Build a shower base out of tile


Old 12-16-04, 08:13 AM
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Build a shower base out of tile

Great forum! I've looked around, but could not find anything relative to what I want to do. I've gutted my master bath that has a 48"x32" opening for a shower. Originally there was a shower base and enclosure. I want to put up some nice tile and make it look real nice, but that is not my issue. I hate the idea of having beautiful tile and fixtures, with your typical white shower base. So...I'd like to build the shower base with complimenting ceramic tile, but I'm not sure how to do this properly. I've been told by one contracter that I need to put a 'bladder' underneath the tile. My biggest concern is longevity and proper drainage. Has anyone built a custom shower base with tile? What is the proper method to do this? Thanks in advance for your help!
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Old 12-16-04, 01:50 PM
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I sure hope somebody has a link with easy to follow steps and pictures, would sure make this easier to explain LOL. This is VERY VERY LONG so grab some coffee or a soda and settle in for awhile

First off when considering this, go around and talk to the homecenters/tile businesses to see what you have available for the shower floor tile. You need to have tiles with a texture on them for anti-slip when the floor gets wet/soap covered. Around here, even at our big tile outlet, colors are very limited for the non skip flooring tiles and this can weigh in on what overall color scheme your trying to acomplish. So far the only stuff I find available "commonly "is tan colored which kinda throws a loop into the mix when customers have a vision in their head and that's all the tile companies can come up with, plus most of these textured tiles are 2"x2" so keep that in mind unless they can get you special order stuff.

This may turn into a long post so I'll apologize now, but it's a procees hard to exlain without pictures and I'm going off what we do.

Once the area is clear of the tub, old pan, whatever you need to make sure the base/floor is suffcient to hold the weight and prevent cracked tiles and we usually try to have the base be about 1-1 1/2" thick. Usually subfloor is 3/4" thick and I'll install 3/4" exterior grade plywood overtop of that screwed every 4".

Youo'll want to fill in between all the studs with pressure treated 2x6's standing on edge around the foor area-this will allow a place to nail the membrane to around the perimeter. On the outside edge I just stack 3- 2x4's on top of each other like bricks so the outside curb is approx. 4 1/2" tall.

If you have a square shower base center the drain so all sides will slope into the drain, if your removing a tub and using the existing drain area you'll need to have a slight slope on the sides and the main incline going from the back of the shower to the drain. It's alot easier to center the drain, but in some cases that's not always plausible.

Once you have the drain location picked take your shower drain and cut a hole through the new plywood you've installed for the drain assembly. Be sure to leave the hole small enough so the drain assembly wont go through the hole Attach the base of the drain assembly to the floor now and leave the "usually 4 bolts" in place since the middle section of the drain will "twist onto this base and the bolts will screw down and hold the middle section to the base.

Now you need to measure the inside of the shower pan area and be sure to add for an extra 9" on all sides around the perimeter and roughly 16" on the curb side. The membrane will need to be folded with what's called "hospital folds". basically folded inside corners so water cant leak out. I'll usually lay the membrane out in a large area and using permanant marker measure in the 9" on 3 sides and using a level as a stright edge draw the actual shower floor pan so I know where the folds need to be. I'll then flip it over and start making my folds along that line and it's helpful to have a cookie roller to crease the fold as much as possible to help it somewhat retain it's shape when you go to install it.

Now set the membrane into the shower pan, in the drain area, feel where the bolts are and cut little slits in the membrane so the bolts can pop up through it. once your satisfied with the fit in all the corners, take some 1 1/4" galvanized roofing nails and nail no more than 1/2" down from the top edge of the membrane to hold it into place. Wrap the curb side up and over then nail membrane on the outside of the curb. now tighten down the middle section of the drain body and screw in the actual drain part then install masking tape over the metal screen of the drain to prevent thinset from getting on it as well as preventing water from draining for the upcoming water test.

Once the membrane is secured and drain sealed-MAKE SURE DRAIN SYSTEM IS HOOKED UP NOW!!!, fill it with water and let stand overnight to check for leaks. Easier to find and fix now before you have the thing completed If water drops a little bit most likely it just evaportated, but if noticable amount is gone and floor beneath is wet you have problems!! Take necessary steps to fix this problem and retest again until it passes. If everything passes, drain all the water and tape over the top of the drain again.

Now is when you need to insulate the outside (and inside walls in you want)
wall and then install 4mil vapor barrier on the walls enclosing the shower area, overlapping the vapor barrier by about 3 or so inches, staple the bottom of the vapor barrier NO LOWER than the roofing nails that you used to tack the membrane into place.

Now is when you install the cement board in the shower area, leave the cement board about 3/4" -1" above the shower floor. do not screw the bottom area-you dont want the screws going into the membrane and the cement board will be fine screwed just above or right at the membrane edge.

Use a level and go off the base of the strainer (make sure it's screwed all the way down or as close to as possible) Make marks on the wall to where the bottom of the strainer is. Use the formula of 1/4" fall for every 12" from the drain for proper drainage. make those measurments above the level line and then connect all the lines with a permanant market & level so you have a reference point around the shower base for when you install the mortor.

Take some tile spacers (they look like tiny plus signs) and put them around the weep holes at the base of the drain to prevent mortor from clogging them. When you mix up the mortor you want it to be just wet enough to hold itself together and NOT wet to where it will run/sag once you start forming your floor base. It has to be able to holds it''s shape when you start shaping in the tapered floor for drainage. Other wise if it's too runney your floor will want to self level itself and this is bad!! Start throwing the mortor into the base and using a short peice of 2x4, start screeding the mortor around the shower base and make sure it packs in really good.Use the reference line on the cement board you already measured and drew so you know how high the mortor needs to be around the perimeter, then with the screed board you want to start roughing in the slope to the drain. Once you have the mortor roughed in, take a regular steel trowl and start smoothing the mortor for a smooth floor-BE SURE the mortor around the drain area is approx 1/4-3/8" lower than the drain screen itself. This way you already take into account the thickness of the thinset and the tile itself so the drain will be almost flushed with the finished floor.

Let that stand 24hrs, then proceed to tile with your non-slip floor tile and then it's just a matter of time before the whole shower is taken care of.

As already noted about shower floor tiles in our area, both these customers chose to just use the tan colored tiles since white would have been a 5 week wait for any other color??!!!

Hope that helps.


Last edited by IHI; 12-16-04 at 02:02 PM.
Old 12-16-04, 05:54 PM
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It is reccomended that you do a preslope before you put the membrane in to allow for water getting on to the liner and not sitting there wreaking havoc.What will happen is the water will sit and if it is a continous leak will keep trying to get in the hole and the result will be hydrostatic pressure and will start to push the tile upwards and thus cause failure.
Also at this preslope stage you want to use some wire lathe for strength,and you may consider using a liquid latex as well since it is so thin (you only want to go about 3/4 at the perimeter down to the top of the collar at floor level.So put a lyer of 15# roofing felt in then the wire lathe,nailed to the floor,and then the preslope,liner ,and then the final float,durock after the liner and before the final float.
Also since this is all tore out then go ahead and center the drain it will look alot better doing it like this cause you want to center tile on the drain so you won't end up with little peices at the drain.
Keep it level all the way around the perimeter and try not to go less than 1 1/4 inches cause the mud may want to fall apart.
Good rule is that when mixing the mud pick some up and make a ball in your hand and gently bounce it around,if it falls apart then it's not ready and add a little more water and mix again then pick up some more and try again do it til it holds together.
Instaed of the sand/cement mix they what is called deck mud or floor mud much better IMO they add polymers and stuff that will aid in holding it together.
Also take the mesh after you run the liner over the curb and before you float and mold it to the curb and make it tight then nail to the outside and let hang over the inside ,the mud will hold the inside,Put a scratch coat on the top and the inside and then durock the outside ,it will help with tiling the curb.
You can go to they have all the pics going through this step by step and you can print them too.There is a guy there named Harry Dunbar knows his stuff.That should take care of ya for a while let us know if there is anything else we can help with
Old 12-17-04, 06:15 AM
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Wow! Great stuff. I'm actually getting excited about this project! I think my only issue will be finding everything I need. Is the membrane something that Lowes or Home Depot would carry? What about the deck mud? I would also like to build a couple of niches on the back and front walls. I've also noticed that a lot of showers that are custom-built like this do not have doors. Is this a smart thing to do? I found another site yesterday with step by step instructions: - thanks to everyone. Hopefully I can post some before and after pictures for you all to see.
Old 12-18-04, 05:44 AM
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As floormas said, don't forget the preslope. Very important. Not only does it help maintain a dry shower pan, eliminating mildew and musty smells, it also keeps water from wicking up into your walls. The likn he provided is actually On their home page, there is a series of how to guides on the right side of the page. Also, here is the clamping drain stuff from oatley. and the site you listed, there are a few things that are not very specific. One being the 3/4" screed guides around the perimeter. For a slope of 1/4"/ft, measure the distance from the furthest corner to the drain. That is the 1/4"/ft distance to consider for your slope. Other distances to the drain will have a steeper slope. MB was using a CPE liner. If you go to HD, you will find pvc liners. MY local HD only carries 3' on a roll, so you might be able to go to a plumbing supply house to get wider sections or seam them using adhesive for pvc liner, which is not a 2 part pvc like the liquid welding cement for pvc pipes. Since your at the starting point, take the time to notch your studs to accomodate the thickness of the liner and set back you blocking accordingly. This will eliminate a bumpout at the bottom of shower walls. For your niches, after you have all your blocking in (and I like to run the bottom of the nich blocking over the table say at about a 10 deg bevel to pitch the bottom of the shelf for drainage and allow the front to be flat in plane with the wall framing. Install your felt over the studs, you wont have any where you have your niche. Set a piece of cement board against the back of the nich, no fastening needed, then wrap the insides with backer. Once all your backer is in place, thinset and tape the joints and then cover the whole niche with Redguard, 2 coats, the entire inside and about 4-6" around the outside of it. Red guard should be available HD. If you can find someone who knows waht dam corners are at HD, they will probably direct you to a plumbing supply house anyway for them. Don't mix pvc and cpe. Stick with one throughout. Best of luck.
Old 12-19-04, 05:46 PM
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No need to get upset about those dam corners Bri.I get more upset at those dam edges and the dam slopes and the dam......... Oh wait a minute we were talking about something else hugh?
hey ,you can also get preformed nitches from tile shops and suppliers also you can get pocelain ones as well.
Now to go get some dam bait.......

Thanx for straightening me out on the web site Bri

Any more dam questions
Old 12-20-04, 07:09 AM
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Schulter Kerdi anybody?

Any experience with the Schluter-Kerdi shower system ( This looks to be a lot less work. Does anyone know where to purchase this from? I found it online at, but would like to purchase it locally. Their site says that it's carried at Home Depot, but all they have is the edging.
Old 12-20-04, 09:33 AM
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Look in your phonebook under Flooring Distributors. Call and ask. If they don't distribute it, they may know who does in the area.
Old 01-11-05, 05:00 PM
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CPE liners

What is the current thought on using CPE (Chlorinated Polyethylene) shower liners over concrete slab enclosures in place of the traditional lead?

Old 01-11-05, 05:52 PM
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There fine, just be sure to do the prelope under the cpe jsut as you would under any other form of liner or waterproofing membrane. Over a slab, just use some thinset troweled onto the slab to act as a bonding agent for your prelope mud, as opposed to tar paper and lath.
Old 01-11-05, 07:37 PM
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did you mean pre-slope?

I think that is the part of the project that gets me the most uneasy. I came across some other products by the Noble company ( that address this with preformed shapes for both the underlying slope to the drain as well as the edges, corners, curbs, and niches. These products sound as if they take alot of the guesswork out of the process, but I wonder how easy they really are to work with.

Any experience with these products?

Old 01-24-05, 12:40 PM
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I am president of a shower door manufactuing company in western canada (Pacific Shower Doors). I was in the process of writting an article on how to properly prepare a tiled shower when, trying to remember the correct name for CPE (Chlorinated Polyethylene) shower liners, I stumbled on this post.
I quickly glanced at the replies you have to date and note that you have some excellent advice on this system, to which i might add that you should find a way of recessing the folds into the studs or the wallboard will flare out giving you tiling problems if you want a good job there. However... well, i will just copy you with parts of my unpolished work in progress here.

Preparing Your Shower (Stall)
Tiled Showers
Hidden Leakage: Poorly constructed tiled showers, leading to rotted floor and walls, present a very common problem. Few building or plumbing codes govern this area, so government inspection offers little, if any, protection. Building top-quality showers requires specialized knowledge that surprisingly few trades-people possess. The mistakes made, though generally innocent, result in significant costs to homeowners down the road. In extreme cases, we are talking figures easily exceeding $10,000. Its first appearance is often a damaged ceiling in the kitchen below, by which time extensive damage may already have occurred.
The problem arguably stems from the common misconception that a field of tile is waterproof. Admittedly, in concert with top quality stone treatments and grout sealers reapplied at appropriate intervals, the amount of water absorbed by a field of tile will absorb can be minimized, and this typically slows the progression of rot sufficiently to make it the problem of whomever buys the home. Only when the criterion is “no obvious damage for at least the first year” should you rely on the tile. Sadly, that is the criterion of many spec homebuilders today.
The system we recommend starts with materials that will not rot or swell when soaked in water. These surfaces are then covered with a continuous waterproof membrane specifically designed for this purpose. The correct mentality is that one should be able to continually use the shower in this unfinished state for many years without any fear of leakage. Tile, applied directly to this membrane, should be viewed as primarily cosmetic, though it also provides necessary protection for the membrane. An excellent example of this technology is the Schlüter® Shower System, but there are others. Be sure to use a drain specifically designed for use with this type of system. Note that, if a leak does develop or if condensation forms on the underside of the membrane, it will do minimal damage as you used appropriate materials below the membrane.
An acceptable, though older and inferior, technology starts with a thick CPE (Chlorinated Polyethylene) shower liner. As the membrane is not continuous, there is more opportunity for failure. Often, no membrane is incorporated on the walls, the installer typically presuming (incorrectly) that because he is using concrete board there will be no problem. Also, the folds in the CPE cause the walls to flare in at the bottom … a huge problem for perfectionists like myself. Very few people seem to use the correct adhesives for the CPE, relying instead on contact cement or similar product that are bound to fail over time. There is a relatively massive amount of material that retains water, which leads to significantly greater opportunity for moulds and mildews to thrive. Moreover, increased hydrostatic pressure leads to potential for hidden leakage that the standard test (prior to pouring the concrete) will not reveal.
Common errors include
Ø Incorporating multiple waterproof membranes. Both sides of the membrane should be allowed to “breath”.
Ø Using a decent product DenShield®, which incorporates a waterproof membrane, and then “seal” the joints with regular drywall mud and tape. Oh well, at least the mildew has something to feed on.
Ø Use of inappropriate tile adhesive. While some mastics may be appropriate they frequently take weeks to set and will return to paste when re-wet. Our recommendation is to use thinset.
Some shower enclosures trap water under the threshold. This is eventually drawn into the walls through capillary action or into the curbs if the threshold has been screwed to the curb as sometimes instructed. These are the only example we can think of where the shower enclosure contributes to hidden leakage and commensurate damage. Our shower enclosures do not incorporate that design flaw and, provided they are properly installed, will never contribute to any hidden leakage.
Old 01-25-05, 12:21 PM
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Madman, personally I don't like densshied because of the gypsum core in the first place. Unless you use a surface waterproofer coating all the screw penetrations and non factory edges, just the installation of the stuff will compromise the integrity of the gypsum core. In my opinion, it's glorified green board. I know alot of builders swear by it, but I doubt they're taking the time to do the waterproofing I mentioned. Easier to work with, lighter, and qicker to install? Of course, but without addressing those issues it will develop problems. Also, not only will the use of joint compound create problems, but I hope you also include pre mixed thinsets in your incorrect adhesives section, as they are just sanded mastic marketed under the name of thinset. Your suggestion of the Schluter shower system is a great suggestion and easy for a diyer to use with success. As for CPE or PVC liners, while older in technology, are still a great product when installed correctly, including the use of a slope under the liner and leak proof premanufactured dam corners. Notching or furring studs should always be done to accomodate the thickness of either the liner or drip edge of a preformed pan. Moisture retarders should be in place behind the cement board and both should overlap but not be fastened through the liner as it extends around the studs at least 3" above the curb height. As for capialary action enabling moisture to get up into the board, the slope under the liner ensures that water getting under the tile and into the setting bed will be directed to the drains weep holes, providing they are protected to remain clear, thus keeping the setting bed dry. If a preslope is not used under the liner, then yes, you will get significant water wicking up into the cement board. If mastic was used (which should NEVER be used on a wet wall) then the lack of a preslope will be immediately problematic as water will sit in the pan and wick up through the walls and sit against the mastic. If thinset is used and no preslope is used under the pan liner, then over time, the water sitting in the setting bed of the pan will stagnate and get musty and leave the homeowner with a smelly shower harboring the growth of bacteria and other undesireable things. The most unfortunate thing for homeowners is that unless they research proper pan and shower building techniques as followed by properly trained professionals, there is not much if any backup to protect them. All too often, as long as the pan holds water with no leaks, it's passed by inspection with no concern, even if it is sittng directly on the subfloor with no pitch. Many plumbers and tile setters still do these things wrong. Many builders do not know or care about improving the performance and until there are actual code mandates for those things, they willnot be done. I, and I assume you, fully expect to see builders, contractors and architects to continue to use improper techniques and materials. This even includes the use of greenboard as a substrate until it is no longer allowed in 2006. Education is the key and sites such as this and a host of others are the consumer's best chance of knowing how to get a proper job completed. I would enjoy reading your completed article for your web site and would hope a few of the issues I mentioned are addressed if they were not originally to be included. However, when done, if it links to your site as an advertisement, it will probably get zapped by one of the moderators, so please send me a link in a private message.
Old 06-18-05, 03:20 PM
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Deck Mud - Need Help

First, let me say that this is my first post but this thread has been a huge help. Thanks to all of the contributors.

I have my shower all ready for the first layer of deck mud. I'm trying to follow the recipe posted at, except I'm not sure that I have 'sharp' sand. I simply bought the non-playsand sold by Home Depot.

So I mixed 1 handful of portland cement and 4 handfuls of sand in a bucket and added some water. Not much water at all. I applied it to a bad part of my driveway to perform the test. It dried within hours but easily crumbled. So I repeated the process with 1 part cement and 3 parts sand. The second time I added a little bit more water. Certainly not too much I don't think, but enough so that I could form a good ball that didn't crumble. It is still drying, but so far it seems a little bit better but it still crumbles when I hit it a bit with a screwdriver.

I thought about going out and purchasing a latex additive, but I decided that I need to figure out what I am doing wrong, because surely this is not right.

I apprecaite any words of assistance that anyone can provide. Thank you.
Old 06-19-05, 07:45 AM
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Nothing wrong, don't use an additive, not needed.

Mud get's it strength from packing it tight, not just placing it.

Mix 4 parts mason sand to 1 part portland cement till it just holds together in a ball, now use what you have mixed within an hr., place it and pack it good, shape it till it has the slope and shape it needs, use a steel trowel to finish it off, you'll be fine.

I never used playsand, so can't comment on it, I would think it's not as sharp as mason sand.
Old 07-16-05, 08:33 AM
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I'm not using playsand. I have medium sand, I think.

I've been putting this off because I don't want to screw this up. Even packing it tight, it is fragile. I'm mostly worried about the mud in the center, right around the drain, which will be the more thin.

Guess I'll go do another experiment.

Thanks again. Any and all help is appreciated.

EDIT: It appears that sharp sand allows the mixture to be compacted better. Perhaps this is my problem. But Home Depot didn't have sharp sand.

EDIT2: Did another test and it failed. After it dries, I can rub the concrete and it disolves into a grey sand. I just don't understand what I am doing wrong.

EDIT3: Did a third test. 1 part portland to 1.5 parts sand I think. It was harder, but after it dried I scraped it with a rock and it too dissolved into a sand mixture. At least I wasn't able to scrap it with my hands like the other mixtures.

Also purchased some 'all purpose' sand that is more course with seems to be more sharp. Currently testing that in a 1:4 ratio.

Last edited by iambk; 07-16-05 at 03:19 PM.
Old 07-16-05, 07:00 PM
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Place it, shape it, pack it, LEAVE it, it will be fine, the pre-slope at the drain can be thinner at the drain, than the top bed, start it at the bottom of the clamping drain 1/2", 3/4", whatever it is, run it up 1/4" per ft. to the walls, install your liner, barrier and walls, now screw in the top part of the drain, make this 1 1/4" thick at the drain, leave room for tile and thinset.
Old 07-20-05, 11:47 AM
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great topic! I have a quick question for the pros. what if you you can't find a membrane wide enough to cover the entire floor. can I just use the membrane glue and glue two pieces together?

biggest piece i've found is 5' x 6', the shower floor is going to be about 4' wide and 5'6" long, so this doesn't leave me enough membrane to wrap around the sides and what not. I've also found rolls of 4' wide membrane that I can cut to length at the store as well. what are your thoughts?
Old 07-20-05, 02:41 PM
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Yes, they can be glued, I get it in 6' wide by any length up to 30'.
Old 07-20-05, 04:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Tileman
Yes, they can be glued, I get it in 6' wide by any length up to 30'.
well arent you special

Old 09-23-09, 04:05 PM
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Exclamation Where to find dam corners.


They're Oatey's main retailer for the corners and sheet liner. The dam corner Product Number is: 956082. Oatey only sells them to suppliers, not individuals.

Don't bother talking to a plumbing or flooring person at Home Depot. Call Customer Service, give them this product number and ask which aisle number to find them. (Plumbing.)

Because the dam corners are mostly used by contractors who know what they're looking for, the corners are likely to be on a shelf above your head where obscure items are displayed. They're black and about 5" in diameter. They'll be in a 6"x18" box with "DAM CORNERS" on the sides of the box. They cost under $3.00 apiece.

Both Home Depot and Lowes sell X-15.

IMPORTANT: If you're going to build your own shower pan, figure out BEFORE you buy your supplies where to get these pre-formed corners! You don't want to mix PVC with CPE so it will make a difference as to which sheet liner you should use!! (For PVC info see below.) But if you must, there are a couple of websites mentioned on this DYI describing how to make your own dam corners.

Here's an excellent short video on folding the two types of inside corners used to make a shower pan and installing a pre-formed outside corner.
YouTube - Folding Corners in a Shower Pan Liner

Here's my frustrating adventure to find the dam(n) corners:
- The plumbing supplier where I bought the sheet of CPE doesn't carry them and didn't know where to send me. Nor did they know how to make one out of sheet liner. I couldn’t find do-it-yourself instructions on any website I tried at that time.
- No tile places I called in the area (Savannah) carries corners.
- Called Lowes (we don't have an HD in our town) but was told they don't carry them, plus they admitted they didn't know what they are.
- After reading on various websites that Home Depot carries them, I called the nearest store TWICE in one day and was told they don't carry them.
- I searched for "dam corner" on both Lowes and Home Depot websites and came up empty.
- Got on the Oatey website but was out of luck trying to find where to purchase them or even what the pre-formed corners are, although they do have decent step-by-step instructions on building a shower pan.
- Called Oatey (800-321-9532) and talked to the guy who wrote their shower pan website page and is also a rep. He's the one who gave me the HD product number.*
- While still on the phone with the Oatey guy I searched on the Home Depot website using their Product Number and still came up empty. He said he'd try to get them to fix that.
- Called my local Home Depot store’s Customer Service, gave her the product number, she looked it up and told me they had 41 of the things in stock! I asked where to find them.
- The main plumbing guy was in that aisle when I arrived and told me the guy I'd talked to earlier came to him to ask about dam corners after my second call.
- The main plumbing guy, who tried to act knowledgeable, finally admitted that the dam corners had just "showed up" in the store about two months ago. He hadn't known what they were and had to call Oatey to have them explain their use. (I told him he should’ve shared the discovery….)
- HD sells a video ("Tile 1-2-3") which shows how to build a shower pan including how to make corners. I haven't seen it.
- Drove home with two prize $2.11 dam corners in my possession.

Hope this helps!!

If you need PVC products the Noble Company website is below. They appear to sell preformed inside and outside corners from this online catalog.
Shower Products from Noble Company

* This is on the HD scan label and appears to be the Oatey item number: 38753-41602. If you're desperate maybe it's something you can use to find dam corners thru a plumbing supply place that can order them for you.
Old 09-24-09, 07:27 AM
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Cmon Girlhouse, this thread is over 4 years old. Hopefully, this project has been completed by now.

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