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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Is it possible to increase the height on the bench’s top surface after water proofing? I had a thought of attaching a 1/2″ piece of cement board; just not sure how to attach (thinset?), if it needs to be waterproofed, etc.
My goal is to achieve a clean grout line and avoid a sliver of tile equal to that cement board thickness. Hope the images help communicate my intent.
Thank you for the great site!
Yes, you can add a piece of backer by thinsetting it down. It’ll be fine, no need to waterproof it unless you want to. It would be better, just to have the waterproofing directly beneath the tile, but either way will work.
Thank you so much for the insight! Since I have waterproofing material I might as well use it. I reckon I’ll use 1/4″ cement board since I need to consider the thickness added by two more layers of thin set.
Or, perhaps if I use a 1/2″ trowel to adhere granite to bench it would be close to the 1/2″ cement board thickness depicted in photo.
If it’s that close just sitting on 1/2″ I would probably use 1/4″ and add more thinset as necessary.
Can you let me know if this is proper for waterproofing the bench.
We are using a vinyl liner (this is our only option right now for various reasons) for the shower pan and redgard over cement board for the walls.
the vinyl liner will come up and go over the seat of the bench and then up the walls some. That liner will go directly over wood frame of bench. Then–bench will be covered with cement board, then redgard, and then a granite seat. Please let me know if this plan sounds right. thank you so much.
You don’t need the liner over the bench if you are using redgard. Just install the base as normal, with the liner up the front of the bench about a foot, just like the walls, then install your backer over the frame and over the liner you’ve run up the front, then redgard the bench all the way to the bottom of the backer.
Thanks for all the helpful information. Any recommendations for a floating seat, that is, one that does not have a full face to the floor? Sorry, my diagram is crude but should give you the idea. It will be 48″ wide and 14″ deep. I’m looking at about 5-6″ in thickness.
To be honest the easiest way would be to frame it out and tie it into the wall studs (if you’re going from wall to wall – my comment images plugin is currently acting up so I can’t see your diagram). Better bench also makes one that size, and they’re expensive. Framing is the most versatile, and a hell of a lot cheaper.
Thanks for the advice. I opted for the Better Bench, which gave me a great end product. I put the drain under it, where I never have to stand on it. I paid less than $200 for it, including the long bolts and dry pack, but not the quartz top. While I don’t show it, I redguarded the sh*t out of it!
They should put that on the bucket as a required waterproofing technique – REDGARD THE SHIT OUT OF IT!!! (with three exclamation points…)
I previously had asked about a seat in shower just to make sure I told you correctly, we did not put liner on top of shower seat just 12″ up the very front, then we put 2 coats Mapei waterproofer and urethane sealant in corners. Just want to make sure it will be ok. Thank again for your help!
Yes, it’s fine.
We have just recently built a tile ahower woth a seat, framed our seat then laid pan liner including 10″ up front of seat, poured pan then hang backer-board seat first then walls, 2 caots of Mapei waterproofer over entire shower including seat, then used urethane sealer in corners. Would this be sufficient waterproofing for shower. Thanks
Yes, it’s just fine like that.
Should a shower bench, that is open to the room at one end, also be sloped away from the room? For example, if one is using frameless glass as a partition to the room such that there may be space under the glass where water could run out into the room.
ANY horizontal surface should be sloped toward the drain.
I am excited to find your website and information. My husband and I are diy, who are partially building our custom home. We have icf outer wall (concrete with 3″ of foam), and concrete floors, which are 3 inch dropped in wet room area. We have a 15′ x 8′ wet room, with a 72″ x 42″ Jacuzzi tub that would like to undermount, a bench running down the wall, 2 rain showers (one over the tub) and 2 hand showers. The contractor was going to install densshield in the shower area. We are handy people, but have little to no experience with tile. Because of this, the kerdi system appealed to us, but obviously will be a lot more expensive!
1. Do you have experience with densshield and what are your thoughts versus kerdi board?
2. What about doing densshield on the wall, kerdi board for the bench and tub deck and redgard for the floor? or would you recommend kerdi for the floor? Or should we use masonry blocks and densshield to build the bench/tub deck for more solidity?
3. What would you recommend to seal corners, edges and seams?
4. Are we completely insane taking on this big of a project which seems to make professionals cringe for our first project of this nature?
Thanks for your magical help!
1. Yes, I’ve used it quite a bit. All systems work IF PROPERLY INSTALLED. That includes sealing the penetrations and seams in densshield properly.
2. I think that would work fine, but you should use kerdi for the floor is given the choice.
3. Of what? It depends on the waterproofing method.
Thanks for the quick response. We are going ahead with DensShield for the wall, Kerdiboard for the bench, and kerdi for the floor. Obviously on the Kerdi we will use kerdi band to waterproof seams, but what about transition from Kerdi to Denshield? And to waterproof DensShield seams and nail holes?
Run the kerdi up the densshield a minimum of three inches and it will be waterproof. You can use silicone or kerdi-band to waterproof the seams and penetrations.
To follow previous question, I potentially can remove the tub completely and make the shower bigger. In this case I can remove the glass that is facing the shower on the picture and have only stationary glass installed on the right side – between the shower and the walk in. This would allow me to use 48″x72″ Kerbi shower pan. So a few questions with this design:
1. Can I cut 72″ kerbi pan to 55″ or so to make it little shorter?
2. Would it be weird if there would be a small drop in height between the straight floor of the walk-into the bathroom floor and a slanted floor where the shower pan is located next to it (the part that does not have a glass on the border of two surfaces, as I need to leave a space to get into the shower)
3. This is most important one – what would be the procedure to tile our old Andersen windows (see the picture) after removing the wood trim. The closest one would be about 48″ from the floor where the shower head is. Would you wrap them in rock, then put kerdi membrane over unmodified thinset, then tile over? Do you think it would look OK? Any tips on how to do this? Also the best way to make nice surface transitions without bullnose tiles (not available for our tile)?
1. Yes, but you need to cut evenly off of both ends. If you need to remove 6″ you need to cut 3″ off each end rather than 6″ off of one.
2. No, not normally
3. Yes, cement backer and kerdi. It looks fine, I do it a lot. Bottom first, then top, THEN sides. Make sure to prop something up to hole the tiles on the top overnight so they don’t shift. I would use a schluter transition trim on the edges of the tile.
About window tiling – should I remove jambs and stool and replace it with cement board? I’ve never seen it done before and can not find a reasonable guide how to do it..
Also, any experience with Tru-gard (trugarddirect.com) – appears to be similar to kerdi, but cheaper and with life (not 10 y) warranty. Is it worth it?
Thank you again, Roger!
You help is greatly appreciated.
Yes, remove everything down to the bare frame and use cement board over it. I have seen and used trugard, it works but it’s harder than shit to crease and get it to hold a fold.
Thinking about making my new shower curb-less, by dropping the subfloor down and using kerdi shower pan. The concern is that it is on a smaller size – 48×48″.
I am planning to use the frameless glass around it though.
What are your thoughts about it?
It’s actually done quite a bit. It works fine provided you can build your subfloor strurdily enough to support it without issue.
Thanks for the fast response Roger,
Rather than triangular, what about four pieces stood on end with thinset on all surfaces? (Of course mitered to match the floor and leave a slope on top). My concern is no mechanical connection to the wall except thinset and kerdi?
And if I could just figure out how to take a pic of low enough resolution I’d show you what I mean. I’m just not that sharp.
Thinset and kerdi are more than enough to make that bench sturdy.
Thank you for such a great forum. I’m a DYIer working on a total bathroom with tile. Tile had been the one aspect of renovation that I had never done, so your forum has been a wealth of information. I’ve even used your recommendations for different products.
Enough sucking up, now to my question. I’ve built a shower using a Schluter shower kit. I didn’t use their curb, but built a narrow one instead. I didn’t include a bench, but now thinking of one. Kerdi membrane is completed and ready for tile. Could I use the Kerdi curb, cut into blocks to make a small corner bench? I would cut them at an angle so the would stand on end in the corner, 3 of them to form a triangle. Them I would seal them with the kerdi membrane? My concern is would the thinset to the sloped shower floor, existing wall membrane and covering with additional membrane be sturdy enough.
Thank you in advance for your input.
Yes, that will work just fine. And you want to thinset the triangles to both the floor and the walls, it will be plenty sturdy enough.
For my leaking and damaged bench (pics attached), am I tearing out the whole shower?! Or can I pull the bench tile, waterproof that area, and retile it? Thanks!
It depends on whether or not the rest of your shower is properly waterproofed. If the bench is any indication I would likely replace everything properly.
We purchased a home about 9 yrs ago which was built in 1970 and remodeled in 2006. When we changed the sink and tile we did not find anything except drywall. We are now worried about full tile showers without proper waterproofing. How can we test or look without destroying nice tile showers. Suggestions?
Remove the escutcheon (trim piece) from around the shower controls. You should be able to at least see what type of substrate you have back there, and can often determine the type of waterproofing used (if any).
Thank you for taking the time to share your tiling knowledge. I love your site.
Have you ever used just 2″ kerri board to build a bench? I saw a schluter video on it and it seems to quick and simple. Just wondering if you have used that method and how it compares.
Yes, I have used it a lot. And it’s the way I now build most of my benches. It is much quicker, and much easier.
I have a concrete foundation home and sunken shower. I already installed the pre-slope and realized I wasn’t quite sure when I am supposed to put in the corner bench. I am doing a traditional pan and redgard membrane on cement backerboard. I believe it would be best at this point to finish the pan, install the backerboard and redgard it, then build the bench out of cinderblock. That way when it gets wet it all stays in the fully waterproofed shower. One problem is that the wall framing is offset from the sunken shower a 1/2″ so I would need to install the backerboard before building the bench I would think, which means I need to finish the pan to run the pvc liner correctly. Also i’m not doing a traditional plastic liner behind the backerboard because of two shower niches, unless there is a way to do that? Anyways please give me your thoughts, I really appreciate it!
You can do it either way, before or after the top slope. If you do it before you can treat the front of the bench as a wall in regards to running the liner up the face of it. If you do it after you can do as you say and just have everything contained inside the liner, but if you’re using redgard it’s no problem to waterproof the bench with it. I normally build the bench before I do anything with the floor.
My plumber and tiler are not in agreement about when to install my bench. Plumber wants to put floor pan in and then cinder blocks on top. Tiler wants to build a bench (2 x 4’s) and then floor pan, waterproof, etc. Help!
Make sure to build your bench first, because the plumber needs to waterproof it also with the shower pan membrane
It can be done either way, however, if you put cinder blocks over an existing mud deck you’re not placing them on a level surface, they need to be place and secured so that they are level. It’s easier to do it first.
Floor Elf, I can’t thank you enough for your concise, well-written information. Your site was a warehouse of useful information when I was researching/designing/building our shower. Thanks to you, the project turned out to be gorgeous and should last a lifetime.
Wife is entirely pleased. Enough said.
Hello – I bought and am reading your ebook Creating a Shower: Traditionally Waterproofed Floor and Topical Wall Boards.
You provide detailed instructions for a centered drain, and mention discussion of an offset drain, but I didn’t find the actual instructions for an offset drain.
Do you have detailed instructions for an offset, traditional floor? I really appreciate the level of detail for centered drains. Thank you.
The method is the same. Depending on how close to the wall the drain is normally dictates whether you have a level perimeter or not. If it is in the same place an old tub drain was, then you want your slope to the opposite wall the same, but you shouldn’t have a level perimeter as the wall closest to the drain would be nearly straight down. And yes, you’ll need to cut the bottom row of tiles to follow that slope to get your wall tile level. If it is less than 1/6 closer to one wall than the other then you should have a sloped perimeter which follows your slope from the drain to the farthest wall.
Normally you can simply have uneven slope configurations around the drain, so some will be 1/4″/foot, some areas will be 3/8″/foot, etc. Which always happens anyway unless you have a circular shower with a centered drain. In the case of an offset drain those areas will simply be more pronounced, but not so much that you’ll notice.
Hell, first off thanks for all your info on your site it has been super helpful in building our shower!
We are building a traditionally waterproofed pan with a wooden bench and Cbu walls that we will paint with red guard. (I know, I know…). We have the preslope in the pan and are trying to figure out the next steps. You say: “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.”
How do you fasten without compromising the waterproofing on front? I’ve attached a pic of what we are thinking of doing after hours researching this, to little success. Could you please advise? Thank you!!
You don’t. It acts just like a regular vapor barrier behind a vertical wall. On verticals that are not near the floor you can drive a screw through it and it seals up the penetration enough that water does not get into it.
However (!) if you are using redgard on your walls you also use it on your bench – you do not need the membrane behind it. Just build your bench, screw on the substrate and coat it all with redgard. The floor membrane still goes up the face of the bench the same as around the rest of the perimeter.
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?
You can install a regular outside corner, make cuts to it where needed, then install an extra strip of kerdi over any areas that you cut.
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?
Not normally. What part of an incorrect installation were you hoping to salvage?
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?
Yes it would, it works very well.
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
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.
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?
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.
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?
It is a liquid membrane (in that respect), aqua guard, redgard, hydroban, etc.
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?
Not that I’m aware of. Perhaps a bathmat? The kind with the suction cups on the bottom?