6 Things You Shouldn’t Do When Replacing Your Tile Shower
Updated March 23, 2019
Old tile showers are a pain.
Moldy and dirty grout joints. Shower curbs which are too tall and dangerous to step over. Cracked shower pans which leaked onto the floors below. And I haven’t even mentioned the constant maintenance. Who doesn’t love spending time with a scrub brush cleaning grout joints (sarcasm intended)?
If you’re looking to replace your old tile shower – the last thing you want to do is repeat the mistakes of the past. If your shower is screaming ‘replace me,’ the question becomes what mistakes do you need to stay away from this time? How can you get a new tile shower (or a look-a-like tile shower – more about this later) without the hassles your last one caused you?
In this article my goal is to give it to you straight. I’m going to tell you 6 things you shouldn’t do when you replace your old tile shower. These tips will help you get a nicer looking shower stall with less effort and maintenance from you down the road.
#1 – You shouldn’t cover over old tile
You hear the ads on TV. Oh – the joys of the 1-day bathroom remodel. Just take your old tile shower and cover it over with thin 1/8” acrylic wall panels. To me – this is a problem waiting to happen. Here’s why.
While you may think the tile walls are in perfectly good shape what if there was leaking behind the walls before the previous owners re-grouted? If so – you now have mold growth behind your existing tile which you have permanently covered over.
As my Dad would say if he was alive – going with the quick cheap ‘fix’ (cover-over wall system over old tile) is ‘penny-wise and pound foolish.’
It’s not hard to remove the old tile. Demo -while messy – doesn’t take a lot of time in the shower remodeling process.
So -even if you’re looking to replace the old tile shower with a grout free wall panel system, taking the risk of going over tile is not worth the few hundred dollars (the cost of removing the old tile and installing a new wall backer board system) you may ‘think’ you’ve saving.
As Dad would say to me, “Michael – don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.” Take off the old tile and know you have a good foundational backer board system behind it.
#2 – You shouldn’t use an ‘old-school’ poured concrete shower pan
The ‘cheapest’ (short-term) way to make a base for a tile shower is to go ‘old-school’ and pour it by hand out of concrete. The mortar bed, rubber liner and wood you’ll use to create this pan won’t cost you much. Although you’ll find out it’s a pain and time-consuming to install this system, this isn’t the main reason I’m advising you to stay clear of this option.
The reason I don’t want you to use this method is I’ve seen countless times where these bases fail. If you’re wondering what I mean by fail. Well – a shower failure occurs when it leaks. When a shower pan leaks you’ve got a HUGE problem. Not only can you damage floors and furniture in the levels below, but you’ll also have to pull the entire shower out (including the wall surrounds and glass enclosure) and often replace these components as well.
Shower pan failures are major problems and drains (no pun intended) on your wallet.
If you’re wondering what you can do to rid yourself of the concern over a tile shower pans here’s 3 better options.
Option 1) If you want to stick with a tile shower floor then I’d recommend using a waterproof ready for tile shower pan. They’re made of expanded polystyrene. They are completely assembled and waterproof right out of the box. You simply thin set and tile over them.
Option 2) If you’re comfortable with a waterproof tile component system the Wedi and Schluter products have sloped pans and curb components which can be site assembled.
Option 3) If you’d like to get rid of the worries (and the maintenance) of tiled shower pans a cultured granite shower pan is a sound solution. They come in 51 colors and are premade to your size (even if you need a custom base).
#3 – You shouldn’t use dini-diny (little) tiles
Back in the days of Saturday Night Live one of my favorite characters Roseann Roseannadanna used to talk about things being ‘dini-diny’ (i.e. very small). When it comes to tiled showers, small mosaic tiles with multiple grout joints are public enemy #1. Not only are smaller tiles out of style – but they are a major maintenance hassle with so many grout joints between the tiles.
The tile challenge is two-fold. How do you get rid of tiny joints (especially in a sloped shower pan) and secondly how can you lessen (or eliminate) grout maintenance (in walls and shower pans) all together? Here’s 3 ideas for you:
- Idea #1) Use a shower pan with a linear drain – The simplest way to get rid of small mosaic tiles in a shower pan is to use pre-sloped pans which are designed for large format tiles. One – super-stylish way to do this is are using bases designed for linear drains. They are designed to work with bigger tiles which allow you to reduce the number of grout joints.
- Idea #2) Use large format wall tiles – Large tiles are in style like never before. What’s nice about larger units is they add a feeling of space to smaller shower and cut cleaning for you – a double bonus.
- Idea #3) Use grout free tile-looking wall panels – Before it might have seemed impossible to eliminate tile grout joints if you wanted a tile look. The good news is, this is no longer the case. Enter ‘The No-Tile, Tile Shower.” These grout free laminate shower wall panels simply click and lock together to create a waterproof ‘tile’ shower with absolutely ZERO grout joints. People will see and touch them and swear they’re the real thing, but you’ll know differently. You’ll also l be able to retire your scrub brush.
#4 – You shouldn’t install wall backer board before you install your shower pan
The ultimate shower installation nightmare is leaking under the shower base. One easy way to ensure leaking (if you’re a masochist) is to install your shower pan at the wrong time. One error I see people do in their haste to get the walls done is to put up their wall backer board first and then butt their shower pan to the wall backer boards. Then they put their tile (or grout free wall panel system) inside the shower.
Here’s the problem with this. If you get moisture through the grout joints, it will roll down the backer board and underneath the pan. Eventually your wood subfloor will get soaked and leak into the floor below.
This is a simple problem to eliminate. Here’s what you need to do. Install your shower pan first and place it up to your wood studs. Then install your wall backer inside (or on top of – depending on the shower pan system) the base. This way if there is leakage through the joints the water will roll down the inside the pan and down the drain.
#5 – You shouldn’t ‘cheap-out’ on your wall backer system
It can be tempting to only ‘invest’ your hard-earned dollars on what’s seen on the surface. However, this can be fools-gold. As is said ‘beauty’ (and a long-lasting tile shower) goes beyond what’s skin-deep. What you don’t see (the wall backer system behind the tile) can be as important as what you do see (especially if you get leaking through the tile grout joints).
Stay away from using standard drywall – or other non-waterproof systems behind your walls. It’s only costs a few dollars more to use a waterproof wall backer board system for your tile. Some options include systems made by Wedi and Schluter. You’ll rest better knowing what you can’t see behind the wall is going to protect you from mold and water problems for years to come.
#6 – You shouldn’t assume you can’t get a tile look without using tile
This may seem like a trick question but strange as it may sound you can actually get a tile wall surround look and use ZERO tile or tile grout joints. Sound impossible – check out these pictures below.
You may be asking how was this done? Here’s how. Instead of using tile these walls were assembled using laminated shower wall panels. This product has been used for years in Europe and these products are finally arriving in the United States. It’s called ‘The No-Tile, Tile Shower.” It’s cool – looks just like tile – and require zero time to scrub grout joints. These 2’ x 8’ panels are simply clicked and sealed together. Now that’s a good idea!
Although it’s been said (although not too well by George W. Bush below – watch this for a laugh), ‘fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me,’ there’s no reason a tile (or tile-looking) shower today cannot be a success (if you learn from the tile shower failures you and other have had in the past).
Don’t be afraid to replace your old tile shower but do take notice of the 6 things you shouldn’t do to replace the old one you have today which looks more than a slight bit long in the tooth.
How can I (or my team) help you?
If you’re looking for input, strategies and exclusive products for a successful shower installation (whether it’s a tiled shower – or a grout free shower) contact Innovate Building Solutions at 877-668-5888. For a local bathroom remodel call Cleveland Design and Remodeling at 216-658-1270 or The Bath Doctor in Columbus at 614-252-7294.
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