I get quite a few questions here concerning cracking grout on a shower bench. In some form or another people are mostly asking whether they should caulk or grout the outside corner, where the bench top meets the vertical tile on the face. The reason for asking me this, however, is what I will address in this post.
Most people begin with something like ‘my grout has cracked and now water is getting behind my tile and my bench is starting to swell, there was an eclipse, my dog has burst into flames…it’s a whole thing. Should I grout or caulk that?’
Unfortunately this happens a lot (the bench, not the eclipse or k-9 flames…), and everyone thinks about it backwards. It is not the grout (or missing grout) that caused water to leak into your bench and swell the framing, it was the swelling of the framing that caused your grout to crack. Tile and grout are not waterproof. The reason you have this issue is because your bench was not properly waterproofed before tile was installed.
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When I answer questions on my site I am always telling people to backbutter their tile. It has recently been brought to my attention that normal people (the ones who don’t stand in showers all day) have no idea what that means.
Backbuttering tile simply means spreading a flat layer of thinset onto the back of the tile before installing it on your wall or floor or whatever.
First you have to ‘comb’ the thinset onto the substrate – that means it is spread with the notched side of the trowel leaving little ridges. It should look like that first photo there on the right with the ridges all combed in one direction. This allows any air to escape from beneath your tile more easily.
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Everything I normally write is about building your brand new awesome shower. However, to do that you must first remove the old, outdated, non-awesome shower. There are several ways to do this, I’m gonna show you the easiest.
A lot of people will go in and chip every tile off the wall (don’t laugh, they do it…), then remove the drywall (or what’s left of it) to get down to the studs in order to build the new stuff. You don’t need to do that. It’s time-consuming, messy and will give you a fairly crappy attitude about the project right from the get-go. (Did I just type ‘get-go’??? I need a beer…)
Most existing tiled showers being torn out are ‘builder’s grade’ showers, that means 4×4 or 6×6 tiles with a bullnose tile, normally 2″ wide, along the edges. Chipping each tile off the wall will waste an entire day. So you’re going to remove entire portions of the wall at a time.
The first thing you want to do is chip off the bullnose, or little rounded pieces, along the edges (and top, if you’re not going to the ceiling) of the shower. If you notice in the photo to the right I’ve already done this. [click to continue…]
I 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.
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One of the problems with waterproofing a shower is the fact that you NEED to have holes in it. The cutouts for the shower head, shower or bath controls and any other fancy stuff you saw in that magazine. The problem with holes in a waterproof shower is that they make it not so waterproof.
So how do you waterproof a hole? (Please DO NOT email me with the punchline to that joke!)
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I’ve finally gone and done something worthwhile! Well, that’s a matter of opinion, I guess, namely mine. I have written complete manuals on properly building and waterproofing your shower utilizing the different waterproofing methods.
Each manual describes a specific method so you don’t get bogged down with a bunch of information you don’t need for your chosen project. Not sure which method you want? Not sure which methods are available? Didn’t know there were different methods? Start with the free manual here: Shower Waterproofing Manual. That will help you decide which one you want to use based on time, skill and cost.
Once you figure that out you can get the manual that is specific to your particular project. Although these are all mostly completed it’s a whole process to get them ready for you guys. It’s difficult to describe but it includes half a watermelon, platypus eyelashes and a full moon – weird, right? Let’s just say I’ve been writing the damn things for close to two years – it’s not a short process.
Anyway, I do have two of them all finished up, uploaded and ready for you to devour!
I have the complete shower manual utilizing the traditional waterproofing method for walls and floors. This will walk you through the entire process for complete shower floor and wall building and waterproofing. If you are going to have a tiled shower floor and walls and need to construct the entire thing – this is the one you need. You can get it here: Complete traditional shower waterproofing method (Price goes up next week!)
And I have the manual using the traditional method for just your shower walls. If you already have a tub or pre-formed base (like acrylic or Swanstone) this is the one you need. You can get it here: Traditional waterproofing for your shower walls
You can always just click the yellow highlighted ‘Library’ tab at the top to see what’s currently available. If you have any questions just feel free to ask them in any of the comment sections on the site. I always answer them – I’m just super cool like that. I will add the new manuals to the library section as I finish them up.
I get a LOT of questions from my readers about basic shower construction. I understand that my readers don’t consider this stuff basic and there’s no problem with that. The problem is that I end up answering the same questions over and over and over… So, to save what very little is left of my sanity (which is a number roughly equivalent to absolute zero) I will cover some basic things here so I can simply reply ‘read this’.
If you’ve been channeled to this page by one of my smart-ass comments please take no offense to it, I’m here to help. Please understand that I currently have over 12,000 comments (questions) on this site (seriously) which I’ve answered – every one of them. I’m just trying to make your life (mine) easier. I will continue to answer every question I’m asked, I’m just super cool like that. If, after reading through this, you still have questions feel free to ask them in the comments below.
You can also download my shower waterproofing manual which should answer a lot of questions and cover basic techniques and methods you may be confused about. Go ahead, it’s free. So without further ado (doesn’t even look like a word, does it?) let’s get on with it. (For all my readers who feel the need to correct me: I KNOW it’s actually ‘adieu’ – I was being facetious. Thanks. )
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When you tear out and rebuild your shower walls you are left with a transition between the old, existing drywall and the new stuff – cement backerboard or drywall (if you’re using kerdi). Whaddya do with it? And how do you do it? And why am I the one asking questions – that seems backwards.
If at all possible, when you remove the old stuff you want to cut a straight line down the drywall to make for a clean transition. If it isn’t straight or was simply torn out without any regards to actually rebuilding it, then find a spot where you can cut a straight line from top to bottom. You want to have a level line for your transition.
So before you begin you want something similar to that horrible graphic right there I just created with a bottle of scotch and my toes. The left side is looking into the wall cavity with one stud, that big brown looking thing? Yeah, it’s supposed to be a wall stud. You are not allowed to give me crap about my lack of Photoshop skills!
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I know there are some people out there (not my regular readers like you!) that read what I write and think to themselves ‘okay, but I’m sure that won’t happen with my installation’. So periodically I’m gonna post things like this that show exactly what happens when things aren’t built correctly. And yes, it will happen to yours, too, if the proper steps aren’t taken. If you care to see more train wrecks you can check out my ‘flawed‘ page wherein I post photos of absolutely horrible tile installations which I’ve torn out and replaced.
See that crack in the tile right there? (The line down the center is not a grout line – it’s a crack. You can click on it for a larger version) That bathroom floor is less than eight months old. It was installed with hardibacker over the subfloor and thinset. At least that part is correct, but that was about it. There was no thinset beneath the hardi and the seams between the sheets were not taped and thinsetted. To a lesser extent the correct screws were not used in the hardi – they committed the cardinal sin of using drywall screws in the backerboard. Yeah. Wrong.
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The days of grabbing a three dollar bag of “thinset” and sticking floor tile right to the plywood in a bathroom are long gone (for professionals, anyway). For a proper tile installation you need a proper substrate. One of the most readily available are cement backerboards. These include products such as Hardiebacker, Durock, Fiberboard, wonderboard and a host of others.
When properly installed on your floor it is an ideal tile substrate for a quality and lasting installation. Notice I said typed “properly installed”? Laying them down on the floor and shooting drywall screws through them does not constitute proper installation.
Choose your weapon. I prefer Hardiebacker or Fiberboard. Whichever you choose make sure you get the proper thickness. With rare exception the 1/2″ variety would be the best choice simply because I like to overbuild stuff. With proper floor framing and deflection ratios, though, you can use 1/4″ to minimize height differences. This is not to say that 1/2″ adds significant sturdiness to your floor – it does not.
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Installing cement backerboard is one of the more popular choices for a shower wall substrate. Cement backerboards include Hardiebacker, Durock, Fiberboard, wonderboard, and similar products. These materials bridge the gap between expense and effectiveness. When installed properly they will give you many, many years of durable shower construction.
The advantage of cement backerboards is that, while not waterproof, they are dimensionally stable when wet. That just means that when they get wet they do not swell up. Any swelling behind tile is a bad thing. It will lead to cracking grout, tile, and all sorts of bad things.
Waterproofing your studs
To install the backerboard you must have a vapor barrier between it and the wooden wall studs. While the backerboard will not swell when wet, your wall studs will. You must prevent any moisture from reaching them. The preferred material for a vapor barrier would be 4 mil or thicker plastic sheeting which can be purchased at places like Home Depot or any hardware store. You can also use tar paper or roofing paper, the thick black paper used under shingles. Although I personally do not use that, it is an acceptable barrier. [click to continue…]