Buyer Beware: 5 Details about Shower Curbs You’ll Ignore at Your Own Risk
OK – this topic isn’t sexy and will win me Z-E-R-O ‘style points.’
I’m going to talk about problems with shower curbs (AKA shower thresholds). In case you haven’t thought one (or even two) iotas (whatever iotas are) about shower curbs, I’ll give you a few reasons you need to pay attention to them.
Reason #1 you should care about your shower curb – Shower curbs are those ‘inanimate’ objects you’ve had a few ‘choice words’ for when you’ve come tripping out of your shower.
Reason #2 you should care about your shower curb – Shower curbs are the ‘protective barrier’ on the outside edge of your shower pan you (hope and pray) doesn’t let water seep out onto your bathroom floor (or worse yet, onto your spouses brand-new dining room table).
Reason #3 you should care about your shower curb – Shower curbs are RARELY discussed UNTIL you see mold growing around them and think, Oh, crap (or something like that).
You see – I know discussing shower curbs ISN’T going to make me the most popular guy at the neighborhood party (whenever we have those again….). However, I also know if you’re the unlucky guy/gal who had to rip out your shower base (and the walls above the pan) because your curb/pan failed you know it’s a detail YOU IGNORE AT YOUR OWN RISK!
So, in this article, I’m going to dig into 5 ‘caveat emptor’ (that’s a fancy Latin term I learned in business school for ‘let the buyer beware’) details about shower thresholds. These details will help you make sure your shower pan (and curb) will stand the test of time. Now – let’s drop to the floor (and no, you don’t have to ‘give me 20 as they would demand in the Army) and look at 5 details about shower thresholds you need to get right so your shower pan doesn’t fail.
Detail #1 about shower curbs you’ll ignore at your own risk. Not knowing what the threshold is made of.
I’ll tell you right up front the #1 type of shower curb which fails. It’s a curb which is included in a ‘site-built’ mortared pan. You see, the success of mortared shower pans (and curbs) is 100% dependent on the installation skills of the contractor or previous (#ICan’tBelieveHowAwfulAJobTheyDid) DIY homeowner who built the pan.
A poorly built mortared tile shower pan will lead you quickly down ‘Failure Freeway.’ And that’s a highway you don’t want to be on! However, if you want some tips on building your ‘site-built’ tile curb right, the video below has good insights (although for the life of me I can’t understand why the host brought the Orange Juice into the shower or was fussing with her hair, but she was muuuuch easier to look at than most contractors!).
If you insist on a tile shower, I wouldn’t recommend having your contractor install a site-built mortared unit. They’re accidents waiting to happen. A better-constructed tile shower uses a ‘component-based’ system like Wedi, or a one-piece expanded polystyrene ready for tile shower pan (like you’ll see below).
And if you’re ‘sick and tired’ (like Mom or Dad used to say) of tile grout joints and failed showers, a better alternative is to blow up tile grout joints and mortared pans and use premade (and pre-molded) bases. Consider a durable acrylic shower base or a cultured stone shower pan. These bases have curbs already built into them. This feature dramatically reduces the chance of your base failing.
Detail #2 about shower curbs you’ll ignore at your own risk. Not thinking through how tall the curb is.
You thought you designed and built the PERFECT SHOWER until the diagnosis came in. Your wife (husband, Mom or Dad) now has a health problem. Their mobility is headed in the wrong direction. The question is how they’re going to use your beautiful new shower with a 5” high curb? This is a B-I-G problem. It’s a problem which is near-impossible to reverse after the shower is built.
Don’t get yourself in this screwed up situation!
So, here’s what I’d recommend instead. Before you contract to have a shower pan (and threshold) made for you, ask what curb height options you have. Does the manufacturer (or bathroom remodeling contractor) have the capabilities of installing a low-profile shower curb (which is between 1 ½” to 2 ¾” tall)? Or if low profile isn’t available – do they offer a ‘mid-height’ option (usually about 3” to 3 ½” tall).
While high profile curbs can be smart (especially in small 36” x 36” stand up showers where you want more volume inside your pan so it won’t overflow when the drain clogs), its often smarter to use a lower profile base as the square footage of the pan is increased. In addition, with some low-profile curbs you can buy a ‘ramp extension’ in case someone needs a wheelchair down the road.
Detail #3 about shower curbs you’ll ignore at your own risk. The curb is not designed to work with the glass (or glass block) system you want.
This is a detail few people think about UNTIL it’s too late. And this detail is the shape (and width) of a shower curb. Let’s say, you have your eye on a curved glass block walk in shower. You have your contractor build (what you think) is the perfectly shaped shower pan. Then the glass block installer says the blocks are too wide or don’t fit right on the shower threshold.
With shower curbs you need to ‘begin with the end in mind’ (as Stephen Covey would say). Let the shape (and width) of the shower curb be driven by the glass (or glass block) system.
Or perhaps you want a bowed glass sliding door like the one below for more elbow room in your shower. You’ve built the pan. THEN you buy the glass. THEN you learn the glass doesn’t fit on the curb. You say, ‘Oh, shucks…. said nobody EVER!
When it comes to shower threshold designs you need to start with the glass or glass block system and design the curb to fit the glass (not the other way around).
Detail #4 about shower curbs you’ll ignore at your own risk. Not knowing how you’re going to finish the top of the curb for a tile shower.
When it comes to custom cultured marble shower pans (or standard acrylic pans for that matter) the top of your curb is already finished using the same material as the rest of the pan. You don’t have to worry about finishing off the top of the curb.
However, if you’re planning a tile shower pan this IS NOT the case. You’ll need to think what you’re going to do about the top. If you have a straight curb (i.e. it doesn’t have a shaped design) you can use bullnose tiles to cover the top.
If you have a curved design, you’ll need another approach (since bullnose tiles don’t bend) to ‘cap’ the top. You’ll need a ‘curb cap.’ This cap can be made from granite, cultured stone, or marble. However, I’ll warn you this cap WILL NOT be a ‘cheap date.’ Be prepared to pay a pretty (or a not-so-pretty) penny for one.
No matter what you decide to do about the curb cap, prepare for it before you (or your contractor) start so you don’t get caught with your ‘proverbial’ pants down!
Detail #5 about shower curbs you’ll ignore at your own risk. Not making sure it’s sloped in the right direction.
Just because a shower pan looks ‘snazzy’ when it’s done, DOES’NT mean it’s a good pan!
This statement sounds crazy, but it’s ‘totally true’ (say that with a ‘Valley-girl’ voice). IF you don’t pay attention to the slope of the curb, you could be in for an unpleasant surprise down the road.
With site-built mortared showers the curb is created by the installation technician (yes this can be another word for the crazy-looking contractor you HOPE knows what he’s doing who is building your shower pan!).
All too often the full length of the shower curb is either not sloped consistently (or worse yet) is sloped in the wrong direction. In those cases, the more water which hits your glass enclosure, the more water which escapes from your shower pan onto your ‘un-waterproofed’ (if that’s a word) bathroom floor.
Check the level on your curb (like you’ll see Margaret Rauch did in the video in detail #1 above). Make sure you have the right amount of slope…. or if you’re worried about this buy a premade ready for tile shower pan, or a factory-built custom cultured stone pan or acrylic base.
How can me and my team help you?
While I’ll admit shower curbs (AKA thresholds) ARE NOT sexy, they are a CRITICAL component of your shower pan to make sure it can accomplish the following:
- Keep water in your pan.
- Ensure you won’t have a moldy base.
- Have a design which works even if a family member’s mobility isn’t good.
- Provides a safe entry and exit to your shower.
If you have questions (or are freaked out) about your shower curb (or shower pan) and want help we’d be delighted to assist. Our company not only wholesales standard and custom shower pans, but also glass enclosures and grout free shower wall panels. We’ll make sure you’re not on the ‘bad end of the stick’ with shower curb problems.
If you want help choosing the best shower pan or creating a smart (and cost-effective) shower design call 877-668-5888 for nationwide shower pan wholesale supply. If you’re looking for a bathroom remodeling contractor in Cleveland, call The Bath Doctor at 216-531-6085.
If you’re desperately searching for a contractor to install a shower pan our authorized shower wall panel dealer network can help. Ask us for a referral.
Thanks for reading (and for putting up with my wacky personality),
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