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What is a Shower Pan?

By Adam Hill
Updated May 16, 2024
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There are many options available when it comes to bathroom furnishings, but one indispensable item is a shower pan. This is what constitutes the floor of a shower and directs all the water into the drain, if installed properly. Usually shower pans are constructed from synthetic materials such as fiberglass, acrylic, or other strong, durable, waterproof materials. Some shower pans make it possible to place tile over them, giving more options for decoration.

The process of installing a shower pan, or replacing one, usually runs about four to six hours. Especially when a replacement is being done, there is some light demolition work required, as well as advanced plumbing skills. The help of at least one other person also comes in handy, especially while fitting the pipe into the drain assembly from underneath.

A shower pan consists of the pan itself, as well as the drain assembly. The main part of the drain is usually a heavy, chrome-plated ring that is threaded on the outside. This is to allow a nut to be screwed onto it from the underside, tightening the ring to two gaskets, a waterproof one on top and a metal one underneath. These parts of the assembly ensure that all of the water is shed directly into the drainpipe, preventing leaks around the hole in the pan itself. The last part is the strainer, a small metal grating or screen, which keeps any large objects from falling into the drainpipe and causing clogs. The strainer is the only part of the drain assembly that is seen from above once the shower pan is fully installed, and is the last part to be installed.

Often times, notably in newer shower enclosures, the floor of the shower will be made of ceramic tile and grout. In this case, a traditional shower pan will not be needed, but precautions must be taken against leaks. There is a common misconception that a ceramic tile floor will shed all the water by merely sloping toward the drain, but what is not understood is that a substantial amount of water can penetrate through the tile and grout and into the mortar layer. This can cause mildew and other more serious problems to occur if the leak is substantial enough. In these situations, then, it is important to use a shower liner or other impermeable layer underneath the tile to serve the same function that a shower pan ordinarily would.

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Discussion Comments

By irontoenail — On Jul 11, 2011

@KoiwiGal - That does sound nice, and it will probably last longer than a tile shower pan since, as it says in the article, those tend to leak.

I have just a fiberglass shower pan in my house, which is nice enough, but unfortunately the shower looks like it is a relatively recent addition to the house, and it wasn't planned properly when they put it in. The floor in that room is wooden and I think that there is enough humidity and water leaking out that the wood isn't going to last long.

Of course, I'm renting so there's not much I can do about it, aside from let them know. It drives me a little nuts though, when people don't make sensible decisions that will save them money in the long run.

By KoiwiGal — On Jul 10, 2011

One of my favorite variations of this is at my mother's partner's place where they don't use a proper shower pan at all. They have used concrete floors throughout the house and in the bathroom it is more of the same, with the shower pan area simply sloped so the water runs into the drain.

The concrete there has been inlaid with some colorful stones so that it stands out from the rest of the floor and to give extra grip, but otherwise just blends in.

I think it looks really classy, and it ensures there's nothing to trip over getting in and out of the shower. Plus, I think it is probably going to be more hard wearing than just about any other kind of shower pan.

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