How To DIY A Bathroom Wall And Enclose A Shower

Oh, the bathroom. It’s about time we revisit it and get back to work on it. So let’s talk about our latest work on our bathroom remodel, shall we?! How to build a DIY bathroom wall, ultimately creating a DIY shower surround and nook for the toilet.

Building a DIY bathroom wall to enclose a bathtub and shower surround and create a toilet nook in a small bathroom

Bathroom Renovation Update

Before we get too far into bathroom wall building, let’s do a little recap and a bathroom renovation update. Because…it’s been a while. First thing, where we’ve been:

We were cruising right along on this project, ticking off tasks, and then BAM! Mini meltdown. Actually, it was more like a handful of things just didn’t feel right. You can read all about the details in our DIY Lessons Learned While Renovating Too Quickly post.

The TL;DR version is that we originally planned to build a wall between the toilet and tub, creating an interior wall where the shower hardware would go. We made a rash decision of taking that wall out because even though it made sense on paper, building it did chop up our already too-small bathroom. That one decision led to a whole host of things that didn’t feel right and we took a break from the bathroom renovation to regroup.

Here’s what the bathroom looked like before we added the DIY bathroom wall:

Installing cement board in a bathroom to prep the walls for tiling

Why Add DIY Bathroom Walls

Not building a wall between the tub and the toilet in a small bathroom would be ideal. It would give us more space around the toilet and make the shower area feel more open. If space constraints and budget weren’t a consideration, we would have figured out an alternative in the planning stages of this DIY project. But we were limited by space so we had to make some concessions.

When we made that quick decision to pivot away from building the wall, we were focusing on the reasons NOT to DIY a bathroom wall. Like opening up the shower to feel less claustrophobic. What about the positives? The reasons for it? There are several positives to closing up the end of the shower in this small bathroom.

Plumbing Not On An Exterior Wall

One good reason, maybe the best reason although super specific to our bathroom, is that building that wall would create a place for the shower plumbing to go that’s NOT in an exterior wall.

We live in Vermont. Vermont is cold. Pipes freeze here in the winter. Even though there’s insulation in the walls and around the pipes, there’s still a risk of frozen pipes when plumbing runs in an exterior wall.

Ironically, just after we installed the bathroom plumbing (the first time), we had a frozen pipe burst in another bathroom. While it was a good opportunity to update some old plumbing and add insulation, it wasn’t how we wanted to spend our weekend. Although Rowan thought it was the COOLEST that it was raining in the house!

Here’s a shot of the bathroom with plumbing running through an exterior wall before we chose to build the bathroom wall and move the plumbing.

Bathroom renovation with tongue and groove ceiling planks installed with exposed wood beams

Easier To Hang The Shower Curtain

Having two sides of the tub open, the side and the back end, meant that the shower curtain would barely wrap around the tub. We could order two curtains, but that seemed a little excessive to cover those last five inches.

By adding the bathroom wall, not only could we stick with one shower curtain but a traditional, straight shower curtain rod would work here. When two sides of the tub were open, we needed a ceiling-mounted or L-shaped curtain rod.

Creating a Toilet Nook

The bathroom in our first home had a toilet nook. I know it sounds bizarre, but it was a cozy space. There, I said it. Having a wall on both sides of the toilet also gives us options on the placement of the toilet paper holder.

Small Bathroom Floor Plan

For reference, here is a basic floor plan for the second floor of our home. The original bathroom before demolition was only a half bath and we planned to turn it into a full bath. This is the master bathroom in our bedroom so we loved the idea of having a shower with a tub in here if we could make it work.

Floor plan of the second floor of our 1781 colonial farmhouse

There were two big challenges to adding a tub and shower in this small bathroom.

One, working within the existing footprint of the bathroom since expanding it was not an option. The whole room is only about 40 square feet. It couldn’t be expanded to the left since it’s an exterior wall/step down into our attic closet with an angled doorway. The back wall is an exterior wall, the right wall is adjacent to our already minuscule nursery, and the door wall is the one to our bedroom which has vintage wallpaper we love and aren’t willing to replace.

The second challenge, having two doors and keeping access to our newly renovated attic closet. Two doorways in a tiny bathroom really limit layout options. We moved the attic door as much as we could but the roof line restricts the doorway to the attic.

I never thought I would say it but I’m thankful for no windows or natural light in this bathroom since a window in here would be another wrench thrown in! Thus, we landed with a layout with a blank wall to the left, a sink straight ahead (still TBB…to be built), and a tub and toilet lined up to the right.

Framing A DIY Bathroom Wall

Now that we’ve gotten into the why behind building a shower wall, let’s get into the how we did it part.

Framing a DIY bathroom wall in a small bathroom

Excuse the hanging-down shower head…it’s not hitched up and is just hanging there so the kids don’t steal it for a round of croquet ala Alice in Wonderland style except with shower heads instead of flamingos.

The first step to the DIY bathroom wall was to frame it. Since the tub is a drop-in tub, there was already an existing frame to build upon. The framing first needed to go vertical. Using a laser level, Colby added two vertical 2x4s to the tub frame, screwing them into the beam in the ceiling, the framing in the wall, and the tub framing.

It was a little awkward to frame around the exposed beams in the ceiling. Thankfully, the cement board and subway tile will make this look a little less strange. Also…friendly reminder to myself to finally remove all the old screws from the ceiling beam we exposed in this space.

Framing a wall around an exposed beam in a bathroom ceiling

The next step was to add nailers between the vertical framing. This helps support the structure and provides a place to screw the cement board into. The nailers were added 1 foot on center from the ceiling down to the tub frame.

Framing nailers in a DIY bathroom wall to support the structure and the shower plumbing

That left one more nailer to add, one for the shower faucet hardware. Colby figured out the location of the hardware and attached a nailer between the vertical framing for the faucet and plumbing.

All the framing was screwed together using GRK multipurpose 3-1/8″ screws from Home Depot.

Framed DIY shower surround using 2 x 4s

Moving The Shower Plumbing

With the framing in place, it was time to move the plumbing. Thankfully, we use Pex for plumbing projects. Pex is amazing and makes for an easy way to update old plumbing without having to use copper, which is best left to the pros. It’s a flexible pipe that is easy to cut, install, and connect to existing plumbing. Pex piping and fittings can be found at Home Depot or even local hardware stores. Using Pex made it relatively easy, although still not as easy as if we had plumbed it this way the first time, to move the plumbing.

Moving Pex plumbing from an exterior wall to a newly framed shower wall

The plumbing coming into our bathroom comes from the toilet side of the bathtub. So Colby simply shut off the water, cut the Pex from where it ran under the tub, drilled holes in the previously plumbed walls, and pulled it out from the wall. Then he added the piping and connectors necessary to plumb from the cut point to the new location of our shower hardware. The tub drain remained where it was but now is lined up with the shower hardware (one of the weird repercussions of deciding to move the shower hardware after we had bought a right drain tub).

Back on went the water supply with no leaks or issues…huzzah!

DIY bathroom wall framing creating a toilet nook and a wall for the shower plumbing to run through

Hanging Cement Board

The final step of building a shower wall was to put up the cement board. We did a whole post about hanging the cement board and prepping a bathroom for tiling. The plan for this bathroom is wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling white ceramic tiles with black grout. 

I’ve always loved a classic, white subway tile bathroom. It’s a great way to add a lot of visual impact to a room without spending a ton of money or utilizing bold colors. White ceramic tiles from Home Depot are relatively inexpensive. 

One last thought about adding cement board and tiling the end of the shower wall, how to finish that 3″ end of the new wall. That wall space is very narrow. We thought about tiling the end, but full subway tiles won’t fit there. I feel like cut tiles on the end may look funny. Maybe. Maybe not.

We’re opting to finish the end with pine trim pieces in lieu of tiling. Although I reserve the right to change my mind once tiling begins. I’ve already changed my mind 17 million times in this bathroom so what’s one more time?! I’m guessing it will be a game day, hold up the tile and see decision.

Building a shower surround, installing cement board, and prepping shower for tiling

Finished Building A Shower Wall

With the DIY bathroom wall complete and the shower walled in, I have to admit it does not feel as tight or claustrophobic as we thought it would feel. Even the tub, which is a compact one but the right size for our small bathroom, feels good. We tested it out with a pretend shower the other day. The framed version of the tub is definitely the right choice for us.

Now that it’s up, we realize that adding the wall and creating a shower surround was the easiest way to optimize the floor plan for our bathroom. In retrospect, I wish we had stuck with this original plan all along. But also, we may have always wondered, “What if we had the plumbing on the other wall?” 

Small bathroom renovation prepped for tiling the shower surround and walls

Bathroom Renovation Next Steps

Now that the hard work of Colby, our resident framer, plumber, and general heavy lifter is complete, it’s time for this girl to break out the wet saw and get her tile on. It’s been a long time since I tackled a tiling project, one of my favorite DIY jobs. I think my last tiling project was when we renovated the guest bathroom, which is now the kids’ bathroom.

We still have a long way to go on this bathroom DIY project. Some of our remaining tasks include:

  • Finish prepping for tiling
  • Tile and grout the entire bathroom
  • Add small moldings and trim to finish off the space
  • Build a vanity cabinet and add a vanity countertop
  • Install light fixtures and light switches
  • Find creative storage space solutions
  • Hang hooks, wall art, and other little details
DIY shower surround and wall to enclose a bathtub/shower combo and create a toilet nook, prepped for tiling with cement board installed

Even though there’s a long way to go to finish this bathroom, I feel like it’s the home stretch. We’re no longer in the ripping things apart stage. I love when DIY projects turn the corner to the putting things back together stage. 

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