Emily Winters: Bathroom Renovation, Day 3

Maybe the Day 1-2-3 structure was the wrong way to label these Bathroom Renovation posts, because after our very active and aggressive Day 1 demo and Day 2 bathtub install, we hit scheduling roadblocks.

I guess anyone juggling work, family, and tending to the dust that results from demoing a bathroom in the middle of winter can relate to unexpected delays like this. It’s not like Matt Muenster is standing in the doorway pushing us along. So, yes, maybe there were a few days lagging between when we installed that bathtub and when we got to this next phase of the construction, but a crazy burst of DIY energy overcame us and we actually got a really lot done (followed by a straight 8-hours of sleep).

For sequencing’s sake, here’s what we did on our 3rd day of active bathroom renovation.

Ooh, this is bathroom shower progress.

You’ll want to see more of Day 3, because we got a lot accomplished.

Really, we did a lot in one day for bathroom renovation newbies:

  • Creating new inset shower shelving
  • Installed moisture barriers
  • Installed (some) HardiBacker 500
  • And… discovered more plumbing snafus.


I started out the morning with a goal of designing and building the inset shelves for shampoo, conditioner, soap storage. 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 set at. These are the serious decisions, people. More so than what tiles we chose, the placement of those shelves could make us happy or easily annoyed every single day. If you’re like me and have lived with a shower shelf that you elbowed contents off of on a daily basis, you’ll understand. Our final pro-con list led us to design two long horizontal shelves on the wall opposite the shower head where’d they’d be well out of the way of flailing elbows and hair, and also out of direct line of sight for anyone walking into the bathroom. I don’t want the first thing people see when they peek into the bathroom be my shampoo and razor; furthermore, the wall that we were going to be utilizing was a more recent addition to the space (we assume it was added last time the bathroom was renovated, maybe in the 1990′s) and was clearly not a load-bearing wall, which couldn’t be said for the other two. Here’s what it looked like in its pre-demolition state – it did have two tiny shelves, but it was never enough room for all of my stuff (none of it was Pete’s, he’s too manly to use bottles of pink body wash):

Shower shelving: Before

A big part of deciding where the shelves would fall had to do with the way that the horizontal tiles would sit. And here’s a little bit of a surprise, because last you were informed, we hadn’t decided on how to finish the shower: I landed on white subway tiles, cheery and clean and white and inexpensive, I couldn’t be happier.

We found them priced even lower than originally reported in the shopping post (at only 23-cents/tile), and because I bought with a 10% off coupon, the entire 70-sq.ft. load cost me $116. Tack on another $30 for mortar and grout, and let’s call it a happy day. Let’s face it, if I had gone with a fancier tile, $116 would have only covered 10 sq. ft. of one wall, yikes!

OK, back to the shelving layout.To figure out where the shelves should be installed on the wall, I comped up a little faux-wall layout on the hardwood floor, using the floor boards as a level, the real-life 3″x6″ tiles, and the 1/8″ spacers to demonstrate where the grout would lay. (Manufactured subway tiles are actually self-spacing, but we both voted for thicker grout lines.) I wavered between allowing the shelves to be 4 or 5 tiles high (5 stacked felt a little high, but when I put my largest bottles of shampoo and body wash in place, adding the 5th tile for pure pump convenience seemed like the right thing to do).

Tile planning for the shower shelves.

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, it really helped to have the plan drawn out, every measurement notated, and the whole plan triple-checked.

Shelving plans.

Because tampering with the chosen wall wouldn’t effect the structure of the house, we started by cutting into the center stud with a reciprocating saw to open up space for the lower shelf.

Restructuring the wall for shelves.

From there, I built upwards, adding first the lower shelf, side pieces for support, and then 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 previous projects and put those to work instead (returning the new boards will credit me $6, hurray).

Emily building the framework for shelves in the shower.


You may have noticed in the tile layout I showed earlier that the top of the lower shelf and bottom of the upper shelf was designed specifically to accomodate the width of one 3″ subway tile, 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 .75″ width. Happily, a leftover piece of shiplap from one of the projects I completed this summer (bedroom, dining room, or entryway) was the perfect width and length for the job. Bundling it with the 2×4, we continued to build upwards to complete the new framing for our shower shelves, and we found ourselves done by lunchtime. Radical progress.


Maximized shower storage!


Enthusiastic about those shelves, we decided to keep on forging ahead (taking a few days off really had us raring to get stuff done). The next step as we saw it, was to install a moisture membrane over shelves, and silicone seal the lower edge of that plastic to the bathtub all of 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 above picture, but the rest needed to wrap carefully around the new framing to protect the wall and guard against moisture touching the wood.

The 6 MIL barrier that we used was leftover from a previous project (we gutted and refinished a bedroom at Pete’s parent’s last winter and fortunately went overboard with purchasing the vapor barrier then, but were happy to use the leftovers here). Installation it was easy. I affixed the plastic with as few staples as possible (using the electric staple gun), and except for taking many extra precautions around how the plastic would need to overlap when coating the new shelves, we were able to have the shower entirely enclosed within a short hour.

Ambitiously, we also started to enclose the shower with newly purchased HardiBacker 500. The sheets are fortunately sized in 3′x5′ boards, which made doing the back of the shower a breeze (it’s exactly 6′ tall by 5′ wide). No cuts in the HardiBacker = fewer opportunity for leaks, and it didn’t take very long to get two walls completed.


HardiBacker installation!

Although, we did have to make more cuts to fill in the new shelves we built, and that ended up not being so simple. Because the HardiBacker can be dusty, and that dust not good to breathe, all of 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. I left my camera out of it, but by the time we were done, it was looking really nice. I had even gotten around to taping the exposed edges:

Shower shelving in place!

It wasn’t until we began taking Hardibacker measurements for the to the third wall of the shower that we realized we had to make some serious decisions, pronto.

For one thing, the existing CPVC and copper plumbing wasn’t sunken beneath the level of our 2×4 studs (you can get a little bit of an idea of what I mean in this next photo) – laying hardibacker over the pipes would have crushed them, and we were left with one solution: total shower plumbing replacement.

Troublesome shower plumbing.

We discovered that issue and promptly decided to stop for the day, happy with our two shelves and two walls HardiBackered. Ooh, dramatic cliff hanger.

More to come next week as I toy with advanced plumbing measures and prepare to tile the shower.

Catching the home improvement bug at an early age, Emily Winters is a now a devoted DIYer living in Rochester, NY. The projects she covers on her blog Merrypad range from painting a wall to building a deck, so it’s only natural she landed at DIYNetwork.com. You can follow Emily on twitter at @merrypad and like her on facebook at facebook.com/merrypad.

38 Responses

  1. [...] See the full details of Day 3 (including how we made some great custom inset shelving units) right here! [...]

  2. [...] Building custom shower shelving, and learning how to install HardiBacker. If you like it, share it: [...]

  3. [...] Building custom shower shelving, and learning how to install HardiBacker. [...]

  4. [...] Building custom shower shelving, and learning how to install HardiBacker. [...]

  5. So thorough… I am usually fine with just laying it out on the floor as you did. Gotta say this was a cool little feature, plus I couldn’t help but get sucked in by the bright yellow ear muffs. Cheers and sorry to show up so late to the party. ha! ~jb

  6. [...] Building custom shower shelving, and learning how to install HardiBacker. [...]

  7. [...] Building custom shower shelving, and learning how to install HardiBacker. [...]

  8. [...] Building custom shower shelving, and learning how to install HardiBacker. [...]

  9. [...] Building custom shower shelving, and learning how to install HardiBacker. [...]

  10. [...] Building custom shower shelving, and learning how to install HardiBacker. [...]

  11. [...] Building custom shower shelving, and learning how to install HardiBacker. [...]

  12. [...] Building custom shower shelving, and learning how to install HardiBacker. [...]

  13. eeb says:

    How did you secure the back of the shelfs to the wall. It doesn't look like they are secured to any framing. Is the back pinched to the wall with the top, bottom and sides of the shelf?

    • emily says:

      Quite simply, yes. We were worried about whether it would be enough to hold it in, but after getting the top, bottom and sides installed using thicker HardiBacker, there was no wiggle or bounce to it. I think if it had been a wider and taller area, you'd feel a little flex, but it's solid. Now that the marble base is installed and the tile is over it, it's pinched in tight.

  14. mitchelle says:

    Great job! Inspiring me to do mine

  15. Lenora says:

    I love watching you young people & your DIY projects. It is so satisfying to learn new things & to save the $. I'm a 78 year old widow & just installed an ingound submersible sump pump. It's the 2nd one I've done during bad rainy weather both times. You've probably heard about our stormy weather here in Oregon over the last couple of weeks!?! The 1st one failed due to poor float design, Learned my lesson on that one. Keep up the good work!

  16. [...] finished most of the HardiBacker installation on Day 3, but ran into an issue right around any normal person’s bedtime that caused us to stop in our [...]

  17. LaRue Riecks Sr says:

    I love to see another woman besides my wife that likes diy ! We too are dealing with bathroom issues,except ours in an 1890 double shotgun in New Orleans

  18. R.Milller says:

    Please come to my home and fix the really mesed up mistakes and the horriable wiring the builder did here and got away with it me and my wife have got taken,it is very depressing to come home and c the mistakes and have to live with em ,i tried to get them to come back no way did they and he doesn't even build homes now,please help me DIY and come and take over my home and help were poor folks that live from day to day and week by week,i wish i had that wooden floor in my home, no one cares or would even help, when we moved here if i had it to do all over i would of stayed in my other home and not moved here in AL

  19. [...] it, but I know it’ll be here before I know it; last update on DIY Network can be viewed here, in case you missed it). I didn’t want the bathroom experience to be my first time installing [...]

  20. LIza says:

    Question? What did you use to seal the vapor barrier to the tub?

    • emilywinters says:

      I cleaned the tub edge really well with denatured alcohol, and then used a clear silicone tub adhesive directly on the lip. When I mushed the moisture barrier into it, it coated the area beneath the barrier and locked it right in place. Hope that helps, and good luck with your own project!

  21. Liza says:

    Love following your progress! We have taken out the green moldy toilet, hideous vanity and blue ceramic floor in our main bath. The 1970's harvest gold tub surround is next. We also want to put in the exact same tub and tile around it. I have never done a tub before. Thanks for all the info.

  22. Susan Davis says:

    Enjoying this bathroom reno. When will more be posted?

  23. Felicia says:

    Wow! You are my hero. I am going to be renovating my bathroom next month. I love the shelves. Good job. I can't wait to see the finished master piece.

  24. casadetraciemae says:

    Looks awesome! I would never think about tackling a bathroom reno on my own. One question though: I see you're using a level while installing the shelf, but shouldn't those shelves be at a slight angle so water won't sit in there and cause mold/mildew?

    • emilywinters says:

      Yes! In that picture I was making sure that they were level horizontally, but you're right about making sure that it'll let water run off it. The HardiBacker that was installed over the 2x4s is slightly shimmed in the back to allow for drainage, and when I add the base of the shelf (tentatively planning on using a full piece of marble at this point), I'm also going to play with adding a little extra mortar in the back to make sure that it slopes enough.

      • casadetraciemae says:

        I should've known you wouldn't have made that mistake! HAHA!! Thanks for replying! I had completely level "built-in" shower shelves in an apartment before and I was always pushing water out of there and constantly looking for mold removal treatments. It was so draining (pun intended). Great job Emily, I can't wait to see the entire transformation. :)

  25. Elisa says:

    The shelf measurements are seriously brilliant. And look at your guns! Hah. Totally excited to see the end result.


About Emily Fazio 


I caught the home improvement bug at an early age, and now I'm a full-time DIYer living in Rochester, NY. The projects I cover on my blog Merrypad range ...

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