Saturday, February 6, 2010

Building a Tile Shower

Anyone who's building a tile shower should check out Schluter Systems. This product revolutionizes the way tile showers are built. Here's a little history on tile shower evolution. Traditionally the base of a tile showers was built using a mortar bed on top of a rubber membrane. The membrane was there to keep water from leaking, and the mortar bed provided the stable structure to which the tile could adhere. The sides of traditional tiled showers were made from a concrete backer board, which again acted as a stable structure that the tile could adhere to. For decades this is how tile showers were built. What a lot of people don't know is that the tile surface is not actually waterproof, water usually soaks into the grout joints and eventually dampens the structure behind and underneath it, hence the rubber membrane covering the floor and lower portions of the shower walls. In a shower that gets frequent daily use, the grout, concrete backer and mortar bed are expected to get wet, but because they're made of cement products, the dampness doesn't affect their structural integrity. This is all well and good, except we now know that substances that never dry out become a breeding ground for molds and mildew. So that's where Schluter Shower Systems excels. What Schluter Systems does is put the waterproof membrane between the tile and the structures, so the structures never ever get wet.

Sounds great, right? The old traditional method is history, right? Not really, cause there's one big difference in putting a Schluter Shower, and that's cost and time. Here's a breakdown of cost differentials. With a Schluter system, you can use drywall or blueboard as the wall structure, because it never gets wet or damp, which is far cheaper than concrete backer board. But the Schluter drain is about $100, compared to a traditional shower drain which is about $20. So depending on the size of your shower, these two offsetting costs end up washing each other out. The Schluter membrane, called "Kerdi" is also quite expensive and it comes in 2 sized rolls. I can tell you now, whatever size shower you're doing, buying one of the smaller rolls, isn't going to be enough. And the biggest additional cost, unless you are doing it yourself, will be time and labour. The membrane is installed using thin set, much like the way the tiles are eventually installed over top of it. So it nearly doubles your install labour costs. That said anyone who has ever tiled before could easily install the Shower System themselves, and there are many online resources to show you every step of the installation.

So here's my project at the various stages.

Mortar bed finished, that round thing is the Kerdi drain (NOTE: This must be used with this Shower System, the traditional drain has weep holes and will not work in this application):

Here's the shower covered in the Kerdi membrane. Make sure you have over-lapped the joints and corners:

And now for the pretty stuff. Tumbled marble floor tile (NOTE: Make sure that the tile you choose is actually 4" or 2", to fit around the drain):

And finally the wall tile and grout:

Friday, February 5, 2010

I hope George Kostanza Never Rented the Apartment in the Basement!

It’s been a while since I posted anything project-related, so I’ll catch you up on my latest project. Last summer we renovated our basement, which used to be a 1-bedroom apartment, into a laundry room and family room. However we hadn’t planned on renovating the small 3-piece bathroom that was down there for a little while, because frankly we never use it. Until we noticed the Amazonian smell that was coming from the shower drain. No matter how much water we poured down it, the smell just would not go away. Even with the bathroom door shut, we could smell it in our newly finished family room. There’s no motivation quite like realizing your expensive, shiny new basement smells like a sewer, to make you change the priority of your project list. So out came the demolition tools again. In my urgency to solve the stench, I forgot to take before pics – Sorry!

The shower was one of those flimsy 3-sided plastic surrounds. It was glued to the wall above a cheap flimsy plastic shower pan. So demolishing it took about 5 minutes. When I lifted on the pan, I figured out where the smell was coming from. Whoever installed the trap for the shower, dug a good sized hole in the concrete floor to rough in the plumbing, but didn’t bother to fill it back up. Then whoever installed the pan, simply installed the pan over the hole, so there was nothing supporting the weight of anyone taking a shower other than the cheap flimsy pan and the ABS p-trap. So somewhere along the line (probably day 1), the bottom of the p-trap cracked under the weight of someone showering. This meant it wouldn’t hold water and therefore allowed sewer gases to enter the house. Also the water wasn’t actually draining into the sewers, it was actually draining from the crack in the p-trap into the soil beneath the concrete.

We know the basement apartment was installed some time in the 80’s. I once read somewhere that the average human loses about 100 hairs per day. So that’s 36,500 hairs per year. Well when 36,500 hairs per year for the last 3 decades doesn’t end up going into the sewers, and instead forms a dense thick mat in the big hole under your cheap flimsy shower pan, let me tell you it isn’t pretty. What was worse than cleaning up 5 pounds of rotting human hair, was the sudden flashback to a Jerry Seinfeld episode:

George: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Could it be because you don't want him to know that you have a friend who pees in the shower, is that it?
Elaine: No, that's not it!
George: Oh I think it is! I think that's exactly what it is!
Elaine: Why couldn't you just wait?
George: I was there! I saw a drain!
Elaine: Since when is a drain a toilet?!
George: IT'S ALL PIPES! What's the difference?
Elaine: Different pipes go to different places! You're gonna mix 'em up!

I'll spare you a picture of the hole, instead here's the post demo: