Where to install a vapor barrier in a bathroom

Written by john landers | 13/05/2017

Whether you are remodelling a bathroom or installing a new one, you need to know where to install a vapour barrier. The primary purpose of a vapour barrier, also called a vapour retarder, is to keep water vapours from passing through walls. Moisture flows from a warm space to a cold one, and if moisture penetrates a wall, condensation will form. This leads to damaged drywall, deteriorating wood trim, mould and other decay.

Planning

Water vapours pass through plaster or drywall, studs, sheathing and exterior siding. Where you install a vapour barrier in your bathroom will be based primarily on the climate in the area where you are live. If you live in a hot and humid location, the vapour barrier must be installed on the outside wall. If you live in a colder climate, you must install your vapour barrier on the inside of the wall.

Installation

You must install vapour retarder properly, or you will end up trapping moisture in unwanted places. An accumulation of condensation may cause damage to your home's insulation, wood structure or exterior sheathing.

Custom showers require a vapour barrier, such as 6mm polyurethane. However, you cannot install a vapour barrier behind a drywall product, including green board. If you were to install a vapour barrier behind it, water vapour would build up between the vapour barrier and the drywall. It would be just a matter of time before your walls began to crumble.

In the shower area, use cement board, which is durable enough to resistant breakdown due to moisture and can properly breathe. Install plastic sheeting or polyurethane on the studs to prevent vapour from penetrating.

If you use batt insulation, save yourself some work by choosing a product with the vapour barrier already attached. For unfaced insulation, secure the insulation first, then attach the polyurethane vapour barrier. Any time you use plastic sheeting as a vapour barrier, seal all seams, gaps and rips in it using the special tape made for that purpose. Any openings in the vapour barrier allow wetness to penetrate it.

For projects where vapour retarders need to be installed on the interior of bathroom walls or ceilings that have plaster or drywall already in place, consider using a latex vapour barrier primer. This barrier is designed to be used on a wide variety of interior surfaces, including plaster, drywall, brick and masonry.

Latex vapour barrier primer may be brushed, rolled or sprayed on like a standard primer. If you are planning to refinish the walls and ceiling anyway, using latex barrier will save time and money.

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