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Steve Gehrmann is a remodeling contractor (SKG Renovations) as well as a partner in Redblock Industries

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How to Build a Custom Shower Niche Step by Step

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If you’re interested in building your own custom tiled shower niche, look no further!

Hello again. This is Steve from SKG Renovations with another Redblock Shower Build post.

In this post I’m going to show you how to build a floor to ceiling 11 inch wide vertical custom shower niche in your shower wall using Wedi Board foam tile backer board, and finished with composite marble tiles and stainless steel shelves. You can see the finished niche below.

Whether you’re interested in a full height shower niche like this one, or a 14 inch, 24 inch or 48 inch tall niche, this post will provide you with all that you need to build it.

And with my easy to follow, step by step instructions (and video clips!), you’ll be creating a super cool designer niche that’ll make your friends and neighbors green with envy!

If by chance you wanted to know more about shower niches in general before you embark on this project, you can always check out my Shower Niche Guide first if you like.

So let’s get down to it, shall we?

Beta's curbless shower-top of BSN pos

Overview

The following is a list of steps you’ll need to complete this long vertical shower niche, but each step below also serves as a link to skip down to that section.

Step 1: Decide the Size and Placement of the Shower Niche

Step2: Framing the Shower Niche

Step 3: Attaching the Foam Backer Board Panels

Step 4:  Waterproofing the Shower Niche

Step 5: Tiling the Shower Niche and Installing the Shelves

Step 6: Grouting the Shower Niche

Step 7: Sealing the Shower Niche

Materials Used in Project

Wrap Up

Step 1: Intro – Deciding the Niche Size & Placement

My client and I chose the longest shower wall and positioned it far enough out from the valve wall so it’s still within the 5 foot footprint of the Wedi shower pan and lines up with its outer edge.

We decided that this position keeps the shower niche out of the “splash zone” but still within easy reach while showering.

We also decided to build a long vertical, full length shower niche because my client wanted a considerable amount of storage but also wanted to achieve the look of an architectural wall recess rather than just a simple shower niche.

The width of the framed niche opening was 13 inches, reducing to 12 inches after backer board install, and further reducing to around 11 inches after the tile is installed. It’s finished depth will be 3-1/2 inches, and height will be 9 feet (just below the top wall plate).

Luckily this shower was surrounded entirely with interior walls so I didn’t have to worry about applying additional waterproofing and insulation for an exterior wall. If you are planning to build your custom tall shower niche in an outside wall, you should read my Shower Niche Install Mistakes post.

And if you were intending to build a vertical niche that doesn’t extend from floor to ceiling, you’ll need to decide on the height of your niche (off the floor) as well as the interior height of your niche.

You also do not need to build your niche 11″ wide like the niche I built. You can just as easily make your niche width a bit narrower if you like.

I decided on 11 inches wide only because a standard 14-1/2 inch stud space only allows a maximum niche width of 12 inches and my shelves were 12 inches long so 11 inches is where I ended up after tile install.

If you’re planning on building a smaller niche, it might be helpful to read my Shower Niche Sizes post and my Shower Niche Height post.

Task 1:

  • Deciding on the size and location for the tall vertical shower niche

Step 2: Framing the Shower Niche

In the beginning of this project, my client asked me about the advantages and disadvantages of horizontal shower niches vs vertical shower niches and which would be better to incorporate into her shower project. My answer was mostly about the framing advantages.

My suggested was to build a vertical shower niche instead of a horizontal niche, simply because I could achieve the storage she wanted and keep the niche neatly tucked away within the existing stud wall without the need for the complicated extra framing and risk associated with horizontal niches.

At this stage of the project some fiddly measurements were required to determine where the edge of the shower pan would end up, so I could line up the outer edge of niche with the edge of the shower base tile.

From these measurements (and some frustrations with a wonky stud wall), I realized that the stud that was going to make up the right side of my niche was actually in the way of my new niche opening.

I decided to remove this stud (instead of moving it to the right) because it was super warped and it was going to take too much time trying to straighten it (see image).

Beta's curbless shower framing - Repositioning the niche

But before I could remove the right side stud, I needed to cut some horizontal braces in the right hand stud space.

Task 1:

  • Cut the horizontal stud braces on the right side of the niche, then remove the right side stud.

Remove Stud Braces & Right Stud

And because I was essentially splitting this wall in two separate sections, I needed to make sure that both sides of my niche were framed with solid, double stud, structural posts.

Task 2:

  • Frame the left and right sides of the niche opening with double stud posts to create a rigid niche frame.

Framing the Niche

The last part of the niche framing that transforms this humble niche into a spectacular “curbless” niche, was to remove a section of the wall plate below the niche.

This is a bit of a delicate procedure because I had to ensure that I don’t damage the drywall on the other side of the wall but it worked out very nicely as you can see in the video.

Another option:

Of course if you prefer to keep the bottom plate intact, that’s definitely an option. This will not achieve the “curbless” niche look that I was shooting for in this shower design, but you can certainly do it if you prefer this look.

And if the custom niche that you are building does not extend all the way to the floor, you will absolutely need to place at least one horizontal stud brace on the bottom of your niche for support.

You’ll also have to install a piece of 1/2 inch wedi board on this stud brace. This would be a lot easier than the option that I chose for my “curbless” build.

I would also recommend that you slope this stud brace 1/16 inch from back to front so you don’t have to mess around with sloping the backer board or base tile. The latter is more work and hassle.

Task 3:

  • Cut out a section of the bottom plate below the niche.

Cut out the Bottom Plate

Step 3: Attaching the Foam Backer Board Panels

One of the best things about using foam backer board in this shower niche was that it serves as both a backer board and a waterproofing membrane. This saved me the time and hassle of applying a waterproofing membrane inside (and outside) the niche.

If my explanation above is a bit confusing and you’re not too familiar with the differences between tile backer boards, maybe you should check out my Shower Tile Backer Board post.

I decided to install the foam backer board in the niche first, before attaching the panels to the rest of the shower wall so that the seams between the niche panels and the wall panels faces the inside of the niche rather than the shower. You can see from the video exactly what I mean by this.

Task 1:

  • Cut and install the Wedi board at the back of the niche.

Install Wedi Board on Back Wall of Niche

I cut this panel so that it fits quite tightly into place with a very small bead of Wedi joint sealant on each side so it seals against the framing but not the drywall at the back of the niche.

The backer board pieces for the sides of the niche were cut flush with the surface of the surrounding shower wall framing and a bead of Wedi joint sealant applied to seal them against the back panel.

And they are attached to the framing with Wedi Board screws and washers.

Task 2:

  • Cut and install backer board pieces at the sides of the niche.

Install Wedi Board on Side Walls of Niche

The last Wedi Board pieces to install were on the face of the shower wall on the left and right side of the niche. These side pieces overlapped the pices mounted on the L and R side of the niche and Wedi sealant was applied to create a watertight seal.

It was also important to fill the exposed Z-notch of the Wedi Fundo Ligno shower pan in front of the niche.

Task 3:

  • Install Wedi Board pieces on the face of the shower wall, left and right of the niche.

Install Wedi Board on Left and Right Sides of Niche

Task 4:

  • Install a small piece of Wedi board to fill the base perimeter’s notch channel ( Z notch) in front of niche.

Install Wedi Board in Z-notch

Step 4:  Waterproofing the Shower Niche

I won’t be explaining much about the importance of shower waterproofing in this step so if you need to know more about it before continuing to read, you are welcome to check out my Shower Membrane Waterproofing post.

In step 3, the panels were sealed together with joint sealant so in a way, my shower wall was already pretty much waterproof after the panels were installed.

However at this stage of our build, the base of the shower niche is still the recessed plywood subfloor. As such, it needed to be raised up to the subfloor grade before waterproofing.

I originally thought I would install a small piece of Ditra Heat matt to accomplish this but I decided to just fill it with thinset mortar instead, because it was only a 1/4 inch thick and I’d be mixing up some mortar regardless.

Task 1:

  • Spread 1/4″ of thinset mortar over the subfloor at the base of the shower niche. Ensure that it’s sloped outward to promote proper draining. 1/16 inch slope from back to front is ideal.

Apply Thinset on Subfloor Below Niche

The unique thing about this project is that both the niche and the shower pan are curbless.

This means that not only does the base of the niche need to be waterproofed, so does the margin between the niche and the shower pan as well as the margin between the shower pan and shower floor.

So I decided to waterproof all the horizontal seams (margins) with one carefully cut piece of Wedi Subliner Dry.

Task 2:

  • Install Wedi Subliner Dry over shower pan seams and base of the shower niche.

Install Membrane on Base of Niche and Shower Pan Seams

And because the corners of the niche were still slightly vulnerable to water infiltration, I also decided to install two Subliner Dry Inside Corners and two Subliner Dry Outside Corners to the base of the niche.

Task 3:

  • Seal the joint where the niche panels meet the floor by applying two sets of Wedi Subliner Dry Inside and Outside Corners to this area.

Waterproof Bottom Corners of Niche

Step 5: Tiling the Shower Niche and Installing Shelves

If you’re interested in finding out more about shower tiling before you continue reading, you’re welcome to check out my Shower Tile Installation post.

Because this is a tiled shower niche and the particular tiles chosen by my client are composite marble, I decided to expose the edges of the tiles on the sides of the niche. This involves a little more work but it looks so awesome that I needed to do it for this build.

If you’re installing ceramic or porcelain tiles, you will not have this option. Instead you’ll need to install a tile edge trim to frame the perimeter of your niche. You can see an example of this in the accompanying image.

Tub-shower tile trim install on Kerdi-Beta job

Exposing the tile edges also means polishing them, which I do not have the time to cover in this post. However, I will cover the entire tile edge polishing procedure in my Tile Edge Trim post if you are interested.

Before tiling the inside of the niche, I first tiled the shower wall on the right side of the niche.

Task 1:

  • Cut and set the shower wall tiles on the right side of the shower niche.

Setting Wall Tiles on Right Side of Niche

I had the choice to install the shower wall tiles on the left side of the niche before setting tile on the back of the niche, but I wanted to get started with the niche tiling to see how it looked!

Task 2:

  • Cut and install the tiles at the back of the niche.

Setting Tile on Back of Niche

Setting the shower wall tiles on both sides of the niche before setting the niche side wall tiles is very important because it ensures that the sides of your niche will look perfectly plumb and straight.

Task 3:

  • Cut and set the shower wall tiles on the left side of the shower niche.

Setting Wall Tiles on Left Side of Niche

Once the shower wall tiles on each side of the niche were set in place, then it was time to cut and set the side wall tiles inside the niche.

And because the shower niche shelves rest on the top of each row of tile (within the grout line), this install step also included the shelf installation.

Task 4:

  • Cut the side wall tiles for the shower niche

Cut the Niche Side Wall Tiles

Task 5:

  • Install the side wall tiles and the shower niche shelves in the niche.

Install Side Wall Tiles and Shelves

The client decided to install the Rb3 Stainless Steel Shower Niche Shelves because they’re thin enough to line up with the grout line space and she liked this aesthetic.

These shelves were slightly less than 1/8 inch and my grout lines were slightly bigger than 1/16th inch so I needed to file the edges of these tiles a bit to make room for the shelves. I will soon be adding a section to my Shower Tile Installation post that covers this in detail so stay tuned!

Btw, if you wanted to install a different kind of shelf (like glass for example) you could certainly do that instead, but you’d need to cut the side wall tiles a bit shorter to make room for the glass because they are a fair bit thicker than the stainless steel shelves I’m installing.

You can check out my Shower Shelf Options post if you’d like to see a large assortment of different shower shelves.

Step 6: Grouting the Shower Niche

As I’ve mentioned before, I believe that grouting with a pre-sealed or epoxy grout is an important step for most showers and tiled shower niches.

As such, I decided to grout this shower niche and the rest of the shower walls with my favorite pre-sealed grout, Mapei Flexcolor CQ.

I love this product because it stays water resistant for a super long time after install and it sets rock hard (unlike some other pre-sealed grouts). The only hitch with this product (and most pre-sealed grouts) is that the application technique is a bit more involved than with regular cementitious grouts.

If you decide to use a pre-sealed grout, I would strongly suggest that you practice with it on a small area before you take on a big grouting job.

If you feel some apprehension about learning a new grouting technique, you can always apply regular cementitious grout instead. But then you’ll need to seal it every year or two.

Task 1:

  • Grout the shower niche interior.

Grout the Niche

Check out my Shower Tile Installation post for more info on Flexcolor CQ and it’s application

Step 7: Sealing the Shower Niche

As I mentioned above, you never need to worry about sealing your grout again if you install a good pre-sealed grout on your shower wall tile and in your shower niche.

As such, I didn’t do any grout sealing at this stage, but I did decide to seal the tile surface with a good grout, tile and stone sealer because these tiles are composed largely of marble which is quite soft and relatively porous.

You can find out more about grout sealing and in my Shower Tile Installation post.

Task 1:

  • Seal the Shower niche tile with a good tile sealer.

Seal the Tile with Tile/Grout Sealer

Task 2:

  1. Apply a tiny bead of silicon around the shelves and the niche perimeter.

Apply Silicon in Niche Corners and Shelves

Materials Used in Project

1/2″ Wedi Board

Wedi Joint Sealant

Wedi Subliner Dry Inside and Outside Corners

Mapei Ultraflex LFT Thinset Mortar (white, modified)

Mapei Flexcolor CQ (premixed and pre-sealed)

Terazzo Renata composite marble tiles from Ann Sacks

QEP Floor and Wall Tile Levelling System

rb3 Stainless Steel Shower Niche Shelf from Redblock Industries

Wrap Up

I hope you’ve enjoyed my post and built yourself an impressive long vertical tiled shower niche.

I really enjoyed building this niche because it showed that a simple shower niche can be transformed into an impressive architectural feature if you’re willing to take it to the next level 🙂  ).

Please let me know in the comments below if you decided to take on this project and how it all turned out.

And if you have any questions, please also leave a comment. I would be happy to help you out!

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