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Drain connection can be tricky part of shower pan repair

Q: My fiberglass shower pan had a crack in it, so a neighbor came over and helped me remove it. He pulled off several rows of tile at the bottom of the shower walls, cut the pan in half and carted it away. I have a replacement pan, but neither one of us knows how to make the drain connection. Is this something we should consider or should we call in a plumber?

A: I think you need to determine how much risk you are willing to take. Making the drain connection is straightforward, but it is probably best to watch someone do it first or have an experienced helper. If you screw up the connection and it leaks, then you have problems: stains and sagging ceilings below and possible mold, and you still have to get the job done right.

If you haven’t been scared away yet, then read on.

The shower drain to use is a product called No-Calk. It uses no glue to make a watertight connection. Instead, it compresses a neoprene ring to seal any drips.

You can buy a cheap PVC drain for about $5, but don’t risk it. Spend another $10 and get the real McCoy. It will resist stress that PVC won’t.

Before you start the drain connection, make sure the pan is ready for installation. The base of the walls will have to be stripped to the studs and any debris on the floor will have to be removed. You will be left with a hole in the floor and a 2-inch drain pipe in the middle of it.

Read the pan manufacturer’s recommendations for what to use under the drain basket. They will suggest either plumber’s putty or silicone.

If you use putty, roll out a length of it about a foot long and about one-quarter inch in diameter and push it under the rim of the basket. Remember that more is better as it will squeeze out anyway.

If you use silicone, lay a bead of it around the underside of the basket.

Push the basket through the top of the shower pan as you hold it in place. From underneath the pan, slip on the rubber washer, then the fiber friction washer, and then finally spin on the retaining ring. Use large slip-joint pliers and tighten the nut securely.

The putty or silicone will ooze out from under the rim of the basket, which is a good thing. You should not be able to move the basket by hand.

Now you want to dry fit the pan. Move the pan into position and over the pipe. The drain and the pipe should be aligned. There will be a little play in the pipe to get it where you want it, but because you are just replacing the pan with one of the same size, you shouldn’t have to jockey it around much.

With the pan in place, look to see how high the pipe rests inside of the basket. It should be about three-quarters of an inch below the rim of the basket.

If it’s not, remove the pan and cut the pipe square so that it is not angled. The correct height of the pipe is usually about level with the floor before you set the pan on it.

Before you permanently set the pan, mix up some thin-set mortar and dump it around the perimeter of the drain hole. Start around 4 inches from the drain hole and make a big circle around it with the mortar. It doesn’t have to look perfect.

When set in place, the pan will smoosh the mortar around and take away any deflection in the pan. That will give support to the pan and give it added strength against the weight of a large person.

With the pipe at the proper height and the drain back on it, it’s time to make the watertight connection. That is done with the neoprene ring.

The toughest part of this step is getting the ring in between the drain pipe and the drain basket. You can butter-up the inside of the ring with liquid soap and push it onto the end of the pipe.

At the bottom of the drain basket is a lip that the neoprene ring will rest against. You want to get the ring to bottom-out against this lip.

You can bang it down with a hammer and a paint stir-stick. Be careful when using a sharp object like a screwdriver to hit the ring; you don’t want to cut it.

The inside of the drain basket is threaded. Insert the caulking nut and twist it to compress the neoprene ring. In the drain kit will be a flat bar tool with a slot in the middle of it. The bar tool rests in some grooves of the caulking nut.

Insert a large standard screwdriver into the slot and crank that baby down to seal out the water. Fill the gap in between the pipe and the basket with a bead of silicone caulk.

You and your neighbor can now secure the pan to the studs and put the walls back together.

Mike Klimek is a licensed contractor and owner of Las Vegas Handyman. Questions may be sent by email to handymanoflasvegas@msn.com.

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