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Bathroom Shower Remodeling

Beth Asaff
Shower renovation

Your bathroom shower gets a lot of use and abuse. Whether it's outdated or you're beginning to see cracks and leaks, remodeling it can give a fresh perspective to the entire bathroom.

Remodeling Options

While showers are frequently remodeled at the same time as the rest of the bathroom, they are also remodeled on their own. Constant exposure to water and steam can often degrade the materials used there to the point that the shower needs to be redone before the rest of the bath.

For this reason, there are often a few levels of shower remodeling. All of them will get you a functional shower; the more invasive procedures are usually reserved for total bathroom gut jobs.

Bath Fitter

Bath Fitter is the name of a company that pioneered the process of fitting an acrylic unit over your existing tub or shower. No materials are pulled out and the entire process can be done in less than a day, making it a fast and easy fix for homeowners who need to get a working shower now, not in six weeks.

This type of renovation is usually done by the company; they measure, prep and install the unit. All you need to do is select the color and style of the model.

Minor Renovation

If you like the basic look and size of your shower, but maybe it's sprouted a few leaks or the plumbing is outdated, you can do a partial or minor renovation. Depending on what's going on, this may consist of a few different things such as:

While all of these changes are minor, they can completely transform the look and use of a shower.

Tear Out and Acrylic Replacement

Whether your current shower is tile or a one-piece unit, one of the fastest ways to get a new shower while dealing with problems such as water leaking behind the walls is to tear it out and replace it with an acrylic unit. This usually involves ripping things out right down to the studs, regardless of what's there now. This will enable you to deal with problems such as mold or mildew in the walls, leaking pipes or potentially changing the size and shape of the shower.

Tear Out and Tile Replacement

For custom showers and showers being remodeled at the same time as the rest of the bathroom, consider tearing everything out and replacing it with a new tile shower. Tile showers have a few advantages over acrylic units, such as:

  • Ability to match the look and style of the rest of the bathroom
  • Ability to have a custom look or color in the shower
  • Ability to have a custom size, along with custom niches, shelves, seats and grab bars

Tile showers often look the best, although they take the longest to complete, leaving you without a shower for at least a few days.

Basics of a Shower Renovation

If you're completely tearing out the old shower and putting in a new one, whether tile or acrylic, there are a few basic steps that you need to take to ensure it gets done right.

Put in a Vapor Barrier

It doesn't matter if you are using tile or an acrylic unit; your shower needs a vapor barrier over the studs. Vapor barriers are crucial because they keep moisture from seeping back there and causing mold and mildew problems.

Most vapor barriers in showers consist of long pieces of plastic sheeting. Staple or nail them to the top of the studs above where the shower will start, and let them roll right down to cover the top edge of the shower pan.

Installing Backerboard Walls

You may have heard that an acrylic shower can be installed right over drywall or greenboard, but for the most watertight shower, you need to put in cement backerboard over your studs. Unlike drywall or greenboard, cement backerboard will not expand, contract or dissolve on contact with water, so your shower walls remain stable.

If you plan on tiling your shower, you also need to install backerboard. If part of the wall will be tiled and the rest painted - for showers with high ceilings for example - purchase backerboard that can be painted for the best look.

Screw the backerboard right to the studs, leaving 1/16-inch between the sheets and around the perimeter of the shower. Tape and cover the seams with thinset mortar. You can now install an acrylic unit right on top, or tile the backerboard in any configuration.

Plumbing Options

If you're doing a full tear out and shower remodel, regardless of whether you are using tile or an acrylic unit, you have many different options for your shower plumbing.

Provided your water heater and water supply can handle it (performance showers use as many as 20 gallons of water a minute), you have the option of installing body sprays, multiple shower heads and even steam units.

Options for Tile Showers

If you plan on putting in a tile shower, at this stage before you begin -but after your walls are up- you have the option of adding a few things to the shower, including:

  • Niches: Cut into the backerboard between the studs to place a preformed niche in there before you tile.
  • Benches and seats: Build these out of 2x4s and cover them with plywood before you tile.
  • Shower pan: You can purchase ready-to-tile pans, have a plumber make a copper pan for a custom sized shower or use an acrylic pan with the tile walls.

Tips to Ensure a Smooth Shower Renovation

Every shower renovation is different, but many are affected by the same set of circumstances. Follow these tips for a smooth and successful renovation.

Pull a Permit

If you're using a plumber or contractor, they can take care of this step for you. Otherwise, visit your town hall and apply for a building permit. This will trigger an inspection at the end of the job, but will mean your new shower renovation won't come up as a problem during resale.

Check Your Pipe Size

Find out the size of your pipes before you purchase new valves or performance shower materials for your shower. Most pipes come in 1/2-inch and 3/4-inch sizes; using the correct-sized valves with your pipes will help ensure good water pressure.

Check Your Water Heater

If you have a small water heater - up to 50 gallons - and you want to install body sprays or multiple shower heads, consider upgrading to a minimum of 100 gallons. Small water heaters are fine for single shower heads putting out 7 gallons a minute or less, but for larger showers you may find you run out of water very quickly.

Don't Start Until Everything Arrives

Once you begin tearing out your shower, you will be without it until everything is back in and you've passed your inspection. Don't assume you can start the tear out while you wait for materials to arrive; a backorder could stall your progress for weeks.

Check Everything upon Arrival

As plumbing, tile and units arrive at your home, open the box right away and make sure everything is correct. You don't want your plumber or contractor to start only to discover you received the wrong items and now need to wait for the correct ones to arrive.

Check for Moisture

If there are any cracks in your current shower surround, be prepared to check for signs of moisture behind the shower walls. This may include mold, mildew or soft and rotting wood. Pull all of this out as well to avoid sealing an old problem into your new shower.

Look to the Future

When you begin your remodel, look ahead a little and determine how long you'll be using the shower. Installing things like grab bars, handheld shower heads and a low threshold now may mean you can continue using it without further renovations as you age. Installing these items now can also mean you open up the door to potential home buyers that want these items as well.

Enjoy Your New Shower

A new shower can make your entire bathroom seem more luxurious. Take steps to ensure your renovation goes well and enjoy everything your new shower has to offer.

Bathroom Shower Remodeling