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How to Compare One Piece vs. Three Piece Acrylic Tub Wall Surround for a Remodeling Project

Written by Mike Foti on . Posted in Bathroom Remodeling

How to compare 1 pc vs. 3 pc acrylic wall surround systems

Acrylic tub and shower wall surrounds have become a popular choice for remodeling projects today since they’re easy to clean, have no grout joints, are warm to the touch and are available in many colors and patterns. With that being said not all acrylic wall systems are alike. One big difference is one company in the industry (Bath Fitter) promotes a “one piece” system while all the other companies use a three piece systems. Learn below the advantages and disadvantages of each of these systems.

“One piece” acrylic bathtub wall surround system – A one piece bathtub surround will use one continuous piece of acrylic on the back wall, side wall and plumbing wall for a tub enclosure.

 

Advantages

 

  • There are no seams at the 2 inside corners which avoids caulk joints in these two places.
  • The wall pattern is continuous.

 

Disadvantages

 

  • Many existing walls are out of square which may require forcing the liner into the enclosure space or require excessive caulk to fill in gaps.
  • Walls are more prone to buckling due to expansion and contraction.
  • It’s hard to maneuver this acrylic sheet into a small 5’ x 7’ bathroom.
  • This system can require up to 10 additional trim pieces (including at the bottom of the tub and outside edges) that creates additional seams that could collect mold and mildew.
  • The entire system will need to be removed if there is a plumbing problem down the road.
  • A one piece system cannot be used on angled walls.
  • Walls are thinner than a 3 piece system.
  • One piece walls only come in 84″ height maximum – which can be a problem in shower projects.
  • The material needs to be heated and bent creating a weak spots.

 

Three piece acrylic bath tub wall surrounds – With 3 piece systems each wall panel (back, side and plumbing walls) is custom cut to fit to go over existing bathtub walls.

How to compare acrylic tub wall surrounds

Advantages

 

  • Each wall is custom cut to ensure an exact fit even when walls are out of square.
  • A 3 piece system allows for expansion and contraction so walls don’t buckle.
  • Don’t need to add trim pieces at the bottom or outside edges of a tub space (note – three piece acrylic side walls are equipped with bends to eliminate trim pieces on the outside edges).
  • The plumbing wall can be replaced separately if there were to be a problem with the valve behind the wall.
  • Thicker acrylic walls used provide a strong, more durable product over the long run.
  • It’s easier to move three separate flat sheets of acrylic into a bathroom vs. a bulky one piece system.

 

Disadvantages

 

  • There are seams in the 2 inside tub corners (this problem is overcome with a triple gasket sealant system).
  • Tile or stone patterns will need to be matched up during the installation process.

 

 

Which of these wall surround options do you think is best? Please comment below.

 

 

If you’re looking for more information or an estimate to install a bath tub wall surround visit The Bath Doctor of Cleveland (216-531-6085) or Columbus (614-252-7294) or Cleveland Design & Remodeling (216-658-1270) – divisions of Innovate Building Solutions.

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Mike Foti

President of Innovate Building Solutions a nationwide supplier and regional (Cleveland and Columbus) remodeling contractors. Some of our product lines include glass counters, floors, backsplashes, glass blocks and grout free shower and tub wall panels

Comments (5)

  • Bobby Petrushansky

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    Obviously this fake news letter is to promote your product.
    Based on the installation of a Bath Fitter job over 3 years ago in small pretty steamy bathroom.
    1. Before they started the job they checked the wall for any problems. They replaced the areas that were bad with green dry wall that was resistent to mold. When they cut out the weak areas some tile fell off and I could see the mildew right on the glue. Their representative pointed out that I must have some mold or mildew behind the tile because these were the areas where it would come back to in the grout time after time. When they cut out the front wall to put in their diverter system they noticed that there was a very tiny pin head leak in the copper pipe going up to the shower head. I wasn;t hit up with any surprise extra costs they just did it. I have been hit up when I was the most vulnerable by other contractors by the so called surprise. I had a vinyl siding job done on my home that was inspected by the contractor from top to bottom. He comes back to me after all of my old siding is on the ground and tells me he has to charge me for wood replacement that he missed. Jing Jing $850 out the door. He couldn’t move on without the money,
    2.They did not place any caulk behind the system they instead used some kind of glue on a tape that they said would never harden and crack. Guess what it hasn’t after 10 years
    2. I was told that the glue tape that they used because it never hardens allows the walls to flex and if it did everything is in the original conditions
    3. Yes there is 7 trim pieces that I could see but all of them are in areas that barely get wet and to this day I have never seen any mold, mildew, or soap scum They told me that they don’t caulk instead they use a special sealant they has a life time warranty that I have never had to use.
    4. The outside trim is a bull nose design and it looks beautiful. The top trim has what looks a like a flat trim piece maybe an inch in length that abuts to the ceiling they installed over my bathtub. I chose the ceiling to cut down on the steam from my small bathroom and it has really helped to keep the condensated water in the bath tub area.
    5. The diverter device was installed through the front of the wall and not behind the wall. And because it has a cartridge type system the only thing that can go wrong is that they need to replace the cartriidge. I had some hard water because I had troubles with my well filter. The mlinerals clogged it up, so I called their service hot line and they came out the next day. i could not believe it but they simply took out the cartridge and popped in another in less than five minutes and although it was not manufactured by them all the labor and material was covered by their lifetime warranty
    6. I was told by Bath Fitter that their walls were the thickest to allow them to make a one piece wall. So I believe them not you. It seems to me that either you can’t bend your walls as I was told or it is probably cheaper to purchase in small sheets.
    7. As far as getting it into my small bath they just wrapped it with string to fold it to get through the doorway.
    8. All I can say is if a problem were to incur I have total confidence in their solving the problem and that’s a good thing
    The reason that I even looked at this site was that my cousin wanted to do a job and got several estimates. He only called me because my name was on their referral list. He had no idea I had done any work. I guess he saw my name because we both live in the Pikesville area.
    He ended up buying the Bath Fitter system and is very thankful.
    I hope you post this which I doubt so potential buyer who are googling to find out about these systems at least get both sides of the story

    Reply

  • admin

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    Bobby – I’m glad you’re happy with the system by Bath Fitter. Like most systems there are positives and negatives to both approaches. Additional trim pieces are something many people are not aware of when they think they are getting a one piece system. The three piece system I was referring to here is made by BCI acrylic and I think you’ll find if you do more research is the thickest in the industry (it is in no way less costly than the one piece system). the important thing is you’re happy with your project and feel good about the service provided by your local Bath Fitter franchise. If we were local to your area we would welcome you to visit us and we could talk to you about the differences. In any event thanks for your feedback – it’s good to see your enjoying the investment you made in an acrylic wall surround product.

    Reply

  • MARTIN ABRAMS

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    THANK YOU FOR SAVING ME HOURS OF RUNNING AROUND. WAS GETTING TUB FOR MY DAUGHTERS NEW SMALL BATHROOM AND CONSIDERING BATH W/3 PART SURROUND-SHE DIDN’T LIKE SEAMS SO I BEGAN QUEST FOR ONE PIECE BATH W/ATTACHED WALLS. LOOKING AT SPENCER VIKREL TO KEEP COST DOWN FOR A LOW USE ITEM. SEEMS FROM ARTICLE I SHOULD DO OK BY STAYING W/3 PIECE SURROUND PLUS TUB.

    Reply

  • Roger Murdock

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    Bath Fitter’s one piece wall is THE industry leader because it just works with a lifetime warranty. The idea that a 3 piece wall could be better or comparable is incredible. The BCI system or Home Depot vinyl or fiberglass 3 piece wall system should be half the price of a Bath Fitter system and should take half the time to install. Why is it the same price as a custom manufactured one piece wall by Bath Fitter? I was quoted a system cost of $4,000-$6,000 for a tub liner and one piece wall and proprietary Delta valve and shower head which had shutoffs built into the valve. They said it allows Bath Fitter to service the system and replace the cartridge in 5 minutes without touching the wall. They provide a lifetime warranty for all labor and materials including their finish, seals, and have referrals including Angie Hicks from Angie’s List and the Blair House (the vice president’s residence) as well as Marriott Hotels, Hilton Hotels and many others. They make and sell their walls to their own customers directly without subcontractors. The price is worth it if it lasts 30 years which they say it will. How long is the BCI warranty and does that include everything including trip charge or mileage surcharge? Bath Fitter says you never have to spend another dime on their system for the rest of your life in the home. This is unheard of compared to any other contractor I talked to. Hands down Bath Fitter is the best investment for anyone with the money and doesn’t want hassles or problems with caulk or leaks in seams. My neighbor used a co that uses 3 piece walls and had leaks in the walls at the corners. The co came out to fix them, but I chose Bath Fitter because I didn’t want the hassle and the price was the same as my neighbor.

    Reply

  • Mark Groleau

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    I came upon this page because I have a recent request for installing a one piece tub surround. The client seems to think that I can get one where the supplier will make it to fit by bending it for me. The only one piece surround I have ever seen is from Bath Fitters. I checked with my plumbing suppliers and confirmed that all I can get is 3 piece models. I went looking on line anyway to make sure I wasn’t missing anything new that may be out there.

    After reading these blogs, I think all those writers must work for Bath Fitters. So I’m compelled to tell a different story. First of all I’m a General Contractor who employs very skilled finish carpenters. I’m the second generation owner of a company that has been in business for 55 years. We are very familiar with many surround systems that have come and gone over the years. Such as Formica’s 202 system which I personally thought it was a good system. We did many of them and never had a problem because we are meticulous in our workmanship. When it went off the market due to high failure (according to the supplier) I could see how poor installation could create high failure.

    What has been tried and true is the 3 piece acrylic surround. It does come in much thicker material which doesn’t show any waviness across the flat panel sections, often has molded in features that give it strength, and is finished along it’s edges. It works perfect for less than true alcove conditions. Which is most of the time. Our crew scribes each panel to fit. Insuring a minimal amount of exposed caulking. Caulking is the first thing to get dirty, so less is more. Attention to detail on concealed sealing is more important. Yes all of us contractors do not provide a lifetime warranty, but most failures are going to occur the first year with daily use.

    In all fairness to Bath Fitters, I’m only talking here about their tub surrounds. Not the their tub over a tub system, which I do feel is a very cost competitive approach over pulling an old tub out. I feel the Bath Fitter system has a place in the market. Perfect for rental properties, hotels/motels, and renovation of starter homes for first time buyers/owners. Like most franchised companies I’ve come across, they tend to have a higher employee turnover. I would have to guess that most of their installers are not 10 to 30 year experienced construction professionals. So if you are looking for really fine workmanship, you may be disappointed depending on who you end up getting on your job. As far as the comment on the proprietary faucet. Nearly all tub/shower valves come with cartridges now and are fully serviceable from the front without opening a wall.

    I have one experience with Bath Fitters that wasn’t so bad. About 10 years ago a repeat customer of mine, who at the time had 2 young kids, had a leak in the bottom of their tub. He discussed it with me many times, and I at one point put an estimate together to completely pull and replace it. The cost would be more that Bath Fitters, but worst was him loosing the use of his tub for a while with young kids. He hired Bath Fitters himself. The job was done quickly and he had his tub back. I looked at the job after and of course looked at it from a carpenters eye. What I saw was adequate installation quality from a finish prospective. It was caulked everywhere and looked like it would hold up just fine. He was happy because his leak problem was solved and he saved $ and time over having me replace it. But is was not the finish I would put my name on and still more caulking than I would want to see.

    The other experience was not so good. It was one of my more fussy lady customers who looks closely at the finish product of any work done for her. I had a feeling she would not like the Bath Fitter job just because I know how she is and didn’t think it would meet her expectations. Well as it turned out, it was not her. She gave me a call after the job was done and wanted me to look at it and see what I thought. What I saw immediately was very poor fit moldings around the edges. I mean like 1/4″ to 3/8″ miss fitted miters filled with caulk. Caulking was everywhere to hide poor workmanship. I couldn’t help but notice also a huge run of caulking along the back wall bottom where it met the tub. We would have fit it for an even small bead. They seemed to just install it as it came, and made the difference up with caulking. On top of that, the back panel had a spot where the panel was not glued to the wall. You could feel and see the air pocket when pushing on it. Needless the say she was really upset and I didn’t blame her. She called and complained. A manager or supervisor came out and looked at the job. He agreed to redo it. Scheduled a new date and sent someone else this time to do the job over. After this second job was done she called me again to come look at it. It was certainly better than the first install, but once again it was not the quality that my crew would have done. It still had too much exposed caulking making up for lack of finish carpentry for mine and her liking. At least it appeared to be fully glued this time. I told her that I didn’t think she could get any better out of them even if she ask for a third install. She admitted that she got what she paid for and learned a lesion on it.

    So like I said above. I believe they have a place in the market mostly that they can offer a quick turn around on the job. Important to rental businesses. The are often less money than other approaches which take more time, which can help those who can’t afford to do more. From my business point of view, they get paid a hell of a lot of money for one days work. Overpaid as far as I can see for what you get. It should be perfect results for that hourly price. But they need it to cover do overs and warranty work.

    I would certainly ask to see other jobs of theirs in your area before considering using them. As it may vary by territory and franchise owner. And certainly think twice before putting it into a nice expensive home.

    Reply

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