Building a bench for your shower

by Roger

limestone shower benchI get a LOT of questions about how to build and waterproof a bench in your shower. I’ll touch on the easiest method here, but there are a couple of different methods you can use.

I will describe simple framing of a bench with your substrate over it. You can also use after-market, pre-fabricated benches. Better Benches (google it) attach directly to your wall substrate, the top gets filled with deck mud and it gets tile. There are also several different Styrofoam products available from companies like Schluter and Laticrete. They are made from the same type of foam used for their shower bases. Although they are ‘foam’, once tiled they are more than sturdy enough to support your tile.

While you ‘can’ build a bench in your shower after you form the shower floor with deck mud, it’s always easier to make your bench first. Your floor substrate is flat, your shower floor (should be) sloped. It’s difficult to build a level bench on a sloped floor.

But you can do it if you wanna.

Rectangular frame for shower bench

Rectangular frame for shower bench

As I said typed, the easiest way is to simply frame a bench and cover it with your substrate. The waterproofing is ALWAYS easier if you use a topical membrane. Either a liquid like Hydroban or redgard, a sheet membrane such as kerdi, or a topical board like kerdi-board.

If you are using traditional waterproofing in your shower with a membrane behind your substrate, I will cover that in a little bit.

Triangular frame for shower bench

Triangular frame for shower bench

The rules for benches and concrete are the same as curbs and concrete. If you are building on top of concrete rather than wood use bricks (cinder blocks) to build your bench. Just stack them up to the height you need and bond them to one another with regular thinset.

There is no hard and fast rule to framing your bench. Just build a square frame box out of 2×4’s and put your substrate (cement board, or drywall if you’re using kerdi) around it. It’s really that easy. If you want to build a corner bench then build a triangular frame, or arced frame, to place in the corner.

Arced shower bench

Arced shower bench

The first couple of photos are small bench frames I made for showers. The top one is only 2 ½ feet wide by 1 foot deep. It is 22” high. I normally build them 21 or 22 inches high, but that isn’t required either. The other two are corner benches.

 

 

 

 

 

Slope the top of your bench!

Slope the top of your bench!

Be sure you slope the top of your bench ¼” per foot toward the front of the bench! Water needs to drain off of it rather than collecting in the back of it.

So how do you decide how high to build it? Ask the woman in the house. I’ll let you guys in on a little secret. The bench she wants you to build in the shower? She’s not going to sit on it. She wants it so she can shave her legs. Really. Ask her.

So it really depends on how tall she is and where the comfortable height is for her. Ask her. Starting to see a theme here?

It usually looks better if you build the bench around the size of your tile. For instance, if you have 12” tiles, don’t build your bench 25” high because you’ll have a 1” strip at the bottom. It’s not imperative to get it exactly the size you need it, but keep the tile size in mind while building it.

Kerdi waterproofed bench

Kerdi waterproofed bench

Your bench doesn’t need to be huge. It can even be just a little triangle in the corner, like the one above. It’s for a foot, not a butt.

Once you get it framed and covered with your substrate just waterproof it with your choice of topical membrane. This one is kerdi.

 

 

Kerdi-board waterproofed bench

Kerdi-board waterproofed bench

And this one is kerdi-board.

I don’t have any photos of a cinder block bench, but it’s just as easy to build one. Stack your cinder blocks up however high you want them, minus 2”, with the open holes vertically.  Once you get them stacked up place cinder block ‘caps’ on top. The caps are solid 8 x 16 x 2 inch bricks that fit right over the top of the cinder blocks to give you a solid top.

Once again, make sure the top of your bench, in this case the caps, are sloped ¼” per foot toward the front of the bench.

Once the thinset cures just cover your cinder block bench with your topical waterproofing.

Now, if you are using a traditional waterproofing method it’s a bit different. You need to build your bench BEFORE you put your membrane up on the walls. I really don’t recommend this method, it’s a pain and if one thing is done incorrectly then your bench may leak. But it can be done.

And I don’t have pictures of that either, because I don’t build them like that anymore. But I will answer any questions you may have about them if you leave a comment below.

Frame your bench against your wall framing and put a solid piece of backerboard on the top, making sure it’s sloped. When you run your membrane down the walls, run it down and over the bench, down to the floor overlapping the front of the floor membrane.

Your regular substrate will be installed on the face of the bench (and the sides, should you have them) but you need to make the top of them 1” higher than the frame. The front of your bench is treated as any of the walls. The floor membrane runs up it and the wall membrane overlaps that with the substrate screwed to the front.

Your substrate will stick up 1” over the top of the frame to form a ‘box’ around the top of your bench. Your seat, the top of the bench, is formed from deck mud. The extra 1” will give you an edge for your top and the top is simply shaved flush with the top of the substrate. Tile is bonded directly to the cured deck mud on top of your bench.

You cannot use your wall substrate on top of your bench! It will drive fasteners through the membrane on a horizontal surface – it will create a problem. You need to use deck mud.

If you are going over concrete and using the traditional method you need to build and waterproof your entire shower, then build your bench INSIDE the shower, so the waterproofing is surrounding your bench. There is no waterproofing on the bench itself, it’s all under and around the bench.

If you build your bench inside the shower it needs to be built out of cinder blocks. You cannot frame a bench inside your shower using wood unless you are using a fully topical waterproofing method in your shower.

This is why it’s better, and easier, to use a topical membrane of some sort for your bench. It is, in my opinion, the only way to build a bench. If you want a bench, spend the money for some sort of topical membrane for it.

If you have a bench you cannot use a topical membrane only on the bench with traditional membrane on the walls. There is no way to channel the water from your membrane behind your wall substrate, over the membrane on the bench, then into the floor membrane (unless your bench is built inside your waterproofed shower).

As I said typed, there are many ways to build a bench for your shower. This is the easiest. I realize some of this may be confusing due to different types of waterproofing and lack of pictures. I only build my benches with topical waterproofing, so I just don’t have them.

The important keys are to ensure that your waterproofing on the wall is continuous from the wall, over the top of the bench, and down the face of it, and to ensure that the top of the bench is sloped toward the drain. Anything wooden needs to have waterproofing OVER it, and the waterproofing needs to tie into both the floor and the wall membranes.

I’m absolutely positive there will be questions, so leave a comment in the comment section below and I’ll answer it as best I can. Not necessarily about this method, either, if you have a question about any of the pre-formed benches, better benches, etc., I’ve used most of them and can answer those as well.

Below are a bunch of photos of different benches. Look through them first, you may discover an answer in there. You can click on any of them for a larger version.

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Kurt

I have both your books, they are a great help!
I’m using kerdi membrane, and I have a corner bench. Do I need special kerdi 135 degree corners or can I cover the bench corners using regular membrane?

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Kurt

I’m using your ebooks for guidance and they are great!
I’m using kerdi membrane and have a corner bench. Do I need to buy 135 degree kerdi corners for it, or is there a way to make those corners from the standard membrane?

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Mat

This is the 2nd attempt at the correct construction of our walk in shower and bench. It appears our most recent contractor chose to use mastic to adhere tiles directly to 2×4. After reading over your excellent information, I understand that this should also have a source of waterproofing. I was hoping that I may be able to salvage some of this work. Do you see a way to do that?

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Roger

Hi Mat,

Not normally. What part of an incorrect installation were you hoping to salvage? :D

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Mat

Point taken. So if I tear out the bench and waterproof the existing penetrations into the wall, would the Better Bench system be an acceptable solution?

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Roger

Yes it would, it works very well.

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Tyler

Roger , I put in a traditional pan liner and decided to go with liquid topical walls in the shower . Is this a good or bad idea and do I just leave the bottom edge of the walls setting on the traditional pan or do I have to seal the bottom edge of the walls to the pan? thanks

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Roger

Hi Tyler,

That works fine, but you do need to either seal the bottom of the walls or paint the liquid out onto the floor pan about four inches or so.

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Heather

Thanks for your website and articles – they have been a fount of good info in the cesspool that is the internet. I’m pulling out an old fiberglass shower pan and making a larger new shower with a bench on a concrete floor. I planned on using your traditional waterproofing system with plastic sheeting, HardieBacker, and a vinyl shower pan liner until I read this article. Now I realize that the bench would not work with the vinyl shower liner sheet. Now I’m thinking that I will use Redguard. Help me with the order of things please.
1. Build the curb and bench out of brick
2. Lay the pre-slope in the shower pan,
3. Cover the walls and bench with HardieBacker all the way to the floor,
4. Tape and redguard?

I’m confused – should I cover the walls in HardieBacker before I build the bench with brick? Should there be HardieBacker on the brick bench and curb before I Redguard it?

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Roger

Hi Heather,

You have the order correct. I would build the bench first, install the hardi on the walls and bench (just thinset it to the blocks), then cover everything with redgard.

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Chevjon Cuffie

Hi. I’d like to build with cinder blocks because it seems easier. When you say topical membrane is that cement board or is that the aqua guard/red paint?

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Roger

Hi Chevjon,

It is a liquid membrane (in that respect), aqua guard, redgard, hydroban, etc.

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Joyce Williams

My son-in-law built a beautiful tiled shower with bench. Problem is I can’t sit on it without sliding off. Is there a cover of some kind I can buy that will stick to the bench?

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Roger

Hi Joyce,

Not that I’m aware of. Perhaps a bathmat? The kind with the suction cups on the bottom?

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