5 Critical Questions to Choose the Right Type of Shower Base
Updated October 24, 2021
Isn’t it a pain trying to plow your way through the material choices and products in a bathroom remodeling project? What is the best type of shower base? Should you get a wall mounted vanity or a furniture grade unit which sits on the floor? Should you go with a single or double bowl vanity? The list goes on and on.
When it comes to remodeling a shower, I would argue the single most important decision is the shower base (or shower floor or pan as some call it). Why do I say the base is so critical? Well – the base is the foundation of the shower. Just like your home – if the foundation of your shower cracks or gets moldy “Houston, you have a big problem!”
Failure of your shower floor pan can cause leaking onto the floor below and result in needing to redo your entire shower (the glass enclosure, interior shower wall surround panels and base) and whatever additional repair work is needed in the level below. My Dad used to tell me, “Mike – don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.” Buying the cheapest pan you can find (or hiring somebody who doesn’t know what they are doing install a site built pan for you which fails) can have disastrous results (and be penny-wise and pound-foolish as my Dad used to say).
How do you keep the bathroom remodeling project you’re doing today from being a nightmare home improvement failure of tomorrow? It begins with asking the right questions. In this article, I’m going to give you the 5 critical questions you need to know to choose the right type of shower base. At the end give me your opinion which question you think is most important (and if there are other questions to add to the list).
Get Our Ultimate Shower Base Guide!
Step Up Your Bathroom by Stepping Down Your Shower Pan!
Critical question #1 to choose the right shower pan – How important is the initial purchase price?
I get it when people say their budget is tight. Since I’m funding 2 kids in college starting this Fall I can feel your pain. With that being said, if you plan to stay in this home for a while going cheap with the shower base can be a big mistake and bring back the famous slogan of the Fram oil filter commercial from the 1980’s “you can pay me now or you can pay me later.”
How much you spend should be determined by your goals for the property, who will be using it and what looks best for you. For example, if this home is an investment property in a low-priced neighborhood you plan to flip, it can make sense to choose a cheap fiberglass standard shower base (these pans will cost $150 to $300 range). If you want a nicer base where you can even get a few color choices an acrylic shower pan is a smart option (they run in the $250 to $900 if you buy a unique shaped acrylic pan).
The next level up is a cultured marble or solid surface shower pan (these units will range from $600 to $1,500 in standard sizes). For the custom sized cultured marble pans you can expect to pay between $800 and upwards of $2,500 (for a large one). To learn more about cultured granite shower pan costs read How much do custom and standard-sized cultured marble and granite shower pans cost or click on the image below.
Another popular choice is a site built concrete tile shower pan. The price of tile pans can be all over the board depending on local labor costs, the tile you choose and how intricate the pattern on the floor is.
Critical question #2 to choose the right shower base – Is style important?
If you’ve committed to remodeling your bathroom you are already determined to improve the looks of the space – otherwise you wouldn’t consider investing your hard-earned money in this project. If you want a stylish shower – with some color and shape – you won’t find it in a mass produced (and low-cost) fiberglass pan. To inject style – you’re going to pay more (but it doesn’t have to be a lot more). Here’s 3 cool ideas to get a stylish shower base without going crazy-over-the-top with your budget:
- Idea 1 – Choose a shaped acrylic shower base – There are fun bases like the curved acrylic pan below which not only give you a cost-effective way to get a sleek, contemporary curved glass shower, but also add elbow room in the process.
- Idea 2 – Select a solid surface low profile shower pan – With decorative low profile shower pan designs you can say goodbye to boring white and beige units. Who wants to live in a boring world anyway?
- Idea 3 – a custom made tile shower base – While tile pans are a pain to clean – they offer unlimited design possibilities. Choose large format tiles for a contemporary look. Use a fun colored mosaic. Go with pebble stone for a Zen-inspired feel.
Critical question #3 to choose the right shower base – Do you need a custom size?
In remodeling you’ve got to work with the “cards” (or shower shape or size in this case) you’ve been dealt. You may go to your local big box store and see the $250 shower pans and think – cool, we can afford this project. Then you go home and figure out you don’t have a standard 60 x 32, 48 x 36 or 60 x 36 shower pan where you’re entering on the 60″ or 48″ side. Now what?
Well – one option if your entry is not on the common side is to use a ‘flex-pan’ where the flanges are added DURING INSTALLATION. This gives you the flexibility to use a standard shower pan even if you’re entering on a ‘non-common’ side. In the image below you’ll see how an acrylic or cultured stone flex-pan can use the same pan for 5 different layouts!
If you need a custom pan (and standard sizes just won’t work) throw out standard fiberglass and acrylic pans as an option. Your choices come down to cultured marble, solid surface pans, one level wet room systems and custom tile pans. It’s nice to know you can still get an easy to install pan – even if you want to DIY and you need a custom size. What you’ll need before ordering a premade pan (like the cultured marble or solid surface option) is your stud to stud measurements. If you have a funky shape (perhaps a weird angled wall in the back or you need an offset shower pan because you have a stud wall in the front) – don’t fret – these style bases can made to size for you.
With a custom size, you can also opt for a site built tile shower or get a premade ready for tile shower pan. The premade ready for tile pans simplify the installation, are factory made and guaranteed not to leak (that’s huge). Check out the shots of one tile ready shower floor pan during (and after) the installation below.
Another option is to use a manufactured custom cultured marble shower pan. While they aren’t the lightest pans going, they offer you sizing options and are the ultimate in durability.
Critical question #4 to choose the right shower base – Who is going to use this shower? What type of shower entry do you need?
All shower bases are not created equal. Some have tall shower curbs. Some are designed with a lower “profile” (that’s an industry term for height) curbs. Some have no “barriers to entry” (this phrase reminds me of my college economics classes – which I’m strange enough to admit I liked) where you can roll in wheelchair in or walk in without stepping over a curb.
When choosing the best base you want to make your selection with an eye on not only who is going to use this shower today – but who might use it tomorrow.
If you have elderly parents do you think it’s possible they will need to live with you as they age? If so – a low profile or barrier free pan is a smart choice.
If you have young boys who will use and abuse their shower (I completely relate to this since I’ve got a 22 and 18-year-old sons whose bathroom is a mess until their Mom or I get on them) a durable solid surface pan will even stand up to young dudes like my sons. If somebody using the shower struggles with their weight, I would not recommend a fiberglass pan which can flex. A better choice is a stone shower pan which is as solid like a rock. And just look at some of the fun patterns you can get in low threshold stone shower pans.
Get Our Ultimate Shower Base Guide!
Step Up Your Bathroom by Stepping Down Your Shower Pan!
Critical question #5 to choose the right shower base – Are you the one who has to clean the shower?
It’s simple for members of your family who won’t be cleaning the shower – EVER – to tell you let’s do a tile shower. You know the problem isn’t the tile. The problem is tile’s unscrupulous buddy – the grout joint. You’ve experience the not-too-glorious-moments on your hands and knees cleaning the shower pan floor. You’ve said more than a few “choice” words while doing this dirty job you’re not planning on repeating at church on Sunday!
If you don’t want to (or can’t afford to) pay a cleaning service to deal with your grout joints, you’ll want to consider a grout free shower floor. Acrylic, solid surface and cultured marble bases are all sound choices.
They are easy to clean with soap and water and can add style to your shower floor. I would stay away from fiberglass pans. Once they get dirty it can be impossible to get the grime out of the bottom – no matter what cleaning product you use.
While the number of shower base choices is large – it’s not difficult to get this decision correct. Step back and think about who(m) will use this shower (both now and in the future). Figure out how much money you need to spend to get a base which won’t fail. Ask yourself if style and low maintenance are important. Finally, determine if you need a custom size.
How can I (or a member of my team) help you with these bathroom trends?
Don’t feel you have to “got it alone” to choose the right shower base. If you need input (or a supply source) to select a base you will install yourself call Innovate Building Solutions at 877-668-5888. If you want a professional bathroom design consultation in the Cleveland or Akron area contact Cleveland Design and Remodeling at 216-658-1270. Click here for a Free Design Consultation.
If you’re a remodeler or builder and want practical advice on remodeling products, industry trends, 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.
To get more remodeling tips follow me on Twitter @Mike_Foti or my company @InnovateBuild. I’m looking forward to connecting with you.
Gerard – an aluminum pan is an option. I like the look – and low maintenance aspect of solid surface pans better. Feel free to call our team if we can help further at 877-668-5888. Thanks for reading – Mike
I had a shower on a wood floor that leaked and rotted my floor.What do you think about building a aluminum pan.
Harjan – I have very limited experience with copper shower pans (most of them used in the United States are acrylic, cultured stone and fiberglass. I would learn more about the construction of the pan and how they seal the copper along the ‘flanges’ (the sides). Follow up with the base manufacturer and explain your problem and see if they can shed any light on it. Hope this helps – Mike
Finally we were able to complete our 26 years dream to renovate our house. The glasses shower (rain shower) was done and completed in 2019- Last July we saw the wall of glass panel- the paint were bubbles and peeling- We thought it could be bad paint job ( we checked -they were no leaks). We fixed the paints 3x-the issues kept coming back- we did tested- there were water came out from the glass sealant- The glass company replaced it with a new one-we redone the paints- In 2 weeks the same thing happened so we called our original plumber- He told us they were no leaks- it could be from the shower pan that our contractor ( they were on the same team) did not leave HIGH enough in the curb side (was folded). The base of shower pan is copper- at the beginning they told this is the correct material -copper- also they installed DURA ROCK-Now our plumber stated water could leak out from that area-curb side. I google this information ‘found out 80 % leaks will come from copper- What should we do to fix it properly-should we reach out to the original team or ask somebody -will the copper give us the same issue after being fix? It was a horrible 1 year renovation-we do not want to point finger- just want to move on and fix the issues.
Brian – I’m glad the response was helpful to you. It can be hard to get contractors to install a new product or use a new process for the first time. It adds risk to their project they like to avoid. Let me know if we can help further. Mike
Dennis – I am familiar with the Tile Redi pan, but I can’t tell you why the epoxy you used on this job is giving you problems. I would recommending calling both Tile Redi and the manufacturer of the epoxy to see if you mixed it right and how the 2 products interact. Thanks for your question! Mike
Having our bathroom remodeled they used the Tile Redi pan. That is the brand. Well they recommend a epoxy for laying tile. The epoxy they claim 72 hours to dry.
The epoxy was mixed according to directions. I have my suspicion this will not work. It’s been three days and the tile still moves. Suggestion on what to do?
Thanks for the feedback. My contractor clarified that its not about the seal. He refused my idea because they have never installed the Silestone 1=piece solid pan. I like the contractor, so exploring slab options that he is offering.
Again, I really appreciate the response.
Brian – I don’t know if I believe the warning at all about having sealant between the pan and tile walls (or any walls for that matter). In every system you’re going to have sealant between the shower pan and the wall panels (whether they are made of tile, quartz, solid surface, laminated panels etc. etc.).
The key is to properly waterproof your wall surrounds and to install them in the right order (the wall surrounds should be installed after the pan is set and these materials should be inside the ‘flange’ of the shower pan).
I would feel free to use whatever wall surround system you’d like – but make sure to do your waterproofing in the right order. If you have other questions (or want to kick around other wall panel options) – call me at 877-668-5888. Mike
I’m looking at custom-size solid stone options for my shower pan, The pan will also serve as the floor of a sunken tub (known as a Roman tub or Japanese tub) I”ve been warned off of using a solid surface because it requires use of silicone sealant between the pan and tile walls.
Since i intend to have quartz slab walls and am looking at a quartz shower pan,is this warning still valid? Thanks.
Wendy – you can certainly get a price from your stone contractor (they may or may not work with solid surface). In addition we would be happy to get you pricing on a system. Give us a call at 877-668-5888 and/or follow the web link here – http://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/bathrooms/solid-surface-shower-pan-wall-panels
Really appreciate the interest – Mike
I’m replacing a non standard tub/shower (60 x 30) finished walls. I’m using quartz for my three walls. I’d like to use a solid surface factory built solid surface floor for the project. Should I just get my stone contractor to bid it or source it myself?
You’re welcome Moira. Cleaning a fiberglass or tile shower can be difficult to impossible. The grout free shower pans (acrylic and solid surface) are gaining popularity for this reason. Let me know if I can help further. Mike
Thanks Debra – I’m glad you liked the article. My goal is to ‘take the mystery’ out of these products. Mike
Thank you for this shower pan article. It’s very helpful and much appreciated!
We’re redesigning our home and I’m excited to get working on the bathroom! I appreciate your advice here to think about cleaning when installing your shower floor. I hadn’t thought about it since we’ve never had a tile shower floor before, but cleaning that would be difficult with the grout! Thanks for the advice!