How to Build a Shower

Walk-in shower with shower head and faucet handle installed on marble wall

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 3 - 5 days
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 wks
  • Skill Level: Advanced
  • Estimated Cost: $1,000 to $2,500

Building a shower is one of the more satisfying bathroom remodel projects. You can exercise your full creative potential by shopping for unique ceramic or stone tiles and by building in-shower shelves and nooks. Or you might decide to control costs and use a pre-fabricated shower stall instead of tile. You can even compromise by using a pre-built shower pan in conjunction with tile on the shower walls—the focus of this project.

Building a shower freshens up your bathroom, beautifies your entire home, and adds to your home's resale value.

Before You Begin

Building a shower touches on many aspects of home improvement: plumbing, tiling, light construction, permits, and sometimes even flooring and drywall.

If you've done these jobs before and you consider yourself highly experienced, you may be able to build your own shower. Generally, though, it's best to leave this project in the hands of professionals. 

Allot a generous amount of time to build your shower, whether you do it yourself or hire professionals. You'll need to have alternative bathing facilities during the time it takes to complete this project, as well.

Codes and Permitting

Creating or modifying shower water supply and drainage lines requires permitting in most municipalities. Building one or more alcove walls for the shower enclosure, too, may require a building permit.

When to Build a Shower

If you're building a shower as part of a larger bathroom remodeling project, schedule the shower build early in the timeline. At the least, the shower enclosure will need to be constructed at the same time as other structural work in the bathroom.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Hammer
  • Cordless drill
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Putty knife
  • Bubble level
  • Jigsaw or hole saw
  • Hacksaw
  • Spud wrench
  • Utility knife
  • Chip brush
  • Paint tray and liners
  • Paint roller
  • Wet tile saw or rail type tile cutter
  • Notched trowel
  • Rubber tile float
  • Caulking gun
  • Tile sponge

Materials

  • Tile
  • Tile grout
  • Shower pan
  • Two-by-fours
  • Cement board
  • Liquid waterproofing membrane
  • Cement board seam tape
  • Thinset mortar
  • Cement board screws
  • Shower controls
  • Showerhead
  • Shower arm and flange
  • Silicone caulk
  • Grout sealer

Instructions

Materials and tools to build a shower

The Spruce / Photo Illustration by Michela Buttignol 

  1. Mark Shower Location

    With the tape measure and pencil, mark out the area on the floor where you want to install the shower enclosure.

    Shower location measured and marked on plywood floor

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  2. Add Sill Plates

    To build a shower enclosure in a corner, you will need to build one extra wall to create an alcove. Cut a piece of two-by-four to the width of the alcove wall and attach it to the floor with deck screws.

    Two by four piece of wood drilled to floor for shower alcove wall

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  3. Extend Studs to Ceiling

    Attach two studs to the sill plate and run them upward to the ceiling. Attach to the ceiling with another two-by-four the length of the sill plate. Add two more studs between those side studs.

    Tip

    For example: For a 36-inch alcove wall, space the four studs 13 inches apart from each other rather than the customary 16-inch stud spacing for walls.

    Wooden studs attached to sill plate and run up to ceiling

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  4. Install Drain Pipe and Branch Line


    With a jigsaw, cut a drain access hole in the floor at the drain location. Have a plumber install the drain pipe and branch line below the shower floor. Cut off the ABS or PVC pipe flush with the floor with a hacksaw.

    Jigsaw machine cutting a drain hole in the floor

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  5. Add Supply Plumbing Supports

    Attach two two-by-fours between wall studs, one high and one low, to act as supports for the faucet controls and for the showerhead.

    Two by four pieces of wood added to wall studs as support

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  6. Attach Tailpiece to Shower Pan

    Turn the shower pan upside down and attach the drain tailpiece that came with the shower pan. Use a spud wrench to tighten the tailpiece. Be careful not to break the tailpiece.

    Drain tailpiece inserted through shower pan

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  7. Set Shower Pan


    Cover the drain with a rag. Carefully pour mortar or thinset on the floor around the drain. This will help stabilize the shower pan. Lay the shower pan into place in the wet mortar or thinset. Use a bubble level to bring the shower pan to level.

    Bubble level laid on shower pan to level to floor

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  8. Attach Shower Pan to Enclosure

    Screw the nailing fins of the top part of the shower pan against the wall studs.

    Shower pan screwed to wall studs with nailing fins

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  9. Run Water Supply Pipes to Regulator Area

    Run the hot and cold water supply lines upward from the floor. Use either PEX or copper pipe. Stop at the lower support.

    Blue PEX pipe run upwards for water supply line

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  10. Attach Shower Regulator to Pipes

    Attach the shower regulator to the support. Attach the water supply lines to the shower regulator.

    Shower regulator attached to wall supports for water supply lines

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  11. Continue Pipe to Shower Head Area

    Continue a single PEX or copper line upward from the shower regulator to the upper support. Attach to a 90-degree drop ear elbow. Secure the elbow to the support with screws.

    90-degree drop ear elbow screwed onto wall support for shower head

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  12. Cut Cement Board

    With the utility knife, cut pieces of cement board to the size of the inside of the enclosure. Cut by scoring a line on the front of the cement board, snap, turn over, then continue the cut on the back. Create holes for the shower controls and the showerhead by cutting holes either with a jigsaw or with a hole saw attached to a drill.

    Aim to install as few pieces of cement board and seams as possible.

    Tip

    You can either continue the cement board all the way to the ceiling or you can have a band of drywall along the top. For new-construction installations, you'll probably want to go all the way with cement board. If this is a remodel where you removed existing tile, you may want to keep that upper area of drywall. If so, make sure that you buy cement board that is the same thickness as the drywall to keep the two surfaces flush with each other.

    Cement board cut with utility knife

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  13. Attach Cement Board to Enclosure and Add Seam Tape

    Use cement board screws to attach the cement boards to the inside of the enclosure. Cut and apply seam tape to all of the seams between the cement boards. Press thinset into the seam tape with the putty knife and smooth it down.

    Let the thinset dry. Mix the liquid membrane with a stirring stick. Use a chip brush to brush the liquid membrane on all seams.

    Cement boards screwed to enclosure wall studs with electric drill

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  14. Roll Liquid Membrane on Cement Board

    Pour liquid membrane into a lined paint tray. Put a roller cover on a paint roller, then roll out membrane across all visible surfaces of the cement board. Wait for the membrane to dry, then add a second coat.

    Purple liquid membrane rolled on to cement board with paint roller

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  15. Plan Tile Horizontal Design

    While the liquid membrane is curing, plan the tile design. Horizontally, each wall should start with one tile in the center, then extend symmetrically on each side to adjoining walls. The end tiles most likely will need to be cut to fit this space. If the two end tiles will not be the same width when cut, adjust the center tile accordingly.

    Marble tile measured and lined horizontally on liquid membrane wall

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  16. Plan Tile Vertical Design

    Use the tape measure, pencil, and one of the tiles to calculate the starting point of the second row of tiles from the bottom. Vertically, tiles should run from the ceiling down to within 1/8-inch of the upper lip of the shower pan. In some cases, the tiles will perfectly fit, but usually not. In this case, plan to have the cut row be the very bottom row.

    Pencil marking vertical design location next to tape measure

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  17. Add Ledger Board

    Screw a one-by-two ledger board in place just under the second row from the bottom.

    Thin ledger board screwed into cement board with electric drill

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  18. Spread Thinset

    Mix up the dry thinset with water until it has a peanut butter–like consistency. Spread thinset on the lower area with the notched trowel just above the ledger board. Work in sections about 2-foot by 2-foot.

    Thinset spread across liquid membrane-covered wall and ledger board

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  19. Add Tiles

    Press tiles into the wet thinset. Pull off the first tile to make sure that it is fully covered in back. After every several tiles, add plastic spacers between the tiles.

    Continue with the tiling above the ledger board. Cut tiles with a wet tile saw or rail type tile cutter.

    Marble tile placed on top of wet thinset

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  20. Complete First Row to Shower Pan

    After a couple of hours, remove the ledger board. Finish off the first row of tile. You may need to cut each tile individually to fit its space.

    Tip

    Remember to keep that 1/8-inch gap in place between the bottom of the tile and the top of the shower pan.

    Second piece of marble tile placed on wet thinset

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  21. Add Grout

    With all of the tile in place and set, remove the tile spacers. Use the rubber tile float or another grout tool to spread grout diagonally across the surface of the tiles. Press firmly to make sure that the grout fills the seams.

    To wipe away excess grout, wet the tile sponge in warm water. Lightly wipe the surface of the tile to remove excess grout. Be sure not to pull out any of the wet grout from between the tiles.

    After the grout has dried, apply grout sealant to waterproof the grout.

    Grout spread across installed wall tiles with grout tool
  22. Add Silicone Sealant

    Add a tube of silicone caulk to the caulking gun. Cut the end of the tube, then add caulk to all joints between tiles, such as at corners, below the lower edge of tile, and at the very top where tile meets the ceiling.

    Silicone caulk added to shower wall corners with caulking gun

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  23. Complete Shower Controls

    Install the rest of the shower controls, including the escutcheon.

    Escutcheon plate installed to shower wall

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

  24. Add Showerhead

    Screw the shower arm into the top, add the flange, then screw the showerhead into the arm.

    Shower arm installed to regulator through shower wall

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

When to Call a Professional

A bathroom remodeling contractor or a general contractor can build your entire shower for you, as they can subcontract the work to the various trades. If you're hiring trades piecemeal, you'll need to line up a general carpenter, a plumbing company that does remodeling work (not just emergency plumbing work), and a tiler. If you feel at all uncertain about your ability to complete this project properly, call a professional. Remember that several trades are involved in a bathroom remodel, and a qualified, licensed contractor can be an excellent (and sometimes necessary) resource for ensuring your bathroom is water-tight and well-constructed.