Building a better tile shampoo shower niche - a how to guide
There are many ways to build a shower niche and I have used just about every method under the sun to make one. First off these shower niches for the most part fall outside of Industry Guidelines. Where they usually stray are at the back side of the niche where they are either part of the opposite rooms drywall or worse part of an exterior wall.
I'd like to showcase this particular shower niche's build because it showcases a lot of basics that people should understand when building one from scratch.
One of my rules when building a shower niche is to oversize them somewhat so I can fine tune the final tile position once more of the tile setting has been completed. When you oversize a niche you will in the end need to fill in this void or space with something. Using regular thin-set is not going to cut it since it is allowed to be used up to 1/4" thick. And this is not so thick.
Here is a play by play of this shower's niche. I build the walls out of Denshield, the framing is a combo of steel studs and 1/2" plywood strapping. The waterproofing product is Ardex 8+9 (a cementitious waterproofing product).
Rule number one: The Layout
The layout should be perfect. After all it is a custom niche so it should be custom. We charge a pretty penny for building these and we deliver exactly what looks best or exactly what the client has requested.
A tile niche should be centered on grout joints or centered on a wall. They should align with the other joints joints and when possible the tile should seamlessly fold in and out of the shower niche. This niche is centered on the short wall above the Tub's waste and overflow. Many times a tubs waste and overflow is used as a fixed reference point. If you have not installed the tub as yet and need to get framing done. Consider oversizing the studs against this back wall - it is easier to infill later than move things around after.
This niche will measure 30cm x 30cm exactly (+/- 1 mm) - The tile is 30cm x 60cm (1'x2' roughly).
Here is a peak at step one in action.
After the layout on day one we set the back tile and the two vertical side pieces. These sides where set a hair lower since the niche will have a sloped bottom to allow water to drain away.
Heading to work.... Will add the remaining pictures and posts this week as the niche takes shape.
Building a shower niche (How to Guide) - Setting the back tile tight
The client on this project wanted the most room possible inside the shower niche. To achieve this we simply installed backer board onto the back side of the opposite rooms drywall (in the kitchen). This of course is outside any industry recommendation but done all the time building a shampoo niche.
To set the Denshield to the drywall back I used nothing but a little thin-set and then braced it overnight. After the shower walls where boarded and waterproofed we set the back tile tight, tight, tight.
I had some left over 8+9 Waterproofing and wondered if I could set a tile with it - so I tried!!! Worked like a champ and the tile is set perfectly 4mm above the desired grout joint.
Here you can see the 8+9 slurried on my tile back.
The laser is set to the bottom of the tile for easy reading. A few shims and the tile was good to be left alone.
The next step was installing the face tiles and the two sides. To have something to support the tile I screwed in a few scrap pieces of wood. It is very important to patch these holes later. The Ardex 8+9 waterproofing allows me to do two coats in the same day (half day really).
You can see by the measurement on my Chubby (Pencil ruler) that the thin set is a good inch. Very few thin sets can achieve this. Make sure if you are using a regular thin-set that the thickness does not exceed 1/4" in total.
Centering the tile niche on the plumbing fixtures
We finally fine tuned the plumbing layout and set the two tiles below the niche.
I used my laser when doing layout to ensure that the plumbing fixtures lined up with the tubs drain location.
There is little room for error in a mitered tile install like this. The tile is slightly out of wack because it is a hair thicker than the other tile. I'll use some emery cloth to fine tune the tile on the right and even out the look at center.
This niche is looking good and went in smoothly. That said I did it over multiple days and not all in one go.
Slow and steady wins the race.
Building a shower tile niche - layout 101
Shower Niche Layout 101
The niche top and bottom could have been tiled like this...
But my client preferred this layout
Personally I like the look of the first option but the second is easier to clean.
Deciding on how these niches will be finished is key step in the tile layout. These topics should be reviewed from the start so the job can be priced properly.
Asking an installer to pull off a look like this at $5.00 square foot is an unfair request when so much work goes into making them this way.
We are loving the Ardex X32 thin-set. And the Ardex 8+9 waterproofing. Next week we will be doing an entire wet-room with Ardex 8+9 and tying it into a pre-installed Kerdi Drain.
Building a custom shower niche with Denshield
We often show up to a job to find Denshield installed in the shower project. The first thing we do is check that the right fasteners where used and check the Denshield for any bows or tips.
If a shower niche is not installed we ask if one is needed. It is very easy to build a shower niche with Denshield and once built it needs to be waterproofed. Now Denshield by itself can pass inspection with no extra waterproofing measures installed but this is not good enough for me or my clients. All seams, screw heads and niches get thin-set and reinforcing mesh (stucco mesh) to make the assembly stronger. A self curing fast setting thin-set is best if you want to waterproof the next day.
Here you can see us installing a niche and tapping the seams of a linear project done with Denshield.
When we install the bottom of the niche I often install three screws at the back side into the framing and leave them a hair high. Then I back butter the backer board with thin-set and squish it into position. The little screws allow the board to sit at a slight angle and this makes for a better built shower niche without the extra time of angling framing studs.
The niche depicted in the picture above has the back side of the Denshield installed to the Kitchen's drywall. Since no screws are possible I use more thinset and nothing else to install the backer board to the drywall. The sides bottom and top then get installed and hold it firmly in place until the thin-set cures.
This practice again is very common but outside industry guidelines. In order to built a shower niche to TCNA or TTMAC specification you would need another 2"x4" wall built to secure the niche's back to. You can see why most people skip this step!
Building a shower niche in a steam shower or steam room
Building a shower niche in a steam room or steam shower is different in many ways. The main reason they differ from say a regular shower is that when building a shower niche in a steam room you must remember that steam is more invasive than water.
Here is a picture of a full Noble Seal TS (Noble Company) steam shower.
Installing Noble Seal TS, Kerdi, Wedi and Jaegger membranes are a Bitch in niches. I hate using them. That said they are required so using the ready made corners like Schluter and Noble Company make are a much better approach. You will need four inside corners and four outside corners to achieve a vapour proof shower niche.
Do not let your installers use only a liquid membrane in these niches. Both Custom Building Products and Laticrete all have specifications for the use of a liquid membrane but both companys require you to have a vapour proofing product behind the cement board. You might consider a vapour boot for a pot light or fan as an option in designing a shower niche with a liquid waterproofing product.
Mapei has no steam shower specification that I'm aware of. Ardex as well has no steam shower specification. So when building a steam shower it's best to work with companies that specialize in this field.
At the top of the list is Noble Company. Hands down the best perm rating in North America.
Notice I mentioned concrete board when using Hydro Ban or Red Guard. Not dry wall. Not Denshield. Concrete Board!!!
Building a niche that meets the long wall
Here you can see the newest trend in shower niche design. Many of my clients like this new look and building it is not to hard if you can remove a short section of the wall stud. Obviously you can not do this if the wall is a bearing wall but when possible the look is pretty slick.
To get a little extra room we used 1/4" Hardi Backer on the back wall.
We removed a 1/4 of this 2'x2' tile and mitered both the cuts after installing a new factor edge. To install the factory edge we polished and square up the cuts with our diamond polishing pads. Of course all screw holes in the wall membrane where touched up before covering with tile.
The end look is stunning.
Notice the pitch in the shower niche. This is needed both in the finished product and in the waterproofing. Most of the ready made shower niches do not have this pitch and this is a huge mistake in the design. If you order a ready made niche make sure you build in a little pitch.
Building a Marble Tile Shower Niche - Shower Cubby
Not all our projects are modern and contemporary by design. Quite often we build a more traditional looking shower.
We did polish the end cuts a hair of these tiles with a diamond polishing pad. When working with tumbled marble and if you need to re-create the tumbled edge we simply hit the sides with an old file until little chunks blow off and then polish the edge a little with the polish pads. Such little effort makes a huge difference in the final product.
This shower features Italian Marble but the layout and rules still apply. Notice how the showers shampoo niche is exactly the width of the tiles. This is not by accident but by design. Now when you are lining your shower floor tile up with the wall tile you need to plan these steps before you even do the plumbing rough in!
I used a Kerdi Drain from Schluter on this job years back and had the luxury of a little side to side wiggle room when it came time to set the drain's grill.
Rule: # 2 Layout is King in any bathroom renovation!
Building a shower niche or cubby - Prepare a grout sample board
Before you have even layout out the shower's niche framing you should have already prepared a grout sample board like shown here in the picture below. This simple teat will show you your tile selection along side the grout selection and grout spacing.
In this picture the grout is two toned. I was told that we would be using white grout in the shower for the small feature tile but upon seeing the contrast the clients asked for the floor colour to be used instead. In this picture the home owner simply sprinkled some grout powder over my fresh test board.
Holding the top tile position for me is usually with what ever I can cut and see first on the job site. We use CD's, Books, Corner Bead (shown in picture), scraps of backer board, cut tile and on and on. If the niche will get wet from direct shower spray or off spray (bouncing off body) we try and tile the top piece a little up so water does not travel much across this piece.
Not mitering the tile corners in a shower niche
Here is a look at a buddies shower niche.
The tile installer choose to use the factory ends and install them out towards the shower. My friend has later since sealed these cuts with a white sealer and the contrast is not so big. When specify a niche build in a shower these little details should be worked out first.
Incorporating as shower niche will be an extra. How much extra will depend upon the level of finishing that goes into one.
Do not get upset if you have not discussed or paid for this upgrade with your installer. I know a lot of guys who do not charge much for a niche installation and do not allow much time to make it flawless. Me - I think a niche is one part of the shower that can make or break the look.
A poorly built niche will not drain right.
A poorly built niche will mold in the corners.
A poorly built niche will start breaking down right after the first shower in occassions.
A finished niche - ready for grout
So the one wall with the niche is finally finished being tiled and so is the Fiber Optic Ledgestone Feature Wall.
There where some High Fives yesterday. The Ledgestone feature with the fiber optics was a very time consuming process. I still need to fine tune the strands of fiber optics with some grout and then give the entire wall a good cleaning.
What is the best size for a custom shower niche?
I was asked this question the other day. What is the best size for a shower niche?
It's a good question and one that is hard to answer properly. I like to do the tile layout and see where we can place a shower niche or two. Then a quick check of the clients shampoo bottles and we can get a rough idea of the size needed.
I'm building a pretty cool niche right now for a friend out in Coquitlam and this niche is being built a little extra deep like my girls shower's niche. It will measure about 10" deep by 23" tall and roughly 10" wide. There will be a shelf set inside dividing the space in two.
For my daughters I designed multiple shower niches so they each had one. This makes a perfect place for Barbie Games and soap. I find that often the nicest size is based off of the tile layout and we try and scale the niches so they look good within the tile layout.
A shower niche down low to the shower floor is a great place to rest your foot while shaving your legs - or so I'm told. A shower niche measuring 6"x6"x6" is large enough for a razor, some soap and a Loo Faa (how do you spell Loo Fa)???
Using LED lighting in your shower niche.
This is my latest passion in shower design! LED lighting for night lights and the "Bling Factor".
This shelf is Starphire Glass (Low Iron) and is side lit with two sets of lights. Each strip is about 10cm and is installed and tied into the shower's waterproofing system.
There is no replacing these lights. Only a "Do - Over". they say the lights are good for twenty years.
The clock is ticking.
Our current project will show case this same shelf design but with one side (vertical) section completely done in white Laminated glass. I will side light this with multiple lights and tie this into the tubs chromotheraphy setting. Should be pretty cool. Never done it before!!!
How hard can it be?
Building a shower niche - Using LED lighting
I have a few pictures here of our current niche build. I was asked by my client to build something I have not done before and something I always wanted to do. This is a fun task since once told I ran with it.
I'm working here on my next "Masterpiece" this will be a very cool shower niche. I'm going to have the right side of the niche all done in White Laminated Glass which will be side lit with colour changing RGB LED lights. I will as well have a fixed shelf or two with a bright white LED lighting like I di in my kitchen and that last shower niche.
Here is a peak at the progress.
Here you can see the LED lights and a small sample of the white laminate glass in my hand.
Red LED's. The shower niche will all be tiled in White Porcelain and we will get quite the reflection once tiled. The system is controlled by a remote control and the plan is to tie the tub's four LED's into this same system. Should be pretty cool!
There is no section in the TTMAC Specification Guidebook or the TCNA Specification Guidebook for this type of installation. There is no way to flood test the work but we can do everything in our power to prevent the water from ruining this work. When working with LED lighting I have been loving the product called Kerdi Fix for these tricky connections and waterproofing measures.
I will waterproof this job most likely with Ardex 8+9 and the glass and lights will get Kerdi and Kerdi Fix. Ardex endorses the use of 8+9 with Kerdi and allows me to use modified setting materials with both the 8+9 and Kerdi components.