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.
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.
When you build a shower you will eventually need to make some holes in it – it’s just part of the overall process. You’ll need to install frames or hinges for your shower doors, grab bars, shower curtain rods, a picture of your pet iguana – whatever. The problem is that now you have that completely waterproof shower you really don’t want to go poking holes into the waterproofing.
No matter which waterproofing method you’ve used any fastener penetrations will have to punch a hole into it. You want to make sure you install your screws properly in order to maintain the integrity of the waterproofing. You don’t want to ruin all your hard work because you need to drive a screw through it!
The first thing you need to do is mark the exact locations of your screw holes. Most things like grab bars come with little templates you can hold up and get exact placement. With shower door frames and stuff like that you can hold up the frame piece and mark the correct location.
In my previous post I showed you how to make a niche for your shower out of Kerdi-board. If you haven’t read that you probably should. It’s gonna be really difficult to install a Kerdi-board niche if you don’t have one.
When I install shower niches I prefer for the edge of the niche to be lined up with the grout lines in the tile installation. This way it looks like it belongs there rather than looking like something that was an afterthought (I HATE that…). So it requires planning.
When I build my niche I make it the same size as the tile I’m installing (or a multiple of those tiles, like two tiles high by one tile wide). This will be the INSIDE dimension of your niche when you build it. So again – more planning.
Previously I’ve shown you how to build a shower niche using backerboard (or drywall) and Schluter’s Kerdi membrane. I did it that way for years – and still do on occasion. However, I have discovered a way to create a niche very easily with much less work and time involved – Kerdi-board.
For the purposes of this post you will need 1/2″ kerdi-board (3.5-4 square feet for a 2′ x 1′ niche) and a tube of kerdi-fix. Kerdi-fix is a urethane sealant made specifically for kerdi products and waterproofs seams. I am building a 2 foot high niche by 1 foot wide.
The wonderful folks at Laticrete sent me a linear drain to play with. And you know me – I bastardized it until it was virtually unrecognizable, ran it through the paces and did things you really shouldn’t do with nice, high-end products like this.
And it survived. Word on the street is that they read my blog, probably for comic relief and to instruct people what NOT to do with their products. So I’m sure they knew this when they sent it… I mean honestly, I soaked their grout in cherry Kool-aid for a week, how could they NOT know?
I did, however, put it to good use in a very cool shower. This is a brief overview of the installation of that drain.
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!)
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. )
Another request from one of my readers, this time concerning weep holes. As you may know I answer every question I’m asked here on my site when I sober up get home from work. I have tried to explain in the comments section several times where to create weep holes in a tub or shower (acrylic base) tile installation and now realize it’s a difficult thing to do with words.
So when Kurt asked me to clarify exactly where they go a stroke of genius hit me! (Yeah, I’m slow sometimes) I have pictures. Well, not exactly pictures of the weep holes themselves, but I can at least let you know where they are.
When you have a tub which does not have specific spaces for a weep hole you need to ‘create’ them in your caulk line. Let me back up here a second and explain what weep holes are and why you need them.
Just look at you! Sitting there with a hole in the wall of your shower. What are we gonna do with you? If you do not happen to be sitting there with a hole in the shower of your wall read How to Build a Niche for your Shower – Part 1 and join all the cool kids. We’ll wait…
There, now you’re one of the cool kids. Now take your beer Pepsi off that niche shelf so we can waterproof it. You have a couple of different methods with which you can accomplish this.
Liquid Waterproofing Membranes
These products are usually readily available and fairly simple to use. Products such as Custom’s Redgard and Laticrete’s 9235, Hydroban, Hydrobarrier, etc. are all a thick, paint-like product which is brushed or rolled on to your substrate to waterproof it. You should only use these products if you are using a cementious backerboard as your shower substrate, they should not be used over regular drywall.
If you do have a cementious backerboard and choose to use one of these products for waterproofing simply follow the directions with whichever product you choose. Make absolutely certain that you get enough of the product in your niche to effectively waterproof it. The specifications vary but the best way I can explain it with a general rule would be the thickness of a credit card. Two or three good coats and you should have a layer on your substrate equivalent to the thickness of a credit card – that would be the correct amount.