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
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 tilable 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.
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.