Adding A Decorative Wall Niche
There aren’t very many projects that you can do around your house that will add interest and character to your home while at the same time make you appear to your friends and neighbors as a veritable virtuoso of do-it-yourself wizardry. And, believe it or not, it can all be done in an hour or two and you don’t need to have a shop full of expensive tools. In fact, the project we are about to detail is so simple you may decide to go into the business for yourself – doing your neighbors houses. As Forest Gump might say, “Easy is as easy does!”
What we are talking about is installing a pre-fabricated wall niche. They’re great. They are not only beautiful to look at they allow you to utilize dead space in a wall to create a display platform for flowers, art, sculptures, statuary, religious items and more. Want to add interest to your home? Read on.
As usual there are a few tricks you will need to know to insure a smooth installation. But basically, the project is simple:
- Cut a rough opening in the wallboard
- Apply adhesive to the wallboard
- Mount the niche in the opening
- Nail it in place with finish nails
- Caulk the nail holes
And, except for the few precautions the follow, that truly is all there is to it.
The real trick is accomplished in the planning. Most wall niches are made to fit in the empty space that exists between wall studs. The empty area (or wall cavity) between any two studs is known as the “bay” or “stud bay”. This same cavity between floor or ceiling joist would be known as the joist bay and between rafters – you guessed it – the rafter bay.
Wall studs are normally spaced at either16- or 24-inches on center. If the spacing is 16-inches then the stud bay clearance (distance between studs) will be 14 ½ inches. If the studs are spaced at 24-inches then the distance “stud-to-stud” will be 22 ½ inches. The niche you choose should be purchased to fit your particular stud spacing. Yes, you can install a niche made for a smaller 14 ½ inch bay into a larger 22 ½ inch bay, but you will have to do a little framing that could turn the project into a weekend of work. But that’s another column. Keep in mind that not all stud bays are empty. They can contain electrical wiring, plumbing pipes and vents to name a few. Also, keep in mind that a wall has two sides and you will want to study both sides before cutting into it. Why look on the other side you ask? Simple, by surveying the its surface you can often tell what’s inside. A wall switch or receptacle is a dead give-away that electric wiring is nearby. An intersecting wall on the opposite side guarantees that the chosen stud bay is NOT empty. Such a configuration requires the wall being intersected to have partition framing. Hey, sometimes you can get around the wiring, but you won’t ever get around a partition connection. So, can you guess what the most important tool for this project will be? Can you spell stud-finder? One that also checks for sheet metal ducting, plumbing pipes and electrical wiring is the best for this task.
If there is a sink or shower valve on the other side of the wall you can bet that there will be a valve or a vent pipe in the wall. If a stove exists there might be a gas line or larger electric wire in your way. Look in the attic to see if anything is penetrating the top of the wall. No penetrations from the attic or sub area are good indications but not proof positive.
Why all the precautions? Most stud bays are empty. However, we don’t want to suggest that you just arbitrarily start removing drywall. A little diagnosis first can save dollars later.
Once you’ve found the perfect place for your niche all you have to do is use a razor knife or a saw to cut out the wallboard to the niche manufacturer’s specifications. We suggest a making a small hole with a razor knife first. Check to make sure that nothing exists in the cavity. Then cut. One thing you don’t want to do is convert a fun installation into a $300 electrical repair.
With the hole cut you can apply the glue. Put it on the wall – not the niche. You will find out that handling a caulked niche can be a mess. Ever hear the old saying “paint travels”? Well, caulking and adhesive does too. Some manufacturers suggest a special adhesive for their niches. If not we suggest silicone caulk – clear is good. It sticks well, can be easily cleaned with alcohol and will readily fill the irregular void that is typically created between a nice neat straight thing (like the back of a niche) and a wall’s wavy surface.
Be prepared to have someone apply pressure to the surface of the niche to hold it solidly in place while 6- or 8-penny bright finish nails are used to permanently attach it to the wall. The nail should be long enough to go through the niche and the wallboard and then penetrate into the stud approximately one-inch. Wipe off the excess caulk, putty the nail holes and let everything dry. If you were even modestly careful when you cut the drywall you will find that no wall painting will be necessary and you will only have to paint if you want to change the color of the niche. And that’s all there is to it!
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