Plumbing Access Camouflage

beadboard conceals plumbing access

I needed to provide access to the bathtub “wet wall” plumbing during a recent renovation. It had to be located in a highly visible place – right beside the flush where it was subject to close scrutiny.

Since we planned to add bead board panelling to the lower part of the wall, I figured I’d use it to my advantage to make an easily-removable panel to access the shutoffs if required.



Even though the original idea was conceived during the planning process, the actual logistics of how to accomplish it came into focus over the course of the reno.

I usually find good ideas get even better when you let them percolate for a while and visualize each step of the process, usually while doing some mundane task like pulling nails or painting. By the time I got to the drywalling stage, I had my plan.


Plywood frame

plywood frame for plumbing access

The opening is framed by a piece of 1/2″ plywood to match the thickness of the drywall above it. The width and location of the access opening match the framing, so the roller catches that hold the panel in place could be attached directly to the studs.

The bottom of the opening is below the 5 1/4″ baseboard height, which keeps the bottom of the panel in place.

I cut the access opening in the plywood with a jigsaw. I trimmed about 3/16″ off each edge of the cut out piece on the table saw to make the backer panel for the bead board. This also gave me something solid to screw the toilet roll holder to. The plywood frame is screwed to the studs with 1 1/4″ screws.


Installing the backer panel

Once the floor was finished, I installed the pre-painted bead board panelling, baseboards and chair rail moulding throughout the room, leaving the access panel to the very end. I also left the baseboard off below the access, to allow me to make adjustments as I was fitting the panel components.

backer panel for plumbing access

The next step was to install the roller catches to the backer panel and make sure it would work as intended.

Before going any further, I drilled a 3/4″ hole in the upper part of the backer so I could stick a finger in to pull the panel off again. I also added a couple of small cleats just above the baseboard to hold the backer panel flush to the back of the baseboard and keep it in place when I applied the beaded panelling.

Once the catches were in place and the backer panel fit was OK, I attached the baseboard with panel adhesive.

Bead board panelling

In order to fit the panelling, I first had to add a corner moulding. This was made by ripping a 7/8″ wide strip from 3/4″ stock and cutting a 1/4″ x 1/2″ rabbet in the back. The moulding is 1/8″ proud of the 1/4″ thickness of the bead board and the shower tiles.

back side of plumbing access panel

The pre-primed tongue & groove beaded panelling is made of MDF and comes in 8 foot lengths that are a bit less than 8 inches wide.

I needed two widths, so I cut a couple of slightly-long pieces to start, since I knew the area was a bit out of square. I determined where the logical cut points would be to allow a joint somewhere near the middle. I dry fit the panels together and sanded the edges until I was happy with the fit.

I applied panel adhesive to the backer board, which was clipped into place, and pressed the panelling into the adhesive. I wedged a couple of thin cardboard shims under the bottom and at the corner joint to maintain a consistent gap around the edge.

Toilet roll holder

panel tilted out for plumbing access

Once the adhesive was dry, I marked the position for the toilet roll holder and attached it according to the instructions.

Even up close, you can’t tell it’s removable.

All it takes to remove the panel, is a gentle tug on the toilet roll holder – which doubles as a convenient handle.

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