How To Install a Shower Base / Shower Pan
By Tim Koehler
There are many types of shower bases, sometimes called a shower pan, available but some guarantee a more leak-proof installation and are easier to install for do-it-yourselfers. Common shower bases used for bathroom remodeling include: standard precast bases, custom precast, tile ready and built-on-site tile bases. The standard precast bases and custom precast are the easiest to install for the do-it-yourselfer. I’ll go over the techniques for installing each type of shower bases. These are the same for shower pan installation.
Shower Base / Pan types:
A standard precast base is a self-contained, manufactured base that has a curb or curbs, a drain pocket and tile flanges on the sides that don’t have a curb. It is ready to install and creates a solid, leak proof shower floor. These are manufactured in acrylic, fiberglass and assorted solid surface products. The precast shower base/pan is a perfect choice for the do-it-yourselfer.
A custom pre-cast base is similar to the standard pre-cast base except you can get the exact size you need with the drain located in just about any position.You can also specify which side or sides you want a curb. These are generally used to replace tile shower bases. They are also great for larger showers or showers with angles.
A Tile- Ready Shower Base/ Shower Pan is a pre-made base that is designed to have ceramic tile installed on the top of the base as the finished floor. It is a self-contained base that has a drain pocket, the proper slope and a flange on the sides that don’t have a curb. Some bases have the curb built-in. This costs a little more but is worth the money. It’s a time saver and it assures a leak-proof installation. Check out www.showerbase.com. Their shower pan / bases are some of the best on the market. A tile shower base is tricky for the do-it-yourselfer, but this makes it about as easy as it gets.
A Built-On-Site Tile Base is time consuming and tricky. If you have never built a tile base from scratch, I would recommend leaving it to the professionals. This is my least favorite shower base system – probably because my company has torn out hundreds of them, and every one of them had a leak. There are many better options today. If this is your choice, my advice would be to hire the best tile setter you can find and hope it never leaks.
Standard precast, custom precast, and tile ready shower pan / bases have very similar installation procedures.
Before installing any shower pan / base, there are a few things you should check.
1) The floor must be solid. Check out the floor joists and make sure there is no water damage, insect infestation, or mold. If the subfloor shows no sign of water damage but feels squishy underfoot, add another layer of subfloor to strengthen it.
2) The floor must also be level left to right and front to back for the base to drain properly. If it’s not level you will need to do some carpentry work to get it leveled. If the floor is slightly out of level, you can use a fast setting floor leveling compound.
3) You should check the drain. If it is galvanized pipe, this would be a good time to change it to PVC (plastic). Check the location of the drain on the floor against the location of the drain pocket on the shower base. Do they line up? If not you must change the location of the drain line.
If you are replacing a shower pan / base, I highly recommend that you use a pre-cast base because it is easier to install and the chances for a leak are greatly reduced. Most pre-cast bases come in standard sizes. Measure your shower floor to see if it will accept a standard shower base and drain location. If not, you’ll have to order a custom base.
Installing a Standard Precast Base, Custom Pre-cast, and Tile Ready Base:
If your floor is structurally sound and level, you are ready to install your shower base (or shower pan). I would suggest that you dry fit (install without adhesive) your shower base to make sure your base fits properly and the drain lines up. Once you have done your dry fit, you are ready to set the base permanently.
Most manufacturers suggest using either a thin-set compound or silicone adhesive to set the base to the floor. Read the manufactures directions to make sure you set the base correctly. Thin-set can be used as an adhesive and it also gives support to the base where it is the weakest, the drain pocket. Some bases are considered self-leveling so no additional support is required. If a shower base is self-leveled, silicone may be the only adhesive required.
Once the thin-set or silicone sets the base should not move. Some manufacturers suggest you screw the base in place by installing screws through the tile flange into the studs. I would be very cautious of this. If the screw is pulled too tightly against the framing, it could stress-crack the base or twist it. This could cause it to be pulled out of level and not drain properly.
If you are installing a tile ready shower base, you have one more step. You have to install the ceramic tile on the shower base as the finished floor. Once you have installed the tile and grouted it you will have a beautiful tile floor that will never leak.