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Steve Gehrmann is a remodeling contractor (SKG Renovations) as well as a partner in Redblock Industries

Home » Blog Articles » Shower Remodel » Shower Membrane Waterproofing – DIY’ers Definitive Guide

Shower Membrane Waterproofing – DIY’ers Definitive Guide

If you have completed or are planning to complete a shower remodel, you’ve likely wondered about shower waterproofing. Hopefully you’re not as confused as the cartoon man in the picture, but wherever you’re at in your investigation, I think you’ll find this post useful.

One of the MOST IMPORTANT steps in any shower remodel is waterproofing.

In this post I, Steve of SKG Renovations, will be using my extensive knowledge and experience in bathroom and shower remodelling to give you the whole story about shower membrane waterproofing.

I will explain the different types of shower waterproofing methods available, which ones I prefer and why.

Ok, let’s get into it!

Topics Covered:

Brief History of Shower Waterproofing

Fixing the Leaking Shower

Types of Waterproofing Membranes

The New Age of Shower Waterproofing Products

This Contractor’s Opinions and Preferences

Brief History of Shower Waterproofing

You might be wondering, “Is shower membrane waterproofing a new thing?” and “Why did the industry decide to abandon the old-school strategies?”.

Well those are good questions. And the answers to those questions provides a good background for this post about waterproofing products and strategies.

Shower waterproofing is not really a new thing. In the past (15+ years ago) it was assumed that the shower surround was relatively impermeable to water, and the shower base was the only place where any waterproofing was installed.

Older homes also were a lot more forgiving when it came to water penetration in and around the shower assembly.

Older homes were quite drafty with significant air leakage between the inside and exterior of home. Moisture that leaked out of the shower stall could often evaporate under these conditions.

This resulted in a far less comfortable home that was expensive to heat, but it also lessened the danger of mold growth, dry rot, and toxic air being trapped in your home.

Although adequate air movement helped a little, ultimately the problems could never be ignored because of the mistaken assumption that the tiled walls in a shower are essentially waterproof.

This was the flaw that ultimately caused all showers built in that era to fail regardless of the quality of the installation. Ceramic tile usually failed faster than porcelain because of higher absorption rates through the tile, but they all eventually failed.

Old School Shower Pan Liner

Because the shower floor is a horizontal surface always immersed in water, it is a very intuitive place to install some measures to prevent water from getting underneath and rotting your floor framing.

In the past, these measures usually involved the installation of a rubber or copper shower pan liner (or membrane) below a traditional mortar base to protect the subfloor beneath. This was considered a water in / water out system.

And this method is still used today by installers that subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke, no need to fix it” school of thought.

If installed correctly, this membrane did exactly what it was supposed to do;  keep water from getting into the subfloor and wall base framing.

The only problem was that this method assumes that water penetration through and around the mortar base was acceptable as long as it eventually made its way towards the weep holes at the base of the drain. And I can tell you from personal experience that this assumption was not at all acceptable.

Since tile, grout and mortar was never designed to be waterproof, a significant amount of moisture always made it into and around the mortar base, pooling at the liner.

Even with the proper pre-slope below the liner, much of the water adhered to the porous mortar base so it always stayed significantly hydrated.

When this happens, the mortar base breaks down and mold starts to grow. I have seen this in countless demolitions, even if the subfloor had the proper slope and the weep holes were not blocked.

The result was always a rank, toxic smell from the bi-products of rubber and cement breaking down, and mold….. lots of mold. A seriously flawed design in my opinion.

In other words, It was a bad idea before, and it’s still a bad idea today.

Shower Wall Waterproofing

Before the waterproofing membrane systems were developed, there wasn’t really any consistently applied waterproofing strategies for the shower walls except for the shower pan liner which usually ran up the wall only about 1′ above the shower base.

Most building codes also required that a vapour retarder membrane (plastic sheet or building felt) be installed between the studs and the backer board on outside facing walls, to limit moisture transfer into the framing.

This code rule is still in place today in most parts of the world but it has always had serious limitations such as inconsistent coverage and varying degrees of moisture permeability.

The new problem is that this old system is incompatible with new shower waterproofing membrane systems and can cause major problems with condensation in your outside shower wall.

These old shower wall waterproofing methods were seriously flawed and needed to be replaced with the new membrane systems, not supplemented by them.

Shower Nooks and Niches – Most Problematic

It is easy to see how shower nooks and niches could be the cause of major water infiltration issues in the showers of the past, when they still cause problems in some shower today.

A hole in the shower wall was always a risky undertaking and almost always resulted in water running into the shower wall no matter how careful the contractor was when building these problematic shower boxes.

There were no preformed ready to install tileable foam shower niches back then, and no shower waterproofing membranes, let alone quick to install finished shower niches. All these wall nooks, niches and soap trays had to be custom built by the framer or tiling contractor.

They had to use the materials available at the time, so wood studs framed it, tar paper “waterproofed” it, gypsum wall board lined it, and tiles were laid over it. At the time, tile and grout were considered to be relatively impermeable to water so it was not considered to be a problem.

This was a grossly mistaken assumption, but fairly common during that period. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for these assemblies to rot, causing the tiles to break off and water to get into the wall framing.

Fixing the Leaking Shower

The new shower waterproofing membrane technology has basically solved all of the problems of the past by placing the waterproofing layer directly beneath the tile layer and combining it with decoupling.

These technologies have truly revolutionized the entire tiling industry, including the way that tiled showers are constructed and waterproofed.

There are basically four main types of shower wall and floor membranes:

Sheet and liquid membranes, as well as the newer foam wall boards, foam shower bases and foam shower niches (in the foam wall boards category).

Each of these products have some similarities and some important variations that I will go over in detail.

Sheet membranes are also different from liquid waterproofing membranes in that they can also serve as uncoupling membranes. Before we get into the details of each type of waterproofing membrane, I will try to explain what uncoupling is all about.

Decoupling / Uncoupling Membrane Mystery

One of the additional benefits of the sheet style waterproofing shower membranes is that they can also serve as uncoupling membranes.

Not many people understand the term, or the purpose of uncoupling the tile assembly from the backer board and I can’t really blame them. There are some complex physics involved in these systems and frankly most tiling professionals don’t really have a clue either.

I will attempt to explain the basics of uncoupling in the following sections.

Crack Isolation Membranes

The explanation of crack isolation membranes goes a long way to also explain the advantage of the uncoupling membrane in the shower:

Most of you have probably seen tiled floors that have cracked along their grout lines, sometimes quite dramatically. This is often the result of a crack in the concrete floor beneath the tile.

When the tile is firmly attached to a concrete subfloor, the crack that forms in the subfloor will crack the tile assembly attached to it as well, usually separating along the grout lines. This horizontal movement can also cause tile delamination around the crack.

A crack isolation membrane is basically just a thicker and heftier version of a waterproofing membrane that can stretch horizontally sometimes as much as 1/8″.

This type of membrane can reduce the chance of grout line cracking in the example above, by floating the tile assembly (tile, grout, mortar) on the surface of the membrane so it can stretch horizontally as the floor cracks, instead of the tile assembly being pulled apart (explained more thoroughly in the next section).

Uncoupling Membranes in the Shower

Because the shower floor and shower walls are exposed to lots of moisture and wide temperature changes, this is also a place where grout line cracking can occur.

This can happen in the same way as the floor example above but to a much lesser degree. Without a uncoupling membrane, the bottom backer board layer can expand and contract at a different rate than the top tile layer, causing grout line cracking.

This movement can occur at the margins between two adjoining backer board panels, or most often in the corners where the wall meets the floor, and where the back wall meets the side walls.

Uncoupling can solve this problem by essentially disconnecting the top tile layer from the bottom backer board layer.

Uncoupling is accomplished by the mortar attaching not to the membrane sheet itself, but only to the fleece fibers (tiny plastic hairs) on each side of the sheet. This creates a tiny gap at the base of the fleece on each side of the membrane sheet.

This tiny gap allows the assembly on top side of the membrane to move a little. Not much, but it’s enough to allow the tile, grout and mortar to essentially float over the backer board while still able to carry a significant load.

Genius, right? Like I said, I wish I would have invented it!

Types of Waterproofing Membranes

Sheet Waterproofing Membranes

Image of Schluter Kerdi Waterproofing Membrane Roll (Amazon link)
Schluter Kerdi Waterproofing Membrane
Ad: The above image is an affiliate link.

The sheet membrane is exemplified by the brand leader in the industry, Schluter Systems and their Kerdi waterproofing membrane (see above), but there are several other brands as well (more on brands later).

These sheet membranes are made from a blend of plastic compounds designed to be attached on the surface of the tile backer board and shower base with either a thin layer of tile mortar, or “peel and stick”.

The peel and stick shower membrane only requires a primer to be applied before sticking it to the backer board or shower pan. These are not too common in the US but more common internationally.

To seal the corners of the shower surround, these membrane systems use preformed / molded membrane pieces sold separately. You mortar or stick these pieces in place similar to the membrane application.

Your wall tile and shower floor tile is then attached to the membrane with a layer of thin-set mortar in the same way you would set any tile, using the appropriate sized notched trowel for your tile.

Both front and back surfaces of the membrane are specifically designed to bond to most thin-set tile mortars.

Liquid Waterproofing Membrane

The liquid waterproofing membrane is exemplified by the most popular of these products, Redgard Waterproofing Membrane by Custom Building Products, although there are also a number of other brands out there (more on that later).

This type of product can be considered a waterproof paint for your shower because the most common method of application is with a paint roller. You can also spray it on with a paint sprayer.

After it dries it turns into an elastomeric (rubber like) layer which stays flexible.

This is the cheapest and easiest way to waterproof your shower walls and shower floor and it does provide good protection in most cases if applied correctly.

It can also be the fastest way to get the waterproofing job over with asap, if you pick the right product and the weather is not too cold or wet.

Some of liquid membrane manufacturers claim that they can also serve as a crack isolation membrane if they are applied a little thicker.

Foam Tile Backer Boards

I included these foam backer board products in my shower membrane post because they are the only waterproof wall boards that are designed to serve as tile backer boards. The most popular of these is Kerdi Board by Schluter Systems.

Image of Kerdi-Board Waterproofing Kit (Amazon link)
Kerdi-Board Waterproofing Kit
Ad: The above image is an affiliate link.

Just like ordinary tile backer boards, they can serve as a structural, dimensionally stable and load bearing substrate for tile as well as a waterproofing shower membrane.

The wall boards are made from extruded polystyrene foam and have a layer of material on both sides designed for tile mortar bonding.

This bonding layer is most often a plastic fabric with fleece webbing for bonding and decoupling however, there are a couple of products that have a cementitious material bonded to their outer surface.

They are attached to the wall with specially designed fasteners, with washers to prevent the screw head from pulling through the material. The fasteners are later covered with adhesive or a small piece of membrane to maintain membrane integrity.

The wall boards come in various thicknesses to allow you to use them as building panels as well as backer boards. Most manufacturers are encouraging their use for quick and easy shower bench construction as well as waterproof partition walls, tub decks, etc.

If you’d like to read more about foam backer boards (and other tile backer boards), check out my Shower Tile Backer Board DIY Guide.

Foam Shower Bases

Foam shower bases (or shower pans) are sold separately or as part of a shower kit that contains several shower waterproofing components.

These components often include a foam shower curb that is secured and waterproofed in the same way as the base. They also include other essential components like a membrane bonding shower drain and corner and seam tape to reinforce and waterproof the perimeter and seams.

The shower bases are formed from the same foam material as the wall boards, some having a mortar bonding layer on their surface and some not (more on the this in the Foam Shower Wall Panels, Bases & Shower Niches section below).

There are some standard size shower base and shower pan kits with either right hand, middle, or left hand drain orientations. And because they are made from foam, they can easily be trimmed to match your shower size and drain position by using a circular saw,  hand saw or even a utility knife.

There is no need to pre-slope the subfloor or install a rubber or metal shower pan liner to the subfloor with this system. The foam shower base simply bonds to the unaltered subfloor with thin-set tiling mortar.

Most, but not all of these shower bases require a membrane to be applied over their entire surface. This type includes a drain assembly with a membrane bonding flange that is attached to the polystyrene with thinset mortar.

The bases that are covered with a cementitious coating do not require a membrane to be bonded to their surface and include a drain assembly that glues into place with a special adhesive.

All of these foam shower bases also require their entire perimeter and seams to be sealed with either preformed membrane corner pieces attached with thinset mortar, or strips of fiberglass tape applied to all the corners and seams, then covered with a thick waterproof adhesive.

The New Age of Shower Waterproofing Products

I have gone over the various types of shower waterproofing membranes above. Now it’s time to give you a rundown of the brands within these categories.

I’ll try to go over their distinguishing features as well as my preferred products and install techniques.

But first, a little background about how these membranes are rated for moisture permeability.

Striving for the Perfect Shower Seal

I should make it clear that there is no such thing as perfect shower seal or perfect waterproofing for your shower.

The term “waterproofing membrane” is in fact misleading; No membrane is completely waterproof. They all belong to larger classification of Vapor Retarders. Any vapor retarder will only limit the amount of moisture that can pass through it, not eliminate it.

Vapor retarders are rated as to their moisture permeability and given a “perm rating” that represents how much water vapour will pass through the material in a given period of time at a given pressure (1 grain of water vapor per hour, per square foot, per inch of mercury).

There are three vapor retarder classes that all waterproofing material’s fall into.

Class I: 0.1 perm or less (these are generally considered vapor barriers).

Class II: 0.1 – 1.0 perm

Class III: 1.0 – 10 perms

Most shower waterproofing membranes fall into Class II but some end up in Class III as well. The bottom line is, the lower the perm rating, the less moisture will get through the membrane.

There are not a lot of established requirements when it comes to the definition of a waterproofing membrane for use in a shower environment. The only rules that have been established are related specifically to steam showers. If you are interested in the specifics of the testing procedure, it can be purchased from ASTM International: Procedure E of ASTM E96.

I will explain the significance of perm ratings for different shower installations a little later when I give you my opinion and recommendations.

Sheet Waterproofing Membrane Products

I will be listing a few of my favorite sheet membrane products in order of their perm rating, starting from the lowest (least permeable) to the highest.

Wedi Subliner Dry:

Image of Wedi Subliner Dry Waterproofing Membrane roll (Amazon link)
Wedi Subliner Dry Waterproofing Membrane
Ad: The above image is an affiliate link.

This sheet membrane system was engineered for the high water vapor environment of steam shower. The difference is that this membrane has an exceptionally low .05 perm rating according to the manufacturer.

As far as I know, Wedi Subliner Dry has the lowest perm rating of all the shower waterproofing membranes in the industry.

It is also engineered so it can be used on both shower walls and shower bases.

In addition to their sheet membrane, Wedi also has a range of polystyrene foam products that make up an entire wet room system. This includes shower bases, shower niches and building panels.

Durock by USG,

Image of USG Durock Shower System- Waterproofing Membrane Roll (Amazon link)
USG Durock Shower System- Waterproofing Membrane
Ad: The above image is an affiliate link.

Durock sheet waterproofing membrane has a .079 perm rating so it is also very good compared with the other sheet membranes. It’s also engineered for shower walls and floors.

Like the others, Durock also makes a line of polystyrene shower products, including shower bases, curbs, benches, ramps, tile backer board, building panels but no foam shower niches. They do however make a waterproof ABS plastic shower niche that has a fleece surface for tile mortar bonding.

None of their polystyrene products have any coatings on their surface to facilitate the bonding of tile mortar.

Noble Company:

Noble ValueSeal shower waterproofing membrane
Ad: The above image is an affiliate link.

Noble has a few good sheet membrane products designed for shower waterproofing. Their ValeSeal membrane is one of their less expensive membranes with a perm rating of “less than 0.5 perms”, which makes it slightly better than the Schluter Kerdi membrane, the most popular shower waterproofing membrane out there.

I prefer their NobleSeal TS membrane because of it’s ultra low rating of .15 perms. This makes it one of the better shower waterproofing membranes in the industry. Engineered for both shower walls and bases.

Noble also offers a range of extruded polystyrene foam products including preformed shower benches, preformed shower niches, and shower bases.

Schluter Kerdi:

Image of Schluter Kerdi Waterproofing Membrane Roll (Amazon link)
Schluter Kerdi Waterproofing Membrane
Ad: The above image is an affiliate link.

The Kerdi waterproofing membrane is by far the most popular sheet membrane at the moment.

Schluter originally claimed that only unmodified mortar can be used to attach their membrane because it’s composed of lime based cement, which can easily cure under a vapour retarder like Kerdi. Modified mortars apparently can take too long to cure, compromising their bond strength.

That said, Schluter now makes its own modified thin set mortars that apparently can be used above and below their Kerdi and Ditra membranes. It’s magic I guess.

According to Schluter, if you follow the application instructions you should be able to tile over Kerdi immediately after it’s installed, which is common for most sheet membranes.

The standard Kerdi membrane has a perm rating of .75 but Kerdi DS has a .19 perm rating. Kerdi DS was engineered for the harsh environments of steam showers.

Paint On Liquid Waterproofing Membranes

Redgard Waterproofing Membrane by Custom Building Products:

Image of bucket of Redgard Waterproofing (Amazon link)
Redgard Waterproofing Membrane
Ad: The above image is an affiliate link.

As I have already mentioned, Redgard is the most popular and the most talked about liquid waterproofing membrane out there.

All liquid waterproofing membranes are applied either with a brush and roller that would be used for painting, or sprayed on with a paint sprayer. Most professionals and DIY’ers use a roller and brush.

The use of a wet film thickness gauge (supplied) is recommended with all liquid membranes as well. This ensures that it is applied to the correct thickness. If it is not, it will compromise its waterproofing qualities (and its warrantee).

Joints or changes in plane (wall to floor) can be reinforced with fiberglass mesh tape and recoated with Redgard if you want “extra protection”, but this is not a requirement according to the application instructions.

This type of membrane requires at least 2 applications for it to have the proper thickness for shower waterproofing. In warm dry weather it can dry very quickly but may take up to several hours between coats and again before tile can be applied over it.

You must allow 12 hours to cure before flood testing.

Redgard has a perm rating of .36 when applied according to the application instructions.

Mapei Mapelastic Aquadefense:

Image of Mapei Mapelastic AquaDefense bucket (Amazon link)
Mapei Mapelastic AquaDefense
Ad: The above image is an affiliate link.

This liquid membrane is also quite popular and effective if applied according to the instructions. It basically has the same application procedures and limitations as the other liquid membranes.

The manufacturer says that a reinforcing tape in the corners and seams is optional but they also sell this type of product (Mapeband) if you want to “provide additional protection”.

It can also be used as a crack isolation membrane up to 1/8″ according to the specs.

Aquadefense has a perm rating of <.5 according to the manufacturer which is intentional because they engineered it to meet the requirements for steam shower waterproofing membranes (Procedure E of ASTM E96).

Laticrete Hydro Ban:

Laticrete Hydro Ban waterproofing bucket (Amazon link)
Laticrete Hydro Ban
Ad: The above image is an affiliate link.

Hydro Ban is also one of the more popular liquid membranes out there.

It has a significantly higher perm rating at 1.25 perms so it is not rated for steam showers.

It can also be used as a crack isolation membrane and it does not require any reinforcing mesh be applied at the seams or corners according to the application instructions.

Foam Shower Wall Panels, Bases & Shower Niches

There are a fair number of companies producing and selling foam wall panels, shower bases and preformed shower niches today and more are jumping on the bandwagon every other month it seems.

These products are getting extremely popular because they can help you build and waterproof your shower far quicker and easier than ever before.

Here are a few of them:

Schluter Kerdi Board:

Image of Kerdi-Board Waterproofing Kit (Amazon link)
Kerdi-Board Waterproofing Kit
Ad: The above image is an affiliate link.

As I already mentioned, Kerdi Board is the most popular of the foam wall boards out there. They also make the most popular foam shower base available.

Their wall boards come in 1/2″, 5/8″, 3/4″ and 2″ thicknesses and have a reinforcement layer on each side to create more structurally stability. This layer also has fleece webbing attached to it’s surface to facilitate tile mortar bonding.

Their 1/2″ board is typically the one used in place of a standard tile backer board on the shower wall.

Without any waterproofing membrane attached, this board has a .36 perm rating. With a perm rating under .5, it can be used as a tile backer for steam showers installations according to the Tile Council of North America.

There is also a series of Kerdi Board prefab shower niches that are designed to be tiled.

Kerdi Shower Base:

Image of Schluter Kerdi-Shower Kit (Amazon link)
Schluter Kerdi-Shower Kit
Ad: The above image is an affiliate link.

Schluter also sells a foam shower base (or shower tray) that dominates the prefab shower base market.

This base is fixed to the subfloor via unmodified thinset mortar (explained in Kerdi membrane section).

This base has always always been a bare foam shower tray with no tile bonding surface attached, but this has recently changed. They now have an integrated waterproofing membrane laminated to the top surface. As such, there is no longer any need to attach the Kerdi membrane to its top surface as there was in the past.

The Kerdi Shower Kit also comes with a custom drain that has a built in bonding flange for the membrane to attach to.

Durock shower trays and panels by USG:

The Durock pre-sloped foam shower trays are part of their shower system which includes the waterproofing membrane, pre-formed corners, pipe and valve seals and foam shower curb.

This shower base is similar to the Schluter base and many others in the sense that there is no tile bonding material attached to the top surface to facilitate mortar bonding. Their waterproofing membrane must be attached to it’s surface before tile can be placed.

It also comes with a custom shower drain specifically designed for this system so it integrates easily with their waterproofing membrane.

Their trays come in interlocking sections to allow for some ability to customize the size of your shower base. This is a relatively unique feature amongst the competition.

Durock also makes foam tile backer board panels, benches, and ramps. Their shower niche product is (surprisingly) not constructed with foam but rather ABS plastic. It also has a fleece covered surface so that a standard thin set mortar can be used to bond the tile to it’s surface (unlike it’s plastic competitors).

ProBase by Noble Company:

ProBase is unique among it’s competitors because it has a fleece covered membrane bonded to it’s surface. This fleece allows for extremely secure mortar & tile bonding along with decoupling.

The fleece coating means that no additional membrane attachment is required for tiles to bond to it. The custom drain assembly also bonds easily to its surface, maintaining the integrity of the membrane.

Noble also has a selection of foam shower niches and benches.

Wedi Shower Systems:

Wedi has a whole range of foam shower bases, backer board panels, benches, niches and thicker building panels.

These products are unusual because they are some of the very few products in the industry that have a cement coating on their surface to improve mortar and tile bonding.

This means that the surface is tile ready without any additional membrane attachment required (as with Schluter, Durock shower bases).

Hydro-Blok Shower System:

The Hydro-Blok system is very similar to the Wedi system and includes all the same of prefab foam products.

Another similarity is it’s cement coating. These products also install and integrate with the waterproofing membrane and shower drain assembly, just like Wedi.

This Contractor’s Opinions and Preferences

My simple answer for the best waterproofing method available for your shower would be to use a sheet membrane with the lowest permeability available.

I prefer to use Wedi Subliner, Durock sheet membrane, NobleSeal TS, or Kerdi DS, because they have the lowest perm ratings.

Follow the manufacturer’s directions and make sure all the joints and corners are sealed with the proper membrane components.

That would be my simple recommendation if you would like the easiest and safest protection against moisture problems down the road.

More Details….

You didn’t think I was going to leave it at that , did you?

Of course there are many different waterproofing techniques and materials that you may be considering so I will also be providing my perspective on a few of these that I feel are important.

Problems With Liquid Waterproofing?

There is generally nothing wrong with liquid waterproofing membranes for shower waterproofing, but I prefer not to use them and I would recommend that you not use them either.

The reason for this is because they basically require perfect application. The waterproofing integrity of this membrane relies on a even thickness of material applied uniformly across the entire surface of the shower.

In my experience, perfectly uniform application is difficult to achieve even if you’re skilled with applying this type of membrane.

As well, most liquid membrane application instructions suggest that it is not necessary to apply reinforcing tape in the corners and seams. This questionable advice also contributes to thin areas in the membrane as the liquid tends to recede into gaps and crevices.

There is also a tendency for pinholes to form in the surface of the membrane as it dries. This is mainly due to air bubbling from the backer board when it has not being appropriately sealed (bonded) before application.

A good way to limit this problem is to apply a bonding agent to the surface of your cementitious backer board before applying the liquid waterproofing membrane.

Image of Weldbond Universal Adhesive bottle (Amazon link)
Weldbond Universal Adhesive
Ad: The above image is an affiliate link.

I use Weldbond for this purpose (pictured above) because it’s easy to use, non-toxic, economical, and readily available.

You simply dilute it with water (follow the directions for using as a bonding agent), and apply one coat to the tile backer surface using a roller and brush. Make sure you cover the entire surface where you will be aplying yor liquid waterproofing.

The Water Vapor Sandwich

The reality is that at least one of the walls of your shower will likely be on an outside wall.

This creates a problem with your modern shower waterproofing strategy because in addition to the membrane that you apply over the backer board, there is also usually a sheet of vapor retarder plastic behind the backer board to protect the inside of the stud wall from moisture.

Although it is important to severely limit moisture from making it into the wall, this two layer approach allows the moisture to be trapped between these two layers and condense on the plastic layer beneath.

This causes mold growth, deterioration of the backer board, and can lead to eventual failure of the entire wall assembly.

In other words, a terrible idea.

A Better Approach to Shower Wall Waterproofing

I would recommend you first remove any vapor retarder plastic sheet or felt from the stud surface on all the outside shower walls. The low perm waterproofing membrane (Wedi, Durock, NobleSeal TS) applied on the backer board surface will be the only layer of waterproofing required for this wall.

Because there is now only one waterproofing layer, this eliminates the vapor sandwich problem altogether.

If this technique is used, and your outside wall is adequately insulated, any trace amounts of moisture that pass through this membrane can harmlessly dissipate within the stud cavity instead of being trapped by a plastic vapour retarder sheet.

If you don’t trap the moisture, there’s no condensation, rot and mold. Problem solved.

Shower Niches – The Weakest Link

After reading about all the problems that can and do happen with outside shower walls, I think most of you would guess that it is always a risky move to install a shower niche in an outside shower wall.

A preformed foam shower niche can be a used as a great defence against long term leak issues into the shower wall, but they will never entirely eliminate moisture from moving into the stud space (see my discussion of perm ratings).

When a niche is mounted in an outside wall, this problem is compounded because the niche installation requires that some of the insulation be removed to make room for it.

In an outside wall that is probably already too thin for an adequate insulation thickness, the moisture moving into the stud cavity behind the niche has an extraordinarily high risk of condensing into water. This means mold growth and other problems.

A way to combat this would be to increase the thickness of the wall so more insulation can be installed behind the niche, but this is often not a practical option.

The bottom line is…. I would recommend that you not install your tile ready shower niche in an outside wall.

But if you do insist on doing so, the best solution would be to install a shower niche made from material that is impermeable to moisture, like a finished stainless steel niche. If moisture can’t get through it, there’s much less risk of condensation behind it.

If you’d like to know more about the mistakes that are often made when installing a shower niche, check out my 5 BIG Shower Niche Install Mistakes post.

The Revolutionary Shower Base

Yes, I am calling the foam shower base revolutionary because of all the major problems that it solves in the modern shower. However, there are some conditions.

If you read about the problems with the old school shower base engineering in the first section of this post, you should be able to appreciate the awesomeness of this new technology.

The reason it is so awesome is because the shower waterproofing membrane is now directly under the tile, on the walls as well as the base.

Prior to this technology, the shower base was an engineering nightmare. Now, no significant moisture makes it into the base material so there is no concern about rotting and molding of the mortar as well as the continuous expansion and contraction of the base assembly.

Because no moisture makes it in or around the shower base, there’s also no need for a subfloor preslope or a redundant drainage pan underneath your shower base, as was required in the past.

Conditions……..

I think I have made it clear that I do indeed think these foam shower pans/ bases are great. But this is really more about the time savings it offers the installer, rather than about the material itself.

What I’m really most excited about is the new “surface sealing” waterproofing membrane technology (undertile waterproofing) which has single handedly solved all the problems of traditional shower bases.

If you want a bit of a challenge and would like to save a bunch of money, you can always try installing a mortar shower pan instead of a foam one. You will simply need to install a membrane over your mortar base to achieve the all important waterproofing barrier.

When More Waterproofing is Not Better

What you SHOULD NOT DO is assume that since one waterproofing strategy for the shower base is good, than two strategies will be even better.

First of all, I have to say that the “undertile” waterproofing membrane technology was created to eliminate the need for a drainage pan below the shower base. Period!

Installing a subfloor preslope and a shower pan liner and drain assembly is simply a lot of extra work with no benefit whatsoever.

In fact, if you are using a sheet membrane over the shower base with this type of traditional drain assembly, you will be violating the most important waterproofing element of this system and causing an intentional breach.

The two step drain that must be installed with a traditional shower pan is not compatible with a surface sheet membrane because there is no membrane bonding flange on these drains.

That is why there will always be a breach in the membrane around the shower drain if you install this type of drain instead of the custom integrated drain assembly that is sold with your sheet membrane system.

If you decide to go ahead with this pointless exercise against my advice, water will get between the drain and mortar slab, allowing the mortar base to saturate, trapping water under the sheet membrane.

This may not result in any damage to your framing (assuming the shower pan functions properly), but it will have some interesting and undesirable long term effects, I can assure you.

Bottom line is….. Decide on one system or the other. Never use both together.

Best Foam Shower Bases

If you read my overview of foam shower base features above, you will recall that I mentioned only two products that have a cement layer bonded to their surface. Wedi and Hydro-Blok.

These shower bases are my favorite by far and in fact, the only ones that I will use. If they are not available, I will choose to lay a mortar base instead.

My reasoning?

As much as I love the time savings all of these bases offer, I am not at all comfortable with the bare foam bases, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, bare foam will not bond to a traditional thinset mortar. What this means is that even thought these bases are fully waterproof, you cannot apply mortar and tile to their surface because they simply won’t stick.

That is why all of the bare foam products require a membrane to cover their entire surface before it is ready for tile. What is not often recognized is that the mortar used to “attach” this membrane does not actually adhere to it.

The mortar simply floats over the foam base and serves to stiffen the surface somewhat making it less vulnerable to deflection or point source damage.

The cement covered shower bases on the other hand, offer a completely waterproof and ridiculously rigid bonding surface for mortar and tile bonding, with no need for an additional membrane.

Don’t Drop the Scrub Brush!

And speaking of point source damage….. This is my next complaint about the bare foam shower base products. You only need to look it up online to see what I am taking about.

Even with a mortar imbedded waterproofing membrane laying over top of the bare foam base, it is still considerably vulnerable to impact damage.

This damage can technically occur during installation or even after installation if you make the mistake of using 1″ mosaic tiles for your shower base tile (not recommended).

 See my shower remodel post for more info on this scary issue.

Wrap Up

As a professional in the field of shower waterproofing, I am fascinated how this business continues to evolve and expand. As such, I tried to write something that provides timely and actionable info for the average DIY installer as well as the seasoned professional.

I really hope that you were able to get something from it. Please let me know what you think in the comments below.

I am also interested to hear about your own experiences with shower waterproofing, good and bad.

This post is for information purposes only and should NOT be interpreted as professional advice. You should always consult a licensed local contractor before undertaking any remodelling work in your home. Click here for my full Personal / Professional Disclosure.

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95 thoughts on “Shower Membrane Waterproofing – DIY’ers Definitive Guide”

  1. Hi John,

    Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m glad you got something out of it.

    Good luck on your project!

    Steve

  2. Hi Daniel,

    Good questions!

    It’s always the best idea to stay with one shower system and not mix products. It doesn’t mean that this can’t be done safely (I have been forced to do this on a few occasions) but it does have warrantee implications. You will have to make the judgement yourself whether it’s worth the risk, but it would likely be impossible to start any warrantee claim if products are mixed in this way. But I should also say that even if you install all the same shower system components, a successful warrantee claim of this kind is very difficult if things go sideways. There are a lot of burdensome conditions on most of these warrantees.

    It’s not a terrible idea to use Kerdiboard (I would use Wediboard instead) but if he plans to waterproof the corners with a liquid membrane instead of Kerdiband, I would fiber tape the corners first. In my opinion, liquid membrane without fiberglass reinforcing tape is a bad idea no matter which board you choose.

    A prefab foam bench is the best idea for the shower. No matter how good your membrane is or which board you choose, a wood framed bench will absorb a tiny bit of water vapour and expand / contract with changes in temperature. Water may never get past the membrane and into the framing, but you would eventually end up with grout line cracking and possible tile delamination.

    Good luck with your project!

    Steve

  3. Hey Steve,

    My parents recently moved in with us (in-law suite) and my father has hired someone to renovate their bathroom. The main issue is my father has poor mobility and the shower is a tub/shower combo. The guy doing the work spec’d cement board. I began doing some research and discovered your blog along with various YouTube tutorials. Anyways I spoke with the guy doing the work if he had installed a Schluter system and he said yes. However, he claimed that he could do it with Kerdi Board and liquid membrane sealer (marpei iirc).

    My question is, is it okay to mix and match these various membrane waterproofing systems? Could one use a liquid membrane over seams instead of tape? Could one use kerdi board on the floor and a different brand membrane for the floor? Or are these products (and warranties) built so if you buy into one part you are stuck with everything?

    Last question. Is there a reason to buy a prefabbed foam bench, or could one build it out of wood, cover in a membrane board and sealed as a shower seat?

    Sorry I’m a novice here and appreciate the info.

  4. Hi Brennan,

    Thank you for your comment.

    I always install a single layer of backer board about 1/8″ away from the top of the tub mounting flange. The tub mounting flange is slightly less than 1/2″ in thickness which makes the 1/2″ backer board surface slightly proud of the flange. It was engineered this way so that your waterproofing membrane and tiles can overlap this flange, creating a drip edge.
    The only additional thing I would suggest is to fill the 1/8″ gap between the board and tub flange with polyurethane sealant. Since you are installing glass matt board, I would pre-seal the bottom of the exposed gypsum end with a bonding agent like Weldbond (diluted) so the sealant adheres to it.

    A simple rule to use is to remove the vapor barrier plastic from the stud face in all areas where your undertile waterproofing membrane will be applied. This should be done regardless of the membrane you decide to use, but I always recommend using a really good sheet membrane on any outside wall (like Subliner Dry, Kerdi DS) to reduce moisture permeance as much as possible, especially if it’s a 2×4 stud wall.

    If you overlap the waterproofing membrane (on the backer board surface) over the plastic vapor barrier sheet (on the stud surface), moisture will likely be trapped between these layers and condense into water on the surface of the plastic sheet. You don’t want that.

    Good luck with your project!

    Steve

  5. Hello, my name is Brennan and I am currently undertaking a bathroom renovation in the Okanagan.
    1) I had a look in the TCNA, and it says to over lap the tub lip with the tile backer board minus 1/4″ from the tub surround, from your experience is this correct? Further, is it problematic to double up the tile backer board to achieve this over lap off of the stud wall? I am using a USG glass matt tile backer, I called the manufacturer and they said, ” it should be fine”. What do you usually use to space it past the tub lip, plywood?

    In one of your posts you mentioned to remove the plastic vapour barrier if you have an exterior wall in your tub surround, I have an exterior wall in my tub surround, the layers are as follows… vapour barrier, aqua board (green board), USG glass matt tile backer board.

    2) Do I need to remove the vapour barrier behind these layers of wall board, seal the vapour barrier on the exterior studs around this wall panel, then install 1 layer of tile backer? Do you recommend a vapour barrier behind the glass matt tile backer board on the other walls or is it the same concept, just one vapour barrier (glass matt tile backer)? I noticed a guy on youtube putting vapour barrier half way up, thoughts?

    Kind regards,

    Brennan

  6. Hi Marcus,

    Thank you for your comment!

    I’m not sure what the people at Schluter would say about your idea but I would say that its not a good idea.

    Because the Ditra matt was designed as a “decoupling membrane” as well as a waterproofing membrane, it wouldn’t be an appropriate substrate for a shower base. A shower base should always be structurally connected to a non-deflecting subfloor. The “decoupling” part of this membrane violates that rule.

    The standard Ditra install is fine in your situation with 1/8″ to 1/4″ gap between the Ditra and pan and Kerdi-fix is a fine idea too.

    Good luck with your project!

    Steve

  7. Such a fantastic post thank you so much for your efforts. When i first came here to have a read i was already dead set on kirdy Ditra floor membrane and either the foam backer boards or the kirdy 200 wall membrane (not decided yet) for the walls.

    But! My question is.. I want to fit a resin cast shower tray (Mira flight). I’m thinking to cover the ENTIRE floor and walls with Kurdy including sealing – all joints, corners and wall to floor transitions. And then set a mortar bed and set the resin tray – ON TOP of the kirdy ditra?

    Or should i set the mortar bed and tray straight on to a primed subfloor first. Then kurdy ditra up to it, leave a quarter inch expansion gap and fill that with kirdy fix?

    I think the first option would be best so the tray is fully waterproofed underneath, but.. will that cause the mortar rott problem you mentioned with mixing two systems (although i think you were just talking about putting a membrane on top of a tray, and i’m talking about continuing the ditra under it)

    What do you think?

  8. Hi Tana,

    That sounds like a very interesting shower install project however it may be problematic managing moisture in such an enclosed and poorly insulated space as a bus.

    Generally speaking, a shower wall made from corrugated metal will have an extremely low vapour permeance rating, so you don’t really need a “waterproofing membrane” as such (this is assuming that the panels will be installed with gasketted screws and have no significant penetrations). Your biggest problem will be water vapour management in the room in general.

    One thing is quite certain… You’ll need a very good ventilation system!

    Even with great ventilation, it will be extremely difficult to prevent moisture from condensing on all the uninsulated metal and glass surfaces in your bus.

    To start with, you definitely need to fill the gaps behind the shower panels with spray foam because moisture will surely be condensing in this space.

    Your main goal will be to isolate, insulate, and ventilate the shower area as much as possible to keep the moisture from reaching and condensing on the many metal and glass surfaces in the bus. I don’t envy you because this is going to be difficult!

    But I wish you the best of luck!

    Steve

  9. Hi there!

    I am installing a shower in a converted school bus. I had originally planned on using tile but have decided to use corrugated metal as the siding for the bathroom due to weight, cost, logistical, and aesthetic considerations. Currently the bathroom is only framed with water seal painted plywood. Could I use the methods explained above on the plywood walls under the metal and then seal the metal edges with silicone or do the methods above require a grout layer to be applied directly on top to seal them in? Any suggestions on a method to use as there will obviously be an air gap between the metal and the walls/curved ceiling?

  10. Hi John,

    Thank you for your comment!

    I think your concern is justified. You might as well make your best attempt at doing it correctly and carefully, now that you have a chance.

    A regular vapour retarder sheet plastic is still a good idea under the tub. There is little chance for condensation in this area since there is no trapped air.
    So yes, you should cut away the vapor retarder plastic where the Durock is being installed.
    I would prefer that you use a good sheet waterproofing membrane instead of Redgard, especially if your outside wall is only 2×4. By removing the vapor retarder you are allowing some water vapor to enter the stud cavity so you need to limit this as much as possible with a good membrane. In my opinion, even with adequate insulation there’s not enough distance from the shower wall to the outside wall to allow the vapor to dissipate & prevent condensation (when using a liquid membrane).
    I would be OK with the RedGard if you fully insulated the wall with polyurethane spray foam, but not otherwise (if it’s 2×4).
    You can overlap the Durock over the edges of the vapor retarder plastic to create the seal as long as it’s outside of the shower area and the membrane extends to this point. In other words, the Durock-drywall margin can be slightly outside the shower zone because it can taped, mudded & finished just like regular drywall (even over the sheet membrane).

    With any liquid membrane I always recommend taping the corners.

    The Durock should be mounted on the stud surface, about 1/8′ above where the tub flange is attached. Because the Durock is slightly thicker than the mounting flange, your wall tile can be extended below the bottom of the board to the tub surface.
    The Durock/ tub flange gap should be sealed with polyurethane sealant to prevent moisture from entering. Silicon wont stick to the Durock. The tile/ tub margin is then sealed with regular silicon after grouting.

    Good Luck!

    Steve.

  11. Hi doing a alcove tub rebuild, to replace a leaking whirlpool tub. One side of the alcove IS AN OUTSIDE WALL.
    Originally there was the vapour barrier over the studs and insulation, with cement board on top with tile applied to it.
    Im replacing the cement board with Durock and then apply 2 coats of Redgard. In reading your article (great by the way) Should I cut out the plastic barrier just in the area here the durock will be installed? Do I need to try and attach the plastic to the back side of the durock edges? Silicone calk? Normally with a vapor barrier you want to keep the integrity. So cutting it makes my head hurt. There would still be the plastic below the tub, again trying to figure out how to keep some integrity to the barrier. Perhaps I’m overthinking it. Is there a tape that should be used in the corders with the redgard? I know you like the sheet barriers, redgard just seems faster and easier.
    On another note On this outside wall I was just going to butt the durock to the tub flange. To keep the durock even with the adjoining drywall. What do you use to join/cover the seam between the drywall and durock? Compound? Thinset? On the back and inside I was going to build out the wall 1/4″ so the durock could go over the flange. Thoughts? Do you like the durock to sit on or over the flange? Does it matter? I’ve seen both done on the web.
    Thanks for your help.

  12. Hi Kenneth,

    Thank you for your comment!

    Yes, I would say it’s not necessary (or appropriate) to apply RedGard around the Hydro-Blok drain.

    Good luck with your project!

    Steve.

  13. Hi Travin,

    Thanks for your comment!

    If it’s a shower that you’re building, I would recommend that you waterproof it identical to a regular home shower. That would mean starting out with a good tile backer board. Plywood is Ok if you install a really good waterproofing membrane, but a real tile backer board is better because it’s slightly more rigid and will not retain water vapor like plywood.

    As well, I would install a good sheet waterproofing membrane instead of a liquid membrane. It’s not a huge issue but as I say in my post, sheet membranes are more reliable and less prone to install error in my opinion.

    Good luck with campervan shower! Sounds like a fun project and a great upgrade!

    Steve

  14. I am building a campervan shower/mud room. Can I build the entire thing out of marine grade plywood and then paint on the redguard liquid membrane then put tile and grout on top of that? What would your recommendation be for this application?

  15. Hi Jie,

    Thank you for your comment!

    Durock is a great tile backer board. I also prefer sheet waterproofing membranes over liquid. Liquid membranes can be problematic if not applied perfectly.

  16. Hi steve
    Thanks for your information. I plan use Durock cement board for my shower wall. for waterproof redgard and Kerdi membrace sheet which is better? l like sheet.
    thanks.

  17. Hi Ed,

    Thank you for your comment!

    I have not installed this type of panel in a shower. It looks interesting.

    I think it would be best to treat the walls behind the panels just like you would if you were installing tile, except you could probably get away with installing regular drywall on the shower wall studs instead of tile backer board. I would suggest that you apply a sheet waterproofing membrane (like Schluter Kerdi) to the drywall surface and simply cut the bottom of the membrane to hang just over the tiling flange of your shower base. You can create a seal between the membrane and your shower base by applying a silicon bead on the tiling flange and pressing the bottom of the membrane against it.

    I’m not sure I agree with the use of silicon to attach the metal panels to the waterproofing membrane. I don’t think this will work. Silicon takes forever to dry and it probably won’t stick to the membrane. I think you need a more effective adhesive like polyurethane sealant. Regardless, these panels will likely need some mechanical attachment method to keep them in place while the adhesive dries. I think this will be your biggest challenge. You should probably inquire with the manufacturer of your panels to see if they have a better attachment method than the Australian one does.

    Good luck with your shower!

    Steve

  18. Hi Skyler,

    Thank you for your comment!

    As you indicated, it’s important not to mess with the fire wall but you can attach some backer board over the Type X wall board if you use a stud finder to mark the studs and buy some longer backer board screws. You also have the option to build a new stud wall in front of the firewall if the drywall is too thick (I have seen a firewall with two layers of 1″ drywall!).

    If you want to tackle the job of installing a mortar base, I would suggest you look at a few blog posts and videos on the subject in order to get familiar. Just Google “dry pack shower base”. Fine homebuilding is a pretty good post that utilizes a Schluter Kerdi drain. This drain has an integrated membrane bonding flange so your under-tile sheet waterproofing membrane can bond to it. To find out more about the drain, you can look it up on the Schluter Systems website.

    Here’s a product that may help you create your slope. It’s called Quick Pitch. I’ve never used it but I’ve heard that it’s great for DIYers.

    After your research, if you’re still not comfortable tackling this kind of job, I would suggest you hire a professional to install your mortar base for you. You really need to do this step correctly.

    Good luck with your project!

    Steve

  19. Hi Ted,

    There a lot of people that want to avoid tiling these days because of the work, cost and maintenance so don’t feel bad!

    I would say that an acrylic/ fiberglass shower system does not require any additional waterproofing but a “plastic” shower kit could mean a lot of things. I have seen some plastic panel systems that glue to the tile surface of an old shower that I would not trust to keep moisture out of the stud wall because the sheets are so thin with too many joints. Installation strategy could also be an important consideration if there a lot of separate pieces where water could get through if poorly installed.

    Sorry I couldn’t be of more help but it’s really difficult to say without seeing it.

    Good luck with it!

    Steve

  20. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your article. I have lots of carpentry experience but basically zero with plumbing/showers/tiling – I followed most of what you wrote (but maybe not everything, I’m still learning). My partner and I are renovating/restoring an old house/mortuary. After talking with folks and doing some research, we’ve decided to go with pressed aluminum panels for shower walls and an enameled metal shower base (Bootz showercast).

    I saw the comment/response about prefab shower bases, that you didn’t recommend a moisture barrier underneath. In that case, would the waterproofing just go along the walls (behind, in our case, pressed metal panels) down to the floor, meeting the wood subfloor? It seems so counterintuative! But I can appreciate that moisture could get stuck between and that could cause problems. I’ve read/seen that folks put something (like a tape, I forget what it’s called) along the tiling flange and then up and attach to the waterproof barrier on the walls (if that makes sense; to prevent any moisture that might get between the tiling flange and the tile from getting to unprotected walls/subfloor). Do you have experience with this?

    Also, is there a system you’d recommend over others for waterproofing behind these pressed metal panels? We’ll plan to glue them up with silicone adhesive/caulk (it will be something like this https://pressedtinpanels.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/PTP-Bathroom-wet-area-installation-guide-2019-PRINT-05-2020.pdf though this is not the company we’re using because we don’t live in Australia). I haven’t been able to find much on what the best way is to waterproof behind for this specifically. I suppose it would just need to be something that the adhesive will stick to.

    Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks so much for your informative post.

    Cheers,

    ED

  21. Steve, thank you for sharing a plethora of knowledge and pro-tips. It makes a somewhat daunting task seem possible. I do have a couple of questions concerning my shower remodel. I previously had a fiberglass shower/tub combo that I just tore out. After getting it removed I realized that I have 5/8” Type X drywall behind one of the side which is there as a fire barrier which I can’t remove. I live in a townhome and this wall separates me from my neighbor. I’m currently at a loss on how to best approach this dilemma. Any recommendations would be great. Secondly, I can’t seem to get my hands on a Wedi or Hydro-Blok shower base. Therefore I’m planning on installing a mortar shower base. I attempted to watch a video you had linked but it’s no longer available. How would you recommend I install it and what products would you suggest? Thank you in advance!

  22. Sir, I am one of the minority that is not going to tile my shower, (wife hates tile). I am installing a shower kit with the rigid plastic wall panels. There is also a glass door which I won’t use.

    When using a “plastic” shower wall kit, is any additional waterproofing needed, or recommended, to go behind it? Thank you.

  23. Hi Robert,

    Thank you for your comment.

    I’m getting the impression that you really don’t want to take out that old shower pan. I know it’s a lot of work to remove it, but the condition of the vertical section of the old rubber membrane is not likely representative of what’s happening below the pan and around the curb. I think it would be very risky to keep it especially now that you have demo’ed the upper half of the shower.

    I’m not sure what the people at Fine Homebuilding were thinking but applying a sheet membrane over the tile would be a bad idea for the reasons mentioned in my post. But the solution is not to eliminate the membrane altogether and install the new tile over the old tile. Sorry for the bad news but this would be even worse than the Fine Homebuilding suggestion in my opinion.

    I realize that it creates a bunch of extra work for you but you’ve already got it down to the studs on the shower walls. If I was you I would rip out and start anew! Then you can do it right by installing a mortar or foam shower base (with an integrated membrane bonding shower drain) and an under-tile sheet membrane over the shower walls and base.

    Good luck with your project!

    Steve

  24. This is a great web site, I’m glad I found before getting any further along with my project. I am cutting down two fully tiled shower walls to create knee walls with glass above. The idea being to make the bathroom feel bigger. I removed all the wall tiles and cement board down to the joists and am planning on installing plywood followed by Kerdi waterproofing membrane and tiles. The shower pan is”old school”with a rubber liner. It has never leaked and when I exposed the liner coming up the wall it looks and feels fine, was dry and no mold. I was planning on roughing up the existing pan tiles, installing Kerdi membrane on top and tiling over. This method was recommended in Fine Homebuilding as a method of retiling over existing shower pan tiles.The article did not address the type of pan. Now having read your advise about not installing a new undertile membrane on top of the old I was wondering if you could recommend a way of installing new tiles directly onto the existing tiles? If this could be done it would save me a lot of work. Thank you.

  25. Hi Christine,

    Thank you for your comment!

    In my opinion, installing a waterproofing membrane is the most important step in any shower installation. So I would say yes, it is definitely a big deal that they didn’t install a membrane.

    Unfortunately I don’t have any suggestions on how to fix this after the fact. Grout sealer is certainly not going to take the place of a waterproofing membrane, especially if there are shower niches installed. As you probably read in my post there can be problems if custom niches were installed or they were mounted on an outside wall.

    I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help.

    Steve

  26. Hello, and thank you for your definitive guide on waterproofing membranes. We recently hired a licensed contractor to remodel 2 bathrooms, one with a tub, and one with a steel shower pan. Both rooms got tiled walls in the bathing area and on the floor. We specifically requested waterproofing and have it in the contract, but for some reason their tile guy skipped it entirely, and now we have 2 bathrooms with zero waterproofing. To make matters worse, they each have a large niche. The contractor is trying to tell me it’s not a big deal, and the tile is enough protection for the walls, and suggested a grout sealer. I do not think this is adequate, but I am not an industry expert or a contractor myself. What is your advice for this situation?

  27. Hi Patrick,

    Thank you for your comment!

    As I said in my post, I prefer installing only the cement coated pans like the Wedi or Hydo-Block pan. I also mentioned that mortar does not adhere to bare polystyrene so I would not recommend that anyone install these shower pans when there are other pans available with tile bonding membranes. Schluter foam shower pans were originally bare foam but now include a tile bonding membrane on top and bottom. As far as I can tell, Prova is a bare foam shower pan.

    Even the coated foam pans have warnings about installing tiles that are too small. I talked about the possible reasoning for this in my Shower Membrane post. I would recommend that you follow the manufacturer’s install directions. You don’t want to take any chances.

    The Wedi shower system requires no membrane layers in the corners at all. With the Schluter shower system, the extra membrane thickness can easily be accommodated with a slightly thicker mortar bed beneath the tile.

    Good luck!

    Steve.

  28. Hi Mike,

    I have very little experience with Tile Redi plastic shower pans so I can’t really comment based on personal experience. Although it’s uncommon, the concept of using an epoxy based bonding method for tile also seems fine to me and I’ve not heard anything that would suggest otherwise.

    Good luck with your install!

    Steve.

  29. Hi David,

    Thank you for your comment!

    It’s always nice to see a detail oriented DIY’er doing their homework and trying to do it right. Congrats!

    1. Ya….don’t want to mess with any structure in the slab – good call. This is a tough one and you will get many different opinions on this. I never want to go less than 2″ on any section of the mortar bed (with reinforcement) but there are guys that go thinner. I really think this is something you need to talk about with your local building authority because code requirements in many jurisdictions have not changed to accommodate the curbless shower. It comes down to a judgement call by your local building inspector so it always helps to discuss your options with them so they recognize that you are trying to do it right and not trying to get away with something sketchy.

    2. As I said before, you should always talk to your local building authority about this because you can get the very best advice online and it could still be wrong according to your local code. Unfortunately, the 2″ code requirement likely refers to the top of the curb structure (with waterproofing applied). This would likely be considered as your “constructed waterproofed shower pan assembly” and it would be tested at this stage.

    3. It’s great that you applied closed cell spray foam in the shower wall and ceiling. This is literally the best you can do in an outside wall to reduce the chance of condensation in this space. Spray foam is such an exceptional insulator that the temperature on the foam surface should be nearly the same as that of the tile and backer board assembly. This means a very low chance of condensation even with an above average vapor concentration. And…. NobleSeal TS is one of the best sheet waterproofing membranes out there so vapor concentration will be exceptionally low. In other words, I believe that you have nothing at all to worry about.

    4. I can’t really explain what is going on in that Noble Company steam shower install doc. I guess the only way to find out is to ask the engineers at Noble Company. There are a couple great ways to install steam shower ceilings using a membrane over cementitious backer boards or simply installing steam shower rated foam board. Here are a couple of helpful links for installation of Kerdi DS and Wedi foam board installation.

    Good luck with your steam shower!

    Steve

  30. Hi, thank you for this great explanation. I’m about to install a foam shower base after removing an old tub. I’m looking at the Prova brand, wondering if you have any thoughts on their products?
    Also I had already bought some mosaic tile for the floor, but it’s quite small, each rectangular piece being 1/2” x 1”. You mentioned this is a no-no for the foam shower bases…is that because the tiles could compress into the foam even after the mortar sets?
    Lastly I’ve read that smaller mosaics can be tough to lay flat in the corners of the foam bases because of the multiple layers of membrane and mortar.
    Thanks!

  31. Steve
    I’m using a shower base from a company called Tile Redi. They sent an epoxy mixture to adhere the tiles to the shower base. Have you heard of this product and would you recommend another product?
    Thanks
    Mike

  32. Thank you for a great article and comments! Very helpful!
    I am replacing tub/shower with a walk in shower/steam room, using NobleSeal TS on thin bed mortar floor.
    I have some questions:

    1) I was planning to remove some concrete and go curbless and ADA wheelchair compliant, but my slab has a post tension cable in the way and I am afraid to mess with that so I will be building up from unmodified slab. I want to minimize the curb height. What is the minimum thickness the mortar can be and still be strong enough? Any recommendations for minimizing curb height much appreciated.

    2) Code says waterproof curb must be 2″ above drain. Why? How is this code accommodated with a curbless entry? Also, is it 2″ to top of waterproofing of curb structure or to top of 3/4″ thick marble threshold which will have 100% silicone bead to NobleSeal TS on curb? I would like to build a mortar curb the same thickness as the mud bed and put the marble threshold on top as this is as close as I can get to what I was planning with curbless entry.

    3) I am planning on fully filled closed cell spray foam in all walls and ceiling but this is also a vapor barrier. Does this create a hazardous vapor barrier sandwich or a void where condensation can occur between insulation and cement backer board?

    4) NobleSeal TS instructions say for steam room to sandwich TS between two cement backer boards on ceiling. This makes no sense to me as I don’t see how this forms a vapor barrier since it will have many screws perforating the TS. Can you explain what is going on with this? See http://noblecompany.com/storage/docs/resources/STEAM_SHOWER-ROOM__NOBLESEAL_TS.pdf

  33. Hi Rich,

    Thank you for your comment!

    I understand your dilemma. When joining the Wedi shower board to your Schluter shower pan, it’s a bit confusing because the two products use different techniques to seal the corners and margins. Wedi uses their Wedi joint sealant and Schluter attaches their Kerdi band with thinset.

    Personally, I would use the Wedi approach for the corners. You are already using the Wedi joint sealant to join the Wedi wall panels together and for covering the screw holes. I would also apply a 1/2″ bead of sealant to bond and seal the Wedi panel to the Schluter shower pan. I would then apply the Wedi sealing tape on the joint using the Wedi joint sealant instead of thinset.

    It’s a great idea to apply the Kerdi membrane (or Wedi Subliner Dry) to your mud pan extension but you don’t need to wrap it up the wall. You can just use the Wedi joint sealant and sealing tape on these corners as well. Just make sure you are applying the joint sealant to the mud extension after the Kerdi has been applied and the thinset has set. If you are uncomfortable joining the corner tape to the Kerdi base with Wedi sealant, you can attach this side with thinset if you prefer.

    You can see the technique I’m suggesting in this Wedi sponsored video. The last 1/3 of the video shows the corner tape attachment.

    Good luck with your project!

    Steve

  34. I have installed a schluter shower base but have Wedi walls. What is best way to waterproof the wall/base joint. Figured the schluter band but do I use modified thin set or unmodified thin set on both the schluter base and wedi walls?

    I did have to extend the shower base with a mud bed and figured I would cover with kerdi sheet. Can this too be wrapped up the one wedi wall

  35. Hi Ali,

    Thank you for your comment!

    If you’ve purchased your acrylic/fiberglass shower base from a reputable manufacturer (like the ones you mentioned) and it’s installed correctly, you should not have to worry about it cracking. Eventually the surface will become faded and somewhat brittle, but I have seen these types of shower pans last for decades with no problems at all.

    That said, I have seen these shower pans crack and leak when they were installed incorrectly. For example, because the tiling/ mounting flange is attached firmly to the wall studs, these bases will definitely crack if your subfloor deflects even a tiny amount….. so make sure the subfloor under the pan is rock solid!

    Many times I’ve also seen these pans leak around the drain simply because the drain assembly was not attached firmly to the pan.

    Personally I would not be concerned about waterproofing under the shower base. This is not a standard practice because these assemblies are designed to last for many years without worry.

    If the worst case scenario happens and your shower base cracks and leaks, it will likely be a slow leak that you will identify soon enough. In fact if you would waterproof the area beneath the pan, water would pool below the pan, possibly causing bigger problems when this water escapes.

    I hope that helps.

    Steve

  36. Hello
    If I were wanting to install a prefab shower base (Delta, Kohler) is there an underlayment that should be put below the shower base? A Kerdi membrane? Vinyl water liner? I’ve heard so much about pans cracking especially acrylic so I’ll try my best to find something more durable but in the worse case scenario it cracks how to mitigate the water that leaks…and make the floor more waterproof before installing the prefab shower base pan/tray
    Thank tou

  37. Hi Jim,

    Thank you for your comment.

    I’m not really sure what product you’re referring to but the USG Durock sheet waterproofing membrane that I’m aware of is attached to the substrate with unmodified thin set mortar. Here is the USG Submittal Sheet for this product. If you are referring to another USG product that I’m not aware of, I’m sure a local USG rep would be happy to help you out.

    Good Luck!

    Steve

  38. Hi Steve,
    I have some leftover Durock Tile Membrane (two or more rolls) from a couple of projects. I would like to use it but the adhesive is no longer available. Is there a suitable adhesive that will give me the same great results?
    Jim

  39. Hi Dona,

    Thank you for your comment!

    Firstly I have to admit that I have absolutely no experience with this type of installation.

    It makes some sense that vinyl floor planks could be used to create a “waterproof” shower wall, however I think it would be naive to assume that there was no risk to this install.

    For starters, you have to be pretty certain that the adhesive that you choose to join these boards is appropriate for the unique stresses of the shower environment. As well, I think that these panels have an air space in between the top and bottom layers. I would wonder if this might accumulate condensation and eventually mold……. it would really depend on how permeable these planks are. Remember that there is no such thing as a truly “moisture-proof” material.

    As for your choice of backer boards, this also depends on how permeable the vinyl is. I would assume that the permeability is very low so backer board choice (or waterproofing membrane for that matter) would not be that important, but that is just a guess.

    I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help. It’s just a bit too unconventional for me to be qualified to advise you on this.

    But I sincerely hope that it all works out for you!

    Steve

  40. Hi Steve
    Great and informative article – thanks! Long question here but we doing something unconventional so I want to fully explain. We are remodeling (DIY – we are moderately experienced) our master and putting in a large walk-in shower where the tub used to sit next to the current small “normal” square shower. We’re going to take advantage of the fact that we already have drain plumbing from the original shower to remake that space as a drip-dry area at the new shower entrance and use a teak shower floor mat there. We have yet to rip out the current shower so not completely sure of the condition of the concrete slab under there but it was new construction 15 years ago so hopefully in good shape as the is the slab area under the old tub/new shower space. We are currently planning to red guard under the teak mat but we’ll assess after the tear out. We are strongly considering using a hydro blok shower base as the walk in will have an odd shape (old tub was corner roman) and we like that the hydro blok can be cut to fit easily. We are going to be using large flat cut river pebbles for the shower floor ( properly sealed of course). The walls however will be somewhat unconventional although we are reading about more folks going this direction: we will be using waterproof luxury vinyl planks. We will be additionally sealing all the plank seams as they are installed. With this in mind we are wondering about the denshield we were planning to use for the wallboard – you mention in a comment above that denshield does not have a good perm value and recommend red guard over top. Since we are not going to have permeable tile/grout but instead a waterproof vinyl surface is this still something we would need? Also, based on our plans are the other factors we should be aware of that you can imagine? TIA!!

  41. Hi David,

    Thanks for your comment! It’s great to hear from a fellow tradesman.

    I applaud your innovation. These are things I have also considered many times in order to save a bit of money for the client, but still maintain the integrity of the entire assembly.

    As you probably gleaned from my post, I think the Wedi pan is the best because of its cement coating. Hydro-Blok is another (slightly cheaper) manufacturer of cement coated pans but they have limited distribution in the US for some reason.

    Perhaps this suggestion is a bit obvious but if you’ve not already tried this, you should first attempt to open a trade account with one of the local tile suppliers. I realize that you are a mason and not a tile setter, but as a business owner I believe they would grant you a trade account. The discount may not be huge on your first purchase but I recently received 40% discount from a supplier that I’ve never done business with before and they didn’t even check my references. This might tip the scales in your decision about the Wedi pan!

    Regarding your technique of taping & Redgarding your seams…..Whether you extend your pan or not, I would suggest using a slightly different approach on the pan transitions because pan transitions are more vulnerable than wall seams. You would need to buy a roll of sheet membrane seam tape and the adhesive joint sealant to attach it. You don’t necessarily need to get this brand but the technique is sound. The exact technique I’m suggesting is shown in this Wedi video. (Make note of the pan to wall transition).

    I think Durock on the walls would be great and your Redgard idea would also work very well. The only modification to this would be my suggestion above for the seams/ transitions. I know that I mention that I don’t like mixing products/brands, but I think this particular technique would work well in your situation.

    One last thing….. I have not used KBRS products before but I believe that they make custom size shower pans and their pricing might be better than Wedi. And they also seem to put a bit more effort into reinforcing the upper (tile bonding) layer than other pan manufacturers and that can only be a good thing to reduce point source compression risk.

    I really hope that helps, and good luck with your project!

    Steve

  42. Hey Steve,

    We just bought a home that needed extensive remodeling. 2 of the 3 bathrooms were easy rip and replace alcove tubs. I used regular Durock, sealed the seams with tape/mortar, and 2 coats of red guard (3 on the screws and seams). Now for the Master Bath… I have multiple sheets of the duraock left over and plenty of red guard (purchased the 3.5g bucket). I am a mason and had planned on doing the shower pan the “old school” way until my plumber suggested use of the Preslope. After about of week of research (your article being very helpful) I think I’m ready to purchase one. I’m torn between wedi, hydro ban by laticrete, or KBRS. Issue I am having is finding a 42”x60” with a linear drain. 36” seems to be most common. I’ve seen dry pack extensions to the standard foam pans but can you extended one such as the hydro ban one. My initial assumption would be to tape the seam and red guard it, but it seems like your not a fan of mixing products/brands. If I so happen to find one to size (hrydroban has a 44”x72” I’m hoping I can trim depending on if the linear drain allows). Wedi has one in the size I need but it’s $1200!! So options are to get a standard 36”w and extent to 42” if you think my method of redguarding the extensikn works, trimming the 44” hydro ban down to 42” or worst case splurging on the wedi. Once the pan is figured out, is it possible to use standard durock on the walls, adhere/seal the first sheet where it meets the pan, taping the seams, and finally 3 coats of red guard? I know I’m trying to get a little creative to be cost effective and use the leftover product I have. Any suggestions concerns with my madness?

  43. Hi Denise,

    If you’re referring to the prefabricated foam shower trays, then the quick answer is yes!

    You should download the shower tray brochures from Durock and Wedi to see what sizes they offer and the different drain positions. If your shower size does not conform to these standard sizes, they also offer extension pieces that allow you to extend the length or width of these bases. This is super easy but is also fairly expensive.

    A much cheaper way to extend one of these bases is with dry pack mortar. This is usually a job for a professional, but if you do a bit of online research and you’re motivated, you could easily do this yourself as well. Here is a video I found online that shows this type of tray extension using a Schluter Kerdi shower tray. The process would be the same no matter what tray you install.

    Let me know if you need anymore info.

    Good Luck!

    Steve

  44. Hi Ramon,

    Thank you for your comment!

    I have not used the Proflex waterproofing membrane products so I can’t really comment on how they install, or how effective they are.

    One thing that does concern me though, is that they don’t seem to mention anything about perm ratings of either of these products. Maybe I just missed it, but every company that makes a waterproofing membrane should make these ratings very clear in their specs and promo materials. These guys have dropped the ball in that regard. There are plenty of great membranes to choose from out there. You don’t need to take chances with those that don’t want to publish their perm ratings. Just my opinion.

    Good Luck!

    Steve

  45. Do you know much about proflex products they seem to offer a product similar to this they are a company out of florida both a liquid and sheet product for waterproofing. Im getting ready to remodel my master bathroom?

  46. Thank you so much, Steve, for this information. The tiling has not been installed, so it is better to find this out now than later. Very grateful!

  47. Hi Debra,

    Thanks for your comment!

    As you probably already know after reading my blog post, I’m not a fan of the “old school” mud base with liner. That said, you may still be ok with a Redgard coated mud base and curb, even with the penetrations in the liner.

    The thing is…..the traditional mud base was never intended to be covered with a sheet or liquid waterproofing membrane. This has always been a stand alone “waterproofing” system. The introduction of a “undertile” membrane confuses matters significantly because it combines two incompatible systems (as I mentioned in my post).

    The Redgard membrane may very well prevent moisture from getting through your compromised shower curb (with adequate thickness and corners taped), because that’s what it was designed to do. This however, is not your only problem.

    The bigger problem is that a “undertile” membrane will only work optimally if it’s installed without the pan liner and with a compatible “membrane bonding” drain assembly. The perimeter of the drain will still not be protected from moisture infiltration because it was never designed to do this. Here is a good article describing the differences between the two systems in detail.

    The bottom line is that your shower base has not been built correctly according to either of the two systems. So if I were you, I would remove it and start over. But if you are not in a position to do this, you could consider altering the traditional “clamping drain” with an adapter kit that would allow it to be compatible with the Schluter Kerdi sheet membrane (described in the link above). Just keep in mind that this will not correct the problem entirely.

    Sorry for the bad news. Good Luck!

    Steve

  48. Thanks for this blog! So we are in a bind. We are getting our shower rebuilt. The new pan had been installed. The mortar on the shower floor had been installed. The tiler came in and put screws on the top of the curb and the inside side of the curb in order to secure the cement board on top of the liner . We did not notice this until two thin layers of red guard had been painted over them. But hubby noticed and we freaked out because putting holes in the liner, especially on the inside of the curb, we had been told by many folks is a total no-no.

    When we asked the plumber, he said he would not warrant the work any longer; his pan had been compromised. The Tile guy said that the liner had not been properly glued in, so screws were necessary. He claims that that’s what red guard is for, to waterproof the screws, and that the curb is good.

    Now we are torn. Red guard is there so it should be sealed up. Surely it won’t cause problems. And yet …

    Should we just go with the curb as is, or should we tell the tile guy to rip it out and redo?

    Thank you (from people too long without a shower now…)

  49. Thanks Steve. I spoke to the contractor and he says his sub will be using the Hydro Ban Sheet and that they are very experienced in using the different Laticrete products. Thanks for having this blog that being so responsive.

  50. Hi Dees,

    Thank you for your comment!

    Hydro Ban liquid membrane is generally a good waterproofing membrane. I would only be concerned if one of your shower walls is an outside wall and the stud wall is only 3 1/2″. If so, moisture will likely condense in this wall in the winter months if you use a lower Perm liquid membrane like Hydro Ban. In this case I would generally recommend one of the sheet membranes with the higher perm ratings. Hydro Ban Sheet Membrane has a .06 perm rating which is extremely good. I would recommend this product wholeheartedly, as long as your contractor is comfortable installing it.

    Good Luck with your project!

    Steve

  51. Hi Steve,

    Learn a lot in reading this blog. My bathroom remodel will be starting shortly and my contractor use Laticrete Hydro Ban. As I was not familiar with it I decided to do some research and came across your blog. Given that Hydro Ban has 1.25 perm rating, would the Hydro Ban Sheet Membrane be a better option to waterproof a shower providing the contractor has a lot of experienced installing the Hydroban Sheet Membrane? As this is not a steam shower, is there a minimum perm rating recommended for waterproofing a standard shower remodel?

  52. Hi Nathan,

    Thanks for your comment!

    As I mentioned in my response to a previous comment, I do not recommend installing two different waterproofing membranes over each other. The results are too unpredictable. If you want to improve the perm rating of your Redgard installation, you should simply apply another coat. I would also make sure the corners and joints are taped.

    Good Luck!

    Steve.

  53. Hi Steve, thanks for the informative article.

    I currently have a drywalled shower/tub surround awaiting tiles. I’m wondering if I can use redgard liquid membrane on the drywall AND a waterproof decoupling sheet on top of that. Would this create a moisture sandwich or is it safe to use both on the walls? Thank you

  54. Hi Kimberly,

    If your shower valve is what caused the leak, that’s a whole other thing! That means that your waterproofing may be all good.

    But I can say from my experience that even two cracked tiles could be an indication of something nasty going on beneath you base tile. The safest route would be of course to replace the entire shower surround and shower base.

    But if a full remodel is not currently possible, the first thing to try is to fix or the valve leak problem of course.

    I would then open up the other side of the valve wall and rent a drying fan to thoroughly dry the stud cavity (only warm air, not hot). This will also help to dry the moisture from the mortar base if water has collected on the inside of the rubber base liner (if there is one). Even if there is undertile waterproofing, this procedure would also be a good idea because everything must be thoroughly dried out inside and outside before any other repair measures are done in the shower.

    I would then simply re-caulk the corners with silicon (after it’s super clean and super dry) and seal the entire shower with a good stone/tile/grout sealer. This is not a waterproofing membrane because there is no such thing, but a good sealer will limit moisture transmission into the base and walls. That is the best you can do without a full remodel.

    I would NOT remove the shower base tiles and attempt to install a waterproofing membrane. Anybody attempting this will only make your shower worse, not better. Waterproofing membranes are integrated systems and must only be installed during a full remodel. The shower base could also be irreparably damaged. Unless the cracked tiles are loose, I wouldn’t try to replace them either.

    Good luck!

    Steve.

  55. Hi Steve, thanks for your quick response! Your explanation is much appreciated! I just wanted to clarify that the leaky shower is due to a ruptured shower mixer. I do not know the current state of the waterproofing membrane under the tiles at this point. I received different pieces of advice: (1) Replace the shower mixer, then apply clear waterproofing membrane over the tiles; and (2) remove and retile the entire shower, like what you suggested above. Given that the leak was caused by the shower mixer, would you still recommend to rebuild the entire shower? Or, will replacing only the floor tiles (i.e., not the three walls), along with undertile waterproofing membrane, solve the issue?

    Many thanks again!

    Kimberly

  56. Hi Kimberly,

    Thank you for your comment!

    I must give you credit for an innovative solution…..but,

    I think this would be a bad idea. You may very well stop the leak into the ceiling below by using your innovative approach, but the leak itself is not the only problem at this point. The bigger problem is that the waterproofing membrane has failed, and it’s very likely that there’s already a significant amount of moisture (and mold) within the shower base assembly.

    It is also more likely that there is no waterproofing membrane under your shower base tile. It’s more likely that you have a traditional mortar base with a rubber membrane beneath. These old school “waterproofing” systems were very often installed incorrectly causing breaches in the rubber membrane. And if by some small chance you do have an undertile membrane, it was obviously installed improperly and will be impossible to repair just by removing the shower base tiles. In other words, this would be another really bad idea.

    Bottom line is…..if you try to seal the top surface of the tile you will be locking in the moisture that lies between the tile surface and the rubber membrane. This is a terrible scenario in the long term. It means that mold growth could continue unchecked, which could eventually expose you and your family to toxic mold spores.

    Sorry for the bad news, but I think that your only viable option is to demolish the entire shower and start over. And make sure a well rated undertile waterproofing membrane is installed this time.

    Good luck!

    Steve.

  57. Hi Steve,

    Many thanks for this very detailed and helpful post. Given your extensive knowledge, I wonder if you are able to comment on the effectiveness of a clear waterproofing membrane over (rather than underneath) shower tiles. Is this something you would recommend? I have a leaky shower and mold/stain has developed on the ceiling directly below it. I was advised to remove the floor tiles (still in good condition, except for two cracked tiles) and replace the waterproof membrane underneath. This process seems time-consuming and costly. Do you think transparent waterproofing over existing tiles work just as well (if cracked tiles and/or gaps are all sealed up)? Will this be a good solution?

    Thanks very much in advance for your help.

    Kimberly

  58. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for your comment!

    You should definitely fill the new hole in your slab with concrete because you need reliable and solid support beneath every square inch of those foam shower pans. Here’s how to do it correctly – First drill a few holes around the perimeter of the new hole that you created so you can insert rebar for support. These can be 3/8″ diameter, drilled parallel to the floor, at least 3-4″ deep, centered in the slab, about 10″ apart. Then insert short lengths (6″-8″) of 3/8″ rebar into the holes. These will serve to “connect” the original slab to the new concrete you’ll be placing. It also be a good idea to suspend some wire mesh between the rebar if the hole is bigger than 2 square feet.

    After you’ve roughed in your new shower drain, mix some “dry pack mortar” to fill the hole. I would not use regular concrete mix because it contains too much water. You should be able to find several good posts online about mixing dry pack. It’s super easy, kind of fun, and will be super strong when cured.

    The fact that you will be covering this “fresh concrete” with a foam shower pan may seem counter-intuitive but I can assure you that it’s all good. In fact, concrete (and dry pack mortar) cures much better in the presence of a small amount of water. I can stay “hydrated” for years and it will only become stronger. Any residual moisture will eventually dissipate downward and sideways throughout the slab equalizing the moisture under the pan. Here is a great video by Schluter Systems showing the placement of dry pack mortar around a Schluter Kerdi drain. But unlike the video, I would recommend that you place the rebar supports, especially if the hole is larger than that in the video.

    Good luck!

    Steve.

  59. Hi Steve,
    Thanks so much for this great post.
    I am converting a tub to a shower. It is on a concrete slab. I plan to use a Kerdi or Wedi shower pan. I need to break up and remove the concrete to move the drain. Once I have moved the drain I assume I need to refill and pour new concrete in the area where I removed the concrete. I read that concrete takes at least a month to cure, during which time it is giving off water.
    So: do I need to wait a month before I put the shower pan down so I don’t have water buildup between concrete and shower pan? Alternatively, could I just fill the hole in the concrete with gravel and put a sheet of plywood down before putting down the shower pan?
    Thanks very much for your help.
    Mark

  60. Hi Steve, thanks for the prompt response! I’ll definitely do that then, especially since the tiles we are going with are all ceramic and not porcelain. I know there’s a lot of competing factors that go in to deciding how to proceed, but I do very much appreciate how well you distill the information to make easier for us understand.

    Thanks again!
    adel

  61. Hi Adel,

    Thank you for your comment!

    It is true that the manufacturers of Densshield mention very clearly in their product documents that you do not need to apply a waterproofing membrane when using their product.

    However, Densshield has a perm rating of 1.5, which is not adequate as a shower wall waterproofing membrane, in my opinion. By contrast, Schluter Kerdi has a far superior perm rating of .75 which I consider to be a minimum requirement. As I mentioned in my waterproofing membrane post, I would instead prefer to use their Kerdi DS or the other ultra low perm, sheet waterproofing membranes.

    So to answer your question……. Yes, I would suggest that you should indeed apply two complete coats of RedGard in order to establish an adequate perm rating. I believe that this extra step is ABSOLUTELY necessary in your current situation.

    There is a lot more that I could say on the subject, but I will leave it at that for now. Please let me know if you have any follow up questions.

    Good Luck!

    Steve.

  62. Hi Steve, this post (and your blog in general) is super helpful. One question I had for you based on this article is that you mentioned that you would not use DensShield as is as your water proofing membrane layer on the wall. My contractor has just installed DensShield backers and used RedGard over the screws and all the seams. I suggested that we just go ahead and roll all the walls, and he said that it’s not necessary b/c the warranty on DensShield doesn’t require additional waterproofing. What do you think? I lean towards just putting a full (or two…) on since you already are covering ~25% of the wall just sealing the screws and corners/seams. I’m not opposed to doing it myself if he doesn’t want to but don’t want to push it if it really isn’t necessary. Thanks!

    Adel

  63. Hi EG,

    Thank you for your comment,

    I’m not sure I’m understanding your situation correctly, but I’m assuming that your contractor went ahead and installed the RedGard without knowing that you actually wanted Shluter Kerdi installed instead.

    If this is the case then I would recommend that you not install the Schluter Kerdi over the Redgard. If you laminate these two layers the result is too unpredictable. I would be worried about water vapor accumulating between the RedGard and Kerdi.

    A better idea is would be to get your contractor to roll on another layer of RedGard if you wanted the additional protection.

    Only if you remove the RedGard entirely, would I recommend installing the Kerdi membrane. If you do this, you should not paint any RedGard over the seams. The Kerdi seams are supposed to be covered with Kerdi Band and the corners with Kerdi Kereck. Make sure your contractor follows the installation instructions for these products.

    Good Luck, and let me know if you have anymore questions!

    Steve

  64. Your article was great! I am redoing a bathroom and the cement board has red guard on it and I was planning on using the Kerdi membrane is this going to be a problem? Also someone else had suggested that after all the Schluter membrane was installed to also use a bit of the red guard over all the seams. Is this a good idea? or not? Will it hurt or compromise the Kerdi?
    Time is of the essence . Thank you!
    EG

  65. Steve,

    Thank you for the feedback. I have actually already added blocking to the joists and even added some sister joists. I was unsure if I can include the 1/2” cement board under the Schluter pan so thank you for clarifying. Thank you again for timely response. Much appreciated.

  66. Hi Dustin,

    Thank you for your comment.

    Sounds like a fun project! Yes, 3/4″ T&G ply is pretty typical for a subfloor so you’re definitely on the right track, but I do have a couple of suggestions.

    Now that you have the joists exposed, I would install some bracing between the joists before you install your ply. You can install X bracing or solid bracing (blocking) to accomplish this but solid bracing is much better as long as you use the same dimension lumber as the joists (2″x10″‘s most likely). These braces are simply attached between each joist to reduce deflection in the floor (make it more rigid). Just Google “Joist bracing” and you’ll see exactly how to do it.

    I would also suggest screwing and gluing these braces in place using construction adhesive and framing screws. This will reduce movement and further stiffen the floor assembly. I would also attach your 3/4″ ply with screws and again… construction adhesive applied to the top of every joist.

    It also wouldn’t hurt to apply your 1/2″ cement board under the Schluter shower base as well, since you’re applying it on the rest of your floor anyways. A super solid subfloor beneath your Schluter shower pan is actually more important than the rest of your floor because of the immense amount of weight on this part of the floor after the shower is fully installed. Just make sure you attach it to the plywood with the thinset method, and the recommended amount of screws, to eliminate voids between the ply and backer.

    Again, all these steps will help reduce deflection in your subfloor which is by-far the most important step if you plan on laying tile.

    Let me know if you have anymore questions and Good luck with your project!

    Steve

  67. Great article. Very informative. I have our bathroom down to the floor joists and wall studs. Doing a full makeover. Converting a shower tub to a tiled walk in shower. Will also be tiling the floor. I plan on laying down 3/4” tongue and groove subfloor over the whole bathroom. My understanding is that I can then lay down a preformed shower bed from Schluter directly over the 3/4” subfloor using thinset. However, when tiling the rest of the bathroom floor, I need to also lay down 1/2” cement board before tiling. So basically the shower pan will be 3/4” subfloor, Schluter preformed bed pan, then tile. The bathroom floor will be 3/4” subfloor, 1/2” cement board, tile. Is that appropriate to do? I plan on using a Schluter preformed curb and half wall.

  68. Hi Claire,

    Thank you for your comment!

    Aluminum does not rust as iron products do. Bare (unpainted) aluminum will darken when exposed to water but if the finish is powder coated with a high quality paint finish, the surface should be durable and last for many years. But that is assuming the powder coated color finish stays attached to the aluminum (only time will tell).

    A completely sealed solid aluminum frame would indeed be completely waterproof similar to a solid stainless steel niche however, the Kohler pilaster has a cap that attaches to the top of the niche frame. This is a big concern for me since this could allow water vapor to enter the stud cavity. This would NOT be good….. especially on an outside wall. If moisture makes it into the stud cavity, it could easily condense on the back side of your niche and cause mold growth.

    Another problem with the Kohler Pilaster (in my opinion) is the fact that it does not bond to the shower wall waterproofing membrane. This niche, like many other finished shower niches out there, is a retrofit shower niche. This means that it is inserted into a hole in your shower wall after the wall has been tiled and grouted, with only a bead of silicon sealant keeping moisture from entering your stud cavity. This is not an adequate waterproofing measure, in my opinion. A silicon bead attached to the tile surface can allow water vapor to enter the stud cavity even if it’s properly applied…. and if this flimsy seal breaches, liquid water will enter this space.

    Sorry for the less than good news but I think it’s important for you to know the straight goods on finished shower niches. The are definitely not all created equal.

    Good luck with your project!

    Steve.

  69. Claire Grace Armitage

    Great and timely find. Thanks for all your information. I am in the process of taking our bathroom back to the studs and was getting ready to push the “buy” button for the Kohler Pilaster Shower Locker when I found your site. I like how narrow and tall it is, but it will be on an outside wall. You speak about stainless steel shower niches in your article…the Kohler product is aluminum. Will aluminum function in the same water tight way as stainless? Does aluminum rust? I live in Northern California. The winter temps can fall into the 30s and the summers the 90s, though the temperature in the house stays pretty constant because of our foam roof. What do you think about the aluminum? Thanks, Claire

  70. Hi Francois,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Although the screws would indeed penetrate the membrane, the proper screws (with gaskets) are designed to keep out water. I would imagine that they would do a pretty good job in a high moisture environment like the shower as well. I would still try to keep the number of attachment points to a minimum.

    However, with corrugated metal on the shower wall, I would be concerned about water vapor moving behind the metal via the raised sections (corrugations). You may think that a small amount of water vapor here might be OK because there’s a waterproofing membrane protecting the wall from moisture penetration, but it kind of defeats the purpose of using a product like corrugated roofing (unless you are saving a bunch of money). The raised sections work well to allow air to move up the roofline but they are probably not a good idea in the shower.

    Since this product was not designed for a shower, there are possibly some risks that are difficult to predict. For instance, if you don’t have adequate insulation in your outside stud wall, you may be creating a condensation surface on the face of the membrane because of a temperature differential.

    I think it could work quite well if the corrugations did not allow air to move up behind the panel. Perhaps if they were filled with polyurethane foam somehow. Just a thought. I admire your willingness to try something different (and kind of cool!) but I would not try it myself.

    Good Luck with it!

    Steve.

  71. Steve, thanks so much for this long but very thorough article! Great job boiling it all down.

    I am considering using corrugated metal on my shower walls instead of tile (it’s a thing!) but since it is screwed to the backer I am concerned about all the penetrations through the membrane.

    Any pro tips to offer?

  72. Hi Doug,

    Thanks for your comment. It’s much appreciated. I’m so sorry I did not respond earlier.

    Yes, I think you are right about all of us getting used to the concept of “decoupling” a tile assembly from the substrate, however it is also a good idea to be critical about the performance of any product you buy, especially if you discover peculiar performance like you and James did.

    As I mentioned, I have never performed this kind of test on the Durock membrane, so I was not aware of this strange performance.

    I will put aside some time to try this test myself. Regardless of what the Durock rep claims, it seems sketchy to me. I have tried to remove porcelain tile (set with modified thinset) from Schluter Kerdi and it wasn’t easy at all.

    Let me know how it turns out, and I will try to update my Shower Membrane post soon with my new findings.

    Steve.

  73. I also went with the Durock shower system and got the same results as James. I even burned/back buttered some mortar into a small test strip of membrane and got the same results. I talked with USG and they indicated this was normal. They even said the membrane could be used on a ceiling. I was thinking of doing this, but I do not think I will. Dont have a warm fuzzy feeling after seeing it peel. I think you hit the right water to mortar ratio when you mentioned the “definition of proper adhesion” Steve. Ive been struggling with this for a few days. Ive seen smilar online posts indicating it is ok if it stays on the wall and peeling is different than the forces the tile will generate. Im thinking this new technology will need some getting use to. It goes against normal reason that a membrane can support tile that peels away from the mortar. But I quess what you are saying is thats what makes it an uncoupling membrane. I think I will give er a try. Thanks for this post.

  74. Hi Art,

    Thank you for your comment and your compliment!

    Correct! I would NOT use any vapor protection behind the Durock backer board. BUT, if it’s an outside wall, make sure there is at least 5 1/2″ of insulation behind the backer board. Install a good sheet style waterproofing membrane (.2 perms or lower – Wedi Subliner, Durock Membrane, NobleSeal TS …) over the Durock tile backer board (under the tile).
    I would also get some of the alkaline resistant fiberglass mesh tape (grey color – in same section as the backer board). Before applying the waterproofing membrane, tape the backer board seams and cover with a very thin layer of thinset (no bumps!).

    I always use Mapei Flexcolor CQ premixed grout. It’s a bit more work to apply but it’s awesome. Unlike other premixed grout, this stuff dries hard as a rock and is water sealed. I include a bunch of Flexcolor grouting hints in my Shower Tile installation post. Another great thing about Mapei is that they also carry a full line of pure silicon sealant that’s color matched to all their grout.

    By far the best type of tile for showers is porcelain because it’s much more moisture resistant than Ceramic. Again, I’ve got a bunch of tips in my Ceramic or Porcelain post.

    Good luck and have fun with your project!

    Steve

  75. Steve, well written article with very good information – thank you for doing this! So I’m in the beginning stages of a DIY bathroom remodel. Originally to tile an alcove tub /shower enclosure I was planning using 4 mil plastic barrier, 1/2″ durock, and then the tile. If I understand your recommendations, the correct materials would be 1/2″ durock, some form of membrane, and then tile. Correct?

    If so, what about seam sealing the durock? If so what is the recommended technique? Also any thoughts about grout – preferences and which is longest lasting and waterproof? Any types of tile to stay away from? Thanks again. Nice work.

  76. Hi James,

    It does seem quite baffling. You didn’t mention if you tried a modified mortar after you tried the unmodified. Although the unmodified should work according to Durock, I would have only used a modified mortar since the polymers would definitely help with adhesion (and Durock doesn’t prohibit their usage). I don’t really have a favorite brand but I have used several of the Mapei mortars and Schluter All-Set.

    Honestly, I’m wondering why you tested the membrane’s adhesion after the mortar was dry. I would only do this if there were clear indications of delamination, bubbles etc. You should probably ask a Durock rep about your experience, but it sounds to me like you used an adequate mortar, mixed it well, and ensured proper wet coverage. That’s really all you can do.

    Maybe the problem lies in your definition of proper adhesion. Perhaps a Durock Rep would indicate that the membrane is supposed to peel off this way after the mortar dries, and this behavior does not represent inadequate adhesion. That’s only my guess, but I do think you should talk to someone at Durock that could answer technical questions about the Durock shower system.

    Sorry I couldn’t be of more help. Good luck with your investigation, and your project!

    Steve

  77. I decided to go with the durock shower system for my upgrade. The problem I’m having is I cant get the sheet to adhere properly to the unmodified mortar. After 48 hours I can peel it off like a sticker. I tried a couple Mapei thinsets, the latest being the uncoupling membrane one. I mix for 5 minutes at no more than 500 rpms, let slake for 10 minutes and used the higher end of the water spectrum. Used recommend trowel and everything. Coverage is well over 95% as all the peaks are collapsed smooth as silk. Still, will not bond. Thinset is ANSI A118.1.

    Any advice? Is there a specific brand thinset I should use?

  78. Hi Clay,

    Thanks for your comment and your suggestion about CIM 1000.

    I agree that this is a good product with it’s crazy low perm rating (.03 perms). I really didn’t have the space to mention every type of waterproofing product so I left out a few 🙂 . Like you, I’m definitely biased towards the lower perm membrane products (like CIM 1000), but I’m also biased towards sheet membrane products over liquid, because their perm ratings are generally better (aside from the CIM of course).

    I agree with you that this product is a little expensive. I also think it’s a little overkill. The two top membranes I recommend, the Wedi Subliner Dry and the Durock Waterproofing Membrane by USG, have .05 and .079 perm ratings. These ratings are already considered overkill by many professionals because they are much better that the required threshold of <.5 perms for steam showers. In addition to its high price, CIM also markets this product more towards an industrial clientele. That's probably why more people don't know about it, and why most retailers don't carry it. Thanks again for your comment. I'm sure my readers will appreciate your suggestion. Steve

  79. Why is it always redguard and other DIY products. I use CIM 1000 for shower pans and walls, and nothing comes close to it. It is way stronger and longer lasting than redguard, and tougher than any system mentioned here. They use this stuff in industrial water systems, and it is safe in drinking water. Also no VOC. Maybe it is rarely mentioned because it is very expensive at 125.00 bucks per gallon, but you can find it in most waterproofing construction suppliers.

  80. Hi Ralph,

    Thanks for your comment!
    To be honest I am not too familiar with GoBoard because I have not used it in any of my installations.
    According to the specs, it appears to be a different kind of product than other foam boards (different kind of foam). It is apparently designed to carry loads (can be installed on floors) and they make it clear that it is NOT an extruded polystyrene product like other foam boards.
    In other words I would need a bit more experience working with it to make any comments about it.
    However, I did notice that it is not recommended for installation in steam showers because it has a perm rating of “< 1 perm". The install instructions say that you need to install a waterproofing membrane in addition to GoBoard if you are building a steam shower (not necessary with other 1/2" foam boards). Personally, I would not use a product that has a perm rating greater than .5 perms. I hope that helps! Steve

  81. I note you do not reference Johns Manville GoBoard in your discussion of Foam Shower Wall Panels. With joints and screws sealed with urethane rather than patches adhered with thinset, and no washers required, the GoBoard system seems it would be easier and less expensive to install than its competitors. Do you have concerns about the integrity of the GoBoard wall panel system?

  82. Hi Charles,

    Thanks so much for your comment.

    I’m not surprised that you’re a little confused. The manufacturers always seems to leave out some critical information when describing their products. Perhaps I may have provided some conflicting info as well. I apologize if I did. I will go over it again and fix it if that’s the case. 🙂

    To answer your question…. a waterproofing membrane is indeed required for the Durock shower tray. This is one of the “bare foam bases” that I referred to in my post. All of these bases require a waterproofing membrane attached to their top surface along with their own drain assembly (with membrane bonding flange).
    I can’t imagine anyone installing the Durock base without a membrane because you could not attach your tiles to it…… it would be a total disaster. I managed to find a link to the Durock shower system installation video which shows the membrane install step:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2dmFV1GfHo

    Good luck with your project! If you have any other questions or if you’re getting stressed about any part of the project feel free to send me another comment!

    Steve

  83. I am a little confused about the Durock foam shower base. Do I have to put down a waterproofing membrane over the top of the foam base? Or no?

    It seemed at one point you said it doesn’t, and at another point you said it does. But I could be wrong about that.

    I’ve seen videos of both. With the membrane, and without the membrane.

    So I’m confused.

  84. Thanks for your comment Richard,

    Let me know if you have any questions for me during your project. I’m always happy to help.

    Steve.

  85. Thank you very much for your article. After I was finished reading it, being a DIY, I knew what was the best choice for me for waterproofing my new basement shower. Other articles I had read left me quite confused. Your simple and logical terms made it easy for me to understand what had to be done and what were the alternatives.
    Thanks again.

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