Answers to Questions about Bathroom Showers

Shower doors from floor view.

Q. How do I install a shower pan correctly? I have removed my old shower, so everything is there, including the drain. Do I put down the membrane then dry pack grout over that? Do first put down a small amount of dry pack, then membrane, and then maybe durock?

A. First the drain assembly. Second the membrane. Third, the dry pack, being careful to get the correct slope and trying to keep the outside height consistent. The membrane should wrap over the threshold. When applying wallboard, do not use any screws within 4" of the finished height of the shower floor, or use Schluter Systems, Kirdi waterproof membrane and Kirdi Drain. This system is by far the best system I have ever used and as a bonus, the drain trim is the same size as a 4" tile so that the drain location can be pre-planned to appear as part of the tiling pattern.

Q. We are thinking about removing our seven-year-old one-piece fiberglass shower unit and having the three sides turned into tile. This tile will be about three quarters of the way up the wall. The owner of the company where are going to purchase our new carpet also sells tile/flooring, etc., and she has told us that she does not have tile in her shower. First, it is too hard to clean in comparison to fiberglass. You have to pay extra to have the tile sealed. If your grout ever gets dirty, really all you can do is color the grout another color. Lastly, the tile seems to always leave a film on it in the shower. I do not have a vent fan over my shower, just a light. My contractor said that a vent fan was probably needed. The tile look is not why we want to change. My wife thinks that the fiberglass gets so dirty and is so hard to scrub (then still looks dirty). Please provide us with any knowledge, tips, experiences, suggestions or wisdom concerning fiberglass versus tile.

A. The owner of the tile store does not want to sell you the tile for some reason. All of her excuses are ridiculous. Fiberglass surrounds need special cleaners, anything abrasive will scratch or etch the surface. Once scratches occur then any dirt will fill those crevices. There are old fiberglass pans with black scratch marks all over them, and it really looks ugly.

If the tile is a glazed ceramic or porcelain, it does not need to be sealed, ever. The grout can be sealed every couple of years if you feel the need. Anything that leaves a film on tile will leave the same film on fiberglass, but I believe only areas with extremely hard water would have this problem and a water softener would take care of that.

A grout cleaner, bought at a tile retail store, rather than a household cleaner will do the job and not discolor the grout. The discoloration occurs when people use things like Windex and the blue dye soaks into the grout over time. Any over the counter cleaner with a dye put in for "marketing appeal" will cause grout discoloration. Grout can be brought back to its original color with a grout colorant; you don't have to change to a different color. Put up the kind of wall you want. At least now, you have the correct info on which to base your decision.

Q. Got a question for a new Sterling shower we've just installed. It's a shower/tub combo made by Sterling. The unit has a nailing flange where it gets secured to the walls. Then you're supposed to bring the drywall down and over that nailing flange. We've hung the drywall but now are at the point of mudding everything. Regarding the 1/8" - 1/4" gap between the shower and drywall, how do you fill that gap? When we hung the drywall, we tried to use as many factory edges as possible of the new drywall to butt up against the shower. Do we mud between the shower and the drywall, or do we just paint the drywall and fill the gap with caulking?

A. When installing the backer board or drywall, leave a 1/8" space along the area where the wall meets the top of a tub (nailing flange) or shower base (nailing flange). This area will be caulked later with silicon caulk. Caulk is flexible enough to allow movement, settling or expansion and contraction without cracking. You do not want the backer board or drywall going over the tub/shower base lip - this causes a "bow out" at the tub or shower base lip.

Q. I have these two marble shelves in the shower, and the bases of them are cut into the tile. Caulk was used to seal them three years ago and they are finally starting to mold and peal up. What is a good way to remove the caulk and what should I replace it with?

A. You can use a heat gun/hair dryer to soften up the caulk and then cut it out, carefully so you don't scratch the marble, with a utility knife or straight edge razor blade. Replace it with new latex caulk. It will require maintenance again in a few years, that's all you can expect from latex caulk in a wet area like a shower, but it's better than grout, which may develop cracks that will ultimately lead to water damage.