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By Alan Bullington
A foam shower pan sounds like a poor substitute for a mortar or cement base and indeed it may be. But the foam option actually solves several problems with tile showers and many pros now use only foam. Here are several tips that get at the reasons why foam is better if it’s the right product.
Slopes For Water Fall
Shower floors just naturally leak. The grout lets water pass through and so do many types of tile. That means a tile shower base must be built in a way that the water gets caught and passed to a drain. One piece of the puzzle is the slope to the drain that encourages the water to all head to the drain instead of pooling somewhere. That slope is traditionally built with mortar by for years a foam base has been available to substitute for the mortar.
Not Just Any Foam
The foam shower base isn’t just any foam. You may notice cheap vinyl shower enclosure that use Styrofoam to support the floor of the shower. This type of construction in no way equals what is required to support a tile ready installation. One of the companies that furnishes tile ready shower pans is Schluter. Their Kerdi pan is a lightweight expanded polystyrene base that substitutes for a concrete sloped base. It is made to handle the weight of the tile and is part of a system.
The No Mold Option
The system eliminates one of the basic problems with tile showers. See the water that makes it through the floor surface in a traditional shower pan soaks through the base until it makes it to a built in waterproof liner. From the liner the water flows down to a special drain and then away. But all that water that soaks the pan can easily be the living place for mold.
What the Schluter system does is put the waterproof liner on top of either a foam base or a masonry base. By putting the liner on top of the base and installing the tile right on the liner, there is no base to stay soaked and grow mold. This is a huge advantage.
The Drain Solution Too
Also a drain for a shower with a system like this has no need for a buried drain layer to catch water that makes it through the floor. The drain gets installed right on the base and right over the waterproof Kerdi membrane so all the water stays right up top and not soaking the base.
Mud Instead Of Foam
As suggested, not only will a foam base work with this system, so will a mortar base. But the difference in this base and a traditional shower pan is this base only is one layer. There is no need to build in a waterproof liner and no need to make two layers. The mortar here only serves as a sloping base for a layer of waterproofing material. It’s simpler and very flexible for building custom shower sizes.
A foam shower base works to waterproof showers when combined with the right drain and the right waterproofing material. These showers go together faster and eliminate some built-in problems with a traditional shower pan.
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