Going Curbless in the Shower

Large roll-in showers with no curbs are ideal for wheelchair users.
Large roll-in showers with no curbs are ideal for wheelchair users. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Jeanne Huber
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, January 18, 2007

Q I'm renovating my master bathroom and want to install a larger and more luxurious shower. I think this is a chance to add some universal design concepts -- I'm thinking of a "roll-in" shower. What construction issues and pitfalls do I need to consider?

AIt's good that you're thinking of making the shower larger at the same time you're considering a roll-in or curbless shower. A luxuriously large shower is one secret to winding up with a curbless shower that doesn't send water all over the bathroom floor. It also makes the shower much more usable for someone in a wheelchair.

Although it's possible to install a roll-in shower in a 30-by-60-inch tub space, an area at least 48 by 60 inches, and preferably 60 by 60, works much better.

The main construction challenge is the floor. Because there is no curb to keep water inside, the floor needs to slope about 1 1/2 to 2 inches toward the drain, or even more if the shower is unusually large. Creating the slope is a challenge because the existing drain is probably at floor level. You have three options: recess the shower floor, raise the floor in the rest of the bathroom, or install a drop-in shower with a lift-up flange that functions as a curb once someone is inside.

In homes where someone needs a roll-in shower, all of these may be viable options. But if you're remodeling your master bath and the need for the roll-in feature is only potential, you probably won't be interested in the drop-in units: They're designed more for function than aesthetics. With the other options, you can wind up with a shower that's attractive now as well as practical for the future.

To recess the shower floor, a contractor would need to cut out the top section of the floor joists in the shower area and add more supports to make up for the loss of strength. You might need design help from a structural engineer. If your bathroom has a concrete floor, the job would involve jackhammering out the old concrete and pouring a new section.

Raising the floor of the rest of the bathroom is easier, but it would leave you with an awkward transition at the bathroom door or wherever you choose to switch to the floor height in the rest of the house.

Once the floor height is changed, though, building the rest of the shower is fairly straightforward. The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University publishes a 20-page guide to curbless showers that you can download at It provides details about how to slope and build the floor as well as recommendations about grab bars, wall-hung seats and other features you may want to include, even if you don't ultimately go for a roll-in shower.

I'm renovating my master bathroom and have decided that the bathtub has to go. How do we get it out?

If you have a claw-foot tub, the job is relatively straightforward. Turn off water to the tub (which may mean shutting it off for your whole house), disconnect the piping and then, with some very strong friends, carry the tub away. Cast-iron tubs weigh hundreds of pounds, so don't attempt the job alone.

With a built-in tub, the steps are the same, but you'll need to pry off at least the lower course of tiles and cut into the walls around the tub to expose the lip, which extends up the wall an inch or so.

You will probably also need to cut into the end wall (through the back, if possible, if you are trying to preserve the rest of the tile around the tub) to access the drain and overflow piping. Remove the spout and tub strainer by turning them counterclockwise.

To get leverage for the drain, thread a screwdriver through a small pair of pliers that you have placed upside down, with the handles stuck into the drain grate.

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