It’s truly frightening how many shower niche install mistakes that can happen in a typical shower remodel, especially if your contractor is building you a custom shower niche.
But even if you are planning to go the much safer route and install a pre-manufactured tiling niche or finished niche, you still must adhere to a few rules and procedures.
Following this advice could save you the nightmare and expense of moisture and mold growth in your walls, and tearing out your dream shower to do the job correctly a second time.
This is Steve from SKG Renovations with a few tips you must know to avoid the 5 BIG shower niche install mistakes during your next shower remodel.
If you’ve not yet committed to a shower niche, check out my Complete Shower Niche Guide.
The 5 BIG Mistakes:
Don’t Skip the Waterproofing
Don’t Install a Retrofit Niche
Make Sure It Integrates with the Waterproofing Membrane
Don’t Compromise the Wall Structure
Don’t Install in an Outside Wall
Bonus Tip: Installing the Wrong Shower Niche Shelf
Don’t Skip the Waterproofing
If you plan to install a custom shower niche into your shower wall, and you want to avoid making one of the biggest shower niche install mistakes, you must make sure that you or your contractor doesn’t forget the waterproofing step.
When a custom niche is built well, it can look very sturdy, solid and deceptively waterproof. This is an assumption made far too often when shower niches are framed into the shower wall.
No matter how tight the joints may look in a newly constructed niche, they will not keep water from penetrating and running into the stud cavity if it is not properly waterproofed.
You may be thinking that a leak like this seems unlikely if the niche is properly tiled & grouted after construction, and you would be right… for awhile.
The constant water exposure and regular temperature changes makes the shower environment quite unforgiving. These environmental stresses cause all parts of the shower assembly to move slightly, mostly through expansion and contraction.
Without a waterproofing membrane, this movement almost always causes grout line cracking in your shower niche. It usually starts out as very fine cracks at the corners that can’t easily be seen. But even the smallest cracks will allow moisture to penetrate, moving easily through the backer board seams, to the framing beneath.
The rest you can imagine; moisture in the walls, which leads to mold, dry rot, etc.………. something you can easily avoid.
Whether you or your contractor uses a liquid or sheet style waterproofing membrane, it does not matter, as long as you don’t skip this important step during your next shower remodel!
More info on shower waterproofing: Shower Membrane Waterproofing – The Definitive Guide
Don’t Install a Retrofit Shower Niche
If you decide to install a pre-manufactured, or finished shower niche instead of a custom built one, you can avoid another shower niche install mistake by making sure that you never install a retrofit shower niche.
A retrofit niche is a product that is installed in the process of a new shower remodel project after the shower wall tile has already been installed and grouted.
During a complete shower wall reconstruction, the retrofit niche hole is cut out of the the tile backer board after it’s attached to the shower wall framing. The tile is then applied on the shower wall as usual, but the hole is left exposed so the retrofit shower niche can later be inserted into it.
The niche is placed into this hole, and the outer flange on the niche is pressed against the tile. A bead of silicon around its perimeter completes the installation.
It doesn’t take a waterproofing expert to see that this tiny silicon bead is the only defence against water running into the wall cavity. Does that sound sensible to you? If you said no, you would be correct.
It may seem like a slightly easier way of installing a shower niche, but it’s not really much easier than the membrane bonding finished shower niche products out there, and it violates the industries recommended “best practices”. It’s really not worth the risk.
Make sure it Integrates with the Waterproofing Membrane
To avoid this BIG shower niche install mistake, you must choose a shower niche with an integrated waterproofing membrane bonding flange as seen in the two examples above.
The first niche shown is a finished shower niche. This niche is made from sheet stainless steel with a brushed finish so it does not require tiling.
The membrane bonding flange mounts on the backer board surface with screws, and the waterproofing membrane is attached to the top surface of this flange (as seen in the above image).
The other niche shown is a tileable foam shower niche that has a 1/2″ thick foam perimeter flange that also serves as a mounting flange and a membrane bonding flange similar to the stainless steel niche.
The difference is that this niche must be mounted on the framing instead of the backer board surface, so that it’s 1/2″ flange can be flush with the 1/2″ thick tile backer board that surrounds it.
These flanges are critically important to maintain the integrity of the shower wall waterproofing membrane.
See more info on shower waterproofing: Shower Membrane Waterproofing – The Definitive Guide
Don’t Compromise the Wall Structure
Another BIG one among shower niche install mistakes, is the construction of a custom horizontal tiled niche that compromises the structural integrity of the shower wall.
If you’re considering building / installing a niche in your new shower remodel project, you have likely seen many examples of this type of niche. These horizontal niches are the epitome of opulence, sometimes spanning the entire shower wall and offering a huge area for storage.
There is a way to install these shower niches correctly and safely, but unfortunately many contractors fail to accomplish this.
Most horizontal niches are built into the back shower wall; usually the longest, and therefore, the most flexible wall in your shower surround.
Sometimes this is a bearing wall that the structural integrity of your home depends on, and sometimes it’s not. Either way, cutting a horizontal swath out the structural members of this wall to make room for a niche is a problem.
Most decent contractors will say that applying the correct structural framing around the niche will adequately fortify the structure. The problem is that these measures mostly address structural stresses applied from above, but do not often address the increased flexibility (reduction in rigidity) caused by cutting out the vertical framing.
The integrity of a tiled assembly requires significant rigidity in this wall to reduce the chance of grout cracking, tile delamination, and failure of the waterproofing membrane. Some contractors do not even install the minimal surrounding structure required, which profoundly compromises the wall’s structural rigidity.
Constructing a New Wall for your Niche
If your new horizontal niche will span more than a couple of wall studs, the safest way to build your shower niche into this wall is to construct a new wall adjacent to it, to contain the niche.
This new wall allows you to build / install your custom shower niche with only minimal support above the new niche opening because the entire wall is anchored to the stud wall behind it. Super solid, super rigid, and super safe, because the original wall structure remains completely intact.
Another huge benefit of this parallel wall design is that it basically gives you the green light to install your niche into an outside shower wall (see below for more details).
In my opinion, a typical structural header and jack stud assembly can still be acceptable in some circumstances if the wall is non-structural, but this assembly must be built flawlessly. Nothing is safer that the parallel wall design I mentioned above.
Talk to your contractor about it, because it’s extremely important that you avoid this huge shower niche install mistake.
Don’t Install in an Outside Wall
This installation is often a BIG shower niche install mistake because moisture can easily condense behind your niche if you don’t do this install correctly.
In general it’s always the best idea to mount / build your tiled or finished shower niche in a wall that is not an outside facing wall.
The problem is that the shower environment is a very moist one, and some of this moisture will always make it into the stud cavity through the wall tile, your tile backer board, and often through your tiled shower niche.
How much water vapor will move into the stud wall is entirely dependent on whether or not a waterproofing membrane has been installed on the shower wall and how well your shower niche resists moisture penetration.
The moisture permeability of your niche will vary greatly, depending on the type of shower niche you decide to build / install, and the waterproofing strategy, of course.
Worth the Risk?
With this moisture penetration problem in mind you can probably see why it’s risky to install your shower niche into an outside wall.
In most older homes, the stud cavity is only 3 1/2″ thick and the comfort of your home often depends on this space being filled with insulation.
Even in a relatively mild climate, the colder months can result in a vast difference in temperature from inside to outside. Only a small temperature differential can cause the moisture in this shower wall to condense on the inside of the wall.
Even without a shower niche, this can easily occur within a 3 1/2″ stud wall in the colder months, especially if there’s no waterproofing membrane on the shower wall. With a shower niche taking up most of the space in a 3 1/2″ stud cavity, moisture condensation in the wall cavity is virtually guaranteed if the temperature drops a few degrees outside compared to inside.
Of course, none of this will necessarily occur if the shower wall and niche are properly waterproofed, and there is enough space behind the shower niche for adequate insulation.
Needless to say, there is a complex series of factors to consider like stud wall thickness, local climate, waterproof integrity of your shower, and the quality and thickness of the wall insulation.
In other words, you should definitely ask a trusted local contractor before you decide to build a shower niche into an outside wall to avoid this potential shower niche install mistake.
Don’t Install the Wrong Shower Niche Shelf
This may not be considered a BIG shower niche install mistake but as a shower remodel contractor I hear a lot of people express regret about choosing the wrong shelf option for their tiled niche.
Usually the cheapest shelf option is a tiled shelf constructed with wood framing (if a custom niche) or 2″ inch thick foam board (see below).
This is often a the most regrettable shelf option because it’s difficult to clean (especially the corners), and the grout lines stain and get moldy.
Another alternative is the glass shelf. A bit more expensive for the material but it’s usually the “go to” shelf alternative for most tiled shower niches. These shelves are so popular because they’re subtle, modern looking, and considered attractive by most.
However, many people complain that glass shelves are hard to keep clean and soap slips off too easily.
The most practical and coolest shower niche shelf in my opinion is the stainless steel shower niche shelf. In fact I thought it was so great that I decided to design one to meet my clients needs.
If you’re interested in this shower niche shelf or all kinds of other shower shelves, you can check out my shower niche shelf post.
Installing a shower niche can be a deceptively complicated and risky endeavour, but it is possible to avoid the 5 big shower niche install mistakes.
If you need help with shower niche placement and design feel free to check out my Shower Niche Planning, and 9 Great New Shower Shelf Options posts.
Good luck with your new shower remodel project, AND enjoy your new shower niche!
Please leave a comment below if you’d like to ask any specific questions about shower niche installation. I am happy to help!
This post is for information purposes only and should NOT be interpreted as professional advice. You should always consult a licensed local contractor before undertaking any remodelling work in your home. Click here for my full Personal / Professional Disclosure.
Thank you for your comment.
Yes, our stainless steel recessed shower niches can be finished with any type of shower panel or shower board. The “tiling” flange that surrounds the niche, is designed to extend out from the mounting surface a full 1/2″ so that you can surround the niche with tile as thick as 3/8″, but you can also surround the niche with an acrylic, stone, or glass shower panel if you like. The only difference is that if you install a thinner panel like the acrylic type, the perimeter flange will protrude a little from the finished acrylic wall surface. You should keep in mind that the niche must be attached to the shower wall before the acrylic/glass/stone panel is installed so that it can overlap the mounting flange (M-block flange) and bond to it via a sealant. You can refer to our mounting directions to get more details if you like, or you can email me at [email protected]dblockindustries.com
Can these Niche shower box’s be finished with shower boards as oppose to tilling?
Thanks Jay. It’s great to hear that people like yourself are getting some useful info from my posts.
Wow! Great article and through responses to questions.
I would have to agree with you. It could certainly cause a problem in the long run even if you have a waterproofing membrane beneath the tile. If there is no membrane, it could already be a problem. The only thing you can do to fix it is to try to gently pry off the base tiles and re-attach them with a proper slope. I would only try this if you DO NOT have a waterproofing membrane beneath your tile. If there is a membrane, you will likely destroy it and this would be worse than leaving as is. It will also be difficult to get these tiles off without breaking them so you need some spares that you can use as replacements.
Recently my bathroom was remodeled with a niche installed. The bottom tiles of the niche slope back towards the wall resulting in a lot of water building up to almost 3mm in depth against the back of the niche. They say it is not a problem but I disagree. What do you suggest?
I am hoping that there is at least a framed box in the stud cavity behind the wall so there’s a solid surface to apply this tile……. You know that this box should also be waterproofed correctly to prevent water from getting into your wall. It could be quite disastrous if he does not do this correctly. Maybe you should read over my Shower waterproofing post to find out more about waterproofing a shower niche. You can also check out my Shower Niche Guide if you’d like to see an example of a “tiled niche” and the tile edge trim that your contractor was likely referring to. I might also suggest that you get another contractor in for a second opinion about the work. To be frank, it sounds like this guy doesn’t know what he’s doing.
you guessed right….at this point the niche is useless unless we re-do everything. My contractor is suggesting that we simply put the tiles in the hole that has already been made (with enough slant to make the water run down but also not too slanted so my bottles can’t stay on it) and add a sort of aluminum transition trim (not sure that is the correct word but what we would see on the floor usually but a thicker one around the tiles). I speak english and french so translating it directly I believe he said an L-angle edging trim ? I did a bit more research and I have seen some people do it this way (I guess the old fashion way??) . Thanks Steve for taking the time to reply !
Thank you for your comment.
Wow! I’m not really sure what to say about this one.
I looked at the niche in the link you provided. You are correct that it is designed to be a tile ready niche, not a finished niche. If I’m understanding your situation correctly, there are a few problems with this installation, needless to say.
Firstly…… As you can see by the screw holes around its perimeter, this niche is designed to be screwed into framing members that your contractor should have installed prior to installing the tile backer board (the board that the tiles are attached to). If there is no exposed framing that you can see to attach the niche on 3 sides, it will be impossible to install this niche correctly at this stage.
In a normal installation, the tile backer board is installed with a hole just large enough to allow the entire niche to be screwed directly to the framing installed earlier. Its mounting flange would then be flush with the backer board surface with a slight gap around which would be sealed and waterproofing membrane installed. The membrane would cover the niche mounting flange so no screws were visible. The shower wall tiles would then be installed.
I’m assuming from your description that your contractor did not do this, but if he installed the back framing I described above, the niche could still be attached, the gap sealed, and a strip of waterproofing membrane applied. This would be relatively safe but not ideal. This would also assume that the wall tile could still be continued seamlessly around the niche and into its interior.
If my above assumptions above are incorrect, I’m sorry to say there may be no good solutions to this problem other than starting over and doing it correctly.
Although not a great solution, your only other choice might be to install a retrofit niche with and overlap flange (as long as the whole is exactly the right size, that is).
Let me know if you need more clarification or if you’d like to give me more details for further assessment.
Hi! my contractor just bought a shower niche (link below) and wanted to leave it as is. I find it looks really cheap and asked him if we can find another solution. The problem is that the hole is there ready for the niche but all the tiles have been put down already around it.
He is now suggesting to just put tiles in the open space if I don’t like the box I linked below….Is there anything to keep in mind? The box he bought is usually made to tile over (based on research I just did) afterwards. Now I have to sort of find a box that can be inserted inside and have a bit if a lip all round or do as mentioned before, cover in ceramic….
Thank you for your comment.
I am not sure I understand exactly what you are describing, but it sounds like your contractor is creating a waterproof recess out of hydroban board to accommodate the niche. This is what I am assuming.
Regardless, it’s difficult to predict what will happen if it’s installed over the membrane before the wall is tiled. The problem is that there is still only one layer of adhesive that keeps water from getting behind the niche regardless when it’s mounted. Even if the wall cavity that contains the niche is completely waterproofed, water may still get behind it with a single retrofit flange. If this happens, it could eventually cause mold growth or tile delamination even if water doesn’t get into the wall cavity.
Maybe I am not understanding your situation correctly, but if you wanted a finished niche and you want it to be completely waterproof, I’m just wondering why you didn’t purchase one that’s designed to integrate with the waterproofing membrane. That would make things a lot easier.
If I’m misunderstanding you, please provide some more info so I can make a better assessment.
The niche that my contractor purchased is a retrofit model. It will be on an inside wall. We will be using Laticrete Hydroban board to waterproof the shower including the niche cavity. If we leave 1/4″ spacing (1/8″ around) to thinset around the niche cavity to install over the waterproofing membrane, do you feel that will be sufficient?
Thanks for your comment.
You didn’t mention how much of your 64″ wall will be occupied by the proposed horizontal niche, but as long as there is room for a narrow stud bay on each side of the header (around 6″- 10″ each side), you should be OK. This of course assumes that you will be adequately fortifying the structure in this wall.
The removal of studs in a non bearing wall really just increases the flexibility of the wall. This extra flexibility can be limited by installing a structural header over top of the niche opening. A steel beam would be great, but it’s not really necessary. A standard 8″ wood header would do the job as long as it’s assembled and installed properly.
The more accurately the new header, jack, king and cripple studs are cut and attached, the less flexible this wall will be. Using construction adhesive in the joints around the header and installing blocking between the remaining stud bays, will also significantly increase the wall’s rigidity.
Good luck with your project!
Steve, great article! We are currently in a remodel and was thinking of this horizontal niche with a light in the top corner. The contractor brought up some of the issues with this in various projects. We have a bathroom that is 64″ wide, do you think that is too large to do a Horizontal Niche in the current wall? I was even thining if it was perhaps we could use small steel beams to support the weight. Its a non-load bearing wall but there is a floor above, I found your article great as it talked about considering other issues, not just weight from above.
Thank you for your comment!
I would recommend that the entire perimeter mounting flange of the niche be supported by backing, and that the niche be attached to the backing on all 4 sides. All these foam and plastic niches can distort if not fully supported.
When it comes to tiling substrates, it is always better to take this approach because you do not want this assembly to flex or your grout lines will eventually crack.
Good Luck with your project!
Hi Steve! Is it absolutely necessary to put a cross beam (blocking) where a pre-fab niche would go? I can’t find anything online about it being necessary but the man at the tile store that sold me the niche suggested it. Thanks for your help!
Thanks for your comment!
You are correct to be concerned about installing your shower niche in an outside wall unless there is at least 3″ of insulation space behind the niche.
If I’m understanding you correctly, it is a very typical alcove style shower with a 6′ back wall (outside wall) and two 4’6″ side walls, one of which is the valve wall.
My suggestion would simply be to install a tall vertical niche (with shelves) on the wall opposite the valve wall. You say that you’re hesitant to do this, but it is the most common place to install a standard shower niche (other than horizontal). It is the area one would usually step into to wash themselves, away from the water stream. As such it’s very convenient to install the niche in this area because it’s in easy reach.
Also, being a full 5.5′ away from the shower head, it is basically the driest part of your shower. Even if water does end up in the niche, you shouldn’t be concerned as long as you trust your contractor to construct and waterproof it correctly. Here is a link to my shower waterproofing post if you would like to read more on the topic.
And please let me know if you need more help, and good luck with your project!
I am currently working with a contractor on my shower remodel. We are doing an accessible shower for my son but the bathroom will also be used by guests who come to visit. We were initially looking at doing a horizontal niche but it is an exterior wall. We live in the Seattle area and so now I’m thinking this is not our best option. We were wanting the most storage possible for our items we use for our son as well as for our guests to put their items in there as well. The shower will be 4’ 6” x 6’, with the 6’ wall being the exterior wall. We are having a shower head with diverted valve for a separate shower wand installed which is limiting the location of the niche on the wall with the shower head and I am not a fan of placing the niche along the back wall in direct line of the shower spray. Any ideas on how this might work best?
Hello again Christie,
Thank you for commenting!
The fact that you live in Florida does make “the outside wall problem” a little less of a problem than if you were living in an area that experiences more extreme temperature fluctuations seasonally. The issue is really all about the temperature difference between indoors and outdoors. As far as I can tell, your part of Florida experiences temp’s from the 40’s (F) to the 90’s (F) so there is enough of a temp variation to create a condensation problem behind the niche (if it was mounted in an outside wall with inadequate insulation behind it). But it really has to do with the thickness of your outside wall. If your outside wall studs are 2″x6″ construction, I believe it may be possible, especially if the wall was sprayed with polyurethane foam insulation (best R-value per inch and awesome vapour control). To be sure, you really should consult a local contractor familiar with the insulation and vapour control requirements in your area. In other words, there is a good chance that it may be possible.
Otherwise, you can place your shower niches wherever you want. You can place them beside each other horizontally or vertically on the back wall. The only thing I would suggest is that you keep them out of the “splash zone” just because it’s more convenient to access when you are showering. Why not just mount them directly adjacent to where you were planning to mount them (vertical mounting on the back wall, a few inches from the corner)? Many clients tell me that they like the asymmetrical look and it’s very convenient to access. With the high volume of users in this particular shower, practicality should really be your highest priority in my opinion.
Good luck with your project!
Steve, I originally planned to put two of the N1014 stainless niches stacked vertically a few inches apart on the rear wall of a tub shower combo (opposite the shower head). This bathroom serves a bunk room that sleeps 8, hence wanting more storage.
However, I just realized that is an exterior wall in our bay front home in Florida. 🙁 So now I’m contemplating what to do. What about horizontal placement in the long wall?Vertical placement on the long wall? I’d love if there are pictures to see the different options.