Wet rooms – how to make them work in your home. Natasha Brinsmead explains how to avoid the common problems associated with this most desirable of rooms.
A wet room basically does away with a shower enclosure (with the wet room itself becoming the shower enclosure). A shower drain, inset into a gently sloping floor takes the place of a conventional shower tray. They are perfect for contemporary interiors, where they lend themselves well to an effortlessly sleek and minimalist overall appearance.
The problem is that they require skilled design and installation beyond that of the normal bathroom — resulting, all too often, in leaks and other troubles. The key is in understanding their special requirements and building in solutions at an early stage.
When is a Wet Room a Bad Idea?
There are factors that need to be considered before deciding whether a wet room is right for you. Firstly, although they are a good way to make the most of moderately sized bathrooms, they do not always work well in very small spaces where the lack of screen can just mean that the whole room ends up soaking wet after a shower, including towels.
If you are looking to give an existing bathroom or shower room a quick and easy makeover, then once again a wet room might not be the best way forward. Waterproofing is vital to the success of any wet room and this is a job which can cost around £1,000 alone. In addition, unless you are totally confident of your DIY skills, then constructing, tanking and finishing a wet room is a job best left to the professionals.
How do They go Wrong?
The main problem associated with wet rooms is leaking water due to them not being properly waterproofed, or when the ‘deck’ which they are constructed above is not constructed properly. Other reasons why they do not work out as intended include room layouts which leave everything else in the room sodden after a shower.
Good Drainage is Vital
The first stage of getting a wet room right is to ensure water runs straight to the drain. The wetroom floor must gradually slope into a gentle and even gradient.
The construction of the wet room ‘deck’ will vary depending on whether you have a timber or concrete floor. In new builds, a gradient is usually constructed into a concrete floor as it is laid. However with timber floors (typical in retrofits or on first floor wet rooms), a space for the drain is cut out of the joists, the waste fitted and a weather and boil proof (WBP) plywood subfloor fitted to the top of the joists to create a solid platform which can be tiled. Another option is to install a ready-made sloping shower former (also known as an under tray) which can also be tiled over.
Finally, you could use a preformed tray, sometimes referred to as HI-MACS systems. These slope down to a drain and are made from a composite material, such as corian, or ceramic so no tiling is required.
With existing timber floors the rest of the floor will often have to be raised a little in order to sit flush with the top of the tray. The door thresholds will also have to be raised by about 5mm from the floor in case the drain gets blocked for any reason and the room fills with water.
Finally, the whole room will need to be tanked. Wood floors will need to be primed and a special tape applied to any joins or penetrable areas (such as corners). The floor and walls are then covered with a thick, waterproof membrane. The room or area can then be tiled (using a waterproof adhesive) and grouted.
Professional Waterproofing is Recommended
One of the biggest problems faced by owners of wet rooms is leaks.
The floors should be primed, as should the lower section of all walls and the entire wall surrounding the showering area. These areas are then covered with a membrane (usually painted on). When this is dry, the room should be tiled. Alternatives to painting a waterproof membrane include waterproof insulation boards (try marmox.co.uk) or Aquapanel from Knauf (aquapanel.com).
Divisional Manager of Schlüter-Systems (schluter.co.uk), Ian Knifton, says: “It is a surprisingly common mistake to expect water-resistant to mean waterproof, which ultimately leads to water seeping into the fabric of the building through tiled floors. Water-resistant products mean they do not break down in water and are able to resist water penetration to a small degree. A waterproof product such as Schlüter®-KERDI-BOARD does not permit the passage of water.” Some people worry that movement in the floor will cause the waterproof membrane to become ineffective but, according to experts, there would have to be an awful lot of movement for this to happen.
Can I do it Myself?
Yes. You can buy complete wet room kits in order to install one yourself. They generally include a drain and any necessary connectors, under tray and everything you need to tank the room — but not tiles, although some kits come complete with a shower screen should you require one. Wickes’ Wet Room Liner costs £781 (wickes.co.uk), whilst those from Wetrooms Online (wetrooms-online.com) start at £269. Schlüter-Systems offer a complete wet room range too, including the Schlüter®-KERDI-DRAIN, Schlüter®-KERDI-LINE and Schlüter®-KERDI-SHOWER.
Keeping your wetroom dry
It may sound obvious, but your wet room is going to get wet and if water is getting over your towels and toilet and then refusing to go away, then you have a problem.
Underfloor heating (UFH) is highly recommended. Not only does it mean you will have a nice warm floor to stand on, but it also ensures that any puddles of water quickly disappear. Both wet and electric UFH can be safely used. In addition, good ventilation is vital.
If you are worried about the water getting everywhere then a frameless shower screen placed in front or to the sides of the shower will help, whilst maintaining a sense of openness. Building a stud wall for the shower in the centre of the room, then locating sanitaryware and towel rails on the other side also works.