redguard vs. a product like Ditra (the orange fleece-coated plastic sheets they use on Holmes on Homes)? The latter seems easier and “safer” to me (I’d worry about failing to achieve even coverage with a liquid product), but maybe I’m just being a wussypants…

  22. Schmidt December 21, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    Beautiful! Are there two nooks or is the upper one a window?

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 22, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

      The top one is a window, although it does work as an extra shelf.

  23. Maverick December 22, 2012 at 3:16 am #

    Old school method is okay, but Ditra is the way to go today (…and no, I’m not trying to plug the product). All other methods will fail, it’s just a matter of time. Ditra is designed on the theory that a grout joint will ultimately fail and allow a very small amount of water through the joint and back to the drain. Ditra also decouples the tile from the substrate preventing movement (cracks) of the grout joints as the substrate moves (and it will ever so slightly). Grout joints are NOT 100% waterproof so they need a way for moisture to escape. Moisture failure can take a number of years before it appears. Reference a good tile book, “Tile Your World” by John Bridge. Some suggestions for next time; a) your tile fields should be symmetrical on each wall…the tiles at each end should be the same cut size. b) the floor drain should be in the center. These things are obvious details that are easily noticed by the more experienced (gray mustache) weekend warriors like myself. Otherwise, glad to see you didn’t use a fiberglass pan or walls…and good workmanship!

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 22, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

      I hear you, Wise Gray Mustache – I am aware of tile patterns and I made some tradeoffs on the joint placement in this case to reduce material waste and make certain other cuts easier, since we only had a limited amount of these tiles. In the case of that back wall, it was just laziness since the last tile was almost full-size anyway :-)

      Note that the redguard-under-tiles method is also designed to allow any water that gets through the grout, to seep into the drain.

      As for “everything will fail in a matter of time” – I’m not so sure about that. Solid reinforced concrete with a layer of plastic waterproofing under grouted stones? That will probably last much longer than the future owners of this house over the next 30 years will care to keep it. Things get remodeled periodically and often the fashion dies before the waterproofing.

      For example, when I tore out the 1978 showers in my first house, it was just cheap builder tile over plain paper drywall. No waterproofing or cement board in sight. Still held out for 30 years, even though it was hideous to behold. I rebuilt a 1950s “luxury” shower a few years ago and its old sloped concrete pan was still going strong.

      • Nate R December 23, 2012 at 10:09 am #

        I’ll 2nd the recommendation for John Bridge’s book. Even better info can be had at the John Bridge forums online.

        “But I’ve built at least 20 showers like this now, and I can still look at the oldest one from below and verify perfectly dry wood beneath- no leaks. It would be virtually impossible for this design not to be watertight, as long as you do tidy work.”
        .
        Redgard is a fine product for some situations. We used it in our current tub surround around the CBU joints around a window. For those that worry about using a liquid, it’s easy to do, and is very obvious if you don’t get a good coating anywhere.

        But MMM, not putting something behind the CBU or plywood on the walls is a mistake, I think. Sure sometimes it’s fine. (Your reference to drywall behind tile from 1978, etc.) I’ve seen soaked drywall behind tile walls several times in my limited experience. One I can think of was probably less than 15 years old. I wonder if it often works in your area of CO due to local conditions (Quick evaporation like you mentioned), but doesn’t work so well in other places? (Like Hawaii?) Go on John Bridge’s forums and check out the info there. You’ll see stories of rotted framing and drywall behind tile walls. Rotted framing even behind CBU. It’s not waterPROOF stuff. Tile itself can be porous, grout isn’t a complete water barrier, nor is cement board. So often a good idea to have a waterproof layer in there somewhere. Like poly behind the CBU or something similar.

      • Matt January 2, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

        Word. I just gutted my 50 year old bathroom because I finally had enough of the tourquoise. The builder grade tile directly on paper thin ply and drywall held up *surprisingly* well.

  24. Sweta December 22, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    I realize this is non sequitor but could you reintroduce the MMM challenges? Maybe in the new year since people are probably trying to get their finances in order.

  25. Maverick December 22, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    I forgot to ask…did the Aloha family share any stories about termite infestation on the islands? I understand they are virtually everywhere in the soil. Oh, and may I suggest you extend your stay, hop over to the big island and take the family on a camping trip that circles the island, sleeping on a different beach as you circumvent the island. I’ve been on several islands in the 90′s, except for the big island, so that’s my plan next time I get out there. [ok, you may say it's too pricey for the MMM budget, but doing it now sure beats the expense of flying back out in the future. The memories will be priceless.] Enjoy your stay in paradise! You earned it. :)

  26. ShavenLlama December 23, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    We’ll be getting to work on the master bath this spring here at Chez Llama, if you need a subject for that Tiling 101 article! ;)

  27. bogart December 23, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    Looks lovely. Two questions — one, it sounds like you’re installing this over a slab (I’m assuming a slab floor in a former carport); what if any are the implications of the weight of the concrete in other contexts? Two, I’m hoping any future remodels I’m involved with will employ the principles of accessible design, which would lean toward no curb. Does that in any way complicate matters? Other than perhaps a longer run and steeper slope (and/or perhaps a drain positioned toward the back rather than the middle), I’m assuming not, but maybe I’m missing something.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 24, 2012 at 9:21 am #

      Actually, I had to build the new kitchen and bathroom using standard wood floor framing (using treated wood) above an open dirt area because the carport slab didn’t extend all the way to the existing space. And the new space is 6″ higher than carport. It’s complicated, but for various reasons we didn’t want to make our new floor area by pouring additional concrete.

      Anyway, there are no worries about the weight of a showerpan – this one is only about 250 pounds. Even with the extra few hundred of the surround tiles and backerboard, it is well within the range of what a standard floor can support. As long as you aren’t building a 100SF shower or something really unusual.

      In really old houses, which were sometimes made with 2×6 floor joists and no subfloor, the story might be different and you might want to reinforce before adding heavy things.

  28. Sara December 24, 2012 at 5:14 am #

    Happy Christmas to Mr MMM and family. Enjoy your vacation.
    I look forward to another year of thought provoking and helpful posts on FI in 2013.

    From Sara in a wet but mild Wales,UK.

  29. Kendall Frederick December 27, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    Eerily timely post; we are buying a house built in 1949 and when we did the home inspection today, I found a crazy quilt of leaking cast iron, PVC and copper piping under the house. So.. I’m going to dive into the bathroom remodeling job that I hoped to put off.

    I read your earlier post about PEX and I’m now getting excited about ripping the whole mess out and redoing it. Since the house currently has only a single bathroom, I’m considering adding a half bath as well.

    Any tips on joining a new PVC drain system to the old cast iron? Using one of those rubber couplers just looks incredibly cheesy to me.

    • Mr. Money Mustache December 27, 2012 at 11:23 pm #

      I think the rubber boots with built-in metal clamps (and a stainless steel corrugated reinforcing sleeve) are the way to go. I think they look pretty nice – and you only need one in theory, where you join the final drain from your whole house, into the output to the street.. if you re-do everything else, that is.

      Tip: look into permissibility of “studor vents” in your area to prevent a bunch of unnecessary holes in your roof.

  30. Kendall Frederick December 28, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    Those are interesting.. I had never heard of them. Just did some Googling. I will keep it in mind, at least for the half bath addition if that becomes part of the plan. Thanks for the advice!

  31. Trish Boyce December 29, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    This looks great but i fear it is out of touch for someone who is as unhandy as me – I don’t even understand how you built the form – I don’t see the screws you mention. My husband shares my lack of skill. We just had to have someone reinstall 2 windows we tried to do ourselves. We aren’t dumb, we’ve just never been exposed to doing this type of thng. seems overwhelming! maybe we will have to just go with the shower tray thing.

  32. Jeff Gibson January 23, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    Ever since this post I’ve been researching on doing this for my house. I’ve come across a couple of unknowns that I can’t seem to resolve from other online sources that I hope you can clarify:

    With your new method, how do you deal with the small amount of water that makes it through the tile/grout to the barrier? Do you still use a drain that has weep spots so it doesn’t just pool near the drain under the tiles? Do you just inset the drain lower than the tile and even with the barrier?

    Thanks for the great ideas!

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 23, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

      If you go to the plumbing section and look at an adjustable-height shower drain, you’ll see how it works. The key to this method is the 2-piece drain.

      The lower part gets embedded into the concrete, perfectly flush (see my second sketch). Then when that hardens, you Redguard all over everything, right over the edge of the lower part of the shower drain. Then you screw in the drain top, tile and grout everything flush with the top of the upper section, and seal it. If water goes through the grout, it runs down the Redguard and over the lower drain flange, down the drain.

      I hope that will make sense in the context of looking at an adjustable-height drain..

      • Evan March 25, 2013 at 11:33 pm #

        Hi MMM,

        Great blog, I’m in the process of gutting a bath at our place. In terms of the adjustable drain, all I can find at the local stores is a three piece setup with the base, a screw down collar normally used to seal down the liner to the base, and the adjustable drain. Using your method do you just not use the collar piece to allow any water that gets through the tile or grout to drain down the weep holes? I assume this is the case but just want to be sure. Here is a link to the common type of dain I seem to find at the local hardware store. http://www.showerbase.com/store/42202.

        Thanks for the help.

        • PuckSR April 21, 2013 at 6:30 pm #

          Ever figure this out? I am in the same spot. I guess I could do the divot method, but I want to try to copy the uber-simple MMM method.

          • Mr. Money Mustache June 6, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

            Yeah, with those 3-piece dealies you can discard the middle section with the bolts (since there is no rubber that needs clamping in this case).

            So you just have the bottom with threads, and the top part with the drain grille that threads into it.

            • Ben November 12, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

              MMM- This is the comment I wanted to reply to: What drain exactly are you using, could you link to one? I searched, but have only found others (some even mentioning your method) looking for the same answer. As the previous comments mentioned, the following two methods is what I am finding:

              1) The typical shower pan/tile drain is a three piece, with weep holes. And, if you eliminate the middle bolted-on section, there will be no threads to screw on the top/grate (the threads are on/in the middle screwed/bolted section). There is how-to’s regarding a divot method and these drains, but I was hoping to use your exact method…and drain.

              2) There are also some specialty drains by Schluter/Kerdi and Laticrete which are made to be used with liquid membrane, i.e. Redgard. But these are very pricey ($100+ for just the drain).

  33. Tile Elf February 25, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    I do similar way with few diferences:1. The key of prevention of crax is to enforce framing. In shower area put extra 2x4s sideway to existingn use construction glue and decking screws. Before I do this I put extra pieces of 3×4 to bottom and top of 2x4s and screw them to bottom and side of 2×4.after I put sideway 2×4 I put extra crossmembers 2×4 or 2×6. Reasons? 2x4s twists. And ya get extra support for cement board.
    2. Ya need to put something on the bottom plywood and wertical wood to prevent direct connections concrete-wood. Floor oil paint is fine, 6 mil plastic run from behind cement board on the floor plywood is great.
    3. Reinforce concrete with rebars and mesh. Put mortar additive to concrete and very top layer of concrete put some layer of mortar.while concrete is still wet to tight em together.
    4.I dont put drain into center. This allow me do one way slope with large tiles whhat is best waterproofing- minimize grout. Am little bit progresive so I use linear shower drain. I make it home since they are expensive from plastic and fiberglass. Copy Laticrete linear drain because has flashings. Others are not so good in my view. If you know welder yo can make from anticorosive tubing as the best.

    Yes, do not even look at expensive stuff membranes as Schulter etc. Ya not build water tank. There is no pressure on walls. Ye have 90 degrees vertcal walls which ain’t hold no water. Moustage man is doing my way. I buy one galon waterproofing membrane, in this case Red Guard, and use it for floor and lftover on walls.

  34. Tile Elf February 25, 2013 at 8:22 am #

    One big + for Moustage man is that he puts cementboard into concrete. Overlaping- something how masons lay brix- is key of crax prevention.

  35. Ladymaier March 15, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    MMM, I had a couple of follow-up questions after reading this article 3 times over, as I’ve never poured concrete or tiled, but feel confident that I can give it a go!

    1) Regarding a straight, single-threshold shower, is it necessary to pour a concrete curb? Could you instead just frame it out with wood, face it with your hardi-backer, and redguard it with the poured sloped shower base? Why or why not?

    2) When you pour the curb, how long do you let it cure before pouring in the sloped pan? Hell, how long do you let it cure before removing the form?

    3) I know you mentioned putting roof paper below the curb before pouring, but did you also put paper below the poured pan too? It looks that way from the pictures, but wasn’t mentioned. How did you attach it to the plywood sub-floor (tape, glue)?

    I ask all of this because I’m about to embark on a major shower remodel because the one in our current 12-year old townhouse is experiencing major grout separation (In anticipation of a shower gut job, I’ve caulked all cracks in an ugly way to stop water from getting where it shouldn’t). This particular shower is on the 3rd floor of our townhouse, so I don’t know if it’s the settling of the building causing this or what – the major gaps are happening on the tile that’s on the party wall only, not the walls that run perpendicular to the party wall).

    Do you think red-guard help to protect against this? Or is this the result of crappy builder-grade git-er-done tile work? Since my house might be prone to this, should I consider running the heavy grade vapor barrier up the wall before pouring concrete and troweling on the Redguard?

    Any answers and/or advice are enthusiastically appreciated.

  36. Bill Abrahms April 14, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    I have read and viewed several DIY shower pan projects that say you should use Deck Mud rather than Wet Cement not only for its strength but so that if/when water permeates through the grout it will easily pass through the sand mix mortar base onto the shower liner and through the drain weep holes. Otherwise the water will “pond” beneath the tiles and produce mold and mildew. Is there any truth to this and if so isn’t your new method creating a petri dish for mold and mildew to form beneath the tile?

  37. Dirk Haagenson April 19, 2013 at 9:09 am #

    Redguard specifies that the concrete should be fully cured before application. Is there a reason you ignored this?

    • Mr. Money Mustache April 21, 2013 at 9:38 pm #

      Good point! The longer you wait, the better adherence you’ll get with Redguard, and standard concrete takes up to 28 days to cure fully. I do try to wait as long as possible given the project schedule, and the curing happens in a decaying exponential pattern – fastest during the initial time, then trailing off over time. So the difference between day 1 and 2 is much larger than the difference between day 10 and 11, or 27 and 28. Curing also happens faster in high temperature. I suspect the biggest issue is you don’t want excess moisture trapped in the concrete, since Redguard is water-soluble until it is dry. But there could be other reasons they put that in the directions (anyone?).

      Anyway, something to be aware of for more meticulous readers – thanks Dirk.

  38. Mike Peterson July 15, 2013 at 5:57 am #

    I am thinking of forming a shower pan under a claw foot style tub. How could I strengthen the areas where the feet would sit to minimize stress cracking? Also the existing floor is tiled with marble 12-inch tiles — could the concrete be applied directly onto this or would adhesion be a possible issue?

  39. Patrick Olguin July 15, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    Dear Mr. Money Moustache,
    I am very late to this party.

    Thank you for this excellent article. I have long-wanted to do a poured shower pan. I can’t really tell what kind of drain you’re using, other than adjustable. Given your approach, it would appear the drain intended for a pre-fab shower pan is the ticket, versus the tile-in variety with weep holes. Is that correct?

    Thank you!

  40. Garth July 24, 2013 at 6:56 am #

    I also did my own shower with a poured pan. the website http://www.floorelf.com was absolutely invaluable. Anyone trying a DIY appoach should check it out

  41. propertymom July 25, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    8 or 9 years ago I tackled my first tiled shower project, with only one countertop tile project under my belt, by making extensive use of “Tile Your World” by John Bridge, and the web forum. The book explains everything very well. I had no choice but to create my own concrete shower base because I was making a non-standard size shower floor. I was scared and nervous about tackling this project by myself, but the shower turned out beautiful, and I have had no problems with it. This waterproof coating idea is very interesting, and I will definitely consider using it on my next shower project.

  42. Poor Widow Susan August 6, 2013 at 9:26 pm #

    Just found this fabulous site. I’ve spent about all I have on a teeeeny cottage with one ugly bathroom. I have 43″ width to work with and about 33″ depth. Currently there is a moldy shower that a previous owner dragged home from one of the big box stores. Bathroom is hideous. Quotes for a custom longer, narrower shower are way out of my price range. I do know how to tile and have done lots of that. Will need to pay for the concrete work (bad back and I’m 74 years old). Happy me that we won’t have to use that rubber thingy that smells so toxic. This really is going to work and look wonderful. Very grateful to you. Beyond grateful. You’ve solved my biggest nightmare about “this old house.”

  43. Andy August 14, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    This is such a great method. I am in the final days of competing my shower remodel and your method was the one of choice. I was working with very limited head space, so the use of one layer of cement was ideal. My only modification was to use the existing drain – this meant it was flush with the plywood subfloor. I poured my pan in the same matter, but left in the adjustable drain during the pour. When everything was smoothed, I removed the drain and hand sloped the cement at the edge. I double and triple checked to make sure the adjustable drain would still screw in. All in all, I had a beautiful custom shower pan ready for Redgard. Thanks MMM!

  44. jeff Ridzon September 2, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    I like this idea. I am going to try it. I didn’t quite understand the drain assy part especially when tiling. do you silicone the drain ring down to the tiles?

    • Mr. Money Mustache September 2, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

      Nope.. you basically screw in the adjustable drain, right down to its lowest position.. then tile right around it, and of course grout everything once the tile adhesive is set.

      I’m about to build another shower like this (the biggest one by far), so we will take some more detailed pictures and update the article.

  45. Chuck September 18, 2013 at 2:13 am #

    Im wondering what type drain you used here.. Im about to do a shower this way and from what I can tell about the drain I have, just a home depot drain, I wont be able to screw the drain down enough to meet the tile. Meaning after I put in the drain housing and add the deck mud up to it. once I screw in the bolts and flang then screw in the drain itself in, it sticks up about 1 inch. any help would be great.

  46. Kerry October 11, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

    Well, we made the curb a week ago. Poured the pan bed this morning. In one month, I’ll paint the whole bathroom with that red stuff and take a class on tiling. I’ve got to thank you for this. My plan was to rebuild a 100 year old burnout; retail store downstairs, loft upstairs. I didn’t originally intend to build it by hand. After all, I also run a store and am a 50+ year old woman. Well, soda-blasting the fire damage; dealing with efflorescence; hanging studs; laying, sanding, whitewashing, and sealing locally milled pine flooring; and now tackling the shower, I feel like I can do anything (- except the mechanicals. I helped pull the wire, but it’s just smart hiring pros.) Thank you again for helping out with a major step.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 11, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

      Wow, right on Kerry! A very inspirational tale, and it sounds like a great project. Where you get the soda blasting medium for cleaning off old bricks? I have a small compressor-mounted sandblaster unit and I’ve been shopping for that stuff for a while and can’t find any locally.

  47. Yellowshock October 13, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    Hi there MMM,
    Thank you very much for sharing your method.
    One thing I am a bit confused on is the curb. You mention you isolate the contretemps from the plywood with the roofing paper. How then, does the curb stick to the floor? I assume I can’t have a curb floating on paper and then tile it? Hope to learn!

  48. JP November 19, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    Hey!

    You seem really innovative. I’m remodeling my own bathroom and instead of tile, I’m using wood in the shower, like this: http://www.houzz.com/photos/59494/Master-Bathroom-remodel-modern-bathroom-san-francisco

    I’m thinking I need a mortar bed to support the wooden deck-like structure but I’m not sure if it will be strong enough. Wondering if this red stuff will hold up to the wood as well as it would tile.

  49. Ryan November 19, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

    Great how to and ready to tear out our molded plastic shower booth. Our shower is about 30 percent wall and the rest is (plastic) window. Do you have any links or recommendations for glass walls and supports rather than using a curtain? Thanks

  50. Bruce Olson November 24, 2013 at 8:11 am #

    Is the curb mason’s mix as well or some other form of concrete?

  51. Justin December 24, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    I would steer people away from travertine in a shower. It needs to be sealed frequently and all the little holes in the natural stone tend to collect mold and mildew making them a bit of a nightmare to keep looking new. Not an ideal situation for a rental property. I see them used all the time but trust me, I know from 6 years in the construction field as well as personal experience in my own bathrooms not to use natural stone in a shower (at least not softer natural stones). That being said, nice job it looks great but be diligent in your cleaning!

  52. leo January 5, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    I am going to try this in a few months -we have one of those showers that a full grown man can not put both elbows out without opening the shower door or knocking your funny bone on the shower shelf knocking everything on the shelf Off it is a mere 22inches from door to shelf and the Bought Plastic/fiberglass shower enclosure is $600+ so i love your ideal and we are going to take some room out of our walk in closet for a Bigger shower and even put in a rain head and body sprays but i was wondering if i should Beef up the floor since this is going up stairs? how many pounds is the concrete going to Add for a 3ft by 5.5 ft enclosure? I am thinking about 80lbs per bag including tiles and thin set and grout so i am guesstimating about 200 more pounds.by finished shower floor.is this about correct?

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 6, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

      Yup, a finished shower floor weighs a good few hundred pounds, and the tiles and cementboard on the walls add a few hundred more. In general, you don’t need to reinforce the structure of your house for this – newer houses are built with plenty of surplus strength, since they need to be able to support things like 20 friends showing up for a party in your living room (3000 pounds or so in a single room). However, if you’re in a hastily built 100-year-old farmhouse or miner’s cabin, really big amounts of extra weight can cause things to break.

      • leo January 9, 2014 at 10:56 am #

        My house was built in 1917 the floor joist upstairs was made from true 4×4 oak and the shower was put in 1965ish but was made for Bilbo and froto baggens-i am 5ft 7″ tall and the shower head is chin high,my wife is 6ft tall and it is chest high to her so this is why I really need to change this shower box into something i can really take a shower in-i am replacing the floor all the way down to the floor joist which will be good to strengthen up the floor and move some plumbing for the shower drain and water pipes.

  53. missoula wes February 16, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

    Tomorrow I am going to pour the mason mix, and have followed your method so far. It is sensible and efficient. My question is, how much water did you use on your mason mix to get your consistency and how long did you have to work with it? will I have enough time to mix three bags before the first one sets up? I appreciate your work, as well as your economic viewpoint.

    • Andy February 20, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

      The mason’s mix should be like sand castle sand. I did MMM’s method in August and it went awesome. You will have plenty of time to mix up a few buckets.
      My shower looks great and it has been holding up wonderfully.

  54. Three Wolf Moon March 1, 2014 at 9:09 pm #

    MMM –

    Since you’re still answering questions on this post, I’ll ask mine – what product did you use to set the river rock into the shower floor? I can’t tell from the pictures and I didn’t see that mentioned anywhere. Thanks!

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