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Unread 02-14-2020, 01:15 PM   #1
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Questions to Ask Bathroom Contractor


My wife and I want to gut a bathroom we don't like and that has some issues (weak toilet, rusty light fixtures, broken shower door, ugly tile, shower floor that puddles water up through the floor).

We are going to a recommended, established kitchen/bath contractor that specializes in apartments (we live in an apartment). My in-laws love them.

They are full service - you pick out the materials from their showrooms, they warehouse the materials and bring them over on the relevant installations days.

They also only use employees - no subcontractors.

We want a pretty simply bathroom - nothing elaborate.

I am most concerned about the shower pan and waterproofing since I want a shower that does not leak. Is there a consensus best waterproofing method? Is there a consensus best shower pan? We will want a tiled shower - walls and floor.

What questions should I ask? This is what I have:

1. Are you licensed, insured and bonded?

2. How long have you been in business?

3. How many projects run at same time? How many projects do you do each year?

4. Who will be working in my home?

5. Do you use subcontractors or in house employees?

6. Walk me through demolition. How do you get the tiles off the floor? How do you remove the mortar and cement?

7. What happens if there is water damage or mold behind the walls? Who will remediate?

8. What permits does my project need and will you get them?

9. Will someone inspect the work each day to make sure it is correct?

10. Who is point of contact for questions as we go along?

11. How will shower be waterproofed? Schluter-KERDI? Red Guard? Plastic membranes? What wall board material will you use?

12. How will shower pan be built? What are our options (acrylic, fiberglass, custom tile and composite)? Goal is longevity and durability.

13. How long will you flood test the shower?

14. What is your warranty/guarantee?

15. How long will the project take?

My friends and relatives think I am crazy for getting into the weeds on waterproofing and shower pans. They say to let the experts do their thing. But every other post on this forum begins with "so my contractor built a shower and <insert problem here>"

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Unread 02-14-2020, 01:42 PM   #2
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short of learning what it takes to properly make a shower, you can't ensure it is done properly. They may use all the correct materials and just not apply them properly. You can use Kerdi on everything and still have a leaking shower, pretty easily in fact if you applied it wrong.

One option is to get a print out of ALL the materials to be used including make and model. Also state in the contract that they will be installed not only to industry standards but the manufacturer requirements/instructions will 100% be maintained or you get a 100% refund.

I would start by asking what materials the business uses for showers. What brand of drain? What brand of wall board? What kind of mortar? What kind of grout? Let us know what they use.

Take photos at every step of the project. After demolition. After rough plumbing. After the shower floor is prepped. After the wall boards are installed. And during the tile process. Post the pics here during the project and you will get feedback the same day.
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Unread 02-14-2020, 02:57 PM   #3
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Thanks Mike!

If I want my shower to be problem free for 10+ years what is a recommended shower pan system? I don’t like how clogged weep-holes can cause a mud/cement pan to fail. I believe that is what is wrong with my current shower.

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Unread 02-14-2020, 03:27 PM   #4
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Yankuba, ten years should be nothing but a good warm-up period for a properly constructed shower receptor. Thirty years is what I'd consider the absolute minimum life cycle and fifty years would be a better expectancy.

There is nothing at all wrong with a traditional mud/liner/mud receptor if properly constructed. That would include proper protection for the weep holes in the drain.

You should also expect that sort of life span from a properly constructed direct bonded waterproofing membrane shower receptor if you use one of the sheet membranes.

I personally don't have the same confidence in the liquid-applied membranes as a shower receptor. OK for walls, not for the receptor to my thinking, but others disagree.

The problems come when the properly constructed portion is lacking, not because of the choice of construction method.

My opinion; worth price charged.

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Unread 02-14-2020, 03:42 PM   #5
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Thank you CX, this is reassuring.

Last edited by Yankuba; 02-14-2020 at 03:47 PM.
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Unread 02-14-2020, 05:16 PM   #6
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A good way to ensure you’re starting out well is a flood test after the pan is done with whatever method they use. If that passes you have high chance of success for the long term. Of course there are other things that could go wrong, but, in my opinion a flood test done and passed is the most important part of the shower build.
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Unread 02-15-2020, 10:35 AM   #7
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My 2 cents, once you decided on a person and method your comfortable with read up on the product/method. You don't want to second guess the guy/girl putting it in but you do want to be able to spot something going wrong. Thing about many "professionals", they don't read the instructions because they are smart already. You only need to read through some of these posts to see how smart they really are. That is not a blanket statement but a fact none the less.
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Unread 02-15-2020, 04:15 PM   #8
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I believe you're on the right track. Questions should never scare an installer. I will say that many installers may avoid a customer that seems overbearing. Or they submit a slightly higher price depending on how they feel after the conversation.

Feel free to ask about methods and such, even during the install. But please be respectful when doing so. If you know they are doing something that goes against manufacturer's specs ask why and document it. Don't accept the , "I've been doing it this way for 30 years" answer. That usually means they've been doing something incorrectly for 30 years
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Unread 02-15-2020, 09:10 PM   #9
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Dave beat me to it. I was going to add a question for your potentisl pro: do you guys read and follow directions on the materials you install?

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Unread 02-16-2020, 08:05 AM   #10
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Thanks all

We met with a designer and she didn’t know the answers to the technical questions. She said they use laticrete for waterproofing and she thinks they use lead pans for the shower pan because most of their business is NYC and lead pans used to be required. I told her that I didn’t want a lead pan - it is antiquated and breaks down and she said she would ask the building/installation people.

My question - what type of shower pan system do I want assuming that is what they ask me?

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Unread 02-16-2020, 09:27 AM   #11
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They use lead pans in NYC because the plumbers union tries to maintain a stranglehold on waterproofing. I was in the argument years back. Been that way forever.
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Unread 02-16-2020, 12:19 PM   #12
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In regards to #6, the demolition question, I'm not really sure what information you are looking for with that? I'd be more concerned with the protection aspect of things.

How are they going to protect the home? What is their plan for containing and managing dust? If you live in a pre-1978 home, the contractor is supposed to be a lead certified firm and they are supposed to check the bathroom prior to work beginning. But I'm not sure how firm New York is with those sorts of regulations.

Additionally, how much space do they need for staging? Is there going to be a dumpster? If not, where does the trash go and when will it be removed? What's the plan for a restroom for the duration of construction?

You might also ask if they have been trained in the products that they want to use and if they have any certifications.

For example, Wedi will certify installers and if their products are installed by Wedi Pro installers then the warranty extends to 15, and sometimes 20 years. Many companies won't certify installers but will provide training classes.

And finally, you'll want to know how the contractor gets paid. What is the payment schedule? What triggers the payments?

What I do is have several payments that are triggered by events. For instance, work begins can trigger a payment. Rough-in plumbing begins can be another, shower glass measure another, etc.

But each company will have their own way they prefer.
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Unread 02-16-2020, 12:21 PM   #13
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Plumbing code calls for the waterproof layer in a shower pan to be sloped. While you can do that with lead pans, it seems the vast majority of those installed get there flat on the floor because it's MUCH easier. So, technically, they should not pass a plumbing inspection. Neither the tile nor grout are considered the waterproofing...they are a decorative, wear surface.

Personally, I'd prefer something a bit more modern. A waterproof layer on top of the sloped bed that the tile can be adhered to would be my choice.

There's nothing 'wrong' with a properly executed 'conventional' shower pan. FWIW, surface applied waterproof sheet goods are not new...been around about 30-years now. All of the major companies making them have national certifications.

I would specify that the shower be built using one of the methods in the Tile Council of North America's handbook. If that's done properly, you should have a reliable, long-lasting shower. Winging it means the installer is also the designer and tester...they often only warrant their work for a year. IT can take many for an improperly built shower to exhibit problems. It should last as long as you like it, not need to be replaced because it failed. A liner flat on the floor won't drain properly, and over time, stagnant water will accumulate underneath the tile. To me, that's a failure. A plumber might say, it's not leaking, and thus it's fine. I don't want my shower to smell like a swamp.
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Unread 02-18-2020, 01:47 PM   #14
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Generally a good list of questions. Ask to see a copy if their license and insurance. You say youre in an apartmnt ... ask the manager if they need to be added as additional insured on the insurance policy. Its a very simple process, the company onky needs to make a phone call to their agent, its avery common reqirement for commercial work.
Ask the apartment manager about working hours. If youbare in an are where lead pans were comminly required, youre probably in a permit requirement area too.
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Unread 02-20-2020, 04:06 PM   #15
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Thanks everyone!

The designer spoke to the contractor and said I can use PVC and mud - the traditional way - since I don't want a lead pan. Laticrete for waterproofing. They also do a flood test.

The co-op (apartment) sent me the paperwork my contractor needs to complete (licenses, insurance) and the contractor said they had all the right licenses and paperwork. My town is going to want the contractor to get a building permit, which is a nuisance, but the contractor said they will get the necessary permits.

Being that it is an apartment, all items coming/going (e.g. debris) must go through the garage, so they need to park their truck near the garage entrance on demo day (I may be able to get them an outside parking spot for the day) and use large plastic bins with wheels to get everything out and onto the truck. It's done all the time where I live, but obviously it's a pain. However, there is an elevator, so they don't have to lift anything up/down stairs - just roll the bins. 75% of the contractor's business is local apartments/co-ops, so they are used to jobs like mine. I am sure a lot of contractors have zero desire to do work in an apartment building.

We didn't like anything in the showroom so my wife is picking out everything herself. She wanted marble shower floor tiles but I told her that everyone on this forum discourages it so we will use ceramic subway tiles on the walls and porcelain on the floors. Koehler fixtures, toilet and sink.

We have two other bathrooms, so it is okay if this one is out of action for 2 to 3 weeks.

A contractor comes on Tuesday to take measurements and answer questions.

Thanks again for the help!

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