MagnaPanel Whitepaper


Whirlpool Tubs; Installation Problems

As a tile setter, I've frequently been asked to apply ceramic tile onto the decking, splash, and skirt areas surrounding a newly installed whirlpool or “Jacuzzi” type bath tub. Typically, the builder or home- owner will inform me they have prepared the area and that they are “ready for tile”.

When I arrive on site to look things over I usually find that other tradesmen have proceeded with their work and accomplished the framing, plumbing connections, electrical connections and sheetrocking. Unfortunately, it is usually impossible for me to perform my tile installation properly in these situations. The rim of the tub is either down tight against the decking material or there is a non-uniform gap between the deck and the tub rim. This non-uniform gap is caused by the fact that the fiberglass unit is not perfectly flat and that the heavier corners tend to sag down from lack of support from the decking. The space between the tub rim and the deck is rarely the proper thickness to receive the tile, because the framing was accomplished before the tile was selected.

It's desirable to design an installation such that the Ceramic Tile Decking continues underneath the tub rim and the tub rim is lightly in contact with the face of the tile. An installation performed in this manner provides several advantages to the end user.

One advantage is that the caulk joint is smaller and neater requiring less maintenance.

Another advantage is that this arrangement is less likely to allow water to reach the decking substrate material.

It's also desirable to support the tub rim continuously so that vertical movement is eliminated. Ideally, the bottom of the tub should be fully supported from underneath so that when the tub is filled with water and occupant(s) this weight is evenly distributed. Tub rims and tile assemblies are not usually designed to carry the weight of a tub in service.

A successful whirlpool tub installation requires planning and a coordinated effort from a large number of individuals. An average installation requires a Framer, a Plumber, an Electrician, an Electrical and a Plumbing Inspector, a Sheetrock Hanger, a Sheetrock Finisher and a Tile Setter. I am not aware of any other appliance installation that requires this many trades to complete. Therefore, it's not unusual to encounter problems with coordinating the sequence of construction.

All of the aforementioned Tradespersons would prefer to accomplish their tasks without having to make a second trip to the job site as it is not profitable for them to do so.

After explaining my concerns to the parties involved, I recommended that the tub be removed and placed temporarily in an adjoining room. I then prepared magnetic access panels in the skirting so that the Plumber, Electrician, and their respective Inspectors can gain access to comfortably to perform their jobs. Then I Tile the deck, splash, and skirt and Grout all of it with exception of the perimeter of the magnetic access panels.

Once the grout has cured sufficiently I meet with the Plumber on the job and we mix up a batch of plaster and shovel it onto the sub-floor where the tub will sit. We then lift and place the tub into the wet plaster and move it back and forth until the tub rim just kisses the face of the tile. I then remove the magnetic access panels to allow the Plumber to make the drain and water supply connections. The Electrician plugs in the pump and connects the necessary electrical grounding. The Inspectors then check for code compliance and the magnetic panels are secured back in place. I then apply a neat bead of caulk around the rim of the tub at the deck. The perimeter of the magnetic access panel may be caulked at this point if desired.

The end user is now provided with an installation that requires minimum maintenance. Should mechanical or electrical failure occur while the tub is in service, repairs can easily be accomplished without destroying the ceramic tile installation to gain the necessary access.

I developed the MagnaPanel Kits to provide an easy way to enable the fabrication of magnetic access panels on the job-site and to make the jobs all of the various tradespersons easier.

Access panels may be constructed of virtually any type of panel material  (i.e. Backerboard, Plywood, Solid surface material, etc). Panels can be constructed to any reasonable size and shape. Simply adding more magnetic assemblies can accommodate large panels. Surface finish applications may include; Ceramic Tile, Stain, Masonry, Faux Finishing or whatever is desired to blend in seamlessly with the adjacent fixed panels and surface finishes. I have enjoyed many successful installations using this technique. My first installation of MagnaPanel was in 1997 and to my knowledge all of my customers are happy with the results.

Chris Daffer, CTC
President, MagnaPanel, Inc.