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Upgrading Your Shower

Not long ago a reader commented on the How To Series — thank you very much, by the way — but we, unfortunately, didn’t answer his question.

Plumbing, we cordially explained, is so immense that we’re only getting started. Plumbing isn’t like, say, HVAC — heating, ventilation, and air conditioning — that is essentially a system outside (the AC), one inside (the furnace for heat), and vents that deliver cool or heated air to each room.

Plumbing is an entire ecosystem of pipes, fittings, and connections that attach to all sorts of fixtures and plumbing “appliances” throughout the home. It’s complicated and something that most homeowners rarely mess with.

Some repairs or upgrades Do It Yourselfers (DIYers) can do themselves and some are better left to professional plumbers or plumbing contractors. We raise various topics here in order to inform homeowners and aspiring DIYers and let them decide if it’s something they want to tackle or if it’s better to call the a plumber.

So, that said, we return to the How To and answer the dear reader’s question of how to install a shower stall.

This is a project that may be beyond many homeowners and aspiring DIYers, but it can be done. If it’s something you don’t want to tackle — and you want to call a plumber for assistance — make sure he’s a plumbing contractor who is licensed to do not only plumbing but general contracting as well.

You can also get quotes from general contractors or even glass installation and repair companies, but if the work requires any fiddling with plumbing make sure they know their stuff or can partner with a plumber. Plumbing is not a system to cut corners with cheap, untrained labor.

Introducing the Shower

Unless a shower is used in a wet-room design, an enclosure is needed to prevent the surrounding area from getting wet. In most instances, this involves a shower tray (what you stand on while in the shower) and a stall.

Screens or shower curtains are used when the shower is mounted above a bathtub. Another option is to create a walk-in shower using screens or tiled or glass-block walls.

For this post we’re going to assume you are replacing an old, worn shower enclosure rather than completely remodeling your bathroom. You will disassemble the old shower stall and replace a new one over the top, assuming that the drain connections and plumbing connections for hot and cold water are in good shape and do not need to be replaced or modified.

If so, you may want to call a plumber or plumbing contractor for assistance.

Installing a new shower is more than just taking down a glass enclosure, for example, and putting up a new one, although that is possible.

Installing a new shower may also mean dealing with existing walls — is there tile or marble or does the shower already have a fiberglass enclosure? Will the shower pan need to be replaced? And so on.

Take your time. Think through what needs to be done and look at your options.

Decide on the Type of Stall

You first have to decide on what you’re going to install:

  • the same materials?
  • or go with something different?

If you go with something similar, be aware that things could change once you start taking things apart. For example, let’s say you need to remove tile but you find water damage behind the wall — then you will need to make repairs to the wall or, at the least, install water resistant cement board rather than drywall to mount the tiles on.

Yeah, we know, there are a lot of variables.

A quick Internet search or a stroll down the plumbing aisles at a home improvement center will show you the many types of shower stalls available.

A wide variety of additional features are available like bench seating, and shapes range from rectangles to semi-circles to fit any need. There are a few specific varieties and the differences between them can impact the installation.

  • Single-piece prefabricated showers are complete units, usually made of fiberglass or acrylic. They tend to be more expensive than other shower stall sets, and some claim they can be more difficult to install. You may need to install a frame specific to the shower unit. The complete unit can be a bit bulky and difficult to carry through doorways or up stairs as they tend to be solidly constructed and, for many people, easier to clean.
  • Interlocking multi-piece units usually come in a set of four to six large pieces, including the shower pan (the base area where you stand in the shower and connects to the drain), wall coverings (for the side/s where the unit will be mounted along the bathroom wall), side sections (that will not be placed along the bathroom wall), and a door. Quite a few of these kits are considered easy to assemble, and they generally cost less than single-piece units. Be aware that your shower dimensions may be “custom” and will not conform to standard kit sizes. If this is the case, you may need to work with a local glass repair company or a manufacturer of glass shower enclosures to “design” a replacement “kit” that will fit your shower and walls.

Purchase Materials and Prep the Site

Plumbing tends to use a lot of strange single-use tools like specific pipe wrenches, but these are not needed here. The point is to carefully read whatever instructions are applicable and purchase the materials you need before you get started. There is nothing more frustrating being in the middle of a project and having to stop and run up to the hardware store to get something you forgot to buy — or you bought the wrong size.

This is a partial list of supplies you might need:

  • Pipes and fittings. Not only will you need to make sure that you have enough pipe, you must also be certain to have the appropriate parts on hand that will allow you to connect new pipes to existing ones.
  • Shower unit/kit.
  • Waterproof caulk/sealant, preferably silicone-based for better resistance to water
  • Tools: wrenches, screwdrivers, variable speed drill and screws, tape measure, level, thread seal tape, pipe wrench, framing lumber and water resistant drywall (if applicable)

Read the Instructions

Did we say read the instructions that come with your shower unit or kit? Good. Read them a second time.

While some manufacturers provide very little detail, most will include instructions that explain how the shower will fit into place. Even those that don’t directly explain the process you must follow will certainly suggest what prerequisites are required for installation.

A good suggestion: If you are taking apart an existing glass enclosure, for example, take pictures of the installation before you disassemble. Note how the panels are attached to the walls and to other panels. These are for handy reference should you need them.

Site Prep

Take the time to clear and prepare the shower site. This includes taking apart the existing shower and, if you decide to go the extra mile, you may want to take the time to retile the shower (if you’re not using a fiberglass or acrylic enclosure).

Do you need to replace the floor pan? Hopefully no, but evaluate this step. If it’s more than you can handle, definitely call a plumbing contractor.

Framing

Here is another variable. If you are installing a glass enclosure but are replacing the wall tiles at the same time, be aware that — once the tiles are off the wall — you could find water damage, for example, which might require the demolition of existing drywall and the replacement with waterproof cement board for the tiles to be mounted on and grouted.

If you are installing a fiberglass or acrylic shower enclosure, you most likely will need to build a frame to support the stall. Some shower kits will require that you build a structure to support the shower pan or even brace a whole prefabricated unit. Oftentimes the unit will have to be screwed into place, and so you must build the required structures.

Plumbing Considerations

Assuming the walls are in good shape and the frame is built for the particular enclosure used, now it’s time to look at the plumbing.

The assumption here is that the plumbing is in good shape and will not need to be replaced or retrofitted. This includes the shower pan, which will not need replacement.

If there is plumbing work to be done or a new shower pan should be installed, you may be more comfortable hiring a plumber or plumbing contractor, but it is doable by experienced DIYers. Just take your time. Don’t rush.

  • Turn off the main water supply. You’d be surprised how many DIYers forget this simple step.
  • Run hot and cold pipes to correspond with the holes for faucet handles in the shower stall. If you are installing cement board and then tile, just make sure the pipes come out of the wall far enough for you to make the connections and install the fixtures. Again, if there is an issue here, you may want to call a plumber.
  • If applicable, attach the correctly threaded extension pipe for the shower head, using thread seal tape and a pipe wrench. Go ahead and buy one — they’re cheap and chances are you will use again.

Aside: If you are installing a fiberglass or acrylic enclosure, follow the manufacturer’s recommended installation process. You will want this in place before final plumbing connections are made. Once the enclosure is secure:

  • Install the faucet handles and the shower head.
  • Turn the main water supply on and check for leaks.

Final Installation

If you are installing a fiberglass or acrylic shower stall, congratulations your work is mostly done. You may just need to attach a door and do final caulking.

If you are installing a glass enclosure, then there’s work left to be done.

Install the sides of the shower enclosure according to manufacture specifications. For some kits, the side mounted to the wall will have to be screwed into place, while others just recommend that your use heavy duty caulk. Keep this in mind when purchasing your sealants, as some can also be used as adhesives.

When you are done installing the enclosure frame, you top it off by attaching the shower door and sealing all seams that will be exposed to water with silicone-based caulk. Take your time with this and finish off properly. A messy caulking job detracts from an otherwise flawless installation.

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Benjamin Franklin Plumbing® offers customers on-time plumbing services, replacement and repairs done right the first time with courtesy, convenience, cleanliness, competence and character.


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Columbus, GA 31909
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