Installing a Shower Niche
Improve bathroom storage and style with a simple wall recess.
Synopsis: Keeping bottles of shampoo and bars of soap on the edge of the tub is adequate, but storing them in an easily reachable tiled niche reduces clutter and adds a nice visual touch to a tub surround. Bay Area tile contractor Jane Aeon details her process for installing a shower niche that is properly flashed and waterproofed. Aeon starts by locating the niche on the wall, then framing the space. A trio of waterproofing materials (flexible flashing, vapor retarder, and caulk) ensure that the wall behind the niche will remain dry. A cement-backerboard substrate allows a longer working time with tile, and a slightly sloped bottom lets water drain out instead of pooling in the niche. To finish the job, Aeon tiles the niche using the same process she uses when tiling a wall. This article includes a sidebar about prefabricated shower niches.
Tired of bumping into that wire shower caddy hanging awkwardly off the showerhead? Do you hate the unsightly clutter at the edges of your bathtub? Organize your shower or bath space by building a niche that offers convenient storage and a charming sense of bathroom design. In recent years, these small recessed spaces have become popular components of bathtub surrounds and showers. In fact, all the bathrooms I tile these days are outfitted with some sort of niche.
Niche size and location affect function
Before determining where on the wall the niche should go, decide the size that would be most useful for your shower niche. I often build 12-in. by 12-in. niches, but I find that 14-in.-tall niches can accommodate oversize shampoo bottles a little better. Don’t let standard stud spacing be the sole determinant in the size of a niche. The benefit of building a niche, as opposed to installing a prefabricated one, is that you can easily create spaces of all shapes and sizes.
Once you’ve decided on the size of the niche and a general location on the wall that balances accessibility and aesthetics, fine-tune its position with a story pole to be sure that the niche opening lines up with the grout joints. Transfer the layout marks from the story pole to the studs to orient the framing of the niche and then again on the backerboard once it’s installed to guide the tile layout.
In the project featured here, the architect and builder positioned and framed the niche slightly above the height of a nearby vanity. I had to increase the width of the grout joints so that the tiles would align properly on the wall.
Frame the niche larger than necessary
To frame most niche openings, I nail horizontal 2x blocking between the existing studs. But each installation has subtle differences. In some 2×4 walls, the existing framing is shallower than 3-1⁄2in. In these cases, I use 1⁄4-in.-thick backerboard in the back of the niche instead 1⁄2-in.-thick backerboard to gain as much usable space as possible. When working with a 2×6 wall, I have to choose between creating a deep recess or padding it out with plywood or backerboard to decrease its depth.
No matter what type of framing you have to deal with, always frame the niche at least 3⁄4 in. to 1 in. larger than you want the final opening to be. This allows you to adjust the tile layout if necessary and also provides room for 1⁄8-in.-thick waterproofing membrane, 1⁄2 in. of mortar and backerboard, and the thickness of the tile. If you’re using quarter-round edge tiles, like in this bath, give yourself even more room; this type of tile requires a bit more space.
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