The Top 10 Common Shower Wall Surround Panel Misconceptions
Updated July 5, 2020
Susan goes to neighborhood big-box store in search of shower wall panels to replace the tile shower she’s sick of cleaning. What she finds is NOT impressive. Plastic-looking, boring, wafer-thin white piles of junk she wouldn’t be caught dead with in her home. The guy in the orange smock was clueless on how to install these panels – once she was able to track him down. When she left – dejected and without a solution – she thought, “I guess this wouldn’t have worked anyway. The size of my shower is not a standard 36″, 48″ or 60″. I suppose I’ll settle for another high-maintenance tile shower.”
Can you relate to Susan’s story?
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation, misconceptions and just bad input about shower wall surround panels in the market. Sometimes this bad information comes from contractors who want to do what they “always” do – give you a tile shower (of course they don’t have to maintain it). Employees at big-box stores are well meaning. However, it’s impossible for them to be an expert on the options and installation details of the 35,000 SKU’s (stock keeping units) in their store. When you look at the shower wall panels the big-box stores carry they are mass-produced and of low quality.
How do you sift through what’s fact and fiction about shower wall panels and get a system which will work for you and is nice enough you’d want them in your home?
I’m here to blow up the misconceptions in the marketplace. I’ve seen too many homeowners get “coerced” by contractors (or received bad advice from part-time retail employees) and make bad shower remodeling (tiles and panels) choices they are stuck with for years.
In this article my goal is to help inform you about “fake news” when it comes to shower wall panels. At the end feel free to add misconceptions #11,12, 13 and 14 you’ve learned during your research. As Joe Friday on the old TV shower Dragnet might say, my goal is to provide you with, “Just the facts, ma’am.” Let’s check out the top 10 misconceptions (they are in no specific order) about shower wall panels.
Misconception #1 – All shower wall panels are cheap , wafer-thin and plastic looking – cultured stone & laminated wall panels will show you otherwise
What you see in the big-box stores is not the universe of shower wall panels. Before you decide on using panels check out the 3/8″ thick, durable solid surface shower surrounds. They have a lifetime guarantee and are built to last.
As a matter of fact, I worked with a Maintenance Manager of a university in Virginia who used them in 33 men’s dorms rooms. Now – if you have any young men this age (I’ve got two aged 18 and 23) you know TLC, shower maintenance and these guys don’t go together. These panels are not cheap, but will hold up whether they are in your rental home or your boy’s bathroom.
Another thick and durable wall panel system are laminated wall panels. These 2′ x 8′ panels are also 3/8″ thick – and come in fashion-forward styles which fit cool styles like Modern Farmhouse, Modern Minimalist and Transitionalist. What’s also nice is since they click, lock and seal together using the 2′ x 8′ panels they are far simpler to install than a 60″ x 96″ panel using the solid surface mentioned above. This style is not only well-received in single family homes, but also is popular for contemporary hotel showers and for modular home bathrooms:
Misconception #2 – You’ve got to be specially trained to install these panels
In most cases installing shower wall panels is not difficult and can be done by a DIY homeowner, handyman, professional contractor or factory worker putting together a prehab home shower. In this project you’re making cuts into the panels for the shower valve and head and/or trimming to fit if your walls are out of square (yes – most of them are out of square). You’ll either be applying adhesive to the back and set the panels onto backer board or with the laminated wall system you simply screw them to the studs (with no backer board material).
Misconception #3 – Shower wall panels only come in white and beige – BORING!
When you go to remodel your shower, your goal is to upgrade. You don’t want to put up with the dirty bottom fiberglass shower pan and walls the builder slapped in when the home was built. Boring white and beige surrounds are out of the question. This is a big reason people choose tile. There are various colors and patterns to put style into your bathroom. What’s nice is fashion and color are not mutually exclusive with shower wall panels.
If you want color which pops and adds light which bounces off the surface you’ll want optical grade high gloss wall panels. Another option – with equally cool colors are the laminated panels. You’ll see a fun ‘blue sky’ pattern below.
If you’re a fan of pattern (and low maintenance) these DIY friendly shower panels come in 20 different granite patterns – without the cost of granite or the maintenance.
Put an end to boring. Put an end to maintenance. Choose these acrylic high gloss or laminated high gloss panels. Doesn’t your bathroom experience deserve some fun?
Misconception #4 – Shower panels are less expensive than tile
I wish this was a true. If you buy home center shower wall panels (think fiber reinforced plastic (FRP) or fiberglass) they will be cheaper than tile (but then again, they look the part). Let’s face it, these 2 types of panels will not get your bathroom in House Beautiful any time soon.
For the better-looking shower wall panels if you use a decorative PVC composite faux stone wall panels (see below) , solid surface or laminate wall panels the pricing will be comparable to tile (especially if you’re looking to have your tile professionally installed). If you want to dig into 5 (moderately priced) – yet stylish wall panels consider reading the 5 Best DIY Shower Wall Panels You Can Buy Under $1,750 .
There are some cool wall panels (like the high gloss ones mentioned above) which are more expensive than tile (but they add wow factor).
Misconception #5 – Panels are always installed directly to the studs
This is true…and it’s not true. Most shower wall panels (including the PVC composite and cultured stone options (which are waterproof by design) are installed onto a moisture resistant backer board for support. The laminated wall panels are installed direct to the studs.
Misconception #6 – You need specialized saws, drills and equipment to do this job
Common woodworking equipment like circular saws, jig saws and hole saws will work fine. Depending on the type of wall panel you choose look at the manufacturer’s instructions before cutting or drilling for the best results.
Misconception #7 – You can only get shower wall panels in standard sizes
Often people with custom sized showers choose tile because they assume (incorrectly) this is their only option. For example, solid surface shower wall panels can be pre-cut to the exact size of your walls – saving you time and pulling all of your tools out.
Other panels (like high gloss and the decorative faux stone panels) are simple to take standard sizes and cut to fit odd sized or shaped walls, vaulted ceiling or angled corners. The laminate wall panels also use a simple tongue and groove system where you can cut the last panel in the wall to fit any sized shower.
Misconception #8 – Panel thickness is critical if the people using it won’t show the shower TLC (tender loving care)
While it’s nice to have thicker panels – the most important thing in showers where the people using them won’t treat them well (can you say boy’s bathrooms, rental homes, hotels and motels) is to choose a panel system where the color or pattern is not only “skin deep.” In this situation even if there is a slight scratch you won’t notice it because the color is throughout the panel. Solid surface is a good choice in these cases because the color is throughout the 3/8″ thickness of the pane.
Misconception #9 – I have to use cement board behind the panels which is a pain to work with
I agree with you, working with cement board (which is heavy, cumbersome and not easy to cut) is not pleasant. However, with grout free panels since the wall units are waterproof you only need to use moisture resistant green board behind them. This will save you time and aggravation vs. cement board (which is usually used for tile jobs).
Misconception #10 – I should make the wall panels the same height as my existing shower
The nice thing about remodeling is if you (or the original builder or previous owners) didn’t get it right the first time – you can make it right this time. Not running the wall panels to the ceiling (especially in an 8′ high ceiling) is not a good idea IMHO (in my humble opinion). Why have your shower head stick out of a drywall wall? Why repaint the top of your shower if you don’t have to? If your budget permits, run panels to the ceiling. Value your time enough to blow up the need for future maintenance. Here’s 2 examples where cultured granite shower wall panels and the laminated shower wall panels were run to the ceiling. It looks better and save you the aggravation of needing to repaint down the road.
As they (whoever “they” are) say, don’t be fooled by cheap imitations (bad substandard wall panels) or bad information. Before you remodel your shower take time to research the best options for you. Seek out articles on the Internet, on Pinterest or talk to contractors and friends (who know what they are talking about). Seek out experts who work with these panels day in and day out before accepting you have to use tile or cheap standard fiberglass tub/shower units you see in your local home center store.
How can I (or my team) help you?
If you’re looking for input or high-quality choices in grout free shower wall panels for your home or shower panels for senior housing, on a nationwide basis call Innovate Building Solutions at 877-668-5888. For a local bathroom remodeling project check out Cleveland Design and Remodeling (216-658-1290) of The Bath Doctor in Columbus Ohio (614-252-3242).
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.
If you’re in the building business, click here if you’d like to learn how to become a shower wall panel dealer or call and ask for Mike at 888-467-7488
Walter – feel free to call our team at 877-668-5888. Thanks for reading – Mike (I’ll also send you an email).
walter F washburn
Brenda- I’m glad you found the article informative. It’s important to thoroughly research your options – because there’s no perfect wall panel system (they all have their strengths and weaknesses – and any supplier who tells you otherwise isn’t telling the truth – IMHO. For the money my favorite are the laminate wall panels followed by the PVC units – they both look stylish, are good values for the money and pretty straightforward to install. If me – or my team – can help you feel free to call 877-668-5888. Mike
This was THE most informative info I have come across in researching my options for a shower remodel. I, too, considered the Maax Utile system, but was scared off by some of the reviews. We have been in our home 24 years and we’re only doing this once. I always Thought a fully tiled shower what is the best, but now I see other options. Although, I don’t want to get stuck with the big box options w/o fully researching. Your comments and suggestions seem first hand and with much experience and I thank you for that. I’ll keep following your articles.
Thanks Destiny. In construction it can sometimes be hard to find educational content because a lot of good contractors are not fond of writing. I’m glad this article was of value to you. Feel free to reach out (or if I can add value to your contracting client also). Mike 877-668-5888
I’m doing some research to help one of my contracting clients educate DIY enthusiasts on proper shower surround components. This was a great source for me to get the information I needed. This topic doesn’t have nearly enough good sources, and I’m commenting to thank you for your honesty and straightforwardness.
Drew – thanks for your questions. I have never competed with or come into contact with the Utile shower panels – so I can’t comment on them. Regarding the Kohler Choreograph line its a pretty good product – although Kohler in all honesty did a terrible job rolling out this product about 2 years ago. I like the 3D textured panels they have. The one drawback is the maximum size you can get is 60 x 96 panel which means if you have a longer wall you need to use seam pieces (there’s don’t look bad – but it’s always nicer to do without seams if you can). My favorite wall panels systems are solid surface products by Onyx and a PVC composite wall panel system – which is quite stylish. I will include links to both of these below. If you want any further information feel free to call our company and ask for me if you’d like – Mike
http://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/bathrooms/solid-surface-shower-pan-wall-panels (solid surface)
http://innovatebuildingsolutions.com/products/bathrooms/diy-interior-shower-tub-wall-panels (PVC composite wall panels)
We live on the west coast and are looking at Utile shower wall panels, Kohler Choreograph, and others. My question is I read some pretty scary reviews regarding Utile shower panels and glass doors on http://www.consumeraffairs.com. But there aren’t a lot of reviews out there. Perhaps the bad reviews don’t really reflect the reality for most buyers?
Can you provide any insights into the Utile, or the Kohler system for that matter, from the standpoint of quality, safety, value/prices, etc?
Regards and thanks for any help,