Replacing a Shower Stall

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Dear NH,
We had a slab leak under our water heater and under our shower stall. During the repair, the plumber accidentally jack-hammered through the base of our shower, destroying the pan and several tiles. The wall behind the tiles, which I think is plaster, also appears to be damaged. We expect the shower will need to be completely replaced, one way or another. Would it be possible to install one of those "multi-part" shower enclosures more easily than to rip off the tiles and rebuild it from the damaged plaster walls (ugh) up. What do you think, and what suggestions do you have for basic steps?
LR from Palm Springs, CA

Dear LR,
Installing a prefabricated enclosure is much less work and, for the do-it-yourselfer, is a much more goof-proof solution to your problem. You probably will have to completely remove the old enclosure, but look at it as a stress reliever... whack away!! Depending on the prefab enclosure you choose, you may need to attach it directly to the wall studs and install water-resistant drywall around the top edge only. (PS... this is a great place to install tile when the project is done. It will last longer than any paint or wallpaper.)

Keeping home repairs under control

There are repair options that don't require you to completely remove your existing enclosure... if you are up for the work and the mess. The existing pan can be replaced with a custom-sized fiberglass base, eliminating the need for you to learn to work with "mud"... tile installer jargon for setting tile in a base of mortar. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being most difficult), I would rate mud work as a 9 for a do-it-yourself project. And not because a novice can't make a leak-free installation. The aesthetics of the job are the problem... an untrained hand will have a difficult time making a smoothly tapered and properly leveled shower base. Uneven tile alignment and poor leveling can not only cause puddling and excessive mildew growth but also... well... plain unsightly!

Installing a shower pan requires you to remove the doors (if any) and to also remove the bottom few rows of tile and wallboard, as well as any tiles over "rotten" wallboard. Replace the bottommost wallboard with either tile board or water-resistant drywall... your choice. Though water-resistant "green" drywall is not generally used anymore for new enclosures, it is acceptable for repairs.

The original tiles that you removed can be cleaned and reused if you want, or you can get creative and find a tile (of a few tiles) that you can use to create a pattern along the bottom of the walls that looks planned. A good decorator-oriented tile store will help you with the size and color selection... just bring a piece of the old tile with you to start the ball rolling!

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