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Shower Stalls: Install a Prefabricated Stall or a Tiled Shower?

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Pre-Fabricated Shower Stall

Pre-Fabricated Shower Stall from Veritek

Veritek
Question: Shower Stalls: Install a Prefabricated Stall or a Tiled Shower?
You're remodeling your bathroom. You need a new shower/tub. Should you install a prefabricated (prefab) shower stall or construct a tiled shower stall?
Answer: Shower stalls come in 2 main types: the pre-fab shower stall unit made of fiberglass or acrylic or the custom-built shower made of tile or stone constructed from scratch on the premises.

Prefabricated Vs. Tiled Shower Stalls

Pre-Fab in a Nutshell:

Pre-fabricated shower stall units are formed in a factory, ready to be installed as soon as they are delivered to your house.

For years, pre-fab shower stall units were considered a notch below tiled stalls because manufacturing techniques were not sophisticated--your choice of beige or white, basically. Now, pre-fabricated stalls come in a variety of textures, colors, and shapes, giving tiled shower units a run for their money. Many pre-fabricated shower units can be installed by a do-it-yourself remodeler.

Pre-fab shower units made of fiberglass or acrylic don't always have to be replaced entirely. Two options are available: spot repair with fiberglass compound or installing a liner. Spot repair is just what is sounds like. A repair until you can do the right thing--replace. Bathrub relining is considered inferior to a full replacement. It hasn't quite taken hold as an "honest" repair, but it's worth considering.

Tiled Showers in a Nutshell:

The tiled shower stall is built from scratch by carpenters and tilers. Carpenters construct the basic frame, walling it in with a cement-based board such as Wonderboard. Next, expert tilers step in and finish the tilework. If you just want to re-tile a shower, it is possible to tile a shower yourself. A middle option is also available: mating a fiberglass/acrylic shower pan with tile walls.

Quick Tip: Looking for a greener alternative to ceramic tile? Eco-friendly tile made with between 40% and 60% recycled content is available, too. Recycled tile looks just as sharp--or even sharper--than "from scratch" tile and costs roughly the same.

Pre-Fabricated Shower Unit

The pre-fab unit can either be a seamless one-piece unit or a multi-piece unit composed of a shower pan and solid side panels. Important: one deciding factor between one-piece or multi-piece units is whether you can get the one-piece unit through the doors of older homes. Homeowners often choose multi-piece units for this reason.

Shopping for Pre-Fab Units

  • Units Priced Below $1,000: Swanstone's Veritek Tub Wall Kit is a good, reasonably priced entry level way to refurbish your icky tub/shower combination. This is a five-panel wall kit and does not include the tub. (Compare Prices - Veritek Tub Wall Kit).
  • Units Priced Around $1,000 or More: If you're looking for just a corner shower unit, American Standard has a 36"x36" shower stall unit made of Corian and glass. It's one unit and has simulated grout lines to make it look like glacier-white tile. (Compare Prices - American Standard Corner Shower Wall)

Pre-Fab Units: Advantages/Disadvantages

My Two Cents: How do I feel about pre-fabricated shower stalls? Well, they don't make my heart pound when I see them, even though the industry has been improving the product in the last few years. Now, there are sleek acrylic-and-glass pre-fab models that can be rather sexy. What does make my heart pound fast about pre-fab units is the lack of tile seams, which inhibit cleaning.

Advantages

  1. Fast installation, whether by pros or DIY. Have a new shower by end of the day.
  2. Typically cheaper than tiled stall.
  3. Lighter and can be installed in problem areas, such as on a floor with less-than-adequate joists below.
  4. Flexible. If there is any chance that the floor might flex, the shower pan will not crack with movement. Nearly impossible for the pan to leak.
  5. Easy for do-it-yourself home remodelers to install.

Disadvantages

  1. Fewer design options than tiled shower stalls.
  2. Available only in set sizes.
  3. One-piece units may not be appropriate for remodeling because size may prevent them from passing though doorways. One-piece units are intended mainly for new houses or additions.

Tiled Shower Units: Advantages/Disadvantages

Tip: DIY shower tiling is not for wimps! If you plan on tiling the shower or tub yourself, I recommend a basic book that I often consult, Black & Decker The Complete Guide to Ceramic Tile. This Black & Decker line of home improvement books is simplified, but visually rich. (Black & Decker The Complete Guide to Ceramic Tile).

My Two Cents: I admit to having a bias towards tiled shower stalls. Simply put, they look sharp and can be anything you want them to be (with apologies to a former U.S. Army recruiting slogan!). They can look retro and stark with white subway tile. Or they can look rich and baroque with travertine (stone) and complex listellos.

Advantages

  1. Literally an infinite range of design options, since it is built from scratch.
  2. Size can be adjusted to fit any space.
  3. Slightly better resale value.
  4. Good for remodeling, since it is often difficult to get large building materials through doorways.

Disadvantages

  1. More expensive than the pre-fabricated units.
  2. Difficult for do-it-yourselfer to build.
  3. Probability of shower pan leaking because it can crack with the settling of a house. Note, though, that you have a couple of alternatives. In some instances it is possible to install fiberglass shower pans in conjunction with tiled walls. Or, even better, if you want to keep the look of tile throughout, install a polyurethane shower pan which can be tiled over.
  4. Slow installation time due to curing process.
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