Thought I'd finish this post with the final results. here's the completed 8x4 shower.
For review, I did the base layer with durarock, schluter kerdi kit the base/curb (foam kit) and the walls with the membrane. I had some wicking in the initial test. After much discussion I did a flood test over several days and it was good. 3 months of use and I don't see any problems, so looks good...whew...
Things I did right on the project:
* heated floor. for my cold ohio weather, it was essential in the winter. I used Suntouch and put it in myself. It took quite a bit of time as most things do.
* shower door
* hire someone to install the wall tile. I did the floor myself with the large tiles, and it was tough and took 8 hours+. but the walls took a professional a full week. I would have totally messed it up as he was constantly checking level, used a quality saw to cut the tile, and discovered issues prior to thin setting I would have been stuck with. My tile setter was so conscienscious he ended up cutting bullnose and took close to 2 days doing that. But it made a big difference in the edge looking nice vs what the tile shop cut which had a different color and edge to it. hire a professional (e.g. someone passionate about what they do, with plenty of experience...not an average joe). This is permanent stuff. My setter was Artistic Marble and Tile in Columbus Ohio.
* Grout a lighter color and have someone do this. for my area being small, in hindsight I'd choose a lighter tile, but it still looks good. I really didn't like the tile until it was grouted, then it all came together. again, my setter suggested the grout and did the grouting. It took him 5 hours to grout it at least. It was worth it to do it right and paid off.
* Pick materials carefully. Another reason I'd hire this out is the tile setter knows the materials and systems. But it doesn't hurt to do your homework so you know they are doing it right. so many places for mistakes in the system used, type of materials, quality of materials, age of materials, type of tile, type of grout, does it have a sealer in it, is the subfloor right, plumbing right, etc...
* Selected a tile that was anti slip - it is matted and so has traction...no problem slipping. again would be nice if lighter and shinier in the shower for better effect.
* Schulter membrane - appears to get the job done. after 3 months, I have no water issues below. but would that be true without the membrane and another system? have to check back in 10 years. for a first timer, was a lot of study and work to put up (but I do overanalyze everything honestly. would be easy to poke a hole in this stuff by accident, mix your thinset wrong, wrong thinset, apply it wrong, etc.. I was careful and apparently got it right. There are other systems that sound good and maybe easier? Schluter is basically expensive plastic and membrane material, but a chunk of that is support...
Schluter Support - their support and technical contacts were very responsive to phone calls and email, always answered questions and were helpful. At the time I first called I wasn't able to get someone on site quickly and was bummed about that at the time. But they answered calls/emails. I would be very curious how well they stand behind the product post installation if there was a problem. there are soooo many things that can go wrong in the install that I suspect they could easily bail out of any issue due to install mistakes. Overall, you are paying for support, you need support, and it was good.
* Kerdi Fix - I got some of this to plug holes made by the contractor installing the tile. It pained me to see holes put holes in that membrane (they were up in the border), but I didn't see another way nor did installer. The kerdi fix is expensive, but it is different than caulk. appears to be good stuff....I hope so. who knows if urethane caulk would work as well, probably. I have almost a full tube if anyone would like to buy it
* Schluter Ditra - I put this on the floor to overkill in hopes to avoid issues. So far so good. Of everything, I liked this the best, it was easy but again requires careful selection of materials.
* Schluter foam pan - this worked well and I wouldn't have a problem using it. for my 155lb frame, I don't notice any issues with it 3 months in. worked well and was moderately easy to put in. Its tough once all installed, I'd be surprised if there was a structural issue with it. But I had to cut it down about a food and that messes up the slope on the edges, and nothing is square even after squaring it, so easy to mess up the cuts. I think if you have to cut very much off, I'd suggest getting one poured. It will work if you cut it, but the effect is your tile at the bottom is not even (dips in the middle). Not a big deal, but fyi.
* Put the nice, dual swinging shower door in by professional. they did a great job and it adds the finishing touch.
Things I'd change:
* I'd hire this job out and engage tile setter from the beginning. it would have been cheaper and better. I spent way too much time researching, buying materials, returning materials, looking at tile (quality, pattern, anti slip, porcelain/ceramic, all the extra pieces one needs, size). My tile setter had those skills and would have saved me a lot of life. This really is a "trade" and requires a lot of knowledge to do correctly.
* Tile size - not so sure, but I like the large tiles. but they were a bear to put up and took extra time.
* go curbless. who needs a curb to step over?
* When putting down the Suntouch heating system, I'd embed it in self leveling compound instead of a coating of thinset. It is easier to level that way (although note that may change if you go curbless, I havne't studied that yet).
* soap trays - I bought these rather than doing an inset. not sure if that was the right call, but I gave up after months of doing work and didn't want to do anymore substrate work or solve anymore problems. the trays work but I'd probably put them on the other side of the shower head, but that is preference.
* So far it is easy to maintain
I wrote a funny poem to remember the event, sometime I'll get it posted for all to enjoy
Thank you all who replied during my times of duress and confusion. The best advice was "Hire a Professional Tile Setter". Have I said hire this job out yet?