5 Things Nobody Tells You about Shower & Tub Wall Panels
Updated January 28, 2023
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. And even stay tuned at the end for a bonus 6th thing nobody tells you which will make your shower remodel much simpler AND save you money!
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?
• 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.
• Laminated shower and tub wall panels– Laminate 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.
Get Free Samples!
Click here to request free samples of our Laminated Waterproof Shower Wall 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!
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!).
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.
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!”
Get Free Samples!
Click here to request free samples of our DIY Shower and Tub Wall Panels.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
Bonus Myth #6 – Shopping for a stylish, yet-affordable grout free shower system will take a lot of time
If this is your first time shopping for a grout free shower wall (and shower pan) system you may think it’s going to take a long time to make sure everything works together. But I’m here to tell you this doesn’t have to be the case for you. If you look for a complete alcove shower replacement kit you can find systems which are prepackaged AND more cost effective to do than buying all the components separately (and you don’t have to worry if they’ll all fit together. There are alcove shower kit which you can get grout free shower wall panels and shower pans specifically designed for the walls. And if – by chance – you have a custom shower, don’t fear there are also custom shower kits to save the day for you. Read How to Find a High Quality Custom Shower Replacement Kit and/or watch the video below.
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 Geek. For 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.
Do you have installation people in the Kansas City area?
Pat – we have a dealer which is called ‘Details’ who may be able to help you. Call our office at 877-668-5888 and our team can get you Steve (the owners) information. The tub can be refinished without removing the tiles, but if you’re planning on using a new wall panel system I’d recommend removing the tile so you can be assured there’s no water behind the tile which can grow mold – Mike
Can you recommend anyone in the Worcester, MA area? I have tile on the walls and would like to have the tub refinished (resurfaced, whatever you call it!) Do I need to remove the tile or can you recommend something I can put over the tile? Thanks for your help.
Jeff – that’s a good question. The manufacturer of the ‘Flexstone’ brand is a company called Design Imaging, so you may want to check with them about specific testing to see if this unit will work for your application. That material is a 1/4″ thick PVC and does have ‘flexibility’ inherent in it’s design, so my ‘gut feel’ is it will work – but to error on the side of caution you may want to check with the manufacturer. Another panel system you may want to consider are the laminate wall panels. Since they’re made is 2′ x 8′ sections which ‘click together’ (like laminate flooring) – they don’t have as big of sections which can be helpful in rooms where the temperature will vary. I’ll include a link to it next. Mike – https://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/product/laminate-diy-shower-bathroom-wall-panels/
I am considering a PVC composite alcove shower wall kit. The kit I am looking at is made by Flexstone. This shower will be in a 3 season cabin in Maine. The cabin will be unheated in the winter with temps dipping to -20F and up to 90F during the summer.. My concern is that there will differential in the expanding and contracting rate between the panels and the backer board that may cause damage, leakage or lifting of the glue. The cabin is on a full concrete foundation so building shifting is not a concern during the seasonal changes.
Ed – no matter whether you’re installing a PVC composite panel (like Flexstone) or laminate wall panels you should add sealant between the tub deck and the panels. This is a very important joint to seal – just like it is to seal between a shower pan and the bottom of the panels in a shower. Let us know if you have any additional questions or call 877-668-5888. We do wholesale both the PVC composite and laminate wall panels – Mike
Do you recommend caulking the bottom edge of a laminate panel where it sits on the tub ? My concern is water might get trapped behind it if (or rather when) a silicone caulk fails. When I set my drywall I set it to the lip of the tub so it’s about 1/2 inch above the tub side. I also sealed the edges of the drywall and applied 2 coats of RedGuard over the entire backer board surface. I did a Flexstone install that came out really nice, but there’s no info anywhere in the instructions about caulking the bottom edge of the panel. The Flexstone kit only mentions using a silicone caulk on the vertical joint before final side panel installation.
Rose – thanks for your questions.
First regarding the best choice for a ‘medium priced- high quality’ tub surround option – I’d choose the laminate wall panels. They’re stylish. They’re durable. They have a lifetime guarantee. You can learn more about them by clicking here – https://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/bathrooms/laminated-diy-shower-bathroom-wall-panels
Regarding your second question you will very likely need to move the drain to go from the 60 x 32 soaker tub to the 60 x 40 garden tub. This may (or may not) be a major cost element. It will depend on what type of floor you have (if it’s a concrete floor it will be more expensive because the concrete has to be cut) and will be less expensive if you have wood joists underneath (especially if the joists run in a direction where nothing needs to be cut underneath). This question will be best answered by your contractor when they ‘look under the hood’ (or under the floor in the case of the bathroom) to tell you what’s involved.
Let me and my team know how we can help. We do sell several lines of shower wall panels you may want to check out. Mike (877-668-5888)
We are helping our daughter with an “unplanned” renovation of her bathroom. We are going with a new tub and wall surround. We’re trying to choose a medium priced quality option. What would you recommend? We are going from a 60”x 40” garden tub to a 60” x 32” soaker tub. Are we going to have to move all of the plumbing to match the new size tub? Is this a major deal $$$ to do this? It would be done professionally of course. Thank you for your input.
Al – while it’s not our preferred way to do it you can glue up panels (and screw them) to what’s behind the wall. The challenge I see with this is if there’s any moisture behind the tiles it will be trapped in there and could be a place for mold to grow. Feel free to call us at 877-668-5888 for more input – Mike
Condo building 40 yo plus. Can laminate panels be adhered (glued) to existing ceramic tile. My contractor wants to pour his own base because of concern for drain matchup. Can this work? How? How to deal with raw edges? Corners?
Kristine – right now (unfortunately) we don’t have an installing dealer in Connecticut, but if you like our products perhaps we could talk to your contractor about this. Sorry I wasn’t more help in your area. We have been growing our dealer network organically, but the United States is a big place! If we can help further call 877-668-5888 – Mike
I’m in Manchester Connecticut and I cannot find anyone who will install “wall panels” except Handy-Man who refuses to paint the Mapei water barrier on or primer.
The tile in intact. It just has an ugly “orange peel” paint job that is ugly.
I can buy FLEX-STONE wall panel kit at Home Depot with an alternate window-kit, as I have a window in my bathtub.
That is why I need to hire someone.
I appreciate any help finding someone in my area.
Chuck – thanks for your question. When it comes to bath to shower walk in projects there are a couple of products I can think will add to your style, without breaking the bank. The first are the laminate shower wall panels. They give an updated tile look, without the long-term tile maintenance. The other products are the contemporary acrylic shower pans with the matching glass enclosures. They are smartly styled – yet aren’t overly expensive. I’ve included links below. If me (or a member of my team) can assist you feel free to call at 877-668-5888. Now – here are the links….
I’m remodeling our bath and going from a standard size (60×30)1 piece tub/shower to a walk-in shower. I will be needing a good base and wall panels. I’m not looking to go cheapo but don’t want to spend thousands either. I’m a DIYer so I will be doing the install. Please send info on a good product to use and any helpful info on installing said product. Also my wife likes the faux stone in brown tones look. Thanks
Sharon – thanks for your comments and feedback about your client. It looks like you’re guiding them well! Since they like the ‘old farmhouse’ look I’d recommend the Antique Gray or Shabby Chic laminate wall panels. They’re not too expensive, yet’s they’re low maintenance (and who in their retirement home wants to clean grout joints anyway?) and simple to install. I’ve included a link here. We wholesale these panels across the country and have a growing network of installing dealers. Feel free to call us at 877-668-5888 if we can refer you to a dealer partner and/or quote on the product. Mike – here’s the link – https://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/bathrooms/laminated-diy-shower-bathroom-wall-panels
I’m so thankful for your posts on this topic. I’ve read many of them and found them to be very insightful and useful. I am in the Atlanta, Georgia, area and am building a small 2 BR/2 BA farmhouse for a client. In researching shower surround options for a non-standard sized shower, I came across one of your articles.
Cost is a major factor for this family and this is their retirement home. They’ve planned well and have spent and saved money in all the right areas at this point. As we’re finishing the interior, funds are tightening but they do not want to spend thousands on a traditional tile job.
Considering the odd size walls (48″L x 68″W x 96″H) in the master bath and cost conscienceness, any suggestions on a product? The owners do like the ‘old farmhouse’ look or something simple.
Barbara – the name of the company is KC Design Interiors. Call us if you need more information at 877-668-5888.
Can you give me the name and address for the Middletown NJ dealer?
Gary – we would be happy to help you. Our company wholesales shower wall panels – and in some markets even have installing dealers (if you need that service). Feel free to call us at 877-668-5888. Mike
Mike, I’m very interested in learning more, and buying some shower panels for my home. can you give me more info on how to get them? Gary
Rebecca – there are several wall panels which can do well in cabinets which are unheated in the winter. The ones I’d lead you towards are the laminated wall panels, solid surface or the PVC composites. All 3 of these products will withstand temperature variations. If we can answer any other questions feel free to call us at 877-668-5888. Mike
We are pretty experienced and confident DIY-ers and are looking at this product for a bathroom in our cabin . One of our concerns is that we close down the cabin in the winter time and it is totally on heated for three months or more in Pennsylvania where it can get below zero Fahrenheit.Have you had any experience or testing done in low temperature situations insofar as How the seniors will hold up and bring me a waterproof over time?
Merlin and Kay – since we ship across the United States we can get them directly to you. Call us at 877-668-5888 and I’m sure someone on our team will be glad to help you. Mike
Janis – thanks for your question. We are currently setting up a nationwide network of installing dealers. Give us a call at 877-668-5888 and we’ll look at our current list and see if we have someone close to you. If not, maybe the contractor you find might have an interest. We can lead them through the installation process as well. Mike
Terry – we are not in Ontario Canada, but we do carry our stock in Cleveland Ohio which is just across the water. Let me know if we can help further. Mike
Is there a innovatebuildingsolutions distributor in southern Ontario, Canada?
Looking and reading researching online, the products sound great
I did notice also there was not pricing shown
Larry – thanks for your question. For our laminate wall panel line we have a dealers in Auburn California and Mountain House California. Are they close to you? If not, we can wholesale our systems direct to you or your contractor and help your people through the installation process. Let me know how we can help! If you’d like to call for more insight the best number to reach us is 877-668-5888. Mike
Michelle – excellent question. There are 2 products in our line which may work. The one (which will be more expensive) is a ‘titan’ colored high gloss acrylic panel. They are sleek, contemporary and simple to install. They aren’t a ‘cheap date’ – they’re the most expensive wall panel we sell. I have included a link to this product here – https://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/bathrooms/high-gloss-acrylic-wall-panels
The other product you’ll want to check out are our laminate wall panels. We have a modern minimalist Concrete gray cement pattern and a 3D textured black slate (which is more gray than black in my opinion) which are stylish, easy to clean and more cost effective. I’ve included a link to it here – https://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/bathrooms/laminated-diy-shower-bathroom-wall-panels
If you like either of these lines we either wholesale direct, or in some markets we may have an installing dealer to refer you to. Feel free to call with additional questions at 877-668-5888 Mike
Sean – we recently set up a dealer in Middletown New Jersey who may be able to help you. He is representing our line of waterproof laminate shower wall panels. How close is Middletown to where you live? Mike
Jeanne – thanks for your question. We are in the process of setting up a nationwide dealer network, but we don’t have an authorized installer in Connecticut just yet. However, our products are simple to install and we have instructions on our site (and a team of people who can assist your contractor through the process). So if you’ve got a good contractor we’d be glad to guide him/or her through the process. Maybe they can become our next dealer! Thanks – Mike
Dianna – for the wall panels we recommend to remove the tile so you won’t have any concern about moisture behind the tile which can create a mold behind the wall. Feel free to call us at 877-668-5888 if we can help you any further.
Hi, to install should tiles be removed or do we install over the tiles? Thank-you.
Sharon – there are 3 tub systems our company works with the most. 1 – laminated wall panels, 2 – the PVC composite wall panels and 3 – the high gloss acrylic panels. What’s tough about picking one is they (like people) all have their strengths and weaknesses. If I could only pick one for my house I would choose the laminated wall panels. The reason is my wife and I love a contemporary look and we like to keep costs at a reasonable level (after all we have 3 kids who aren’t completely ‘off the payroll’ yet. I hope this helps you some. Feel free to call us (877-668-5888) and speak to one of our team and they can go deeper with your question.
Which is better….. an acrylic or a polystyrene tub surround?
Would love to see it. Any one near Norwalk CT have it on display?
Is there a professional in the area that could install
Hi, I’m looking for a showroom in New Jersey were i can see your products for a total renovation of my bathroom. I do not want to have any tile around my bathtub.
We are remodeling a very small bathroom (only one in the house) it is over 60 years tired! We want to have the cast iron tub refinished and a new surround installed. I love the look of glass tile and I’m wanting to stay in the grey family, the lighter the better. Do you have a product for us? We are on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
I am in Southern California and I need to re-do bathrooms in 5 apartments.
While I find your literature interesting (I want a little style to the shower enclosure walls), I am not interested in doing the work myself.
Do you have any correspondents in Southern California?
I really like the laminated shower wall panels, but can not seem to find a contractor familiar with them in my area. Do you have a recommendation? I live in Vancouver, WA, which is very close to Portland, OR. Thank you.
Miriam – thanks for your comment. While I don’t know of a showroom or a contractor yet in your area, we can wholesale these panels directly to you. Feel free to call 877-668-5888. Thanks for your interest – Mike
I live in Orange City, FL and am interested in replacing the tile walls in my showers with pvc composite panels. Do you know of a showroom in my area and a reputable installation contractor.
Merliln and Kay Pratt
Where can we get these panels close to Seymour Indiana?
Ken – we can certainly help you. While we don’t install in Dayton – we do have an excellent installing dealer we could recommend. I will send you an email so we can talk further.
Does your team ever provide assistance to customers in the Dayton area?
If not, can you recommend someone to contact?
Mary – we have a line of solid surface shower wall panels in a subway tile pattern I think may be a good fit. I’ll plan to call you to go over pricing with you. Mike
My landlord in Charlottesville va wants me to help locate a tub surround that looks like Corian with tile lines etched in, in plain white to replace existing plastic surround. Needs to be fairly modest cost. Do you have suggestions of product and supplier. Mary 617 694 3238.
Jill – there are 3 options I like the best. They are the 3/8″ thick solid surface, the 1/4″ decorative PVC composite panels and the (soon to be introduced) 3/8″ thick laminated wall panels. If you want the ones which look the most like tile the laminated panels are the best – IMHO. I’ll include links to 2 of the 3 products below (the laminated wall panel web page should be live later this week). Let me know how I can help next. Mike
http://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/bathrooms/diy-interior-shower-tub-wall-panels (PVC composite shower and tub wall panels)
http://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/bathrooms/solid-surface-shower-pan-wall-panels (stone solid surface bases and walls)
Kim – good question. With the ‘wood look’ panels you can use a ‘recessed niche” (that’s what we would call the built in shelf) with a ‘flange’ around it so no water can penetrate through the panels. Feel free to call us at 877-668-5888 for more input. Mike
Wayne – good questions. I’m going to post the web site for 3 of 4 of them (the 4th one I’m developing our web page for it right now – the laminated wall panels). let me know if we can assist you further on this. Mike
http://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/bathrooms/diy-interior-shower-tub-wall-panels (decorative PVC composite wall panels)
http://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/bathrooms/solid-surface-shower-pan-wall-panels (solid surface shower pans and walls)
http://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/bathrooms/high-gloss-acrylic-wall-panels (high gloss wall panels)