Master Bathroom Remodeling Anatomy
This article will unveil our master bathroom remodeling anatomy by taking you through the process, step by step. I hope you’ll learn why each step is important and that steps build one upon another until completion.
Planning – the Master Bathroom Remodel
Every item in a master bathroom remodel requires planning. This includes various configurations of the toilet, vanity, mirrors, shower, grab bars, glass doors and the placement of towel racks. And since there is limited space in a bathroom this may include which way the door swings open and the placement of the light switch panel.
Some things can be moved when they are discovered in the walls. Electrical wires are easily rerouted, but other things are more complicated and it’s best to leave them where they are.
In this bathroom situation a 4” plumbing stack pipe was discovered behind the back wall of the shower. And that particular wall we had hoped to remove to make the footprint of the shower area 12 inches larger. The cast iron stack pipe we discovered served the toilet, sink and shower drains in the bathroom. This was definitely out-of-scope for this project so we decided to leave the footprint as is.
Also, we had hoped to move things around so we could get enough space for a prefab shower floor base. These are available in limited variety of sizes. However, any extra space was used up with a larger vanity with 2 sinks that the customer wanted. So there was no space left for a little bigger shower footprint.
Instead a custom made shower base would need to be constructed. Fortunately there is a way to make a custom shower base that allows any size shower to be constructed!
Creating – Repairing the Bones
Many of the studs in this condo shower area were either bowed or cracked. So new ones had to be installed, mostly by sistering new straight boards plumb to old ones.
We installed sound deadening insulation in a wall shared with a neighboring condo. This ensured privacy for both parties.
Planning- Towel and Grab Bars
Planning from the beginning for towel bars, grab bars, shelving, mirror locations and shower enclosures is critical. All these items bear a load so we have to inserted bracing between studs.
The customer had wanted grab bars in the shower area. The grab bar was to be installed 44.5” down from ceiling. After the demolition stage we made sure to insert 2 x 6 lumber sections between the studs so we could securely attach the grab bar. (You can also see in this shot the sistered studs on either side of the support lumber.)
The measurements were recorded by notes on the wood or walls. Then a picture was taken of the notes with our cell phone cameras for later reference.
Behind this drywall we inserted wood where a large heavy mirror would be placed over the vanity.
The mirror over the vanity would be hung centered 30” from the left wall and 15.5” down from the ceiling. So wood was placed in this space for mounting the mirror bracket securely.
When installing a fan/light combination unit we must run separate wires for the light and fan. That’s because the light uses a dimmer switch that isn’t compatible with the fan motor. The motor was not manufactured to accommodate various power and speed levels. The fan must have an off/on only switch. Thus, we installed individual switches to control the fan and light separately.
Our client purchased a lighted mirror unit she wanted on one wall. So, we installed an electrical line and the required outlet at the exact location of this unit.
We also installed 2 GFI outlets over the vanity to accommodate various electrical items. Keeping track of how many items are on a particular electrical circuit also needs to be considered.
For placement of recessed ceiling lights throughout the bathroom, various electrical wires had to be run. And for that to happen large areas of drywall were removed from the ceiling where necessary. However, we were careful to replace any insulation that had been disturbed. Thus, most drywall in the bathroom was removed and replaced, both ceiling and walls.
We also noticed that originally the ceiling drywall was installed with nails and some were beginning to pull out. So we replaced all ceiling nails with screws to eliminate the inevitably “nail pop” that happens over time.
We give careful consideration to the placement of ceiling lighting in a bathroom remodel. One light was placed in the center of the shower stall, which had its own dimmer switch. Another set of two lights were positioned squarely over each sink of the double sink vanity with another between them towards the center of the ceiling. These 3 lights were on a second dimmer switch. The homeowner said he liked to have a dimly lit room on occasion when taking a shower, more relaxing, right?
But this setup gave lots of light when needed and really brightened up what had been dimly lit room. We find that mid-sized LED lights work well in a bathroom. This placement of the 4 lamps evenly spread the light throughout the room.
A third switch controlled the fan. The fan unit was placed in the shower and toilet area, which were adjacent in this bathroom layout. So all items are planned and thoughtfully placed.
When purchasing a fan it’s good to consider how much noise it makes, the quieter the better. No one wants to find out after the installation that the fan they picked and installed is excessively noisy!
Planning- Grout Colors and Line Thickness
Sometimes wall tiles have significant curved top edges which makes grouting them a challenge. The curved edges fill with grout, and the lines end up being wider than expected, and also tend to be uneven. When selecting tile it’s good to choose one that has minimal curvature around the top edge for this reason. Even and consistent grout lines can be achieved when the tiles have little curvature around the top edge.
A grout color similar to the tiles will produce uniformity that will deemphasize the grout lines. If you want to accentuate the grout lines then choose a grout color different from the tiles. Designers may do this to pull different tile hues in the room together. However, similar color tile and grout minimizes inconsistencies in the surfaces of cut tiles. So use different color tiles and grout with this caution.
Consider the splashing of water when choosing backsplash grout color and know that a white or light colored grout may require constant cleaning near the faucet. And similarly for floor tiles, it is impossible to keep white floor grout clean, even when they’re sealed.
Tile Cutters Affect Grout Lines
We have found that a scoring and snapping type tile cutter makes clean, sharp lines, whereas tile saws leave a less smooth edge. However, not all cuts can be made with a scoring and snapping cutter. And sometimes a wet-saw is required to make perpendicular cuts. So, consult with your designer for their advice.
Also, for tiles with irregular surfaces such as the natural stone used on this shower floor and niche back, it’s best to use a similar grout color. That’s because it’s difficult, even impossible, to make the grout lines appear straight when grouting irregular shaped tiles. These situations necessitates a similar grout color to look their best.
Our customer saw the tiles and niche style she wanted for her bathroom at Floor and Decor. The styles can be seen in sample shower stall displays and paste ups on boards throughout the store. This actual display enabled choosing shelving tiles and served as a model of how to build the niche with tiles. See how the grout color disappears revealing the pattern of the tile.
Also, in the Newtown Square area you might want to look for Andrew at the Berwyn Floor and Décor. He was the designer who pulled this master bathroom design together for us, very helpful!
Construction – Plumbing
The rough-in of the diverter base is done before the tiles and before the hardiebacker substrate underlayment is applied. Here we are using a Kohler diverter, which is always an excellent choice.
This diverter required a 5” hole be cut in the wall tiles and a 1” hole for the shower spout. Special diamond drill bits are required to cut through tile, but especially through porcelain.
This Kohler diverter had 4 large stainless steel screws that holds the removable value cartridge to its assembly bass. Thus, the diverter mechanism can be exchanged without disturbing the tile work, should it ever fail to operate. A large escutcheon with rubber O-ring comes with the diverter to cover the 5-inch hole. However, not all diverters are designed the same, and sometimes it’s good to have an access panel behind the diverter.
This is a basic shower diverter setup, which we recommend. There are also elaborate shower setups with multiple attachments available. Beware that additional holes are drilled in your tiles for these and you may have a problem with its operation. In this case, you’ll likely have to replace those tiles with new ones at that time. So if you want an elaborate diverter, buy extra tiles because you likely won’t be able to purchase the exact same tiles later. (Also tiles come in “color lots”, meaning the actual tile color may vary from lot to lot.) So, buy extra and save them for future use.
Creating- Master Bathroom Remodel Shower Stall
A master bathroom remodel is all about a shower stall installation and what steps must be taken to make a great job that will last a lifetime. We’ll walk you through the structure and waterproofing.
There are several options of wall board from which to choose. For many years cement board has been favored over drywall for it’s ability to not decay when it gets wet. Though it doesn’t deteriorate it still does get moldy, hence the need for waterproofing. But there are other boards that can be used that are mostly waterproof.
Foam boards like 1/2” Go-Board or Wedi board can be used instead of hardiebacker, and they have waterproof fronts. Yet where the boards meet still have to be waterproofed, because if water gets behind these boards they will still decay and mold. All foam boards must have their edges thoroughly sealed or they will decay and mold like drywall. Not only is that a problem, but they’re not as rigid and strong as hardiebacker.
We used 1/2″ thick hardiebacker boards for the shower walls. We prefer these because they are stronger and more rigid than the foam board alternatives. Also, because these boards are strong they will attach well to the studs. That will make them sufficient to hold the heavy weight of the tiles and mortar that they’ll need to support. That heavy weight on a less rigid foam board could cause the tiles to sag over time and comprise the grout lines. This is more of a problem on very large tiles, like we used here that were 2′ by 4′.
Creating – Waterproofing the Shower Stall Walls
To avoid water penetration there are a couple of waterproofing systems that will prevent water from getting into the structure under wall or floor tiles. When we talk about waterproofing the shower floor below, we’ll discuss some of the options we don’t use. But for now, let’s see how we waterproofed these shower walls.
We use the Schluter waterproofing system to prevent water penetration and the resulting disaster. You see how this system is applied in these photos.
The Schluter waterproof fabric is cemented over the wall boards to make them waterproof. Where sheets of fabric are joined they are sealed by overlapping and with Schluter outside and inside corners pieces.
One consideration of this system is the buildup of the dimension where these corner pieces are applied. This causes the plumb of the area to be thrown off slightly. However, these differences can be compensated for with shims and by varying the thickness of the tile mortar to keep the tiles plumb.
Note: applying the orange colored Schluter fabric/membrane requires a special “Un-modified thin set”, which Schluter sells. This name brand product is necessary to get a guaranteed result. Every detail of this process is critical to making a waterproof and uniform shower enclosure.
Planning for the Vanity and Drains
Planning for the placement of the sink’s drain lines may require their current configuration to change. In our case the bathroom would be changing from a single to a double sink vanity. That means the current center drain plumbing will be altered to accommodate double drains. This required us to remove a section of the plywood floor to expose the sink drain so modification could be made. This short video shows the roughed-in plumbing and electrical for this master bathroom remodel. An adjustment had to made to the shower drain as well.
We also must make careful measurements for the location of the shower drain pipe and its final height. In this case we adapted the old 1 ½ inch copper drain to a now standard 2-inch PVC drain pipe.
The Schluter drain assembly attaches to the drain pipe and is engineered so its 4” grille/grate can be adjusted vertically. This means we can vary its height to match the mortar and floor tiles as they’re being installed. Also, the drain grille is always removable for cleaning the trap, if needed.
Preparing Floor Tiles
The natural stones shower floor tiles we used on this project required clear sealing before they were installed. This is done so that the thin-set mortar won’t stick to the face of the tiles during installation.
Using a high quality pre-sealed grout that doesn’t need sealing will prevent water from penetrating through the grout lines. This makes cleaning of your shower floor over time a snap, as stains won’t penetrate the sealer. They say that the sealing last for a long time but they’re more confident about that than I am.
So, once the tiles were installed and grouted on the shower floor we again applied a liquid sealer over the whole shower floor to double our assurance.
Planning – Layout of Wall and Floor Tiles
Below is a typical layout for floor tiles. This simple design has symmetry.
Floor and wall tiles need to be centered so that tiles along the right and left edge are equal sizes. For walls, the top and bottom tiles may not need to be cut the same height on the vertical dimension. But we make sure that a sliver of tiles will not remain at the top or bottom of the wall.
Sometimes a wood baseboard is applied over the tiles along the floor that covers the first row of tiles. An additional benefit of this is that it gives better waterproofing protection. It preventing water from reaching the tile edge against the wall where cracks may develop over time.
Planning for Wall Tiles around the Vanity
We determined to install the backsplash wall tiles after the vanity top, (instead of the wall tiles first and then the countertop). Putting the tiles on after and on top of the countertop allows us to make a grout joint to the tiles. Alternatively, if the wall tiles are installed first and then the countertop, you’ll end up with a caulk line against the countertop. And a caulk line is not as neat and attractive as a grout joint.
Creating- Preparing for the Tiled Shower Floor
We screwed down galvanized metal mesh, same as used for masonry stucco, on the floor of the shower. This will strengthen and stabilize the mortar bed we’ll add in the next step. You can see we also attached the shower drain flange to the drain pipe and trap that are below the floor. If you’re interested in the mechanics of that operation, see this manufacturer video about setting a Schluter drain.
Earlier we established that a custom made shower floor pan was necessary in the shower stall of this master bathroom. In its construction the shower floor must be sloped towards the drain for the water to drain properly. The advantage of the prefab shower pans is that they come properly sloped, but there are a limited selection of sizes available. Since it’s also possible for us to create the slope with mortar and get a similar result, and that’s what we did.
Creating a form for the screed
To do this we created a form by cutting waterproof foam strips that were laser leveled and attached to the perimeter walls. The shower floor dimensions were 48” long and 28” wide, inside the curb. The drain flange is set to the required 1 inch above the wood floor, so our foam strips were cut to 1 1/2 inches high. This provided the necessary ¼ “ per foot slope for the 24-inch run to the drain.
Then we use “dry-pack” cement to slope the floor between the drain and perimeter foam strips. This is done with a screed and a trowel until the floor area is smooth. Dry pack cement is a special cement made for this purpose. It’s called dry pack because it’s mixed with less water to make a dry consistency that will pack nicely without falling apart. When done correctly, it will hold its shape until it dries.
Preparing -Waterproofing the Mortar Shower Floor
The modified thin-set mortar that is used to cement tiles to the walls or floor is not waterproof. Though water won’t loosen the cement or tiles the structure under the tile can get wet, which result in decay and mold. So you’ll need to take steps to waterproof the floor as well as the walls. For an article on various types of shower floor pans, including waterproofing, see shower floor pan alternatives.
Here again, we’re cementing the Schluter waterproofing membrane over the mortar floor, just as we did the shower walls This creates a waterproof barrier that will prevent water from seeping behind the tiles and doing damage.
Other Waterproofing options
Another option is using a brush-on waterproofing sealer on the mortar floor or hardiebacker walls. This, if done properly, will likewise create a water-resistant surface that will still allow for mortar adhesion to it. This 2nd option is done by using Aqua Defense by Mapei or RedGard brand fast drying no mildew coating. (But note this can only be used under/for ceramic tiles not porcelain). Here’s a manufacturer video about their RedGard product.
Installing the Floor Tiles
Here we are installing the shower bench support after fully waterproofing the entire shower, niche and curb.
This customer chose a real stone tile for the floor of the shower. These smallish real stones of different shades are fixed on a square mat at the factory. Our job was to match up the edges of the pattern of each mat so they fit closely together. The good news was they did fit rather well together mat to mat. An occasional correction was made by pulling one stone out and replacing it with another. We pushed the tiles down into the cement with a float trowel until they appeared to be at the same height. The tiles cleaned up nicely with a little water after being set.
The same tiles also were installed as a back for the shower niche to add some interest.
Floor and Decor had most of the items we needed except the 5” round diamond hole saw, and Home Depot supplied the lumber. “The Tile Store” of King of Prussia has many similar items as Floor and Decor.
Progression of tile work.
Creating – Tiling Outside the Shower
After screwing the plywood down with 3” coated screws onto the joists we checked the level of this floor. We found a dip in the floor in the center of the room approximately 3/8” deep in the worst part. We decided it would throw off the integrity of the finished tile work so we filled in the dip with self-leveling cement.
The leveling cement was able to be sanded after it dried allowing for a feathered edge to be accomplished. Next, we predrilled the hardiebacker prior to screwing it down, to get through the cement and insure a tight fit.
Installing the Vanity
We installed the vanity before the floor tiles because the vanity required leveling. Often a vanity will wobble, so some provision has to be made to level it. If the vanity has a solid base and wobbles sitting on the subfloor, as this one did, then it has to be shimmed. And, as in this case, the shims would be hidden behind the floor tiles, otherwise some other method must be devised to hide the shims.
Installing the tiles
We began installing the floor tiles from center lines drawn in the middle of the floor. This was done so that cut tiles on each end of a row would be the same size. This gives us the symmetrical pattern we desire.
We scrape out excess thin-set mortar after the joints have dried, so it won’t be visible after grouting the tiles.
We also drew a center line for the wall tiles and then shifted the vertical line over, in whole tile increments, to where tiling would begin, at the lowest point. Again, this method results in the same size tile on both the left and right sides.
The 48-inch MAAX brand shower door we used weighed approximately 110 lbs and therefore needed significant structural support. The door hangs off the horizontal support bar at the top. We used a 1/4-inch diamond drill bit to make the holes in the porcelain tile. We inserted plastic anchors into the slightly oversized holes to prevent any movement of the screws that would eventually cause them to fail. Then we used 3” #9 screws to attach the support bar brackets through the wall tile to the bracing lumber that had been positioned behind it. Between the support bar brackets and the side frame pieces we drilled 16 precise holes and used 16 screws to secure both sides.
The doors have a nice feature that they’re almost 6’ high when mounted over a 4” high shower curb. This means minimal bending of the neck to get into the shower! This brand of shower door required approximately 3 inches of footprint space along the whole length of the curb, so the 6” wide tile we placed on top of the curb, on which the shower-door track set, worked out well.
It’s necessary to know the exact location of where support lumber should be located. Therefore, it’s important to have all items to be installed on hand before the project begins so we can understand what is required to install them. That would include all plumbing faucets, toilet specifications, mirrors, cabinets, vanity, grab bars, etc.
The Master Bathroom Remodel Dichotomy
There are two criteria for a master bathroom and shower remodel, and that’s that it looks great and is waterproof.
We wanted to provide anyone who is considering a master bathroom remodel with the information necessary to understand its complexity. Failing to get a grip on this could mean a disastrous breakdown in waterproofing resulting in leaks, rot, mold and mildew. At such a failure the whole pan would have to torn out and redone, and it will never look as good or sound as when it’s done right the first time. So we want to enjoin you to proper protocols in this process to avert disaster.
We hope this information is helpful on you journey to an excellent master bathroom remodeling result that will provide many years of enjoyable service to come. For more information see our bathroom remodeling page, or our contact page and give us a call so we can answer you questions.