Tiling and Waterproofing your Shower: The basics you need to know.

Featured Project : Aging in Place Bathroom in a Downtown Condo.
February 13, 2019
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Old tools on a wooden table

Next week is my turn to present a topic to my entrepreneurial networking group and, during the last meeting, I asked the group what they would like to hear about. One gentleman in the group suggested that I talk about waterproofing showers and the different methods/products to do it. I decided that this would also make for a good blog post as well.

Waterproofing a shower correctly has really become more prevalent in the Edmonton marketplace in the last few years. There has been a real push, both within the industry and with consumers to have a better shower product, despite the fact that Alberta does not require a flood test ( a test to determine if a shower pan leaks). Two of the big players in the waterproofing product business are both backed by renovation TV celebrities; Mike Holmes paired with Schluter and Bryan Baeumler endorsing wedi.

The fact is that waterproofing your shower prior to tiling is important. Without proper waterproofing, your shower may leak, mold may grow rampantly, and framing members may rot. With a good waterproofing system, there is no reason that a shower couldn’t last a life time.

Here is a look at three different waterproofing systems as well as some pros and cons with using them.

Paint-on waterproofing membrane

A paint-on waterproofing membrane is, funny enough, a product that you apply with a paint brush. There are a few different manufacturers but the principle is basically the same. The benefit of the product is that it is easy to apply. Dip your brush in the can and apply on the surface you want to waterproof. One of the biggest drawbacks of the product is that it often takes multiple coats to properly waterproof an area and there can be significant drying time between coats. If you are doing multiple showers in a condo, this might not be an issue. By the time you finish the first coat on the last shower, the first shower will be ready for a second coat. If, however, you’re working on just one shower, there is a lot of downtime between coats.

Schluter waterproofing system.

Schluter has been around since the 1980s and is easily recognizable because of its products blazing orange color. The system has a few different parts that work together to create a fully waterproof area. The first item, kerdi board is an extruded polystyrene foam board sandwiched with fleece webbing. The board comes in different thicknesses and can be used pretty much like building materials. Put in on the wall in shower? No problem. Build a shower bench out of it? Check. Tub deck? Absolutely. The joints are then sealed with a band of the kerdi fleece and bonded with mortar. Once installed and the mortar is dry, the board can then be tiled.

For the shower floor, either a foam shower pan or a dry pack mortar base can be used along with an integrated shower drain. The shower pans come in basic sizes and can be trimmed as needed. The benefit of using a drypack base is that you can create any shape you need.

Schluter also makes an uncoupling membrane called ditra, that is used for floors. The uncoupling membrane allows for some movement in the floor that will help prevent tile or grout cracking.

Schulter waterproofing is less expensive than wedi (which I will discuss in a bit) but it does require some time for the mortar to dry. As well, if you are building a drypack shower base, time can be a factor in cost.

wedi waterproofing system.

wedi, with a small “w”, is a board that consists of a blue core made from extruded polystyrene rigid foam. The rigid foam is reinforced with glass fiber (with alkali-resistant finish) on both sides and coated with a polymer-modified cement. In a nutshell, it is waterproof 100% through. The nice thing about the wedi product is the ease of installation. A special sealant is used to seal joints and edges and can be ready for tile in as little as 3 hours. The wedi shower pan has its own integrated drain, and also has a really nice feature. The shower pan is sloped in four different directions, allowing you to use larger format tile for the base of the shower.

wedi is, perhaps, the more expensive product, but the time savings means that the labour cost is less. The other nice feature about the wedi product is the warranty. Depending on the application, wedi offers a 10, 15, or 20 year warranty on the waterproofing.

So, regardless of which waterproofing system gets used in your shower, make sure your contractor uses one. It’s not an extra cost of renovating a shower, it’s the correct way of doing it.