A custom glass block shower and base can be tough to design and coordinate. The reality for many homeowners, general contractors, tile setters, and builders is most have done very few specialty showers with blocks. Given this fact being equipped with the right questions and 7 steps to a successful project is often essential to get it done right the first time.

The key will be to begin with the end in mind, follow these 7 steps for a complete design first, and then bring in knowledgeable people to help you complete the project.

Step 1 – Design the shape of your shower walls – Think about what you’d like to see when the projects done. You can have simple straight walls (which are usually most cost effective), learning boards create a neo angled design for a corner stall, or even make a rounded design for walk in and roll in showers. If you like a curved look these glass masonry units will be much more cost effective than purchasing tempered bent glass as well.

Step 2 – Determine if you want full sized or partial walls – The most common full sized block walls are 80″ tall so when the walls are set on the shower base curb (which is usually about 4″ to 5″ tall) they match up with the height of the standard shower head (which is 84″ above the finished floor). Yes – the blocks can be run to a ceiling or soffit, but they do not have to be – as a matter of fact it often better to not run them to the top to allow more steam to leave the shower and minimize moisture in this enclosed stall.

Sometimes a partial or knee wall is what’s needed. A glass block wall on a tub deck will often be 64″ tall or you can also use blocks to rest on top of a rectangular or corner shower seat as well.

Step 3 – Measure your desired dimensions or “footprint” of the base and determine how much room you’ll need to get in – Go into the bathroom or to your plan and (a) measure out where you to place your shower base or pan and (b) where you want to get into the space. Write down your total width and depth of the space. Convert these sizes to either a simple piece of graph paper or a computer program. Consider not only where the entry will be, but its size as well. The smallest recommending opening size is 22″ – although most openings are from 24″ to 32″. For door less, walk in, or roll in showers the openings will need to be larger.

Step 4 – Evaluate any special accessibility needs for now or the future – Don’t just think about your current needs, but project how you might need the shower designed for the future. If you want a safer shower a grab bar (yes, you can purchase ones that looks nice and don’t make you feel like you’re in the hospital) might be a good accessory to consider. Also a “barrier free entry” or roll in design can be especially helpful so a guest or family member won’t have to struggle with stepping over the 4″ shower curb. These designs can still be sloped to an inside drain as well.

Step 5 – Identify the material you’d like on the finished shower floor – This is a step where one size definitely does not fit all. There will be tradeoffs in flooring materials costs, maintenance considerations, and looks. For custom showers acrylic bases and floors are often not the answer because they are usually only available with pre-determined sizes and drain locations. Solid surface (like Corian) custom bases can be created – although they can get pretty pricey.

The most popular finished floor material is tile. For a finished tile floor the base underneath the tile can be constructed using two primary methods – (1) a mud set pan base or (2) a waterproof extruded polystyrene base.

Step 6 – Determine is you want to minimize the initial purchase price or to spend more up front for better long term quality and lower maintenance – Realistically we’d all like to get the best looking product at the cheapest cost. However, when doing a shower project skimping on the foundation (or base), or how the blocks are laid can save money in the short run, but can come back to bite you in the long run.

Your shower base

The cheapest custom bases are usually mortared mud set pan bases. These bases, while cost effective in the short run, are more prone to leaking if the mortared base and rubberized membranes they use are not done correctly. If you have a problem with your base- it’s often a big problem which will result in the entire base and interior and exterior shower walls having to be ripped out – ouch!

A better quality and maintenance free alternative to consider is the use of one piece extruded polystyrene bases which can be designed to match up with your glass block shower walls. These bases are 100% waterproof, lightweight yet sturdy, can be designed with the best drain location for you, and save labor because they can be installed in 30 minutes or less.

Your glass block walls

Also it’s possible to either lay up your glass blocks one by one, but results are usually superior if you purchase prefabricated panel sections for your shower walls. Using vinyl stack sections the wall assemblies are created into manageable sections which are anchored, siliconed together, and then field grouted. The results are significant labor savings and also an improved finished quality of the project.

Step 7 – Design some cool elements into the interior and exterior shower walls – Since you’re making a custom shower – why not make it a one of a kind. To do this there are many options to consider for the block walls. In addition to different patterns there are also etched, frosted, and colored glass block that you can put into your walls. There are shaped units to make a curved, angled or 90 degree corner shower wall. Cool design does not have to be expensive if it’s thought through from the beginning.