Grout and our Short-lived Shower Pan

I’d like to say last weekend was productive, but it was one of those two steps forward, one step back weekends. Our two steps forward was getting our drain, shower pan, and the last of the tile installed, and grouting all of our floor tile. Our one step back was ripping our shower pan back out on Sunday. Let me explain…

First, we purchased the Oatey 2″ offset drain from Lowe’s which shifted the drain just enough since our pan was a tad off. Early on Saturday Nik got the pipe cut down, and adhered the drain on with plumber’s PVC primer and cement. It fit perfectly! On to the next step.

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Next, the instructions for the shower pan say to lay it over a bed of mortar, to hold it in place and offer additional support. They said the mortar should be ~3/8″ thick towards the drain which is closer to the ground, and up to ~3/4″ thick towards the sloped edges. So pretty much filling the cavity under the pan. Simple enough. Here’s a picture of the pan fresh out of the box:

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And this is what the bottom looks like (set on the ground, one end was slightly lower than the other, so we used some thin strips of black plastic-y material we had to make it just a smidge higher):

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I went to Lowe’s, and instead of purchasing our normal latex-modified mortar that we use for tiling, I asked the associate what he’d recommend for a mortar bed for putting a shower pan over. He quickly referred me to the “thick bed mortar,” as the product we were definitely looking for, which I purchased 100 lbs of. We got it home, and upon closer inspection of the instructions, it seemed this product was more for building an actual shower pan. As in, a concrete do-it-yourself pan that you make into the shape you want using a wooden frame, then screed it to make it smooth, then tile over. Definitely not our application. But, mortar is mortar right? (Wrong).

We tried mixing it up as per the instructions, and it was like crumbly wet sand. At this point, intelligent people would’ve said…this doesn’t seem like the right mortar, let’s stop. But we stubbornly pressed forward and packed it into a mortar bed under where the pan would go and placed the pan over it.

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The pan seemed to be resting high, so we pulled it back up, smoothed and thinned out a few areas of mortar, put the pan back down, repeated this a second time, and gave up after the third adjustment and said let’s just let it sit and see how it looks tomorrow. We then added our last couple rows of missing tile going right up to the pan (in my dress, of course, since we were running short on time getting out to our nice birthday dinner!)

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Sunday morning I reached under the pan from the exposed sides and the mortar there just crumbled under my fingers. We also had some dried mortar left over in the garage and it was super crumbly as well. So Nik grabbed the edge of the shower pan to try to lift it up as the final test, about 20 hrs after setting it, and the pan came right up, with little to no effort. The mortar under the pan was a partially dry crumbly mess, that shoveled right off the subfloor in approximately 5 minutes.

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I saved a bag of it and brought it back to Lowe’s, saying they recommended the completely wrong stuff, and thankfully they gave me my money back for all 100 lbs.

In retrospect, we’re confident that our standard latex-modified mortar will do the job just fine – and if the Lowe’s employee that I mistakenly trusted as a person who knows things about what they sell  hadn’t interfered and recommended the wrong thing, we probably would’ve done it right the first time. Unfortunately, we had just installed the last row of tile leading to the shower pan so we wanted to wait for that mortar to thoroughly dry Sunday before attempting the pan re-install, so it is still not done.

On Sunday we instead devoted ourselves to grouting the floor, since all the tile was down and we didn’t want to deal with the pan again yet. We mixed 75% Delorean gray with 25% bright white (TEC brand grout) to make a medium gray that was a little lighter than the tile color, and then got to work spreading. We mixed up 2 lbs of grout and that covered about 2/3 of the floor, then did a final batch of 1 lb of grout to finish it up. We made just enough (literally down to the last teaspoon) and got it done.

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After the initial spread with the grout float, we followed up 20-30 minutes later with a lightly damp sponge rub-down, followed by another lightly damp sponge rub down, then a 45 minute wait and a final lightly damp towel buffing immediately followed by a dry towel buffing. It’s Friday, and my hand muscles are still sore!

I was a little worried about buffing the tiles clean, since some people had left reviews that the leathery nature of the tiles made buffing tricky because they weren’t shiny smooth tiles, but we had no issues.

Here’s how it looked Sunday night – we’re very pleased with how it turned out.

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Finally, we purchased new floor trim (baseboards and shoe trim) that I painted our trim white paint color, so that can now be installed over the tile floor…although wall paint might come first so we don’t have to be careful painting next to the new trim.

Cost for this floor tiling was mortar (~$42 for 2x  50 lb bags), the tile itself ($130), the cement board ($55), cement screws (can’t remember, I think they were about $15), 1/3 bag of grout ($10), and the new floor trim (~$40). A tad under $300.

Our goals for this week are to finish the last coat of paint on the vanity followed by a coat of polycrylic sealer, get the shower pan in properly, paint at least part of the wall so we can install the floor trim, and maybe move onto installing the hardibacker cement board around the shower so we can move on to tiling the shower wall in the next few weeks!

On an unrelated note, our garden is becoming quite prolific, with jalapenos and roma tomatoes soon to come!

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