Tile experts--Is this shower tile installation correct?

nancyaustinAugust 5, 2014

We are interviewing a contractor to remodel our master bath & bedroom. Here is his description of work to install the shower:
Install mortar bed to shower floor to slope towards drain.
Install fiberglass shower pan.
Install second mortar bed for tile installation.
Install hardi-backer to shower walls.
Install tile to bath floor, shower floor and walls, toilet area and grout. (Labor)

We've interviewed two of his former clients, both of whom are very pleased with his work and recommend him highly. One homeowner sent me photos of his bathroom remodel project, which shows the step by step installation of the shower. I'll send the photos in sequence in separate postings because I can't figure out how to include all of them in this post

My question is: Do the work description and these photos show the correct installation of the shower?

I've seen so many photos of poorly installed shower beds on GW that I want to make sure that ours will be correctly installed. Is is correct to not have waterproofing membrane on the walls? Is it correct to have no membrane between the plywood & studs & the concrete?

Please let me know what you think.

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nancyaustin

Second photo

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 8:06PM
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nancyaustin

Third photo

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 8:07PM
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nancyaustin

fourth photo

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 8:08PM
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nancyaustin

Sorry for the previous duplicate. This is the fourth photo.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 8:09PM
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nancyaustin

fifth photo

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 8:10PM
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nancyaustin

Sixth photo

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 8:11PM
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nancyaustin

Final photo

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 8:12PM
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PRO
Sophie Wheeler

Nope. No vapor barrier or waterproofing was used. Can't tell what kind of slope was done either due to the perspective. It's a rip out and redo.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 9:58PM
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melle_sacto

That's a bummer, the example bathroom is looking so pretty!

Hollysprings, do you know how long it would take for a non-vapor-barrier/waterproofing shower to start showing damage (lets say it's used 2x/day every day, once in the morning and once at night).

I'm curious about this because I've read some contractors go ahead and don't use it because they choose cement board. At what point is everyone going to acknowledge that it's not a good idea to omit vapor barrier (ie when are all these bathrooms going to fail?)

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 10:44PM
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Linelle

They used Kerdi in my shower (Ditra on the floor. I always get those two mixed up).

I just googled around and one site shows a vapor barrier (looks like visqueen) under the sheetrock. They say the plastic will be the last line of defense so water doesn't get into the studs. Why wouldn't you want stop the water before it gets to the sheetrock? It makes no sense to me.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 10:58AM
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geoffrey_b

Looking at the red/white/blue bag in your photo, it looks like he used drywall 'joint cement' for taping the fiberglass tape. It should have been thinset - joint cement is not waterproof.

I don't see fiberglass tape in the corners either.

He should have used a surface membrane like Hydroban or Red Guard.

The last photo, that bucket on the floor - are they using mastic to set the tiles. If so that is really not good.

If these things are so, I'd pass.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 12:36PM
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geoffrey_b

@melle : "I'm curious about this because I've read some contractors go ahead and don't use it because they choose cement board."

Understand that cement board is not water proof - water / water vapor can penetrate cement board.

The water seeps through the grout (which is permeable) into the thinset, and the cementboard.

The real problem is that it looks like (from the picture) is that they used drywall compound on the cement board seams. This compound is water soluable, and if wet enough, turns to mush.

When will the shower fail? No one knows. They are bigger tiles, so there's less grout to allow water to penetrate.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 4:09PM
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xedos

I think you're interviewing an ignoramus.

I'm sure he means well , but he's set you up with a home brew shower using materials that are not designed for showers, and using others in a questionable manner.

The preslope is good, however I have never heard of a fiberglass waterproofing system and I am sure it is not code approved. I also know that the Oatey or Souix Cheif drain in the picture is not approved for use with fiberglass.

Moreover, the fiberglass has been placed over a sheetmetal or vinyl pan and that is not an approved method either. The resin most likely won't bond to the metal and may have melted the vinyl liner if that's what it is.

This guy may be the next shower messiah, with these crazy methods - but I doubt it. There are plenty of good methods that approved by the plumbing code and tile council that have manufacturer support, and have been TESTED and come with a warranty. WHy would a fella feel the need to home brew something ??? I can't see how he saved and time on his way , and I'll bet the cost is the same or more for materials, so again WHY ???

I'd probably pass unless he's willing to use a an approved method. Even then , I'd make the technical drawing and product descriptions part of the contract as well as wording that he MUST follow the manuf. directions. NO EXCEPTIONS! I'd also insist on a performance bond.

He's likely to balk at all this , so it's probably easier to find someone competent.

You can check out the John Bridge forum and ask for a referral in your area. The guys that hang out there know how to build showers.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 7:44PM
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nancyaustin

Wow, so it's a really bad installation. I think the fiberglass was installed over a sloped mortar bed because he didn't mention a sheetmetal or vinyl pan in his work description. But, given the response, I'll take your advice and ask on John Bridge for an Austin tile installer.

Thank you all for your responses. If anyone else has an opinion to offer, please post. His finished product looks very nice and his two clients rave about his work ethic and skills. It's a shame that the underlying installation is likely to create problems.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 10:15PM
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xedos

I wouldn't say it's "really" bad - just not up to professional design standards or what I'd pay money for. It'll probably hold and drain some water for a couple of years.

can't really tell from the pic what he put the fiberglass on. The fact that he used fiberglass at all is a huge red flag.

See the thin silvery grey stuff that xtends up the wall about 10" or s in PIC#3 ? That's probably a vinyl shower liner. It looks like it doesn't cover all of the shower walls either ! Looks like it's missing from the wall under the window where that yellow insulation is. At least he said he put it down over a pre- slope - which is good. After that , properly executed details are absent.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 11:08PM
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nancyaustin

Thank you for the explanation, xedos. We want this shower to last for decades, not a couple of years. I am trying to get in touch with someone who was recommended on John Bridge and will make sure that he uses Kerdi or something similar.

What else should I ask an installer about his work?

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 11:57PM
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mongoct

It almost looks like sheet metal flashing at the base of the walls, with the fiberglass liner run up onto that.

I think whoever built that shower it a good mechanic. I think that person does good work. They just do it incorrectly. Might be because of a lack of education on proper methods and materials, or because that's what was learned watching HGTV.

But I think if properly educated and with a proper toolbox and with the proper materials, the person that built your friend's shower could build you a good shower.

Look into Hydroban with a flanged Laticrete drain. It's easier to install than Kerdi. And I'm a proponent of Kerdi, I used it in my own shower. But Hydroban is easier.

Cement board on the walls. If the board is hung neatly you don't need fabric over the seams when using HB. If there are gaps, then use fabric. Easy.

A sloped mud bed on the floor with a flanged Laticrete drain set into the mud bed. That'll give you the base that you want, with the slope you want, with the drain located where you want it. Easy.

Then cover it all with Hydroban. Easy.

Better than easy? It's a logical and common sense approach on how to build a decent shower.

You'll have a shower built out of materials that are not prone to water damage were they to get wet, and the topical membrane will prevent those materials from ever getting wet in the first place.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 12:31AM
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nancyaustin

mongoct, so glad to hear from you. Thanks for outlining these steps. I'm trying to get in touch with an installer recommended on John Bridge but if I can't connect with him, I will talk with the contractor who installed the shower shown in this thread to see if he's willing to install our shower in the manner you describe. Should a vapor barrier be installed over the studs before the cement board is installed?

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 12:30PM
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nancyaustin

Also, what type of adhesive should be used to attach the tiles and what type of grout should be used?

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 12:32PM
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mongoct

You only need a barrier behind the cement board if you are going to tile directly on the cement board.

If you are going to use a topical membrane on the face of the cement board (Hydroban, Kerdi, RedGard, etc) and then tile on that membrane, then you don't need a barrier behind the cement board. That guidance is for a non-steam shower.

If you go with a topical membrane, I recommend you read the installation pdf on the manufacturer's website. There is usually basic guidance on substrate requirements, coating thicknesses, etc.

Nothing tricky. Just basic guidance. Here's a pdf for Hydroban.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 2:32PM
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nancyaustin

Thank you, mongoct. I've printed the pdf for Hydroban.

Two more questions: What type of adhesive should be used to attach the tiles and what type of grout should be used?

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 4:46PM
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mongoct

"What type of adhesive should be used to attach the tiles and what type of grout should be used? "

The adhesive should be a powdered thinset that is mixed with water. Don't allow any premixed "thinsets" that come in resealable plastic tubs to be used. Thse are properly referred to as "mastics" and many mastics are water soluble. If used with a natural stone, mastics can also stain through the stone giving a blotchy look on the face of the tile.

Thinsets are modified or unmodified, the modification means that they have a polymer additive in them. That modification increases bond strength between the substrate and the tile.

Most manufacturers have an unmodified thinset (also called dryset), a lightly modified thinset, and a heavily modified thinset in their product lines. For walls, lightly modified will usually suffice but there is nothing wrong with going with a highly modified thinset.

Sometimes the membrane you choose will direct you to the proper thinset to use. Unmodified thinsets can cure rock hard in a plastic bag with no exposure to air, as they cure via a chemical reaction. Thinsets that have a polymer modifier in them need some air exposure, as the polymer component hardens by drying or simply moisture evaporation.

For membranes like Kerdi, the manufacturer recommends setting tile only with unmodified thinset. Their concern is that with the thinset sandwiched between air-impermeable Kerdi and air-impermeable tile, the thinset may not see enough free air for the polymer component to dry.

Example: In the Hydroban PDF you can read this:

"INSTALLING FINISHES: Once membrane has dried to the touch, ceramic tile, stone or brick may be installed by the thin bed method with a LATICRETEî latex thin-set mortar."

The "latex" refers to using a modified thinset. It goes on with this:

"Do not use solvent-based adhesives directly on membrane."

A "solvent-based adhesive" can refer to mastics. So they prohibit you from using mastic over Hydroban.

Too much info, eh?

Grout? You can use whatever you choose. I still use a lot of portland cement based grouts, many come with anti-microbial additives and polymeric additives for better bond strength and better stain resistance.

You've probably seen references to epoxy-based grouts like Spectralok, etc. Those are even more stain resistant, as they are essentially a non-porous, essentially inert, "plastic" material.

If you choose an epoxy-based grout, there is a bit of a learning curve when using it. But it performs well.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 7:40PM
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nancyaustin

Wow! What a comprehensive reply and a true education. I will keep it and refer to it when I talk with the tile installer. Thank you very much for taking the time to provide me with such a thorough answer. I appreciate it.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 10:06PM
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mongoct

Just trying to make the world a better place...one bathroom at a time. lol

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 12:15AM
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kudzu9

mongo-
I like it, except the moss on the walls clashes with the pink. Does that indicate improper wall prep?

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 2:57AM
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mongoct

I fear some designer will see that photo and get inspired to start a "bathtub in a loft" movement. Design an open 2-story shaft-like bathroom space with the bathtub accessible by ladder? Yeah...I can see it!

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 11:51AM
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suzanne_sl

Fire? Flood? Both?

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 1:38PM
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enduring

LOL, I have to say the tile looks to be on there very well, except over the mirror. Otherwise it is on and straight :)

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 3:20PM
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jellytoast

quoting mongoct:

"I think whoever built that shower it a good mechanic. I think that person does good work. They just do it incorrectly. Might be because of a lack of education on proper methods and materials, or because that's what was learned watching HGTV.

But I think if properly educated and with a proper toolbox and with the proper materials, the person that built your friend's shower could build you a good shower."

quoting nancyaustin:

"I'm trying to get in touch with an installer recommended on John Bridge but if I can't connect with him, I will talk with the contractor who installed the shower shown in this thread to see if he's willing to install our shower in the manner you describe."

No offense intended here, but I am surprised that anyone would attempt to install a shower in this manner ... by inquiring online about how to do it and then instructing an "installer" on those methods. Why not just hire an experienced, licensed, bonded, and insured ACTUAL TILE CONTRACTOR to install your shower? A customer should not have to instruct the tile installer on how to properly waterproof a shower and install tile. Anyone who attempts to install tile in someone else's home should already be "properly educated and with a proper toolbox " and have knowledge of "the proper materials."

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 4:27PM
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snookums2

Why do we even have to know all this stuff?! Homeowner references are next to useless for this very reason. All anyone knows or thinks about is if it looks alright.

That said, we pulled out an old tub/shower tile job done on regular sheet rock. No moisture barrier or anything. There was absolutely no water damage or mold. 4" tile with very narrow joints that were probably 1/16". New job was done by a highly credentialed store outfit. Problems! Including no moisture barrier installed. You just never know.

That said, I would find someone else and vet very thoroughly. You should be able to find a few thru JB. Still check them out.

Was this job done by someone selling themselves as a professional tiler - and shower builder? Shower building is specialized work.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 6:00PM
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nancyaustin

I am now in touch with the tile installer recommended on John Bridge. Thanks to the information that mongoct provided, I was able to ask him the right questions and he assured me that he uses the Kerdi system,not premixed thinset, the drain that is compatible with the Kerdi system and that he'll use an epoxy grout, if I prefer, but he also uses a portland based cement adhesive.

For those of you who raised the point that homeowners should not have to become versed in the correct tile installation procedures, I sincerely agree. Had I not seen examples of water issues due to poor tile installation on GW, I would not have been aware of the potential problems.

The contractor who did the two remodels that I saw came highly recommended and neither homeowner has had water issues---yet. The pictured shower is only a month old and the other shower I saw was about 6 months old. I have no idea if either will have problems in the future, but I don't want to take the risk that his manner of installation will create problems for us. The two bathrooms were otherwise beautifully done and the homeowners raved about his work ethic and skills.

Although I read about Hydroban & Kerdi on GW, I didn't know that fiberglass would not be a sufficient alternative or that the cement board should also have waterproofing or a vapor barrier. I am so glad that I asked for input from GW!

Thanks to each of you who replied to my original post and for the guidance you've given me.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 7:17PM
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jellytoast

Good luck with your install nancyaustin. Just to clarify, I think it is great idea for customers to know the mechanics of what's going on with their improvement projects and wise to ask questions of their contractors. But customers should not have to school their contractors in proper construction methods. If they do, they are using the wrong contractor.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 10:20PM
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StoneTech

Nancy~You have a good guy that you found on JB Forums. He'll treat you tight.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 6:07PM
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nancyaustin

StoneTech, thanks for the endorsement. Looks like the two Austin John Bridge experts (Brad & Joseph) plan on teaming up to do the work together. I'll meet with them this coming Saturday to take a look at the project.

Having the John Bridge and GW experts helping me out gives me the assurance that I'll have a shower that will last!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 6:49PM
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