News from the Block, Innovate Building Solutions Blog
News from the Block, Innovate Building Solutions Blog
Bathroom, Kitchen, Basement Design & Remodeling Ideas for the Nicest Home or Business on the Block
Bathroom, Kitchen, Basement Design & Remodeling Ideas for the Nicest Home or Business on the Block

5 Things Nobody Tells You about Shower & Tub Wall Panels

5 Things Nobody Tells You Shower Tub Wall Panels

Updated December 7, 2019 

If you’ve ever been subjected to an in-home sales presentation from a hard-selling acrylic shower or tub wall salesmen – you know some of the “facts” surrounding grout free shower and tub wall panels “spun” quite a few ways. These reps may tell you their system is the only right one for your bathroom, or they have the only “one-piece” system or that it’s not possible to install grout free shower and tub wall panels yourself. As the owner of Innovate Building Solutions (we wholesale and install 5 different lines of tub and shower wall panels) I can tell you choosing the right system for your project is not a “one size fits all” situation. There is no one product which is “the best” (note – if there was one best solution we would not offer 5 lines ourselves!).

The best product for you is simply the one you LOVE to look at. It’s one which fits your needs. It’s a product which won’t have you on your hands and knees begging to chuck the scrub brush which seems permanently fixed to your hands. And most importantly works for your budget.

My goal in this article is to shatter  the myths and half-truths being told by high pressure, sleezy, ,’dirt-buckety’ (not sure that’s a word!) sales people who have one goal in mine for your project….their commission! Read on to blow up the myths and mysteries regarding grout free wall panels.

Myth #1 – Grout free panels must be professionally installed

This is a half-truth if there ever was one! I’ll tell you it’s best to have acrylic shower and tub wall panels professionally installed. The reason is this material can expand and contract after it’s cut and the black butyl tape installation adhesive is a pain to work with. However, there are 4 other systems I’ll outline below which are DIY friendly and can be cut and drilled with common woodworking tools you  own already:

PVC backed composite faux stone walls – These walls look like natural stone and are super-easy to cut. They come in 20 different stone patterns (which all cost the same) and put the looks of the standard acrylic patterns to shame. If you’re worried about cutting them – don’t be. The 3″ trim moldings on the edges hide bad cuts. How cool is that for a DIY’er?

Decorative DIY faux stone shower wall panels in a 48 x 36 corner shower stall | Innovate Building Solutions

Solid surface walls – Although they are the thickest at 3/8” they’re not tough to cut and are available with a large array of accessories (shower seats, recessed niches, leg stands for shaving and grab bars to name a few). They come in 51 different colors and 4 patterns. The biggest challenge with solid surface walls is you’ll need to eat your Wheaties (and bring along a friend) – because these panels are HEAVY! A 60″ x 96″ back wall panel will weigh about 120 lbs.

Solid surface shower panels with a subway tile pattern and a decorative glass tile border | Innovate Building Solutions
This subway tile solid surface has no joints. The decorative glass tile border is a fun touch.

Laminated shower and tub wall panelsLaminate shower wall panels  have finally arrived in the United States.  They are waterproof and have the feel and look of tile –  yet NO MAINTENANCE! This – to me- is the best of both worlds. This product has been made in Norway since the late 1990’s. It makes me wonder why we’re so far behind embracing wall panels in our country (maybe it’s the sleezy acrylic sales dudes and low-quality fiberglass which has turned people off?). These panels come in different textures, with different tile sizes with styles to fit contemporary, traditional, Shabby Chic, Mid-Century Modern and even Modern Farmhouse bathrooms. If you’re looking for shower wall panels for a modular home or bathtub walls for a vacation home, these units are perfect. If you’re intrigued click on the button below and request your free samples.

Laminated DIY friendly shower wall panels look and feel like they have grout but they are simply high pressure laminate which snaps together | Innovate Building Solutions
These panels look like (and feel) like large tile pieces – but they are laminated panels

Slick high gloss wall panels – Offering the look of back painted glass (without the cost) these panels are popular for those wanting a sleek contemporary Euro style bathroom. The come in 7 colors and they add as much drama to your bathroom as your 15-year-old daughter does to your household!

Fire engine red high gloss bathroom wall panels give a sleek contemporary look like back painted glass at a much better price | Innovate Building Solutions

Myth #2 – The only panels worth using is a “one piece” system

While it is true you can buy (and home builders often use) cheap fiberglass one piece shower and tub surrounds, in-home remodeling companies who sell “one piece” acrylic shower and tub panels systems are frequently deluding the general public. Their “one piece”system is not one piece at all. It includes trim pieces around shower and tub surrounds. The other problem with these so-called “one piece” systems is if your shower/tub is not  square (which most aren’t) the caulk joints around the one piece section will be inconsistent and start growing around the edges.

The best systems I’ve seen are those with unique panels for each wall (which can be fit or trimmed to your exact size) and have sound waterproofing methods to ensure a tight fit and seal at the seams and corners. If you have a wall longer than 60″ the solid surface walls are are one option because you can get them in lengths up to 100″ maximum (however – make sure you can get your panels through your doors – otherwise you’ll be belting out more than a few choice words which can’t be printed here!).

Long stone tile faux shower wall panels for a custom shower with a wall greater than 60 inches | Innovate Building Solutions
This shower panel is 72″ long in this custom shower. It was made with a solid surface one piece panel – no seams!

 

An even smarter choice can be the laminate wall panels. These 2′ x 8′ x 3/8″ thick panels simply click, lock and seal together and can be used in shower or as bathroom walls panels in rooms of any size.

Laminate 3D textured slate shower wall panels | Innovate Building Solutions | #LaminatePanels #NoGroutPanels #EasytoCleanShower #BathroomRemodel
3D textured slate laminate bathroom and shower wall panels

Myth #3 – Thickness matters

While it’s certainly not bad to have thicker wall panels (the thickest ones our company uses are the 3/8” solid surface panels and the 3/8″ thick laminated shower panels) in most cases once the wall panels are properly adhered to a wall backer the thickness of the material will have little bearing on long term performance (note – if the wall panels are not adhered with the right adhesives all bets are off). From my experience it is critical to use the adhesive recommended by the wall panel manufacturing company). When you buy your shower and tub kit make sure you’re getting the adhesives along with it. As my Dad used to say, “Mike, don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish!”

Click here to download

Myth #4 – You can only do standard sized showers and tubs with grout free panels

This is a myth you might hear in a big box store which only inventories stock sized enclosures or from your contractor who doesn’t know his butt from a hole in the ground about wall panel systems. It is possible to get large panels for custom showers (in solid surface walls you can actually get a panel as big as 144” x 100”). With the easy to cut and seam systems in the PVC, high gloss acrylic and laminated wall panels you can use wall panels for any sized shower stall.

Light blue high gloss wall panels look like back painted glass are used for the 2 back wall surrounds of this colored glass block walk in shower | Innovate Building Solutions
These light blue wall panels look stylish with this colored glass block walk in shower system

Don’t limit yourself to a grouted tile shower even if you have a custom size anymore. Do you really want to be cleaning (or paying and having to wait for  the “Grout Medic” guy to service) your tile shower any more? If your answer is yes – you may need to check yourself into the hospital! Just sayin’.

Myth #5 – You need custom tools to do the installation

The facts is in most cases (with the exception of some intricate acrylic wall projects where a custom bending tool can be helpful) you can use standard woodworking equipment (like jig saws, routers, table saws, circular saws, hole saws and drills) for a DIY wall panel project.

DIY faux stone tub panel installation can be done without special tools | Innovate Building Solutions
These panels ARE NOT tough to install!

 

Another straightforward way to install wall panels are to use ‘modular’ systems (i.e. panels which click and lock together). With this laminated wall system the panels are only 2′ x 8′ in size (which makes them simple to bring into a second floor bathroom up a winding set of stairs…. even for one person) and they are simply screwed to studs and interlock together. Wall panels are getting easier to install all the time.

Laminated wall panels installed in a shower project | Innovate Building Solutions
Laminated 2′ x 8′ wall panels being tied into studs

You aren’t at the mercy of a way-too-expensive remodeling contractor to do this job (although sometimes a professional remodeling contractor is the smartest way to save you time you could be spending with your family!).

Conclusion

Which of these 5 myths have you heard before? Do you have any tall-tales you’ve been fed by contractors or home centers you’d like to contribute below (or questions we can clear up  for you)? I would LOVE to hear your comments and questions.

How can I (or my team) help you?

If you want more information, or a quote for grout free shower wall panels (delivered direct to you anywhere in the United States)  or the installation of these panels in the Cleveland or Columbus Ohio markets call the numbers below. Me and my team – would be excited to help you. If you’re a remodeler or builder, click here to learn how to become a shower wall panel dealer or call Mike at 877-668-5888.

For regional installation service call The Bath Doctor in Cleveland (216-531-6085), Columbus (614-252-7294) or for nationwide material supply Innovate Building Solutions (877-668-5888).

If you’re a remodeler or builder and want practical advice on remodeling products, marketing and sales tips to grow your business (and cut day to day hassles), start reading my newest blog – Innovate Builders Blog. It’s packed with ideas you can use now. Click here to Sign Up for the Innovate Builders Blog.

In addition, if you’re looking for shower panels for a luxury apartment, or bathtub wall surrounds for rental properties, we’d love to help.

If you’d like to learn even more about grout free shower wall panels read 5 Little Known Secrets I’ve Learned Becoming a Bathroom Wall Panel GeekFor more information about the laminated shower wall panels read The No Tile, Tile Shower Bathroom and Shower Wall Panels – 5 Reasons you Need to Check them Out

If you’re a fan of Twitter please follow me @MikeFoti. I love to share tips and information on remodeling and share a few bad puns along the way.

 


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 (87)

  • I love the wood look panels. I have a tiled shower with a built in shelf. I prefer the built in shelf over the style that sticks out from the wall. How can I keep the shelf? I’m not a fan of the shelf style shown in the picture with the white tile look because of the outer trim around the shelf. Any other options?

  • Lid – good question. The Onyx is a nice product also (we also offer this one).

    We’re excited about these laminated wall panels also. It looks like this product will arrive around mid November. We’re super-excited to be importing them (they come from Norway and literally ‘snap’ together – I think it will be another nice product for both contractors and DIY’ers alike and they really look like tile (and I think a lot of people love the look of tile, but HATE grout joints). Would you like us to contact you when they are close to arriving? Mike

  • Ella – I’m glad you enjoyed the article. It does not surprise me for you to say the standard tub and walls stick out past your 28″ wide walls – most standard tub enclosures are 30″ to 32″ deep. Here’s what I’d recommend. Do some research on custom sized tubs (or freestanding tubs – if that will work for you). The 28″ tub depth is the biggest challenge. The wall panels are not a challenge at all. In our companies’ case while we sell many tub wall kits (which are 30 – 32″ deep) all of them are simple to cut. Our panels are made from either solid surface, PVC composites, high gloss acrylic – and ‘coming soon’ laminated wall panels (which look like real tile!). If we can assist further call us at 877-668-5888. Mike

  • Great article.

    Question for you. We live in a 1920s farmhouse in Iowa. We have been working on putting in a new shower tub enclosure in our upstairs bathroom. It’s 30″ short wall by 60″ l. Problem is the bottom of the new tub and the walls that go on the ends of the shower stick out into the space of the walkway of the door and on they other end it sticks out past a cabinet a couple inches. We really could use less depth on the short walls, like 28-27 wide on the ends. Its a small bathroom. We still have the old tub. How hard would it be to do custom walls to fit the old tub so they don’t stick out into the doorway? Or is it possible to get a shower tub combo that’s 60″l but less than 30″ short walls?

  • HI Mike, my contractor has recommended the Onyx product for shower panels for a rental house. The product looks very clean and easy to maintain, but definitely doesn’t have the quality of tile. Is there a step up from this product?
    You also mention the laminated panels. . . . these look super! What’s the arrival date?

  • So many options… so overwhelming!

    Hi, Mike

    I have to replace my shower walls due to a wetness and black mold. I spoke with a tile contractor in my area and we tossed around the idea of tiles vs surround. The reality is I want something that is low maintenance and cost effective but doesn’t look cheap and plastic. I will not be receiving insurance money so I need big bang for small buck. I am willing to make an investment in something that won’t have to be redone anytime soon yet budget-friendly and relatively stylish. Which of these options could I consider?

  • Emily – thanks for checking out my article and for your extensive research. I do agree with the 4 contractors who point to Onyx as a durable wall panel product. Tile will also certainly work for a shower surround, but you’ve got to deal with the maintenance of that system – and as you know renters aren’t known for the TLC of someone else’s property. Another product you should consider is the decorative PVC composite wall panels which look like granite. In the standard sized kits they are a little less expensive than Onyx and look very sharp. There is another product coming out (hopefully later this year) which is a laminate over plywood system I’m excited about (and we will be carrying once the launch is complete in this country. If you want more input feel free to call me at 877-668-5888. Mike

  • Hi Mike,

    Thanks for this; I found your article on my journey through the interwebs as a brand new DIYer in training. I am looking to do some remodeling of the bathroom in a duplex I own. Currently, there is a glue stick on cheapy shower surround, though the tub is in great shape. I had a few contractors come out and all 4 of them said the same thing: ONYX.

    While I am considering this, I want to know what my other options are. There will be renters occupying this home, so I want something that is low maintenance, durable, and cost-effective. I definitely do not want the same thing I have now, so what are my other options?

    It looks to me like they are: 1) tile, 2) direct to stud surround, or 3) solid surface Onyx type surround that gets installed on to dry wall. Is this correct? Are there more? Also, is there anything that’s like Onyx, but not Onyx $$$$?

    Thanks in advance 🙂

  • Melissa – this product is a laminated wall panel. It looks like the introduction will be closet to the end of the 2nd quarter to 3rd quarter of this year.

    Mike

  • Under Myth #1 – you list Laminated shower and tub wall panels coming Spring/Summer 2018 with the picture of wood looking tiles on wall – is this type product available yet? What is it?

  • I purchased the Kohler wall kit system but can’t find a shower pan to fit the dimensions. Is it possible to forego the pan and use porcelain tile for a floor instead? Or would that pose a risk to leaking in the future?

  • Alan – it sounds like you have a solid surface wall panel. If it is cracked at the bottom maybe you can cut the bottom of it off and just buy a tiny new piece for the top of the shower. This is not something I would recommend – but maybe it would get you by (depending on where the water source is). Feel free to call us so we can talk to you further about this. Our office number is 877-668-5888. Mike

  • Jasmine – we do not have a retail location in Canada – but we do sell to anywhere in the United States – so many people will bring the wall panels over from there. Thanks for your interest – Mike

  • Joyce – although our company doesn’t sell Sterling panels I did some quick research on the Internet and it looks like all the big box stores – Lowes, Home Depot and Menards do sell this line. What I’m not sure is if they will sell you one replacement panel or not. Good luck with this and thanks for reading the blog! Mike

  • I need to find a Sterling left side wall panel replace a shower stall that is 55″ tall and 32 inches in width.

  • I have a long tub- I’d like a wall panel 69.5″ by 77″ with a built in soap dish. The end panels can be the standard width- but it would be nice to have the same height to cover the tile. I can’t find any stock items for oversized tubs.

  • Stan- we would be happy to help you with your shower wall surround. Give us a call at 877-668-5888 – there are a number of wall panel options which would be glad to go over with you. Mike

  • Michele – these wall surrounds come in various heights – either for tub surrounds or shower wall surrounds. In the solid surface offerings you can get panels as big as 110″ high and in the decorative PVC and high gloss wall panels 96″ high. Can I help you further with your shower project? Mike

  • Is the a surround that is tall enough to place with a shower base or are they all intended to be above a tub?

  • Hello,
    I just bought a house and had to remove one of the solid panels from the tub for plumbing work. I don’t know what the material is. it has a smooth glossy face and looks like it was poured into a mold.
    It looks like it was held on with Liquid Nails. No metal channel.
    I have some small cracks near the bottom and the outside edge of the panel. Is there a way to fix/reinforce/seal the panel? We have spent our improvement money already so I need to reuse the panel if possible.
    Thanks for any info.

  • Mary – yes you can attach grout free wall panels to existing tile (but you should make sure the walls don’t feel spongy or have moisture behind them – otherwise you’ll trap mold behind the wall). Although we don’t have a dealer in SoCal we can ship directly around the country to you. Give us a call and we’d be glad to assist you and also provide free samples also. Mike – 877-668-5888.

  • Can you tell me if the acrylic panel can be attached to 10×10 wall tiles, not sure if there is green board behind the tile. This seems like it could be a solution for a water barrier without removing all wall tile. We are in SoCal any dealers nearby?

  • Jane – that is a good question (actually many people ask me). With our 3 different lines of wall panel systems you need to install a moisture resistant green board first (attaching it to the studs) and then the wall panels are installed onto the greenboard with special adhesives (the particular makeup of these varies depending on the specific wall panel you choose). Let me know if I can be of further assistance to you. Mike

  • Mike, i’ve removed the ancient 3-sided shower/tub insert to find rotted drywall which I’ll need to remove. This may be a stupid question but… do I need to replace the drywall first and then install one of your panels on top of it, or can your panels be installed directly on the wood wall framing instead of drywall?? Thank you!

  • Rich – yes we are familiar with Corian (which is a brand of solid surface materials). We represent a competing line to Corian – which we think offers the same advantages with a broader (and more cost effective) product line. The pros of any solid surface system is they are durable, thick and easy to clean. The cons of solid surface panels are they aren’t the cheapest way you can do the project (fiberglass and acrylic walls are cheaper – although not as nice). Can I help you further with this? Mike

  • Have you used Corian for shower wall panels? Do you recommend Corian? What are the pros and cons.
    Rich

  • Gregg – thanks for your comment. The most cost effective wall panel system we have is in a PVC backed composite and there are kits which are 60″ high and 80″ high. The cheapest kits are in white – but there are decorative ones available in 22 different stone patterns. Feel free to give me a call at 877-668-5888 and I’d be glad to help you. Mike

  • Denise – the solid surface and pvc backed composite wall panels we offer both have the ability (with the use of trim pieces) to be customized around the window. Feel free to contact us for more help!

  • I currently have tile and hate the grout. ( standard tube/shower in 1980 home) Looking for durable, easy to clean alternative. I have a window (like the window) so I need something that can either be customized or can be cut. Seeking advice.

  • George – we offer some white PVC panels which are 60″ wide (1/4″ thick) and also a solid surface wall panel which we can make 63″ (which is 3/8″ thick). My thought for you would be to use the solid surface against the wall and you can use your acrylic you have on the other walls. Since it’s the back wall I don’t think it will be that noticeable. I hope this helps! Feel free to call us to learn more.

  • Hi Mike,
    Please recommend a company that I can purchase a
    white acrylic – gloss- panel 1/8″ thk x 58″ H x 35″ W.
    The 5 piece bath wall surround kit that I purchased unfortunately comes with back panel that is only 29″ wide. I searched everywhere to buy the wider size panel without success. My tub is 63″ wide.Thanks in advance for your kind assistance.
    George
    I live in Connecticut

  • Good info thanks. I have an older 3 panel tub enclosure bordered by a small aluminum channel to hold the panels in. The surface is old and worn and I would like to replace it. However, this is a rental and cost IS an issue. The panels I have found by Kohler are running a few hundred dollars. Are there less expensive options instead of the panels? I saw that some people used corrugated galvanized steel, but it is hard to find the 60 x 72 inch panel which I would need. Thanks in advance.

  • Karen – most of the trim is made for rectangular or square applications. The option to make the trim work around a round window would be to get a trim which can be bent and molded to shape. I hope this helps.

  • Braden thick solid surface walls are a great choice where you want durability. I had a project I sold into a bunch of men’s dorms where they chose solid surface for just this reason.

  • I don’t know what kind of enclosure to use for my tub. It makes sense that I would want some solid surface walls! The thicker the wall, the more durable it would be, after all!

  • Hello—-I have a round 24 inch window in my shower area on the large wall. Will I be able to get custom wall sections and is trim available for this type of installation? Thanks!

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