Choosing the best shower or bathtub wall surround can be tough. Should you install acrylic, a solid surface material like Swanstone, or use decorative tiles? Will the quality of these products stand the test of time? Which one is the best match for your budget and tastes?
Learn 7 practical steps to determine which wall system is best for you.
Step 1 – Determine if you’d like to go over your existing walls – To save money it’s nice to place a bathtub or shower wall surround over an existing surface. It is possible to use specialized glue or butyl tape to adhere acrylic or Swanstone solid surface materials over existing tile as long as the current walls are not spongy or bowed. If you have a plastic or fiberglass system it is not possible to place new walls over your existing materials. In these cases the current system will need to removed, new backerboard installed and then new walls put up.
Step 2 – Think through your budget- If you’re like most you want to get the most value for your money – a high quality material which does not break the bank.
If you’re looking for an easy to clean cost effective material acrylic is an excellent choice. It is warm to the touch, installs quickly and comes with a lifetime warranty.
For a more elegant appearance (which is available in more decorative patterns and designs) consider a Swanstone solid surface wall. Swanstone is easy to maintain, has no joints to grout or seal and comes in a wide variety of choices.
Usually the most expensive product is tile (unless you have the ability to install it yourself and save the labor hours- tile is the most time consuming to install vs. sheet products like acrylic & Swanstone). There are limitless choices and price ranges of tile and it creates an elegant look as well.
Step 3 – Select your material, designs, colors and accents you want – After you’ve selected between acrylic, Swanstone and tile you’re ready to choose your design and color(s).
Acrylic wall surrounds come in a multitude of colors, patterns and finishes. There are solid, granite, metallic and also marble finishes. In addition the walls you select can be smooth, 4″ x 4″ simulated tiles, 8″ x 10″ simulated tiles or even a stone look. Acrylic is no longer just a white smooth faced wall.
Swanstone, while it has been known for it’s strength, color and texture consistent, grout-free quality, and the fact it won’t crack or craze – has a very broad range of decorative options as well. There are over 45 standard, high gloss, and granite colors. In addition there are decorative panels to construct unique architectural designs named Pebble, Geometric, Beadboard, Tangier and Barcelona. There are also designer trim pieces and rosettes to create a finished look.
Tile offers the widest product options in terms of color, accents, borders, sizes and thicknesses. Make sure to look for a high density water resistant tile for your bath or shower.
Step 4 -Choose your backerboard. Select material to adhere the wall material and in the case of tile finish the face of the wall- What you don’t see in a bathtub or shower wall panel project is as important as what you do see. Use the right material(s) behind the wall. Here are some recommendations:
Acrylic – If the tile walls are in good shape install over them by adhering the acrylic with butyl tape and color match sealant. This will save on landfill costs, reduce the project installation time and save money. If the existing wall cannot be installed over put up moisture resistant green board or a cement backer board.
Swanstone – Like acrylic if the tile is in good structural shape install over the existing. If not, Swanstone can be installed over greenboard or a cement board using special glue.
Tile – Poorly done tile installations have caused lots of wasted money historically (cheap backer board might have been used, poor grouting jobs, poor work in the corners are just a few of the problems). For tile installations never use green board – use either a water resistant cement board or a waterproof extruded polystyrene board like that made from Wedi Corporation. These boards should be glued and screwed to your framing. In addition to using the right backer board consider investing in a urethane grout. This type of grout does not need to be resealed and is waterproof. Although it will cost you more up front it will save money down the road in the need to regrout, or worse yet the need to redo the shower if you have any water damage.
Step 5 – Fix what’s behind the wall – The best time to fix a poor performing shower valve, a shower head which is too low, or to add backer material to strengthen the installation of your accessories is when you’ve got the wall opened up.
Step 6 – Identify the bath tub and shower accessories you want to add function and style to your project – Have you always wanted a leg ledge for shaving, a corner seat, a curved shower rod to keep the water in, a hand held shower, a corner caddy, a frameless shower door, shampoo or soap niche or a grab bar? When you’re installing new wall surrounds is the perfect time to accessorize your bath or shower to make it work for you and your family.
Step 7 – If the process sounds too difficult call a reputable contractor that is not a “one size fits all” – Let’s face it, there are a lot of choices and installation details that need to be done correctly to ensure a successful project. Calling a professional may be more expensive in the short run but save you long term costs. Make sure to choose a contractor that doesn’t try to push you into the one type of shower or bath wall surround system they sell (for example a company selling acrylic systems pushes this one solution on you). Look for a company skilled and competent in multiple systems that will seek to understand your needs, budgets and tastes and provide different options.
Know you’re equipped with 7 steps which will serve as a good outline to plan your acrylic, Swanstone or tile bathtub or shower wall surround installation.
Mike Foti is President of Cleveland Design & Remodeling, The Bath Doctor of Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati and Columbus Glass Block – bathroom and shower remodeling contractors and nationwide factory direct suppliers & installers of glass block shower, wall and custom base systems – 216-531-6085.