First, a reminder: I am not a professional contractor, plumber, or electrician, so this post is not intended as instruction of how to install. Rather, I hope you will find some entertainment and some "what not to do” education from my experience.
If you have been following the last two blog posts regarding the bathroom remodel, you have likely seen some of the considerations and struggles I had with planning and preparing for the bathroom remodel, especially the new steam shower. What I haven’t shared is the timeline for the projects based on working on the project after work and on weekends. We purchased the bulk of our supplies on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, we began demolition the 2nd week of June, I took care of plumbing of the 4th of July weekend, I completed most tile work by the beginning of August, and I have been working on details (including one of my final coats of paint on our vanity) as of about 6:30 AM this September morning. If approaching a remodel one’s self, be sure to be patient with the schedule and with time consuming activities. Below are a few highlights of the installation.
Running Plumbing and Electrical for the Amerec AT5 Generator with T100 Touch Control:
I have worked with Amerec for over 12 years, and I am very familiar with the installation instructions. What I am not familiar with is a blow torch and soldering for installing plumbing. Total installation time for connecting all plumbing connections and electrical to the generator was less than 1 hour. Following the instructions and matching the appropriate pieces to the right pre-plumbed holes made plumbing easy, and the plug and play nature of installing the control, sensor, and even the low-voltage, chromatherapy lighting made electrical easy; however, a few miss-steps on my part resulted in about 14 hours for running a water supply line to the generator and a steam line from the generator to the room. If a person is not experienced with plumbing, I would strongly suggest hiring a professional to run the water and steam lines to ensure the joints and fittings are all installed properly and to save time on the installation. The main problem we faced was a leaky valve on the supply line that kept filling our supply line with water as we tried to solder the joint. Having water in the line makes soldering more difficult because the water cools the line, thus preventing a proper flow of the solder around the joint. In order to heat the line to a sufficient temperature to get the solder to flow, the outside of the pipe is heated to a point that renders the flux unusable, so the solder won’t flow properly, even if all water is finally evaporated, because the flux is gone. If I had it to do over again, I would make sure all of my shut-off valves work perfectly, and if they don’t, I would replace them first. Parts and a substantial amount of time was wasted by not following this path. On a positive note, we did learn about a wonderful device for making supply line connections easier (after 14 hours of sweating it): Shark Bite fittings. The Shark Bite fittings are approved for use in many applications, but since they are rated for temperatures not to exceed 180°F, they should not be used on the steam or drain lines.
Plumbing at the Shower:
Let me begin by saying, "Do as I say, not as I do.” Having taken care of the supply line and the electrical to the generator, we moved on to the steam line to the shower. Knowing the difficulties we faced with the soldering of joints and fittings to the supply line, we decided to use a thicker walled flexible copper pipe, figuring we could bend the pipe around the obstructions in framing and drywall. Yes, we met our goal, but it was not as easy as we had anticipated. Unlike rigid copper pipe, flexible copper pipe does not make perfect 90° or 45° angles, and whether the goal is to straighten the pipe or bend it to an angle, there is always the possibility of kinking the line, which then negates the work a person has done to try to avoid multiple joints. If I had to do it over again, I would purchase rigid copper pipe for a few reasons:
- Cleaner Install – The readily available fittings make it possible to run the pipe through most installations without the large radius on turns that happens when bending flexible pipe.
- Less Waste – I estimate that between failed parts on the supply line and the extra copper left over from the roll of flexible pipe, I wasted over $100 on rough plumbing materials. The amount credited to the use of flexible pipe is probably only $10-15, as I had to purchase lengths available in a roll instead of the lengths I needed of rigid pipe.
- The Finished Look – I intend to live in our house for at least another 10-15 years, so this installation was not for others, but when I go to sell this house, it will be obvious to the next home owner that I did the plumbing myself, which may not bode well for my resale value.
Listen to a Master Plumber When They Offer Advice for FREE:
I pride myself on figuring things out and being responsible for my own projects, whether they are victories or failures. This project ended as a victory, but there were moments I wasn’t certain of that. My father and I had worked on much of the plumbing together, which was great for bonding time, but as neither of us are plumbers, we probably missed opportunities to have a more efficient installation. My father-in-law is a Master Plumber, who offered his assistance several times, but I thought I could do fine on my own. When he came to review our work, he noted that we had T’d off of a 1/2” supply line (which is not code), so we needed to change that. He then noted that in the bathroom, my plumbing for the shower fixtures was going to be too far forward, thus preventing the mixer and handle from mounting flush with the tile. I thought it was okay, so I proceeded with installing the ½” hardi backer to the walls and ceiling, mudded the joints, applied my TruGard Vapor Proofing Membrane, and screwed boards to the walls at the height at which my 2nd row of tiles were to be installed. I would soon learn that my father in law had offered sound advice regarding the plumbing for the shower controls, and my only way to fix the problem was to go in through the back of the shower and try to deepen the notch where the plumbing was run, so the fittings could sit flush with the tile. What would have been a 10 minute fix in the beginning turned into a 2 hour project later, and I had to attempt a drywall patch. Lesson learned: Listen to experts who offer professional advice at no charge.
Installing Tile, Door, and Finishes:
I had finally reached the point about which I was most excited and nervous: tile. Having spent several hours on several evenings watching YouTube videos on tiling rather than the network prime time offerings, I felt confident I had a map for how to begin. As mentioned before, I mounted a board on the three walls to be tiled, so there was a level surface on which the 2nd row of tiles could rest, as the tiles may tend to sag if not supported from beneath. The suction created by the thinset on the wall and tile usually prevents the tile from falling away from the wall. The videos and the in-store training at The Tile Shop had all mentioned that this was a crucial step to ensure the tiles are installed level. The reasoning is the floor is not necessarily level on all walls or even across one wall, so to use the floor as a guide is to invite the tiles to not be level. Also, by starting with the second row, the bottom row of tiles can be cut to match the height of the top row, so the wall has balance, and if the floor is uneven, the bottom of the tile can be cut to accommodate and the grout/caulk lines will hide the imperfections. Since I was using 12x18 tiles installed the tall direction and I was installing a stone shower seat, I started my 2nd row at 18”, thus allowing minimal trim of the 1st row and allowing the bench to sit at a comfortable height.
As noted in the first blog, I had taken the time to plan where each tile was to go and how the shower should look when installed. In the heat of the moment, I decided to go with the flow instead of following the original design. The installation came out fine, and I probably avoided extra cuts, but it also made me nervous if I had purchase enough materials for my new plans. As recommended by most every expert I could read, listen to, or watch, I started by installing the middle tile on the back wall, and I worked across the wall. Since my shower wasn’t even 36” wide by the time all substrates were installed, I needed to either shift the middle tile slightly off center to allow for only one side tile to be cut, or I needed to make cuts to both side tiles. Not trusting my ability to cut 18” tiles straight, I opted to cut 1” from 1 tile instead of ½” from two. On the two side walls, I decided to run a full piece of tile into the corner, and I would deal with the consequences of that action when I reached the front. Fortunately, it worked out, as I extended the non-plumbed wall outside of the shower to the bathroom entrance, as this was a place that had experienced water damage to the drywall before. On the plumbed wall side, the door installation made the size of the tile not look out of place. A word of advice when installing tiles: look at the back of the tile before applying tile to the thinset on the wall. Since I was not "back buttering” the tiles, I had missed that a protective sheet was on the back of a few tiles as I had placed them on the wall. When the tiles were not setting and continued to fall away from the wall, I couldn’t figure it out, so I removed the tiles and found my mistake. Easy fix, but I should have paid more attention when installing.
Two Biggest Tiling Challenges: Hole Cuts and Ceiling
I was proud of myself. I had installed most of the tile of the shower, and I had made most of my straight cuts, but now I needed to cut out for pipes, sensors, and fixtures. Again, YouTube gave a multitude of answers, and it was up to me to determine which made me feel most comfortable. My choice was a wet/dry handheld circular saw to cut the back side of the tiles, as it provided enough control that I could make round cuts, and a ball-peen hammer to knock-out the center of the holes. It worked surprisingly well, even on small 1” holes.
With the hole cuts solved, I moved on to the ceiling. From the professional installers on Bath Crashers to the myriad of skill levels shown on YouTube, everybody said installing ceiling tiles is fairly easy, as the suction of the tiles created by the use of thinset will keep the tiles mounted to the ceiling. A word of advice: do not try this with 12x18 tiles without having some way to support the tiles as they set. I had made cuts in my ceiling tiles to prepare for the Chromatherapy and regular shower light, and the holes were perfectly placed, so I was excited! I spread the thinset on the ceiling, and I mounted the first piece. I slowly removed my hands from the piece, and to my surprise, it stayed. I watched it for a minute to make sure I wasn’t going to be surprised, and when satisfied, I turned my back, and as I was reaching for another piece, I heard the suction let loose. I quickly turned and caught the piece mid-air with no damage to the tile or to me. Not wanting to take another chance, I mounted the tile to the ceiling again, and I secured it to the try portions of the ceiling and walls using duck tape. Having no fear that the tile would fall now that it was secured, I reached for the second ceiling tile, and the 1st tile fell from the ceiling again. This time, the tile shattered as I raised my arm to protect my head, and the tile crashed into the walls and seat. I took a break and regrouped. After much thought, I decided my best solution was to paint and waterproof a ¼” sheet of hardibacker and mount that to the ceiling. With multiple coats of paint and waterproofing sealant, I was confident in two things: 1. The ceiling would not fall on my head during installation or later during a steam bath. 2. I wouldn’t have to worry about my grout lines matching the walls. In the end, this was a great option for us.
Steam showers often give rise to the question of what door is appropriate for the installation. There are many answers to the question. For those most concerned with creating an almost airtight installation, a door with a continuous piano hinge is a popular option. Some designs even include a vent at the transom area that is mounted to the frame of the door with a continuous piano hinge, so the vent can be opened when using as a shower and closed when using as a steam bath. Considering my budget, I opted for a standard door available through a national chain home improvement store. It was a frameless door with pivot hinges with an adjustable opening size of 34” to 36-1/2”. Given some mistakes in applying my backerboard and tiles, I needed the 34” dimension for the bottom of the door and 36” at the top. I was happy I didn’t pay for something custom and precise. The door came with a sweep for the bottom of the door and two strips for the edge of the door to ensure water (and steam) would not escape. This left the transom for me to figure out, and my current solution is a thick piece of clear plexiglass caulked into place above the door using clear silicone. When I am confident the dimension of the plexiglass is adequate, I may replace it with real glass. After the installation of the door and plexiglass had cured for 48 hours, I decided to test the steam room, and I was pleased to see minimal loss of steam from around the door.
Ready to Steam:
Though the next weeks consisted of installing the bathroom floor tiles and painting and trimming the rest of the bathroom, the biggest part of the project was completed. With immense pride, I turned on my Amerec T100 Control, set the time and temperature for the steam bath, selected my chromatherapy light color, connected my phone to my Kohler Moxie Showerhead with Bluetooth speaker, and relaxed in the steam. For a little relief from early fall allergies, I added a few drops of eucalyptus to the ComfortFlo steam head, and I felt the tension and stress melt away, along with my allergy symptoms.
As the title of this post says, patience is a virtue on a remodel. The easiest part of the installation will be the plumbing and electrical connections for the generator, as they are laid out logically and designed for the simplest form of connections when possible. The rest of the installation is as difficult as one chooses to make it. If I were to start over, I might consider the use of Swanstone for the walls, because it would have been far simpler than tiling, but I do love the custom look we ended with on the tile installation. Also, I would have not been so stubborn, and I would have accepted the advice and the offers of assistance provided to me by my father-in-law.
If you are ready for a rewarding adventure, contact your local dealer or request a brochure to begin selecting the steam generator that will begin your journey to a more relaxing bathroom escape.