Sometimes people think I’m a little bit crazy. It’s usually because I seem to be seeing things that aren’t there. I’ll see two-story houses when everyone else sees just one story. I’ll see an outdoor kitchen where most people see a forlorn and forgotten flowerbed. Or maybe I’ll see a huge window with a pool view, where others see a solid concrete wall. I see things, it’s what I do. If you’ve been a fan of renovation and home improvement for long, you probably see things too… am I right?
I Saw A Bathroom
People usually chalk up these visions to my line of work and it’s all good. But when I start seeing bathrooms in places with a total lack of plumbing, I get concerned looks. Such was the case on a recent project where one of the key design requirements was a new master bath. When I sat down to share my vision and started saying things like “the toilet would go here, over here we have room for a huge shower…” I was, expectedly, met with raised eyebrows.
But it happened… and here’s the short version of how:
Slab? What Slab?
In Florida where I live the majority of homes are “slab on grade” construction, which means that there is no crawlspace under the house. In houses with a crawlspace, adding drain lines for new plumbing isn’t such a big deal. Same thing on second floors. If there’s any sort of space available running a new drain/sewer line for the bathroom fixtures is easy. But with a slab the only way to get under it for new plumbing is to go through it…
Creating a Shower on an Existing Slab
Showers, like pretty much everything else in remodeling, can be done a number of ways.
Curbless Showers and Sunken Showers
Often on newer homes you’ll see showers that have very little slope from the primary floor, sometimes there’s nothing more than a cool linear drain and a barely perceptible slope in the floor where the shower is. Alternatively there’s the sunken shower, which is a step down below the primary slab floor.
Raised Shower With a Curb
Both of the previous types are far easier to do when the slab is being poured in new construction, and neither are very good options when building over top of a wood structure such as a frame house would have, or you’d have on the upper floors. In those cases and in cases like my project, where you’re putting a shower in what used to be a bedroom, you would generally build the shower floor up a few inches and then slope down to the drain. There’s a curb to step over on the way in or out of the shower.
It’s as Easy as 1-2-3
Converting what was just another room into a gorgeous marble clad “spa-at-home” shower involves a few steps.
Step One – You Need a Drain Line
Hot and cold water lines are the easy part. You can get water from anywhere and since it’s pressurized you don’t have to worry about corners, elevation changes, or much else… you just have to be able to get a pipe over there with water in it.
Drain lines aren’t as easy. Drains in houses generally operate on gravity. They say that one of the things you need to know to be a plumber is that “stuff” runs downhill. Indeed. For that to work out drain lines have to be installed such that they can slope according to your building code until they reach a point where either they tie-in with the existing sewer lines, or some sort of mechanical lift station or pump is utilized.
In the case of my project, that meant cutting out a trench in the slab, digging down into the soil, and running a new drain line for the shower. That line then tied in with the sink drain and the toilet and tub drains before exiting the house and making a long journey around the building to tie-in with the sewer line out front.
The drain line pops up in the floor where the shower drain will be and the slab is eventually patched.
Step Two – You Need a Waterproof Shower Pan
Modern shower pans are usually high strength rubber liners that create a waterproof/watertight “tub” for lack of a better word that goes underneath everything at the bottom of your shower. The rubber pan goes up the wall framing (which had to be built, of course) and goes over a “curb” which is generally built up with a few 2×4’s.
Shower pans are important because the tile and grout isn’t totally waterproof. Some water will get through the tile and grout eventually. It’s always a good idea to maintain your grout and keep it sealed because you really don’t want water getting through it, but some will… and the pan is the last line of defense to make sure that water doesn’t get through and do damage to parts of the house which aren’t supposed to get wet.
I recommend having shower pans installed by a licensed plumber and then inspected by the local building department in order to be sure things are done correctly. That said, you can purchase shower pan material and install it yourself.
Step Three – You Need a “Mud Bed” to Slope Your Shower Floor
Since your shower floor is being built on top of a previously flat surface, there is no inherent slope. If you tile directly on the shower pan itself, the floor will be flat and could even slope a tiny bit in the wrong direction which would result in standing water… yuk!
To make sure the floor is sloped properly you can use what I’ve always referred to as a “mud bed”, but I’ve heard it called “Dry pack” and “Shower Bed”. To create our mud bed we used Sakrete Sand Mix Topping and Bedding Mix which is available at major home supply retailers everywhere. I’ve done a detailed how-to post on the process of installing a mud bed on a shower pan floor.
That post has some really helpful tips from a long time pro, but here are the broad strokes:
- Sakrete Sand Mix Topping and Bedding Mix is the product we use for this… it’s a high strength mixture that you only add water to. It is often referred to as “mortar mix” but it’s different than the mortar used to set block or brick. Sand and Bedding mix cures to about 5000 psi which is great for something like a shower bed.
- The mixture can be used in thicknesses from one-half up to two-inches, which is perfect for the slope of an average size shower.
- The material is mixed with water to a fairly dry consistency compared to what you would think of with concrete mix. The most common problem is people add too much water. The ideal consistency is similar to a snowball. You can pack it into a ball and hold it in your hand and it should maintain that shape on its own. If it’s too wet, getting the right slope is very difficult.
- The bed is installed directly on the shower pan and is built up to about 2” thick on the perimeter of the shower walls, then slopes evenly down to the shower drain where, in our case, we had over an inch of thickness remaining. Mud beds and ceramic tile should be installed following ANSI, TCNA and local building and plumbing code requirements so be sure to consult your local building department.
- It’s important to compact the material firmly with a large flat trowel or even a handheld tamper.
- Use a level or string lines to be sure you’ve incorporated an even slope.
Again… if you’re thinking of doing a shower bed project, make sure you take a look at the detailed how-to post.
It’s All Downhill From There
Once you’ve got that shower pan installed and the floor is sloped with a good mud bed, you’re ready to rock-and-roll. There’s nothing left but tile and finish details like a marble curb, a shower door, etc.
Simple, Not Always “Easy”
Have I oversimplified the process a bit? Of course… there are lots of steps I didn’t mention.. For example:
- Planning / Design / Drawings
- Tile setting (Marble in this case)
- Etc., etc., etc.
The job of taking an existing space with no nearby plumbing and converting it into a bathroom is a big project, no doubt about it.
My goal with this post is mostly to open your eyes to the reality that it CAN be done. So if you’re kind of seeing things and you feel like you see a bathroom where there isn’t one, don’t dismiss it because it seems impossible.
It is possible.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Sakrete. The opinions and text are all mine.