How to build a shower that won’t leak – Products

Bob Borson —  December 1, 2011 — 48 Comments

Building a proper shower starts with specifying the right sort of products. Because there are all sorts of sites out there that tell you how to build a shower (and since I don’t build these myself), I am going to stick with something those other folks don’t tell you – the products I specify on a shower that can never, ever leak.

I mean NEVER as in “while I am still alive” or at least until I finally move to a remote tropical island with no extradition treaties with the US. Since I’m not moving for at least another 11 years (and my daughter is off to college), This is how we like our showers built.

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DensShield Tile Backer in shower

It starts with the wall board – and we call for DensShield Tile Backer. This seems to be the current gold standard in shower evolution because this is all we see anymore. I am old enough to remember the lath and mortar walls, and then the cementitious backer board days but we are in the 21st Century now and there are better, more reliable, and most cost effective ways to sheath your wet walls.

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DensShield Tile Backer Product Diagram

I pulled this graphic off the Georgia Pacific website because it does a pretty fair job of showing how the Tile Backer board is produced. Strength, moisture, fire and mold-resistance – this is a great product and does it all (well, not all but it suits the need very well in our shower assemblies).

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valve penetrations

Up next … Waterproofing Membrane 9235 and Blue 92 Anti-Fracture Fabric from Laticrete.

Say what!?!  [needle scratching record]

LATICRETE 9235 Waterproofing Membrane is a cold-applied, liquid rubber polymers that is used with LATICRETE Blue 92 Anti-Fracture Fabric/ Membrane. The liquid is applied with a paint roller or paint brush and the fabric is embedded into the liquid until the liquid bleeds through the fabric. A top coat of the membrane liquid is immediately applied over the fabric. In the picture above, that is why the shower walls now look black – you are looking at the Anti-Fracture Membrane.

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Laticrete Waterproofing Membrane 9235

LATICRETE 9235 Waterproofing Membrane is a thin, load-bearing waterproofing designed specifically for the special requirements of ceramic tile, stone and brick installations. It is a self-curing liquid rubber polymer that is applied to the substrate and then a reinforcing fabric is quickly applied. Together, they form a flexible, seamless waterproofing membrane that bonds to a wide variety of substrates.

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Laticrete Waterproofing Anti Fracture Fabric

LATICRETE Blue 92 Anti-Fracture Membrane is the second part of a two–part system consisting of a liquid rubber and reinforcing fabric. When cured, it forms a highly flexible membrane. While the thin bed method of tile installation provides many advantages, this method can be affected by problems with shrinkage cracking in concrete and other types of substrates. Cracks can telegraph through the tile and/or grout joints. To reduce or eliminate cracks in tile work, a flexible membrane should be applied to the cracked substrate prior to the installations of ceramic tile, marble and stone.

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Glass shower wall at ceiling

The picture above shows a shower ceiling after the whole waterproofing system has been put in place but before any actual tile has been installed. We like to set our glass for the showers into the tile because as modern design goes, so go the frames for the glass shower wall. The wood blocks are there to hold the glass panel in place until the tile gets set and the blocks can be removed one by one.

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Glass shower wall at ceiling

This is a look at another glass shower condition at the ceiling as the tile is being set. In the picture above, you can see that there is one row of tile missing at this stage. We generally tile the ceilings as well in our projects – it is a cleaner look and makes the entire shower more watertight.

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Infinity Drain AG 65 in shower

I have mentioned it before but a pet peeve of mine is when you get a round shower drain right in the middle of the shower. That’s because this is generally the spot where I find myself standing and I don’t like standing on the drain – it doesn’t feel right. With just the littlest bit of effort, that’s an easy thing to deal with but in our nicer projects, I am particularly fond of the linear slot drain located against the wall where nobody will ever stand on it. The one we are using for this project is the Infinity AG 65. There is another product on the market that I was just introduced to but I haven’t used it before so some additional research will be required before I squawk about it here on my site.

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Infinity Drains AG 65

Since I don’t have any finished pictures of the shower just yet, this one is from the Infinity Drains website – I just included it here so that you could get an idea of how it looked in a finished environment.

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Glass shower wall at floor

Lastly a shot of the glass wall at the shower floor – which will also be set in place by the tile. In this picture, you can see my foot resting on the finished tile floor of the bathroom. We also drop the slab in our showers so there aren’t curbs between the bathroom floor and the shower floor. You can also tell in this shot that the floor in the shower is sloping (towards our linear slot drain remember?).

I hope I didn’t make you fall asleep reading today’s post – every now and then I remember that I wanted to focus on showing people what an architect does and share some information that could be beneficial to the non-architects who read these posts. I am a big fan of all the products I mentioned today and did not receive any compensation of any sort or in any form to talk about them. I hope that is something that the regular readers here at Life of an Architect have already figured out – I speak my mind and answer to myself.

and my wife and daughter…

Cheers,

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  • Denise

    just wondering how you’d waterproof this custom tub with a glass front that was installed between the wall tiles.

  • Ryan

    Can you share any photos that show the completed glass to tile detail at the top and bottom of the glass? I have a similar installation and was considering a glass channel top and bottom. Because of the sloped shower floor, can you see the edge of the main floor slab through the glass at the bottom?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I don’t have access to the construction photos anymore since I left the firm where this project was done. I can tell you that there are two pictures up above that show where the glass sits (top and bottom) and you can see where the tile WOULD go (if it was installed). The way this was detailed out, the glass sat down – or up into – the tile mortar bed so there was no visible channel. In our detail, the tile holds the glass in place.

  • Jason

    great post. so i am using the Densshield but was unable to find Waterproofing Membrane 9235 and Blue 92 Anti-Fracture Fabric fromLaticrete. I was able to find Red Guard waterproofing and crack prevention membrane. Have you ever used this product? what did you think of it? my only concern is that there is no membrane fabric that you stick to it. thanks for your advice.

  • Ed

    Bob,
    I’m using DensShield, caulk any gaps between sheets, then apply fiberglass tape on seams. Should I embed the tape in thinset and then waterproof with Aqua Defense OR embed fiberglass tape in Aqua Defense and then apply 1 or 2 additonal coats to the tape?

    I personally don’t see the benefit to using the thinset first and then the AD. Does the thinset really provide any additonal strength to these joints?

    Of course I’ll also use AD on all the screw heads.

    thanks for your help,

    Ed

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      you’re describing a system different than the one I talked about – so I would differ to the manufacturer’s instructions for assembly. If I walked on a site and saw the guys embedding fiberglas tape into AD I don’t think it would stop me from walking on by.

  • Alan Lehman

    Thanks for your info. I am working on a project and considering the Infinity Drain although my client has pointed me to a different linear drain. I like the idea of the Infinity for the site scalable size on site. Any issues based on gluing the unit together on site?

    Thanks,
    Alan

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I have never heard a single contractor complain about the installation process using the Infinity Drains – it’s part of the reason I like them so much.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tony.colarossi Tony Colarossi

    Can you apply glass mosaics over the Laticrete? With modified ?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Yes

  • Mike

    great read, thanks. Hoping I can find someone to use these methods in my area for a remodel.

  • Connie

    I’m re-doing my bathtub surround with dens shield. Should I use it on the cieling? If so, can I screw it over the existing wallboard? Also, if the Dens Shield needs to have all the corners taped and waterproofed, how do you finish the joint at the cieling? (I wasn’t planning to tile the cieling area)

    Thanks

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Yes, you can screw over the existing wall board. As far as finishing goes, you can treat it just like you would any other ceiling surface – drywall mud and paint.

  • Connie

    This may seem like a silly question, but what keeps the water out of the holes that the fit around the pipes?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      still to come on top of those holes around the pipes is the mortar bed and the tile itself. This is about building up layer upon layer of protection.

  • Connie

    Do you still use plastic sheeting over the wall studs, or is the DensShield Tile Backer screwed directly onto the studs?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      you do not have to use the plastic sheeting behind the DensShield.

  • Pingback: Build shower | Tellasecret

  • TerraForma

    Hi, I just found your blog and love it. I’m about to redo my shower/bathroom and appreciate you sharing the information about waterproofing the walls. Any help on the shower pan? Do I use the same materials on it as I do on the walls. Thank so much.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      yes – you still need a shower pan (either pre-formed or a liner)

  • http://twitter.com/cogitatedesign Keith Palma

    Are you only relying on the set tile to hold he glass panels in place? If so, are you reinforcing at the door panel, or is there no door panel?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      yes, we are relying on either the set tile or silicone to hold the fixed glass panels in place … there is no door panel

  • Anonymous

    many thanks for your post. I am getting ready to rebuild a shower / tub enclosure which was improperly constructed and it leaks. I will use your ideas to rebuild. Question: I have read that putting an impervious surface on an exterior wall (whether it be a mirror or even enamel paint) can stop moisture transfer through the wall and cause mold in the wall cavity. Any thoughts/comments on that as it relates to the waterproofing membrane?

  • http://bruteforcecollaborative.com/bfc/blog/ Mike Eliason

    bob,
    what’s the edge finish on the glass?

  • Sven

    Hey Bob, 
    really good to hear about these products! I just have a short question: Is the whole glass wall hold in place by the tiles? Is there no metal profile holding the glass and being screwed to the ground?Have a nice wekendSven

  • Hunter

    Fantastic post Bob!  I will be filing this away for when we will eventually redo our master bathroom.  Will definitely be doing more research on a linear slot drain to see if it will work in our space!

  • Smalltown

    Great post!  Just designed a commercial shower, and used slot drains as well.  Haven’t tried them yet, but I’m hoping it works well (Another pitfall of the round, centered drain is trying to slope 4 edges to one spot with 12×12 floor tile-not good).

    PS: where’s the glass block?

  • Pingback: Building a shower that won’t leak | ben lowery

  • http://www.decorgirl.net Lisa M Smith

    Great post Bob!  I’m forwarding it to some architects I’m working with on a condo project – so they get it right.  Love the linear drains, so smart and it just makes sense to drain in one direction rather than like a typical drain, easier with a tile floor too.  I found a few at KBIS this year.  People really like them.

    Great post – Decor Girl

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Lisa,

      There are a couple of systems products out there that work well. This is really about redundancy – all that more important when you are working in a high rise situation where it is unreasonable to access the unit below should a leak ever develop. 

      Thanks for taking the time to comment 

      Cheers

  • Sam B

    I prefer the Wedi systems for showers. They have preformed bases some with the linear drains. 
    Sam 

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      There is some redundancy built into the system I describe which is why we tend to favor it over more traditional methods. That having been said, the advancements are coming due to superior product technology to systems like Wedi will have their time and place.

      Thanks for sharing – I wasn’t familiar with the Wedi.

  • Anonymous

    Is there are reason you use the Laticrete over the Schluter system?  I second the request to see some finished pics of the install when available, or other pictures with the glass set in place by the tile.  Perhaps you might even be generous and share a detail drawing for this?  :)

    Love the blog (it’s one of the few that I actually READ as opposed to just skimming the pretty pictures). 

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Glad you like the blog and yes, I will put some completed photos up.

      Its not that I prefer one over the other, it’s that I am familiar and have have repeated success with the Laticrete system – which in some cases is enough to make the difference. I’m not comfortable coming on here and telling you which system to use until I have repeated experience with both. The Schluter System does look nice – it seems to stop me down at every trade show I go through.

      Cheers

  • Garth Russo

    Another great post!  Thanks.  Do you have any finished pics of that installation?  Would be great to see how it looks when all is hidden.  I can already hear contractors complaining about installing the shower enclosure before the tile is set.  “That’s not how we do it…I’ve been doing construction for 30 years and I’ve never done it that way…if we do it that way something awful is going to happen and its going to be your fault….etc, etc” 

    I think that you probably work with a great group of craftsmen though.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Eventually there will be finished photos and I’ll put them up here for viewing.

      Rarely do I hear from contractors “that’s not how we do it” but when I do, I tend to listen to what they are saying. This process really is a team effort and I expect everyone to contribute their knowledge and expertise when they see or think of something that can be done better. Approaching the process this ways implies ownership of the end product and you typically find that everyone tries a little harder to do their best work.

      Win – Win for everyone.

      Cheers

  • Architectrunnerguy

    Great article Bob. Thanks. So I take it from your last sentence that there won’t be any LOAA T-shirts with an Infinity Drain Periodic Element logo on it.

    Doug

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Hadn’t thought of that … maybe that’s a gray area and could fall into marketing and cross-pollination….

      Actually, I get offers all the time to write about a product for some exchange or payment and I have turned them all away. That doesn’t mean I won’t talk about their product or take their money, I just won’t do one for the other. If I ever did, I would let you know up front – but even then I would have to believe in the product regardless of the exchange.

      If I like what a vendor has to offer the reader, then I will talk about it for free. If they are just looking to get their name on the site – that’s what ads are for. I can leave it up to the reader to decide if they want to go look something on another site or not.

      Hope that makes sense, I’ve never really put it into words despite having spent a lot of time thinking about how to handle those situations.

  • Jyothi

    thanks for sharing! 

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      your welcome!

  • Anonymous

    I love that linear drain! When/if I build another house or remodel our bathrooms, I’ll be putting in one of those. Thanks, Bob.

    When I built two shower pans 10 years ago, I followed the advice of Tom Meehan, a tile god who writes for Fine Homebuilding. He showed step-by-step how to build a shower pan that won’t leak, and it worked perfectly.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Fine Homebuilding is one of the magazines I get that I actually take time to go through. The difference between that method 10 years ago and this is the additional layers of redundancy that get built in and the anti-fracture fabric which will help eliminate cracks from coming through into your mortar joints. A lot of our project use mosaic tiles in the showers which means lots and lots of joints – which increases your chance for cracks to telescope through.
      The method Tom describes 10 years ago is really good – but I think this one is an improvement and takes advantage of superior product technology.

      Cheers

  • http://www.dogwalkblog.com/ Rufus Dogg

    I define “Never” as the point at which some other sucker will buy my house. http://www.dogwalkblog.com/open-letter-to-the-people-who-will-eventually-buy-my-house.html

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I remember reading that post when you wrote it – unfortunately for me, I can afford to have someone bad mouth me because everyone seems to know everyone else. The only remaining and obvious choice is to flee the country vowing never to return.

  • Mila

    great post…thanks for sharing the details and specs!  details make the difference

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      the right products don’t hurt either!

      Thanks for commenting

  • http://twitter.com/Alexandrafunfit Alexandra Williams

    Does that mean you got permission from the Borson women to write this post? And I”m a regular reader and am shocked, simply shocked, to hear that you speak your mind and don’t answer to anyone (with the 2 noted exceptions). I wasn’t even aware that you had opinions. Wow. Holiday shocker. Um, can you come over and move my stupid center drains? They seem to hate my toes. K. Thanks. Smooch

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Not necessarily permission but if I am sitting there writing this post while my wife sits other there doing something else, I am in fact, taking time away from them (an endless sort of guilt). At least I have become more proficient and what used to take hours and hours only now takes hours.

      :)