Sunday, October 16, 2011

How we made our shower from scratch

Don't worry, we didn't go with this idea.
     I wanted to do a post about the shower construction a long time ago but somehow left it out. We have been enjoying taking lovely hot showers in the bus since May when we finished hooking up all the plumbing. We have a garden hose coming from the farm's water supply that leads directly into our bus and provides enough pressure that we don't even use the water pump we bought. The 6 gallon water heater under the bed gives us water that is more than hot enough, and showers last under 10 min before the water starts to cool down. In the summer I would actually have to let the water run until it was cold enough to take a shower because of the long hose sitting in the sun.  Oh, wonderful solar power! We have a drain that empties into a 5 gallon bucket under the bus, so we keep our showers quick, more so we don't overfill the bucket, not because of the hot water running out. One thing about showering in a metal bus we've noticed, is there is a lot of condensation on windows and the ceiling which can lead to mold growth. Luckily our emergency exit/skylight is right next to the shower room so we can crack it for ventilation when we shower.
      Now that it's October, and we have had a few frosty nights here in Northern MA we are thinking about disconnecting the garden hose that supplies our water, emptying the pipes in our walls, and showering in the main farm building for the winter. I plan to keep the fire going in the bus a lot this winter, but we don't want to risk the pipes freezing in there if we can't keep it warm enough while we're at work. But more about winterizing later...

Here is how we made the shower!

Shower stalls can be expensive, and we weren't finding any cheap used ones, plus we had a unusual size that we were working with so we needed a very small shower stall which was hard to find ( our finished shower is a little over 24 x 24 inches.) Being unhappy with all the manufactured ones we were finding, we eventually decided to just make the whole shower from scratch. Tile would be too heavy and has a risk of cracking so that was not an option. We thought of so many different wall ideas including plexi glass over wood. We researched all kinds of shower pan ideas, and even bought a round metal wash tub that we were going to use! In the end we used Fibre-reinforced plastic panel (FRP) for the walls and floor because its a waterproof, easy to clean, somewhat flexible surface, and easy to work with.
Our total cost for our shower was definitely less than it would have been if we bought a shower stall.

Step one: The shower was framed out with studs and Phil used masonite board to make walls that the FRP will attach to.
Step two: On the shower floor, Phil created a slight slope to the drain by cutting wedge shapes from 2x4s and screwing them onto the floor, and then covered it all with one piece of ply wood screwed onto the wedges. This created a slight slope for water to go down the drain, but in reality the bus is hardly level when its parked so water always pools in a corner somewhere.
Drilling the hole for the shower drain, back in March.
Layers of the bus floor.

Step three: The FRP was cut to fit the walls and then attached to the masonite using construction adhesive. The floor was cut and attached the same way. The ceiling was also covered in FRP. This was done by having a long piece of FRP for the shower wall that was up against the side of the bus so it could bend up and follow the curve of the wall and ceiling and meet the top of the opposite wall.

Step four: 2x4s were wedged in to hold the FRP on the masonite while the glue dried. All the seams were then filled with white silicone caulking to make everything water tight. 
Boards holding the shower walls while the glue dries. The wall on the left shows the not-yet-covered masonite. The wall piece that will cover that will also cover the bus ceiling that you can see on the left.

Step five: The shower head and drain were installed in the shower, the hose was hooked up, and water heater turned on.
The water inlet on the outside of the bus where the garden hose hooks up to.

And that's pretty much it! We do plan to put up a few hand made shelves in there, but for the most part, its finished, and has been a wonderful, tiny shower for us.
So throw away and preconceived ideas of what a shower has to be! With a little creativity, anything can be turned into a shower or bath tub, and it doesn't have to cost a fortune.


  1. Using FRP is definitely a sure way to save money. It’s actually becoming one of the top choices for bathroom panels mainly because of the benefits you mentioned. What makes it perfect for a DIY project is that it does not need any high-tech tools to be installed; just use glue or fasteners and your wall panel is all set.

    Rodney Orton

  2. In step 3, that you used FRP for the floor. How did you make it curve toward the drain without cutting it, creating overlap, or making waves and bumps in the FRP? Do you have a picture of the floor?

    I'd like to use FRP for my bus' shower's floor (I'm already planning to use it on the walls and ceiling like you did), but I can't figure out those problems, and I'm leaning toward using latex-strengthened cement as a shower floor if I can't solve it... I'd at least be able to create a smooth curve toward the drain from all sides of the shower.

    1. Update to Chaldea's reply:
      I think the grade to the shower drain was something like 1/2" over 16", and the FRP seemed to flexible enough to conform with no problems. I believe I did a dry run with the FRP to test the theory. Also, the threaded two-part shower drain helps to keep the FRP in place, since the two parts sandwich the whole pan to the floor of the bus. Any other questions, I'd be happy to answer.

  3. We didn't do anything fancy for the drain, just a flat floor that was at a slight incline, and the drain is really just a hole in the floor with no real drain pipe. It seems to work just fine without any extra shaping of the floor. There is always a little water that stays on the shower floor but no big deal.