Solid Surface vs. Ready for Tile Shower Pans – The Ultimate Showdown
Updated June 14, 2020
If you’re looking to do a standard (or custom) sized shower pan and want something nicer than the cheap generic plastic white styles at your big box store it can be hard to figure out what option is best. Two popular alternatives in upgraded shower bases vs. fiberglass are solid surface and ready for tile pans. Here’s reasons both options beat the pants off the low-end fiberglass you desperately want to replace now:
Advantages of solid surface and waterproof ready for tile pans over fiberglass bases
They won’t yellow like fiberglass.
- You can choose your drain location. You don’t have the cost of moving plumbing around.
- You can create a custom shape to fit a curved design, custom NEO angle shape or an offset style pan.
- These bases won’t flex and squeak when you walk on them – even if you you’re not built like Victoria Beckham, Gigi Hadid or an anorexic supermodel.
- You can live life “in color.” You can either design your own tile pattern or choose from 51 varied solid surface colors.
- You can get these bases clean. It can be nearly impossible to get dirt off the bottom of a fiberglass pan.
While both these shower bases have it all over fiberglass – the challenge I see is homeowners (and contractors) struggling to know how to choose between solid surface and ready for tile. In this article I’m going to pit both shower pans against each other in the ultimate showdown. At the end I’d like to get your take on which is best.
This shower pan UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) won’t get you bloody or gross you out. It will save you money. You won’t make a bad shower base selection you’ll regret in a space you use every single day.
Let the rubber cleaning gloves come off and the battle of the shower bases begin.
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In this corner … The solid surface (AKA cultured marble) shower pan. Why a stone base beats ready for tile.
If you’re not completely sure what a solid surface shower pan is, it can be described as an engineered stone unit. It is solid, dense and made as one piece and ready to install. When people are confused about the term solid surface I say, “This material is like Corian (one brand of solid surface). They immediately get it.” Let’s look at 5 sound reasons to choose a solid surface shower pan over ready for tile.
5 reasons to choose solid surface over a ready for tile pan
Reason #1 – Throw out the scrub brush and get rid of grout maintenance
A tile shower base equals maintenance.
Maintenance equals a pain in your butt.
Yes – a tile shower looks very cool when it’s just completed, and tiles generally last a long time. However, with tile comes its evil stepsister – grout. Grout takes up your time (or paying someone) to clean it. With a solid surface base, you can have a party and throw out the evil scrub brush.
Reason #2 – You want to get this shower built – quick!
Since a solid surface shower pan is complete and ready to install there is no cutting, sawing or messy grout dust to deal with. Even with a ready for tile base you still have a dirty installation process installing the tile and floating in grout joints. With solid surface you can set it and get your wall panels up in the same day. If you’re a contractor, this base will cut your number of days on the job site (which helps profits go up). If you’re a DIY homeowner – who the heck wouldn’t rather be golfing or shopping vs. sweating over a tile shower installation?
Reason #3 – It’s simpler to do curved, arced or round shower pans with solid surface vs. a ready for tile unit
Have you ever tried to tile around a curved shower curb? This is not simple to do. The best way to make a curved tile curb look nice to buy an expensive solid surface shower cap to put above the tile (and this isn’t cheap). With a solid surface pan the curvature is already complete in the design of the pan. You don’t have to figure out how to finish it off. It is pre-engineered and ready to install.
Reason #4 – You can get solid surface shower wall panels to match the base – saving install time and creating a consistent look
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In most tile showers you have tiny mosaics on the shower floor (because the tile must conform to a steep slope to the shower drain) and larger tile on the walls (to lessen grout joints). This causes the floor tiles and wall tiles to be visually mismatched. Choosing a solid surface shower kit (i.e. base and walls combined) you get a shower base which can match the shower walls. Like we talked about in reason 1, you’ll save you precious time installing – meaning less sweat for you – and more time to enjoy life.
Reason #5 – You don’t get every color in the rainbow to choose from – but 51 solid surface colors give you plenty of options
The reason most people don’t want premade shower pans and walls is they are boring. Who wants to live in a white, almond and biscuit world anyway (unless you’re talking about eating buttermilk biscuits with butter – but I digress). With solid surface you can choose from 51 colored shower options (and 5 textures in the wall surfaces – including smooth, stone tile, subway tile, slate and matte finishes). If you multiply these together you have 255 possible combinations (I get these amazing math skills from 4 statistics classes I took at Carnegie-Mellon University – ha! ha!). In addition, it only takes 3 weeks to get these products to your door.
In this corner … The ready for tile pan. Why a tile ready pan beats solid surface
Now you’ve heard about the power of the first challenger – the solid surface shower pan. Let’s see what the ready for tile shower pan has going for it. In case you don’t know what a ready for tile shower pan is it is a “closed cell” (that’s technical geeky terms meaning it’s made of a Styrofoam like which won’t leak) unit which is waterproofed and ready to be tiled over. Let’s see what this challenger has up its sleeve.
5 reasons to choose a tile ready base over a solid surface pan
Reason #1 – It’s a “lightweight” and that’s a good thing
Have you ever tried to pick up a large solid surface shower pan, move it to a second floor and set it into a tight space? Even with 3 of your best buddies (they may not like you as much after helping you with the base) you know that job will be a pain on your back today (and tomorrow).
What’s cool about a ready for tile pan is it’s made of a closed-cell material (called expanded polystyrene) which is light – yet can even support the weight of a car over it without crushing after it’s installed. It’s nice to not have to struggle moving and installing the base.
Reason #2 – The initial purchase price of a ready for tile base won’t leave your pocketbook bloodied
Ready for tile pans are less expensive than solid surface ones – especially if you have a basic alcove design with straight shower curb and you’re going to do the installation yourself. When the designs has curves (which are used in a lot of walk in showers) the ready for tile pan is not as big a bargain as you originally think. As a matter of fact, I would say most people will actually pay less (when all the costs are in excluding the tile work, a curb cap etc.) for a cultured granite shower pan with a curve than a ready for tile pan. If you want even more information about the cost of the solid surface shower pan read How much do standard and custom sized cultured granite and marble shower pans cost or click on the image below.
Reason #3 – Vary the type of material you feel on your feet
Do you love the relaxing spa feeling of walking on a pebble tile floor? Maybe a fun Mexican themed mosaic shower floor will be a perfect way to coordinate the design theme of your bath remodel? With ready for tile floor pans you can use ceramic, porcelain, mosaics or even a pebble tiles on your shower floor pan. These options can add drama, fun and texture to your design.
Reason #4 – If sleek drains are your “thang” – ready for tile is the way to go
Linear (or trough drains as some like to call them) are becoming popular for two reasons:
- They give you a way to use larger tiles even on a steep slope shower pan.
- They look cool, sleek and contemporary.
Since ready for tile pans can be designed with linear drains and solid surface (at least to the date of writing this article) cannot – they have it all over their competitor here.
Reason #5 – Mix up sizes and patterns for a shower floor as unique as you
Bathrooms are not only functional spaces. Bathroom are also a visual expression of your personality. Maybe you’re into a sleek, minimalist contemporary look and you choose a shower floor with large format tile and a stainless-steel shower grate. Perhaps you love classic looks and install your tile in a running bond or herringbone pattern to create an intricate design.
What’s exciting about tile is you can use color, pattern and size to craft a design which fits you. With a solid surface pan – the color is the same throughout without a change in size or pattern.
Who is the winner of the Ultimate Shower Pan Showdown?
In your opinion which shower pan (the solid surface or ready tile pan) has won you over in this ultimate showdown? Why will you choose this style for your next project? Feel free to write your thoughts in the comment section below or give me a call.
Just like you, I have my own opinion on which pan I like best. If you want me to reveal this, you’ll have to call me on the numbers below to hear my personal favorite. OK – I ‘m just kidding you. I prefer the solid surface pan. Here’s why – I HATE, HATE, HATE maintenance (and so does my wife!). So which one would you choose?
Can I (or my team) help you design a standard or custom shower pan?
If you need help choosing a shower base, designing a complete shower system or with a bathroom remodeling project I (and my team) are here to help.
On a nationwide basis we provide factory-direct wholesale of ready for tile shower pans and solid surface bases. Just call Innovate Building Solutions at 877-668-5888.
If you have a local bathroom remodeling project, contact Cleveland Design and Remodeling at 216-658-1270 or The Bath Doctor in Columbus at 614-252-3242.
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Carolyn – we used to sell a shower with a ‘slice’ design – but it was discontinued about 3 or 4 years ago – plus it would have been too big for your space. What I’d recommend is a product called a ‘shower screen.’ With a shower screen you can create a walk in shower – even in a 47″ wide space (my guess is your actual size will be 48″ – which is the stud to stud measurement. I’m going to include a link to a web page where you can find shower screens. If you need more insight feel free to call us at 877-668-5888. Now here’s the link – https://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/product/fleurco-glass-shower-doors-enclosures/
I have a very small space and currently looking at a 27″ L x 47″ W shower base . I would love something that has no door but not sure if this size would allow. My plumbing would be on the 27″ wall. I have seen where they have shower pans that are called ‘ a slice’ design ,would that be something that could be done. Open to any ideas that would accommodate these measurements as I’m not wanting to redo plumbing or a total remodel,just taking out tub/ shower combo and wall on one end to open up the bathroom a little bit. Thank you for any ideas
Diane – I do understand what you’re looking for. You’re basically going to have walls on ‘3 1/2 sides.’ All of the walls will be framed with the exception of where the opening is. We can certainly make a shower pan which will work with this. Feel free to call us at 877-668-5888. We would be recommending our stone shower pans – and I’ve included a link to it below. Thanks for reading the blog! Mike
Hello, I would like to know if you make a shower pan for a shower without a door or shower curtain? We currently have a bathtub with glass doors. I want to take tub out and make walk in shower. I want to put a wall where one of the glass door currently close . I want to have a 3/4 wall on outer side. Where one of the Glass door are currently. So I end up with three full walls as most homes have with bathtub enclosures. Then a wall where one of the glass door would of been. . Then the opening to enter into shower would be where the other glass door would of been. The home improvement stores have pan
s but you have to use full glass doors. Do you understand what I am trying to ask you.
For a barge I would recommend the solid surface pan vs. the ready for tile. The solid surface has no grout joints and I’d want something with no joints to crack due to movement. Hope this helps – Mike
Would this work on a barge working in a small space
Clifford – since we do custom pans in both solid surface and ready for tile options I’m confident we can help you. Either feel free to call us at 877-668-5888 or check out the link to this custom cultured stone shower pan page – https://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/bathrooms/custom-cultured-marble-shower-pans-bases – Mike
I need a shower pan i have look at
Lowe’s and home depot and on line can’t find one that will work
Kathleen – thanks for your question. There are solid roll in shower pans – most of them have a ‘ramp up’ into the space and then ‘ramp down’ as you get towards the shower drain. There is also a new ‘shower base former’ product which is a ‘one level system’ (meaning there is no ramp up) which comes in a 63 x 36 size (but it can be cut to fit other sizes). Most of the ‘one level wet room’ products are tiled over, so I’m not sure if this will be your favorite approach given what you wrote me above. Give us a call and we’d be glad to get you any additional specific insights for your project. Mike
Can a solid pan be used for remodel to make the shower a roll in shower? Ideally the entire bathroom floor will be one level with no curb at all. I don’t want to put up any walls initially but will want to put up one glass wall once some expected mobility issues are improved through surgery.
I’m frustrated with our current tiled shower because it leaks and has to replaced after only 7 years, I don’t want to do it wrong again.
If I want to make the entire bathroom floor waterproof with a drain in one corner (9 x 9 room) would you have a recommendation?
Becky – good question. There is nothing wrong with doing a tile shower pan – if it’s done right. Many contractors do a “mud pan” shower base (it is done by hand at the site which they slope themselves) and the waterproofing of a system like this is only as good as the individual field technician who is doing it. We sell a waterproof ready for tile shower pan which eliminates these worries because it is presloped and waterproof right out of the box. There are also some other “site built” waterproofing shower base system which are also waterproof. So – I would tell you it is OK to do a tile pan – if the right system is used. If you have any additional questions about this feel free to call me and I’d be glad to help. Mike
We are doing a bathroom renovation and the contractor is doing everything to talk us out of a tile shower floor. He states he makes a lot of his money tearing out bad ones.
Wouldn’t that mean they were installed wrong.
I’m afraid a solid surface takes away from the warm look of the room and the tile we chose for shower walls.
Any thoughts .
Andrew – every pan will have a slope to the drain point – whether it’s a standard pan or a custom pan. We would be glad to help you with either. Feel free to call us at 877-668-5888 or go on our site and fill out the form. Thanks – Mike
I am interested in a solid pan for a remodel I am doing. Do you have to design the pan to have a slope to the drain point? Thanks