Quick Tip: Building a Barrier-Free Shower

By Arthur Mintie, LATICRETE Senior Technical Services Director

Building a Barrier-Free ShowerThe addition of an increasingly popular barrier-free shower can benefit every person in a household thanks to endless design possibilities that are limited only by the consumer’s imagination, budget and available space.

Before installing a barrier-free shower, it’s important to understand the basics of sloping, different methods of waterproofing, as well as the design elements that have put this installation on the map.

Building a Base

The slope of the floor is the most important aspect of a barrier-free shower to control proper water flow. Without the correct slope, water can cause damage to surrounding areas. A key thing to remember: recessing the floor of a shower must be done in a way that preserves the structural integrity and safety of the bathroom, as well as the home or commercial space. This may require the services of a qualified design professional, such as an architect or engineer.

Shower niche and shelvesWhen the shower is still in the design phase, this is also a good time to consider what type of slope to use. For a bonding flange drain located in the center of the shower, multiple slopes are required to ensure correct water flow and drainage. A linear drain is more highly recommended because it requires only a single slope, making it easier to install with a linear pre-sloped shower pan. This design is also more aesthetically pleasing, thanks to its ability to act as a base for large format tiles and other designs that would otherwise be limited to small tiles because of the curvature.


Unlike traditional shower systems that place waterproofing membranes at the bottom of the mortar bed, barrier-free showers place the waterproofing membrane underneath the tile or stone finish. This installation method provides a complete waterproofing connection between the membrane and the drain, eliminating the need for a full bulky 1¼” to 2″ (31mm to 50mm) thick mortar bed.

Because barrier-free bathrooms do not confine moisture to the shower alone, it can be difficult to separate the “wet area” from the “dry area.” As such, the bathroom must be sufficiently protected against water and moisture. Installers can choose to use either a liquid waterproofing membrane or a sheet membrane, as both result in the same protection while utilizing different methods.

Shower stallFor installers who prefer to use a liquid waterproofing membrane, it is vital to apply the required number of coats and mils—which measures thickness—to prevent failure. This number varies depending on product and manufacturer. To help measure how many mils thick a liquid membrane is for a guaranteed successful installation, there are many wet film gauges available on the market. Another consideration if choosing a liquid waterproofing membrane is the cure time. Cure times can vary by manufacturer type and are influenced by project site conditions.

Alternatively, for a shorter wait time without having to worry about mil thickness, a sheet membrane is typically preferred. Most manufacturers require sheets to overlap one another by 2″ (50 mm) to ensure proper coverage. Additionally, some sheets will come with banding materials that are made to overlap and seal the seams, even in preformed corner shapes. The main challenge for installers when using a sheet membrane is to avoid wrinkling the sheets. Wrinkles can cause issues with the tile installation due to the added thickness.

If openness and sight lines are not a concern, then a heavy shower curtain or a frameless glass shower door can also be installed to capture moisture.

Recessing the floor of a shower must be done in a way that preserves the structural integrity and safety of the bathroom, as well as the home or commercial space.

Accessibility and Design

The endless number of design possibilities are one of the main reasons barrier-free showers are becoming so popular. When barriers are removed in the shower, a seamless look is achieved throughout the entire bathroom.

Although barrier-free showers are often thought of as being a modern design because of their zero-point entry profiles, there are shapes, sizes and colors in this category that blend with a variety of style aesthetics, whether it’s contemporary, traditional or somewhere in between.

With the ability to extend nearly any type of tile from the floor directly to the shower, homeowners and commercial property owners can create a spa-like retreat with less visual clutter to keep the bathroom light and airy. Built-in seats, benches, niches and shelves are also options for customization and added comfort.

The open nature of this design also maximizes accessibility to all users regardless of age, size or physical ability. Barrier-free showers are one of the requirements for an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant bathroom. For small spaces, the minimum size guidelines issued are a modest 36″ x 36″ (914 mm x 914 mm). The seamless flow of the floors maximizes square footage, making bathrooms appear much larger.

Future Outlook

The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million in 2016 to over 98 million by 2060, according to the Population Reference Bureau. In regards to accessibility, this is a significant reason why barrier-free showers are expected to continue to increase.

With consumer preferences continuing to lean towards a sleek, no-nonsense aesthetic throughout commercial and residential spaces, the pristine tile lines and zero-point entry profiles of a barrier-free shower make these installations desirable and a standout feature. In the current real estate market, these designs can also help increase the overall value of a home or business.

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