Curbless showers are mysterious. While some people need an ‘aging in place’ solution so they can stay in their homes longer, nobody (and I mean NOBODY) wants a shower which looks like ‘grandma lives here.’ Figuring out how and where to find an attractive one level shower system, and a contractor who knows what the heck they are doing to install it feels like a big task.
In this article, my goal is to give you -as Joe Friday on Dragnet used to say, “Just the facts Ma’am (or sir).” Below we’ll look at 5 facts you absolutely need to know if you’re looking to remodel your bathroom with a one level curbless shower for yourself, or your Mom, Dad or family member.
Fact #1 – One level barrier free showers DO NOT have to look ugly
Photo by Long Nguyen on Flickr
When you think of a white fiberglass roll in shower what thoughts do you have? The first thing which comes to my mind is sterile hospital rooms. Ugly silver grab bars perfect for geriatric patients. Yuck. Not exactly the look I’m going for in an updated remodel.
I love the sleek design.
I love contemporary design.
I love large format tiles which cut down grout joints, so my scrub brush can stay where it belongs – inside the drawer, not in my hand (as much as possible).
I’m here to announce one level showers don’t have to be ugly or geriatric looking. The European and Asian markets have known this for years. One way to get a sleek, one level shower system is to design it with an ‘almost’ invisible shower pan. You may be asking, ‘what is an almost invisible shower pan?” It’s a pan which is set directly on the joists, then the tile is put adhered to the top of the base.
This type of shower pan (also called a one level wet room) creates a finished shower and bathroom which is minimalist, sleek and modern. This space DOES NOT look ugly. It’s fashion-forward – yet safe.
Fact #2 – You don’t need a big bathroom for a one level curbless shower
Photo by SuperJuicy Men, from Wikimedia Commons
It would be phenomenal to have a huge bathroom. If you’re like most Americans, that’s not your reality. Utilitarian 5’ x 8’ spaces with a tub or shower alcove enclosure, a toilet, and way-too-clutter vanity are the standard size you’ll find in most neighborhoods. So, you may ask, “where’s the space for a curbless shower?”
Here’s what’s interesting about one level shower. Since they aren’t a defined (or confined) by a fixed amount of space (unlike a shower enclosure – which are typically 60” x 30” in the 5’ x 8’ bathrooms) they can be virtually any size you want. Using a product called a base former the slope of the shower is created by a tray (or pan) set on your floor joists (or set into concrete if you have a concrete floor). After the base former is installed, the entire bathroom floor (all 40 square feet of your 5’ x 8’ floor) is waterproofed. Since the entire bathroom floor is waterproofed where the shower stops and starts is completely under your control.
Fact #3 – You can have a door in a one level shower
Photo by Wynn Hotel Review on flickr
Open walk-in shower are all the rage – but you not like your back-end exposed. Having a door will make your shower warmer. Since one level bathroom systems waterproof the entire floor, you can put your shower in any location and use any type of shower door system. Frameless, semi-frameless or low-cost framed doors.
One level showers don’t have to be open walk-in showers.
Fact #4 – Installing curbless showers doesn’t have to be the painful process most ‘old-school’ contractors use
You’ll know you’ve got an ‘old-school’ contractor the moment they start talking about wanting to ‘drop the floor’ for your one level bathroom. By dropping the floor, they are not going to pick it up and lower it down a few inches (although it creates a funny visual). What these contractors are referring to is cutting into your floor joists, then creating an area to pour concrete for a new (even with the floor) shower base. This process undermines (literally) the support of your home, is labor-intensive and is prone to failure.
Photo by Thomas on flickr
Today’s world of barrier free showers does not require old school installation methods. In a bathroom remodel, simply cut the subfloor, set the base former down on the joists, bring your cement board (or other tile underlayment system) up to the base former, waterproof and you are ready to install your floor tiles. What’s also cool is you can use a 2” square drain and strainer cover or a sleek linear drain. The linear (or trough drain as some call it) also allows you to use large floor tiles (cutting down the number of joints).
Curbless showers today don’t require the painful, time-consuming process of yesteryear done by old-school contractors.
Now – you may be wondering how do you get one of these cutting-edge curbless showers installed if you live in a town with a bunch of old school Podunk contractors? In these situations, I would recommend first researching the products and watching installation videos on them so you can explain the process to your contractor of choice. If he still refuses to do the job, consider doing the installation yourself (but contracting the plumbing).
Fact #5 – There are numerous one level shower systems on the market today.
Photo by Nancy Hugo, CKD on flickr
When people think of curbless showers the vision which comes to mind is ugly, white and plastic-looking. It’s nice to know with today’s options – this old-style concept is far from reality. Here are 3 choices in barrier-free showers which are not only nice to look at – but waterproof as well.
Stone solid surface shower :
These engineered stone pans come in 51 different colors, are made with a mixture of aggregates and epoxy and offer the ultimate in durability. Combine this with the fact they can be custom designed for any space and you have a fast-growing type of shower pan. Since they are grout less this is a big bonus for people who are tired of cleaning grout joints.
Ready for tile shower base :
Expanded polystyrene ready for tile pans is set directly on your wood or concrete subfloor. They are manufactured in any size and have the flexibility of using a standard or linear drain. Installation is simple, and the ramped curb can come in any size.
One level wet rooms :
As previously discussed this system uses a shower base former and a wet room kit to waterproof your entire bathroom. Their advantages are sizing flexibility and they work well in either an open (or fully enclosed) shower.
One level barrier free showers do not have to be mysterious or ugly anymore. Choose from one of the 3 systems mentioned in Fact 5 above – no matter how big your bathroom is. Put in a door – or use an open walk-in concept. The choice is yours. Installing a one level shower no longer has to freak your contractor out. Solid surface, ready for tile and wet room systems is not difficult to install the old school method of cutting the floor.
Now that you have the facts, are you game to put in a one level shower in your home?