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Todd Block has the most expensive and time-consuming process of laying tile in the Cedar Valley.

He takes great pride in those facts.

That's because Block knows his "mud set" process in a bathroom shower will make it so durable that it won't crack, won't warp and will even resist being demolished even if the rest of the house falls.

"With this technique, you get showers that are 80 years old still holding up," he said, standing in a recently renovated bathroom he did in Dunkerton.

Mud set is an old process of pouring concrete on a wall for a sturdier surface than the typical cement board that is used today. Not many contractors bother with the technique, and Block says nobody does it in the Cedar Valley but him.

"It's kind of a niche thing for me," he said. "People (who) want quality will call me."

That's exactly what Dave and Lynne Stout did. The Dunkerton couple heard about Block through word of mouth and decided they wanted him to be the one to update.

"It was an original bathroom from 1963," Dave Stout said. "It was time to change."

The couple got a walk-in shower partially enclosed in glass block and tiled in marble stone on the walls and floor. It accompanied new, more modern fixtures, including cabinets and a vessel bowl sink, complete with a chiseled edge granite countertop.

Dave doesn't know how it feels to shower in there - the renovated bathroom is only for "the girls" of the house - but he likes the look.

"Todd does nice work," Stout said.

The man behind BlockWork Kitchen and Bath Concepts is passionate about the mud set process. Normally, builders only used mud set up until about the 1980s, when cement board became more popular because it was cheaper and easier for a crew to set up, and it took far less time.

That's what Block did for a while, but he got frustrated with the way the cement board seemed to be an inferior product. When he moved to Arizona after his wife got a new job, he learned a new technique - in the old style.

"I didn't want to work with just any tile company, I wanted to do custom homes," Block said.

He found Sunset Tile and Bath, a company originally from the East Coast, and they taught him the process.

Since moving back to Northeast Iowa in October with his wife, he's been doing a brisk business - mostly in remodels, and mostly dealing with bathrooms - and hired a part-timer.

But it's still tough getting home builders to understand his passion for mud set.

"Some of the older guys know what I'm talking about," Block said. "They just can't believe someone's still doing it."

A typical three-wall tile shower done in the mud set way will cost around $2,000 to $3,000, depending on the tile. The bathroom in the Stouts' home was begun in March and finished in April.

It'll take a bit longer to get your shower finished. But Block insisted it's worth it.

"If people are going to spend three, four or $500,000, or over $1 million on a house, they deserve a mud set shower," he said. "It's a better-quality luxury product." •



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