Learn How To Install Tile in Showers - Installation Tutorial

Showers are a natural for ceramic, porcelain, and stone tile especially when the tile is properly installed. This tutorial focuses on installing ceramic tile on a cement mortar bed in a completely tile lined shower.

Installing Showers Using a Cement Mortar Bed

The following photos and text concern the tiling of a residential shower using a one coat mortar method on solid backing. The ceramic tile chosen was a ceramic wall tile and the floor was also tiled.

This job came about because the original shower installation failed, leaking badly. When the old shower pan was removed, we determined that the entire tiled shower had to be replaced. The original builder had made several critical errors that resulted in the failure of the shower pan. We'll point out those errors.  

In the first photo, you'll notice that the water damaged floor has been replaced with a suitable substrate of ¾ exterior plywood.

When you are installing a two-piece shower drain, you should - ideally - position it in the center of the floor. Have a qualified plumber install the drain and make sure the plumber aligns the two screw holes either diagonally or parallel with the side walls.

 If necessary, have the plumber install the new shower valve. Specify the finished wall distance carefully.
In this case there is ½ of drywall (solid backing), 5/8” of mortar bed, and ¼ of tile. This means that the finished wall will measure 1 3/8”-1 ½ from the face of the stud. Be sure to regularly verify that that measurement checks out prior to covering up the plumber's work.


In the next four photos, we see a shower dam assembly. The assembly can consist of 3-5 2” X 4” stacked one atop another. Each layer is securely fastened to the succeeding layer. The boards should also be toe-nailed into the shower jamb lumber.

In the original shower construction, the builder used an open frame for the dam and it didn't properly support the shower pan membrane partially leading to its eventual failure.

The backing seen here consists of ¼ exterior grade plywood requested by the membrane installer. 2” X 12” joist lumber nailed between the studs above floor level will work also. You are looking to have a solid surface for the pan membrane to be stapled/adhered to.

 Apply felt to the floor where the shower pan pre-slope will be installed. The installer can mark the sill plate (bottom row of 2” X 4”) or do as this photo suggests.

In this photo, the installer has folded and turned up the edge of the felt to a height that represents the total necessary pre-slope height. In this way, the installer needs only to follow the top of the felt when applying the mortar to establish the proper slope.

In the original installation, the  builder did not pre-slope the shower pan prior to the membrane installation. This contributed greatly to the failure of the shower pan.

 Install the 2.5-pound metal lath or suitable reinforcing wire to the area to receive the mortar pre-slope. Keep the wire well away from the drain. Staple or nail the wire to the sub-floor.

Apply the mortar bed (wall mortar is ok for the pre-slope) to the wire with a finish trowel or wood float. Check the pre-slope periodically with a small spirit level to ensure that the water will head toward the drain. Allow the pre-slope time to cure prior to the application of the shower pan membrane.

Here is a detail photo of the two-piece shower drain with water test stopper ready for the shower pan membrane to be installed. Make sure that the plumber cuts the waste pipe at or slightly below the lower flange of the shower drain. This will ensure that no water gets backed up behind the drain waste pipe while the shower is in use.








An alternative to the "hot mopped" shower is the rolled or sheet applied membrane. This is the most common shower pan membrane. The installation methods and requirements are nearly identical to the "hot mop" method. Think of the liner as replacing only what the technician did. 








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