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The Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts of a Shower Remodel so You Won’t Pull Your Hair Out!

Written by Mike Foti on . Posted in Uncategorized

The top 10 do's and don't of a shower remodel | Innovate Building Solutions

Figuring out how to remodel a shower can be tough. What products should you use to have a stylish space which won’t be a pain to clean? Should you hire a remodeling contractor or do it yourself? How do you figure out the best shower pan, wall surround material and type of entry to use? Who you gonna call (it probably won’t be Ghostbusters) for help and guidance so you won’t end up pulling your hair out (if you have any left at the end)?

I wish I could tell you there was one magic formula, a silver bullet, a one-size-fits-all shower remodel recipe. That would be nice, but it’s not reality. What I can (and will) is there are things you absolutely need to ask yourself (the Do’s) and things you’ll want to stay away from (the Don’ts) like the plague which will either lead you to a victorious shower project or down the road to home improvement “h-e-double hockey sticks (as our kids used to say when they were young so they wouldn’t say hell). Without further delay, let’s dig in.

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1) DO ask – how much maintenance am I willing to endure?

 One of the reasons most people do a shower remodel in the first place is their frustration cleaning tile grout joints, or attempting (unsuccessfully) to clean the bottom of a standard builders-grade fiberglass shower pan or tub. Scrubbing tile grout joints is the ultimate sacrifice you make in being a home-moaner (yes- this is spelled right!). You’re moaning about cleaning the tile joints on the shower walls and your inability to get the now-yellowed finish or dirt off the bottom of the pan is a lesson in frustration.

Here’s what I’m going to tell you happens more often than you can imagine. Owners say I’m done with grout ounce and forever. Then in the process of doing the remodel they chicken out (sometimes because the contractor says he is really good at tile) and put tile in once again. It’s the easy way out in the short run – just go the way the contractor pulls you. When you start this project remember the pain which got you into this process in the first place. There are cool shower wall surrounds you can get to eliminate this maintenance hassle.

Solid surface grout free shower panels and glass tile recessed niche | Innovate Building Solutions

Low maintenance solid surface subway tile design grout free shower walls

On the other hand – if you really do love tile there are some options to choose to cut down maintenance. I would suggest using large format tiles because they have smaller joint sizes and use a urethane or epoxy grout which is more durable than standard sanded grout (sanded grout is what your contractor is likely to use if you don’t insist on something better).

Large format 24 x 12 ceramic tiles in a shower for low maintenance | Innovate Building Solutions

Large format tiles with a low maintenance acrylic shower pan

2) DO assume – what you can’t see behind your shower walls WILL hurt you!

There is more to a shower than meets the eye. What is lurking behind your shower walls can and will hurt you. If you’re ever demoed a “spongy” tile wall with standard drywall behind it, or had a loved one fall and get hurt because a grab bar came off the wall you know what I mean. Shoddy construction methods used by a previous DIY owner or “slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am” contractor who cut a “few corners” may be the reasons you’re shelling out big-bucks now to renovate your shower enclosure. These problems can be eliminated by spending a few extra dollars on what you don’t see behind the walls.

To get rid of the worry of spongy tile walls, use a waterproof wall backer system (products like Wedi wall boards or the Schluter system are excellent choices).

Wedi waterproof wall backer board panels being installed behind a tile shower | Innovate Building Solutions

To make sure your safety grab bars keep a family member from falling, put wood backing behind the shower walls. When a bar is mounted (whether it’s now or in the future) it can be tied securely into this wood. Simple “behind the wall” safety measures can save huge dollars and personal aggravation from a family member spending time in a hospital.

 3) DO ask your general contractor who will be working on my project

Have you ever loved the sales rep who sold you the project only to become “over the top mad” when the “airheads, boneheads or knuckleheads” (these might be the words you’ve used and some I can’t print here as well) and start “installing” the project for you?

To make sure you hire the right contractor know the skills of the people who will be working on your project. If you’re hiring a general contractor ask who(m) the subcontractors are going to be. How long has this company worked with them? If your general contractor is doing the work with his/her own people get input about their project superintendents and workers. Ask, who will be coordinating the project? When are they purchasing materials for your job (this is key to know so you make sure your project doesn’t last FOREVER!). Do your due diligence – remember you’re hiring a team of people, not just ‘Chuck in a truck’ (hopefully).

4) DO expect the unexpected – planning your budget

Shower remodeling is like brain surgery – you’re going to be opening up “the patient” (in this case your shower)! Since you don’t have x-ray glasses (although I always wanted to get the x-ray glasses on the back of the comic books in the 60’s to be able to see through things, but I digress) there can be problems lurking behind the walls or underneath the shower pan neither you (as a DIY’er) or even a professional contractor can see before the job begins (note: this as the same problem a surgeon has when they “get in there” to work on your body). So, what can you do about this?

Expect (and budget for) the unexpected. When planning a shower remodeling project don’t commit every penny you have up front. Build into your budget a 10-15% cushion. Hopefully you won’t need any extra money to replace a rotten subfloor, or add insulation behind the walls which doesn’t exist today, but it’s best to expect a bit of the unexpected.

Budget for the unexpected in a shower or bathroom remodeling project | Innovate Building Solutions

Budgeting can be tough work!

5) DO seek out experts – the glory of an Internet connection

You live in a small town and Billy Ray Bob (the contractor you’re thinking of hiring) just completed your brother in laws bathroom remodel. It only took him 3 months, but at least your brother in law no longer needs to come over to your house to use your shower anymore! Billy Ray isn’t exactly the most up to date contractor in the world.

If remodeling in your town resembles this picture you are not alone. The key to not having this never-ending-shower project is to find simple products to install. But how, you may ask?

Go on the net. Seek out nationwide suppliers who not only have an ecommerce site and ship you stuff – but more importantly have people to offer expert advice for an easy to install shower. I would suggest reading bathroom remodeling blogs and then clicking back to the people/companies who write these articles. Why not go to the source for your expert advice vs. relying on amateurs.

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6) DON’T choose the first contractor who comes in the door (or friend of a guy at work who “does it on the side”)

You’re getting desperate to fix this shower. The tiles are falling off the walls. The toilet bowl is rusted. The bathroom vanity looks like it’s right out of the Brady bunch. The problem is, finding a contractor in your town is like finding a needle in a haystack. Your panicked state may make you to want to hire the first guy in the door. Don’t do this. Remodeling (unlike changing your oil) is relationship, not a transaction. Don’t hire the buddy of the guy you work with who “does work on the side” (this is slang for he’s a novice, but he’s really “cheap!”). Try to get 2 to 3 legitimate contractors to look at your project – ones who will give you ideas. Check out review sites. See how other homeowners have liked working with these guys. This is NOT an impulse purchase. Be thoughtful, be measured to make your best choice.

7) DON’T assume all shower wall panels are created equal

This is a pain point near and dear to my heart. It  may be because we supply 3 different lines of grout free shower panels and I deal with these products all the time. Many people assume all grout free shower panels are the same cheap 1/8” thick junk they can grab off the shelf from the big-box stores. Many people settle for tile (AGAIN) because they assume cool and durable shower wall panels which eliminate the hassle of tile grout joints don’t exist.

This is false, false, and false. If you’re into a contemporary fashion-forward look high gloss wall panels are minimalist and perfect for today’s bathrooms (a bit pricey, but way cool).

High gloss shower wall panels in a glass like glacier color | Innovate Building Solutions

High gloss shower panels in a glacier color

If you like a traditional subway tile or stone tile look solid surface shower wall panels are the ticket.

White subway tile shower wall panels with a ceramic glass tile border | Innovate Building Solutions

Subway tile pattern grout free shower wall panels

If you want the look of natural stone – without the cost or installation hassle –DIY friendly PVC composite wall panels are a sound choice.

8) DON’T be a wimp. Don’t let your contractor walk all over you!  

I know contractors can be scary. They carry around hammers and crowbars for a living, but this should be no reason you can’t get what you want. Many times, I see people who settle for products they don’t want because their “path of least resistance contractor” refuses to learn how to work with a new material. It will take patience and persistence to get what you want – but why settle for higher maintenance products (like a tiled shower) where you’ll be dealing with the scrubbing and maintenance down the road? Ask your material suppliers with help on finding qualified (and progressive) contractors. Decide if the products you want are simple enough to DIY a portion of the work. Make an oath to yourself before you start to get what you want.

9) DON’T buy anything until you’ve communicated the right measurements

This may seem like a weird thing to talk about but countless mistakes are made in shower remodeling because one person doesn’t understand the measurements another person gives them. What’s the length? What’s the width? Does the height of the wall begin at the top of the shower pan or the bottom of the bathroom floor?

I just got done talking to someone who went to the store with the people in orange smocks. They told the store associate they needed a 36 x 48 shower pan. He said, “Excellent – I can help you. He quickly gave them a standard 48” wide x 36” deep shower pan. The problem is when they got home they realized they need a custom size which is 36” wide and 48” deep. So back to the Orange big-box store to return the pan and onto the Internet they went to find a custom shower pan.

Communicate what size you need. Give a drawing to the supplier. You can’t be specific enough. The extra effort will save you time, money and return hassles.

Measure your shower twice before order a shower kit | Innovate Building Solutions

Measure twice, order once

10)  DON’T DIY (do it yourself) if you don’t have a clue

I’m going to come clean right here and right now. I’ve been in the remodeling business since 1985. Yes, I understand remodeling products and processes but I’m a business guy who happens to be in remodeling. My hands are smooth. My fingers can rock a mean word processer, but I don’t swing a mean hammer. I can offer cool ideas about remodeling products but I would not hire ME to do your job (note – I’m the same guy who at the age of 25 bought 3 separate pieces of carpet to replace one bathroom floor). Now I would hire some of the great guys who work in our business to help you with your job (I just wouldn’t hire me personally to do the construction work).

As Plato once said (getting philosophical with you here) “I know that I know nothing.” Put another way, a wise man (or woman) knows what they don’t know. The worst thing you can do is try to do a shower remodeling project yourself if you don’t enjoy working with tools and are not handy (you don’t want to buy 3 pieces of carpet to do one bathroom floor like me!). Know your limitations so you don’t waste time, money and aggravate yourself beyond belief. Hire a professional if you don’t have a clue.

DIY homeowner doing a shower tile floor installation | Innovate Buildinig Solutions


Shower remodeling can be a tricky process. You need to know where to be stubborn (doing the research and getting the products YOU want) and know where to not be stubborn (getting help if you’re going to DIY the project or hiring a winning remodeling contractor). Follow these 10 do’s and don’ts and so you won’t be pulling your hair out (or at least not as much hair) over this shower remodeling project.

Can I help you more?

As (hopefully) you can tell from above – I’m passionate about remodeling. If I, or a member of my team, can help you we’d love to be of service. For nationwide shower remodeling kits call Innovate Building Solutions at 877-668-5888. For a bathroom remodeling project in Cleveland call our division Cleveland Design and Remodeling (216-658-1290) or The Bath Doctor (216-252-7294) in Columbus.

Connect with me on Twitter @Mike_Foti or my companies @InnovateBuild or @InnovateHomeOrg.


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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

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