Dispelling the myths about wetroom installations

Wetroom installations are becoming increasingly common as more people recognise their advantages. However, they are also subject to many misconceptions. James Dadd – Director of Marketing at AKW – dispels the common myths and outlines why this sector is a real business opportunity.
Despite their increasing popularity, wetrooms are much misunderstood and victim to a host of misconceptions. For example, some people mistakenly believe that they must be installed downstairs, that they’re suitable only for big bathrooms, or they’re slippery and dangerous, or even that they reduce the value of a home.
These assumptions are all wrong, but the two biggest myths are that wetrooms are tricky to install, and that they are prone to costly and disruptive leaks. In fact, it’s relatively simple to install a wetroom and, if fitted properly, it certainly won’t leak.
The critical component
The most important element of a wetroom is a waterproof draining floor and, arguably, the best way to achieve that is by fitting a wet-floor former. The former is a purpose-designed component that is typically manufactured from solid glass-reinforced plastic with a pre-formed gradient in the top surface to drain water towards the waste.
The latest wet-floor formers are quick and easy to install, and are available in a range of dimensions. For a seamless fit, they can also be easily trimmed to size with a regular handsaw without compromising strength. Some formers can even be fitted straight onto joists without the need for under-boarding, reducing installation time and hassle.
Formers also offer advantages in instances where the shape of the bathroom or the location of existing drains limits other options. Formers can easily by modified to fit odd-shaped rooms, and an offset drain hole in modern designs allows the former to be rotated to accommodate different drainage positions and configurations.
Former considerations
The best formers include a level edge around 30mm wide to assist in the installation of shower screens where these are required.
Many modern formers require only a small selection of tools for installation, most of which are in a typical toolbox. For example, a handsaw, tape measure, pencil, screwdriver, drill, power saw, spirit level, sandpaper and a brush or roller.
Weight-bearing capacity is a critical consideration when specifying a former. Those with a load capacity of 25 stone should be adequate for typical mainstream installations, but where users need a wheelchair, shower chair or carer present, it is advisable to choose one with a load capacity of 40 stone.
Waste and drainage, meanwhile, are also important design criteria. It can be a problem if joists run where you intend to position the waste. However, some of the latest formers are designed to include an offset waste position, enabling them simply to be turned around to avoid the joist.
The first step in installing a former – once existing bathroom fixtures have been removed – is to lay it down to mark the area where it will be positioned and where the waste will flow. Most formers are fitted in rooms with wooden floorboards so, once the floor is marked, you can cut and remove the floorboards within the marked area – taking care, of course, not to damage supporting joists or nearby wiring and pipework.
Sometimes the varying depth of flooring means the surrounding floor can be lower or higher than the former. This problem can be resolved easily by using plywood either to raise the level of the surrounding floorboards or bring the former level with the surrounding floor by installing the plywood on top of the joists.
The installer can then align the former and mark the position of the waste outlet. Next, noggins are placed between existing joists and to all edges of the former.
The waste drain can then be connected to the pipe using a compression fitting, at which point a leak test can be conducted by pouring water into the drain. If it’s watertight, a rubber seal is fitted to the top of the drain. The former can then be lowered into position, ensuring the waste hole and drain are aligned and the former is level on all four sides.
The edges of the tray can be screwed down and the waste can be connected. Installation is completed by abrading the tray before installing the tanking kit. A tanking kit is a waterproofing solution that can either be applied with a paintbrush or roller, or comes as a waterproof membrane.
The best tanking kits contain a self-adhesive membrane with an instant drying formula that means they can be tiled over immediately rather than having to wait 24 hours for a waterproofing solution to cure.
Alternative options
There are, essentially, two other options should you not want to fit a wetroom former. These are the low level access tray and the screed floor.
Low level access trays
In some cases, users will want easy-access showering without a full wet-floor. They may, for example, need a clear visual contrast between the shower area and the rest of the room, or they may simply have an aesthetic preference for a more traditional shower appearance. There might also be a requirement for the installation of a low threshold shower base on top of existing flooring, or on floor types unsuited to the installation of a full wet-floor, such as suspended, pot or beam floor construction, or where underfloor heating is already installed. The optimal solution here is the low-level access shower tray.
Some shower trays are designed to be floor-mounted or set into the floor for level access. Key design criteria for such trays include strong, durable materials with appropriate weight requirements, good water handling (including a minimum 25mm fall inside the tray) and a safe, slip-resistant surface.
Screed flooring
Finally, it is possible to construct a wetroom floor using concrete screed, which costs less in materials. However, while it is possible for a highly skilled installer to lay a wet-floor with the right gradient to ensure effective drainage, such work requires considerable experience, driving up labour costs and increasing the risk of flooding or leaking from poor installation. On top of this, the room is inaccessible until drying is complete, and the longer drying time of screed floors makes the installation particularly time-consuming.