Selecting the right shower stall enclosure is not easy. Do you completely remove your old system or can you go over this structure to save time and money? Are there any special needs to consider in your design? What shower base and wall combination will work best? Do you want a door or is it best to go doorless? The decisions and the options seem to multiply like rabbits.
This article will provide a 7 step process to lead you through the shower selection process.
Step 1 – Determine if you need to remove the old shower stall – Evaluate the condition of your old enclosure. Are the walls and the base structurally sound? Look at the base (and the areas around and below the base) to determine if there has been any leaking or if the base or pan is rusting or crumbling. For the walls look to see if tile grout joints are flaking away or if there are any spongy areas in the walls (this would be an indication the walls have taken on water and at least part of the structure behind the wall will need to be repaired).
If you find the walls and base are in good condition it is possible to use acrylic walls or solid surface surrounds to go over existing tile walls (more about this in step 4)
Step 2 – Consider any special needs and accessories- How would you like this shower to function in the short run and long run? Would it be helpful to have a barrier free access (a ramp of maybe a zero tolerance entry) for the future? Would a shower seat, grab bar, corner caddy or shampoo niche improve the function of your shower stall? There are lot of options in both acrylic, ready for tile base and solid surfaces bases that can accommodate wheelchair access or just to make a home more functional. Design with the future in mind.
Step 3 – Choose a shower base – The shower base or pan serves as the foundation of your project. Bases are made in standard or custom sizes. Usually standard sizes are most cost effective. You’ll find common sizes in almost all of the different base materials (acrylic, fiberglass, solid surface, ready for tile expanded polystyrene). Popular sizes include 60 x 32, 60 x 30, 48 x 48 and 36 x 36 sizes.
Fiberglass bases cost the least but their downside is they are prone to yellow or crack over the long run. For a more customized look consider solid surface products (like cultured marble, Corian, or Swanstone) or use an expanded polystyrene base which can be finished with tile. The solid surface bases can be the most expensive but they have no seems and will have long lasting properties. The expanded polystyrene bases are gaining popularity because they can be cost-effectively customized and are 100% waterproof as well.
Step 4 -Select the best wall surrounds for the plumbing and shampoo niche walls – Like most products interior wall surrounds should be chosen with value, style and longevity in mind. Here’s a rundown of options:
Acrylic walls – If you’re looking for a cost-effective alternative for a remodeling project where existing tile walls are structurally sound consider acrylic walls. They are an excellent value (when you can go over the existing) and are even available with the look of stone or tile.
Fiberglass walls – Fiberglass walls are the cheapest available, manufactured in standard sizes, and are inexpensive to self-install. Their drawback – quality and longevity.
Tile walls placed over a masonry backerboard or waterproof extruded polystyrene system – Tile walls have come a long way. Grout technologies are far superior to what you may have on your existing walls. Tile can be purchased in a wide variety of price ranges. One of the biggest challenges with tile projects is they are time consuming to install (you can save significant money if you’re willing or able to do this yourself).
Solid surface shower walls – These walls are durable, will not mold or mildew and have no grout joints to worry about. They can also be glued and/or installed with butyl tape over existing surfaces and are available in decorative pebble, geometric, beadboard and other textures and patterns.
Step 5 – Determine the shape of the walls you’ll see inside the bathroom – If your shower is in the corner of the room you may want to consider an angled or rectangular designed wall(s). If you want to eliminate a door and minimize cleaning consider a curved wall design. A wall that is slightly curved or angled to the inside will serve to break the water from getting outside the shower enclosure.
Step 6 – Identify the type wall you want – Consider the tradeoff between value, function and style when choosing your inside walls. Here are a few more popular options:
Straight Framed glass walls – These walls are generally made of thinner glass packages and are framed with different metal surrounds. Their main advantage is low initial purchase cost. The disadvantage is they are flimsier and cleaning around the frames is not easy.
Straight Unframed glass walls – Generally seen in nicer hotel rooms these walls are without frames and are made of thicker glass (and available in many designs and patterns for increased style). The advantage of unframed walls is appearance and the main disadvantage is they are on the upper end of the cost.
Rounded or Straight Tiled Walls – Tiled walls are generally more expensive to complete than framed glass systems but can create a more uniform inside appearance. The main disadvantages are they do not transmit light inside or outside the shower space making the stall seem darker.
Rounded or Straight Glass Block Shower Wall – For a curved design glass blocks can provide a sturdy installation with a cost effective design. Blocks now come in colored, etched and obscure designs and patterns. The disadvantage of glass blocks are they have a more contemporary appearance which may not be desired for some interior design.
Rounded tempered and bent glass – These walls are very cool in appearance, are usually made with a thicker glass for stability but are the most costly type of interior glass wall.
Step 7 – Choose to go with our without a shower door – The design trend is definitely in favor of the door-less design. The challenge will be to determine if you have enough space to go without the door. Generally it’s more difficult in square or angled corner showers to go doorless. Walk in showers can be used in as small a space as 60 x 34 (there is a very interesting single rounded wall glass block shower design available which can actually convert a tub area into a shower). 60″ spaces are wider work best for a doorless design.
Let these 7 steps serve as an initial outline to help you choose the shower stall or enclosure for your next remodeling project. If these steps seem daunting consider contacting a professional design and remodeling contractor to assist you through the process.
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.