This whole bathroom renovation has the potential to quickly move along. On Day 2 we installed the bathtub, and on Day 3, we:
- Built custom inset shelving
- Installed moisture barriers
- Installed HardiBacker 500
- And… tackled more plumbing snafus
I started out the morning with a goal of designing and building the inset shelves as storage for shampoo, conditioner, and soap. We had debated for days whether we’d build two or three shelves, on which walls they’d be best suited, and what heights we should plan to have them positioned. If you’re like me, you know that the placement of those shelves could make you happy and at ease, or easily annoyed every day.
In the end, we designed two long horizontal shelves on the wall opposite the shower head. At the end, they would be well out of the way of flailing elbows and hair, and also out of sight for anyone entering the bathroom. Furthermore, the wall that was going to be updated was a more recent addition to the space (we assume it was added the last time the bathroom was renovated, maybe in the 1990s) and was not a load-bearing wall. Here’s what it looked like in the pre-demolition state. It did have two shallow shelves, but was never enough room for all of my stuff.
Step 1: Determine the Shelf Height
There were many considerations as we planned the placement of the shelves, namely, the tile. I chose white subway tiles, which were cheery and clean and white and inexpensive, and readily in stock. We found them priced even lower than originally reported in the shopping post (at only 23 cents/tile), and because I bought it with a coupon, the entire 70-sq. ft. load only cost me $116. Tack on $16 for mortar and grout, and call it a happy day. Had I chose a fancier tile, $116 would only have covered 10 sq. ft. of one wall!
To figure out where the shelves should be installed on the wall, I comped up a faux-wall layout on the hardwood floor. I used the floorboards as a straight line, the real 3″x6″ subway tiles, and the 1/8″ spacers to demonstrate where the grout would fit. Manufactured subway tiles are actually self-spacing, but we voted to have thicker grout lines.
I wavered between allowing the shelves to be 4 or 5 tiles high (5 felt a little tall, but when I put shampoo bottles in position, it felt just right to accommodate the hand pump).
I scribed the tile orientation, grout thickness, and shelf placement onto a piece of graph paper. I realize that our chicken scratch and overlapping drawings aren’t something you can follow, but it really helped to have the plan drawn out, every measurement notated, and the whole vision triple-checked.
Step 2: Measure and Cut the Wall Studs
Tampering with the chosen wall wouldn’t affect the structure of the house, so we started by cutting into the center stud with a reciprocating saw to open up space for the lower shelf.
From there, I built upwards, adding first the lower shelf, side pieces for support, and the top of the lower shelf/bottom of the upper shelf. Originally, I bought a few new 2×4 boards from the store to do the job, but I found some scraps from a previous project and put those to work instead.
You may have noticed in the tile layout that I showered earlier that the top of the lower shelf and the bottom of the upper shelf was designed specifically to accommodate a full run of the 3″ tall subway tiles, so in addition to factoring in the thickness of the HardiBacker that we were going to install around the studs and shelves, we had to figure out a way to bulk up the middle 2×4 with another 0.75″ width.
Happily, a leftover piece of shiplap from a previous project was the perfect size for the job. Stacking it with the 2×4, we continued to build upwards to complete the new framing for our shower shelves and found ourselves done by lunchtime. Radical progress.
Step 3: Add Cement Board and Tape to Shelves
Next, you’ll have to cut cement board to surround the wooden framework. Cement board can be dusty, and that dust is not safe to breathe, so the cuts were made outside on the deck. In the snow. In 10-degree weather while we wore mittens and wielded quick-to-dull utility knives. There are no pictures of this.
We attached it piece by piece to the wooden framing, and then added tape to seal all exposed edges.
Step 4: Install Moisture Barriers
Enthusiastic about those shelves, we decided to keep forging ahead. The next step as we saw it was to install a moisture membrane over the shelves and silicone seal the lower edge of the plastic to the bathtub all the way around. I had actually installed it along the back wall just before we got started building the shelves, as you can see in the picture above, but the rest needed to wrap carefully around the new framing to protect the wall and guard against moisture touching the wood.
The 6mil moisture barrier was easily installed. I affixed the plastic with as few staples as possible using an electric staple gun and took precautions about how the plastic would need to overlap for water protection when coating the new shelves.
Very quickly, the entire shower was wrapped to ward off moisture.
Step 5: Replace Shower Plumbing (if Necessary)
Adding cement board to the third wall of the shower required more extensive prep work.
For one thing, the existing CPVC and copper plumbing wasn’t sunken beneath the level of our 2×4 studs (get an idea of what I mean in this next photo). Laying the cement board over the pipes would have crushed them, so we were left with one solution: a total shower plumbing replacement.
We ended the third day of renovation with a trip to the store to get new pipe and fittings, but were satisfied to have covered two of the shower walls with cement board and even designed and built the custom shelves.
To read more stories about this renovation: