Shower Pan Installation: Step-By-Step Guide

Looking to install a tile shower? 

Then you're in the right place. 

Installing a tile shower is one of the best ways to update and elevate your bathroom. Furthermore, installation is easier than you might think. 

This comprehensive guide will walk you step-by-step through the process of installing a copper or galvanized steel shower pan and forming a concrete base that is ready-to-tile.

But first, here are some benefits of installing copper and galvanized steel shower pans and how they differ in comparison to conventional shower base options.

[Scroll down to view step-by-step guide

Copper & Galvanized Steel Shower Pans

Copper and galvanized steel shower pans serve as reliable foundations for watertight, easy-to-tile, and long-lasting tile shower bases.

In particular, copper and galvanized steel shower pans are superior alternatives to installing conventional shower pan options. Copper and galvanized steel shower pans essentially create a watertight seal around concrete shower bases. After the concrete base
is formed inside the pan, tile is then laid on the surface.

We strongly believe that all shower bases be properly reinforced with concrete. Simply put, concrete provides the most solid and reliable footing for a shower base and is the easiest surface to tile. Special epoxy is not needed to lay tile; any standard thin-set can be used. In addition, if you ever want to replace your tile in the future, you can do so without having to remove and replace the entire base. Because the base is made of durable concrete, lifting tile is not likely to cause any damage.

Copper shower pans are resistant to water damage and mold. Copper, in it of itself, offers a great line of defense against water damage. If installed correctly, copper shower pans can last for an indefinite amount of time, making it the longest-lasting and most economical tile shower base option available. Other options are more prone to leaks and must be replaced sooner. Galvanized steel shower pans are just as reliable as copper shower pans; however, they do require one simple extra waterproofing step to reach the same level of reliability as their copper counterpart.

Our copper and galvanized steel shower pans are not constructed with pre-cut drain spaces. Instead, drain spaces are cut on-site and can be placed almost anywhere. By placing the drain space where it aligns with your existing plumbing, you avoid the costly process of adjusting the underlying plumbing. In contrast, polyurethane shower pans are constructed with pre-cut standard (left, right, and center) drain spaces. The process and cost of moving underlying structural work is an important factor to consider when deciding which tile shower base option to use for your project. 


Vinyl Liners

Vinyl liners also serve as foundations for concrete shower bases. However, there is a significant difference in their reliability when compared to copper and galvanized steel shower pans. Vinyl liners are linked to a high risk of water damage.  Because liners are so thin, they are easy to puncture during installation. Even when installed successfully, liners tend to wear down and cause leaks within only a few years, making them one of the least reliable tile shower base options available. Costly and time-consuming repairs or removal/replacement of the  entire base are common outcomes associated with vinyl liners.

Polyurethane Shower Pans

Polyurethane shower bases are pre-formed, meaning tile is applied directly on the surface of the base. On the surface, this sounds like a fool-proof way to install a tile shower base, however, there are many risks associated with these pans. First, a mortar bed needs to be poured to set and level the shower pan. A common complaint from installers is that these pans do not adhere well to the mortar bed. After the recommended amount of mortar dries under the pan, it often flexes and ends up cracking tiles. Because these pans do tend to flex, in general, they are more prone to cracking and leaks that cause water damage and mold. It is important to handle them with caution when installing. 

In addition, polyurethane is a difficult surface to lay tile on. To lay tile, a special, fast-drying epoxy must be used. You must move quick to lay tile because the epoxy will dry soon after it is applied to the surface. Therefore, there is little room for stopping and correcting any mistakes or handling setbacks.

If you wish to change your tile in the future, removing tile from a polyurethane shower pan is not possible. The polyurethane surface is not strong enough to withstand the process of lifting tiles. If attempted, lifting tile from the base would cause irreparable damage. Therefore, to change your tile, you would need to replace the entire base. 


How to Install Copper and Galvanized Shower Pans
Step-By-Step Guide


Materials Needed:

  • 2x4(s) 
  • Cement board
  • 15 lb. felt paper (waterproofing vapor barrier)
  • Plumber's putty
  • Concrete
    - Base Layer: Gravel Mix
    - Top Layer: Portland Sand Mix
  • Standard thin-set (for tiling)
  • 3-Piece Drain (click for examples and where to buy)

Tools Needed:

  • Level
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Stapler
  • Marker
  • Metal Shears
  • Socket wrench
  • Magnesium Float
  • Finishing Trowel
  • Wooden setting blocks (to help create the slope of the base)
  • Power drill
  • Concrete mixing tub/pan
  • Small shovel

How much concrete do you need?

The amount of concrete you will need for the base and top layers depends on the size of your pan.

If your pan is 36"D x 48"W and UNDER

Your BASE layer  =  (1)  80lb. bag of Gravel Mix
Your TOP layer  =  (1)  80lb. bag of Portland Sand Mix

If your pan is 36"D x 48"W and OVER

Your BASE layer  =  (2)  80lb. bags of Gravel Mix
Your TOP layer  =  (1)  80lb. bag of Portland Sand Mix

The step-by-step guide below depicts a mock installation of copper and galvanized steel shower pans.
Step 1:
Have the drain in set position.

Step 2: Place pan in the designated space. DO NOT nail down the pan. 

Step 3: Mark drain location.

Mark the drain location by LIGHTLY tapping down on the pan with a hammer to make shallow impressions of the underlying drain bolts in the pan. These marks will be your guide when cutting out a hole for the drain space.  

The result will be a 4-5/8th inch circle of indentations. To make the impressions more visible, draw a circle with a marker to connect the marks (make sure to draw the circle on the OUTSIDE of the bolt impressions).

Step 4: Remove the pan and cut the hole for the drain. 

Remove the pan from the space and make a puncture hole inside the circle. Then use metal shears to cut the hole out.  

Step 5: Secure Vapor Barrier (Floor)

A vapor barrier prevents moisture or condensation from creating any damage. Our recommendation is 15lb. felt paper.

Measure, cut, and place felt paper across the floor and staple down. Cut out a hole in the felt paper for the drain. 

* DO NOT staple down the area of vapor barrier that will fold over the curb that you will secure in STEP 9.

Step 6: Secure Vapor Barrier (Walls)

Measure, cut, and staple additional pieces of felt paper to each wall (staple to 2x4 studs). 
Note: Affix the felt paper to the entire height shower walls. This is only a mock installation. 

Step 7: Apply Sealant Around the Drain Ring

Use sealant (plumber's putty) around the drain ring and loosen the bolts. After applying the plumber's putty put the pan back in the space. 

Step 8: Install the Drain

Assemble the drain ring and finish by bolting down. Then install the screw piece of the drain. Leave approximately 1 1/4" of space between the floor of the pan and the top of the drain (screw piece). 

Step 9: Secure the 2x4 Curb

Measure and cut your 2x4 curb to size. Before securing the curb, make sure the vapor barrier (felt paper) is between the pan and the curb.

Level the curb and secure it to the floor.

Fold the vapor barrier (felt paper) over the curb and staple down.

If curb is not level...

If the curb is not level with the floor, use shims to level BEFORE securing down the 2x4 curb.

Step 10: Secure Secondary Vapor Barrier

  • Measure, cut, and place secondary vapor barrier (15lb. felt paper) across the floor of the pan. 
  • Cut a hole for the drain space. 
  • Measure and cut additional pieces of felt paper and affix to the 2x4 studs of each wall. 

DO NOT staple below the pan line.

Step 11: Install Curb Flashing and Cement Board

  • Measure and cut a piece of cement board to size and place it against the inside of the 2x4 curb. 
  • Place the L-Piece Curb Flashing over the curb and cement board so that it holds the cement board in place. 

Note: the short side of the L-Piece lays against the interior cement board.

Step 12: Secure Curb Flashing (L-Piece)

Nail down the L-Piece Curb Flashing to the top of the curb.

Step 13: Secure Cement Board to Front of Curb

Measure and cut a piece of cement board to size and place against the front (outside) of the 2x4 curb. Then secure (nail) the piece to the front of the curb.

Step 14: Secure Left and Right Curb Flashing Pieces

Secure (nail) the left and right curb flashing pieces to the 2x4 wall studs.

Building Your Curb to Fit the Width of Your Tile

An adjustable curb makes tiling easy. You can build your curb so that it perfectly accommodates your chosen tile. Therefore, there is no need to cut down tile to fit the width of a pre-formed curb.

Our standard curb with is 2 5/8th of an inch. Increase the width of your 2x4 curb using cement board so that the curb width matches the width of your chosen tile. Your tile will fit perfectly, and the result will be a sleek curb with clean tile edges.

An adjustable curb also allows you to level your curb against an out-of-level floor. Doing so is easily accomplished by using shims. Leveling the curb is especially important if you want to install glass doors.

To determine what the width of your curb should be (width of the top piece of cement board):

1. Measure the width (or combined width) of your chosen tile(s) that you will use for the top of the curb.

2. Take the INSIDE and OUTSIDE piece(s) of tile that you will use for the curb and place them side-by-side. Measure the combined width of the tiles. Add 1/16th of an inch to your measurement to accommodate for the tile adhesive. 

3. Subtract the step 2 measurement from the step 1 measurement. The resulting measurement will determine the necessary width for the top piece of cement board for your curb.

4. Now you can build out the existing curb width of 2-5/8th inch using ½” inch (or ¼”, etc.) cement board and shims (if necessary) to achieve your final width measurement.


Step 15: Secure Cement Board to Top of Curb

Measure and cut your piece of cement board and place it on top of the curb. Then secure (nail) the cement board down to the top of the curb.

Step 16: Secure Cement Board to Interior Walls of Shower

Measure and cut cement board and nail in place to the inside 2x4 walls. 
Remember: DO NOT nail below the curb line.

Note: Cement board should cover the entire height of the shower walls. This is only a mock installation.  

Step 17: Locate the Top Layer Concrete Line

Place a level on top of the drain and extend it out to a side or corner of the pan. Mark the spot where the drain is LEVEL with the side (or corner). Repeat this step to the remaining sides or corners of the pan. THESE MARKS REPRESENT THE TOP LAYER OF CONCRETE.

Draw a line 1/2" lower than the "top layer marks" around the walls. The line will mark the BASE LAYER (gravel) concrete height and will be your guideline when pouring the concrete.

Step 18: Pour the Base Layer of Concrete

Pour the base layer of concrete (gravel mix) to the "base layer line" you drew in the last step (1/2" lower than top layer marks). Once poured, let the base layer set until stiff. 

Tip: Make sure to turn the screw piece of the drain back and forth during the drying process. You want to keep the drain adjustable (not sealed by concrete) until you determine what the pitch will be when adding the top layer of concrete.

Step 19: Pour the Top Layer of Concrete

Place wooden setting blocks in the corners of the pan to create a slope. Use a level to make sure the top of the drain is LEVEL with each of the setting blocks. 

When creating your pitch remember to compensate for the thickness of your chosen tile before pouring the top layer of concrete. Tile should be EQUAL to or SLIGHTLY higher than the top of the drain. 1/8 of an inch is an ideal pitch, but always follow local codes.


Step 20: Pour the TOP Layer of Concrete

Mix a stiff batch of top layer (sand mix) concrete. To make a stiff batch use limited water and make sure it is thoroughly mixed. Pour the top layer of concrete and create the desired pitch.

Note: Before pouring the top layer, double-check to make sure the top of the drain is level from all directions. If it is not, use shims to level the drain before pouring.

Once the concrete has been poured, use a magnesium float, a tool used for leveling the surface of the wet concrete.

To finish the concrete, use a finishing trowel to achieve a smooth texture. You can sprinkle a SMALL AMOUNT of water onto the surface and smooth out any lumps or indentations.

If you are having trouble with any lumps/swirls you can grind down the concrete with a stone sander or even the flat side of a brick to create a smooth surface. 

The top layer of concrete will set in approximately 2 hours. After top layer sets, you can begin tiling with ANY STANDARD THIN-SET. 


BEFORE laying tile, all four corners should be level with the drain

AFTER laying tile, all four corners will be pitched to the drain.

Here you can see that the pitch is slightly out-of-level.

Want to see the installation steps in motion?

Step-By-Step Shower Pan Installation Video

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