Tile Shower, Start to Finish

Tile shower construction advice and installation help at the John Bridge Tile Forums

Do’s and Don’ts of Tile Shower Construction: How to Not Build a Shower

John P. Bridge

December, 2009

This is not a how-to article. My intent is merely to demonstrate how a tiled mortar bed (mud) shower should be built using just a few pictures. For a wealth of information on DIY shower building and tiling head to the John Bridge Tile Forums.

I suppose this piece could easily be called How Not to Build a Shower. The first series of pictures reveal the reasons the shower in question had to be torn out to begin with. I sincerely hope that this little presentation will be a warning to homeowners when hiring tile work out. Please demand references and check them thoroughly. While there are thousands of qualified shower builders available, there are that many more who are not qualified. I encourage you to ask questions at the forum referenced above.

Original "cultured marble" shower looks fine, but it's leaking through the walls and floor.

1. Original "cultured marble" shower looks fine, but it's leaking through the walls and floor.

2. Everything is removed to expose framing so it can be checked=

2. Everything is removed to expose framing so it can be checked for water damage and mold.

3. The shower floor is removed, exposing the shower pan, which for some inexplicable reason was cut during installation.  A large rectangle of material was removed from the middle of the pan, and another rectangular piece was installed on top of it.  Additionally, the pan material was not brought up the walls far enough.  Nor was it wrapped over the top of the curb. There is no way this installation could ever have held water.  The shower leaked from the first day of its use.

3. The shower floor is removed, exposing the shower pan, which for some inexplicable reason was cut during installation. A large rectangle of material was removed from the middle of the pan, and another rectangular piece was installed on top of it. Additionally, the pan material was not brought up the walls far enough. Nor was it wrapped over the top of the curb. There is no way this installation could ever have held water. The shower leaked from the first day of its use.

4.  The new shower pan is installed (correctly), walls are closed in with sheetrock, and metal lath is attached (over clear plastic sheeting).  The shower is now ready for the mud work. For pan installation pictures please see Shower Pan Installation.

4. The new shower pan is installed (correctly), walls are closed in with sheetrock, and metal lath is attached (over clear plastic sheeting). The shower is now ready for the mud work. For pan installation pictures please see

5.  The mortar (mud) is applied to a thickness of about 1/2 inch.  Since the sheets of lath are overlapped, there are no joints in this shower.  It is a monolith.

5. The mortar (mud) is applied to a thickness of about 1/2 inch. Since the sheets of lath are overlapped, there are no joints in this shower. It is a monolith.

6.  The mortar is smoothed and made perfectly straight and even.  The walls are now ready for the actual tile installation.  The tiles will be attached with another form of mortar called "thin set."

6. The mortar is smoothed and made perfectly straight and even. The walls are now ready for the actual tile installation. The tiles will be attached with another form of mortar called "thin set."

7.  Wall tiles are installed.  When this is completed, the walls will be grouted.

7. Wall tiles are installed. When this is completed, the walls will be grouted.

8.  Wall tiles completely installed.  Curb is tiled also.

8. Wall tiles completely installed. Curb is tiled also.

9.  Walls are grouted.  Grouting is accomplished by smearing the entire surface with grout and then washing with a sponge, leaving grout only in the joints.

9. Walls are grouted. Grouting is accomplished by smearing the entire surface with grout and then washing with a sponge, leaving grout only in the joints.

10.  Shower floor is installed.  This shower receives 2x2 inch porcelain mosaics over cement mortar.  The floor is sloped toward the drain at a rate of about 1/4 inch per foot.

10. Shower floor is installed. This shower receives 2x2 inch porcelain mosaics over cement mortar. The floor is sloped toward the drain at a rate of about 1/4 inch per foot.

11.  Completed floor, ready for grout.

11. Completed floor, ready for grout.

12 .  Shower is complete.  Showers built in this fashion will last virtually forever.  For all practical purposes they are "bullet-proof." I once observed an old house being demolished.  All that was left was the concrete slab and the mud shower standing alone where the bathroom had been.  The shower had stood and functioned for over 60 years until the wrecking ball finally brought it down.

12 . Shower is complete. Showers built in this fashion will last virtually forever. For all practical purposes they are "bullet-proof." I once observed an old house being demolished. All that was left was the concrete slab and the mud shower standing alone where the bathroom had been. The shower had stood and functioned for over 60 years until the wrecking ball finally brought it down.

13.  The owners chose to have the bathroom floor tiled as well.

13. The owners chose to have the bathroom floor tiled as well.


Since 2002 I have been building completely watertight and mold-free showers using a method developed by Schluter Systems. For information on my method of shower building (Schluter Kerdi method), please read Kerdi Showers. The mud method depicted in this article is still valid. I don’t use it anymore, but others do. A mud shower, while not completely waterproof, will last a long time.

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