How to Build a Curbless Shower

The floor of a shower while a person is showering.

A walk-in curbless shower is a functional, attractive choice for any bathroom, elevating safety and style in a single home upgrade. This post outlines the advantages of curbless showers and walks you through the process of installing one in your home. 

Why Go Curbless?   

Safer Entry and Exit

There are plenty of reasons to go curbless, but the most important is safety. Curbless showers provide for easy, safe entry and exit. This is especially critical for young children, the elderly and people with limited mobility, but these safety benefits extend to all shower users. Most of us have tripped, slipped or stubbed our toes on the shower in a pre-coffee daze. A curbless design mercifully prevents such painful mishaps. 

Elegant Design

Another key advantage of curbless showers is their sleek look. The lack of a curb, or lip, at the base of the shower creates clean, uninterrupted, eye-pleasing lines. The overall effect is one of subtle elegance, raising the aesthetics of your bathroom.

Installing Your Curbless Shower

There are two primary installation methods for curbless showers. This section will provide a step-by-step walkthrough of both, starting with the more common method.

Method 1: Pre-Fabricated Drain and Base

The most common DIY method for installing a curbless walk-in shower is to install a pre-fabricated unit complete with shower pan and drain components. Because such units are often sold as a system with other materials (e.g. proprietary sealant), they are designed for foolproof installation and DIY convenience. Make sure to read the accompanying documentation, since it will inform decisions about how to tailor your specific project to the following general instructions:

  1. Remove subfloor.
  2. Adjust or align plumbing as necessary.
  3. If necessary, cut insets into joists to allow for a new, recessed subfloor.
  4. Install recessed subfloor (OSB or similar).
  5. Seal the drain into the base unit, then dryfit the base into the recessed subfloor.
  6. Apply thin-set to subfloor and back butter the underside of the pre-fab unit. Note: The type of unit you use will determine whether you need to lay waterproof sheeting before installing the pre-fab shower pan.
  7. Set the unit into place and weigh it down to set (stacks of tiles work well for this).
  8. Tile over the shower pan once set, paying close attention to the seal where the sloping shower tile meets the rest of the bathroom floor.

Method 2: Built-up Shower with Linear Drain

A less common (and more technically involved) method of curbless shower installation involves building up the shower floor using wedges and installing a recessed linear drain at the entry to the shower. This method is less popular and requires more work. (This video provides a helpful visualization of the process.)

  1. Level out the subfloor so it’s flush with the bathroom floor.
  2. Cut an inset with appropriate dimensions around the waste pipe to accommodate your linear drain body.
  3. Secure the drain body to the waste pipe using glue or a no-hub connection, depending on your chosen materials.
  4. Cut wedge panels to size and dryfit them in place, then secure them using a layer of thin-set and a trowel.
  5. Apply thin-set and a layer of backer board to the subfloor between your recessed drain and the bathroom floor.
  6. Apply a second layer of thin-set atop the wedge panels and over half of the backer board, providing enough coverage for the waterproofed sheeting.
  7. Remove masking tape from drain body, exposing locator pins.
  8. Apply a bead of sealant around the perimeter of the drain.
  9. Place waterproof sheet over shower pan, pushing down on it near the drain so the locator pins push through it.
  10. Fold edges of sheet inward, then apply thin-set six inches up the shower walls and affix the sheet edges to the walls.
  11. Install drain extensions and clamping collar.
  12. Apply sealant to the sides of the drain.
  13. Set tiles, grout and caulk the shower.
  14. Using a razor, cut out the sheeting covering the drain.
  15. Install spacers and strainer cover.

We know shower projects can be daunting. Contact your local Glass Doctor® to schedule a custom shower door or enclosure consultation and start your project with confidence. Give us a call at 833-974-0209, or schedule an appointment online.