7 Essential Things Most People Don’t Think about When Buying Shower Wall Panels
‘So, you’ve had it up to here’ (as Mom used to say) with dirty, ugly, moldy grout joints in your shower.
You’ve told your spouse, either this tile shower goes, or I do.
You’ve started ‘kicking the digital tires’ for a solution. You’re comparing different shower wall panels systems from acrylic to cultured granite to PVC composite to laminated wall panels. You’re almost ready to pull the trigger and plunk your money down.
However, there’s still something gnawing at you. You still feel you’re missing some details you need to make the right choice.
This uncertainly when buying shower and bathroom wall panels is common. Many homeowners (and even professional contractors) don’t have experience with the products out there. You’re a rookie and don’t want to screw up!
The question becomes how can you make sure you’ve thought of (almost) everything before you make the best choice for your project?
That question is what this article is looking to answer. My goal here is simple. I want to point out 7 essential things (along with a few pointers) most people don’t think about (but should) when buying shower wall panels.
I want you to get it right…. the first time.
So, without further delay let’s dig into these 7 essential things.
#1 – Figure out if you’re capable of installing these panels if your contractor bails on you
OK, Seinfeld fans do you remember the episode where George was bummed because he had ‘no hand’ (‘er that would mean the upper hand) in his relationship with his girlfriend? If not, I’ve put a link to it for a few laughs below.
You may be wondering what having the upper hand has to do with an article about buying shower wall panels. Well in any ‘negotiation,’ whether it’s debating driving privileges with your 16-year-old son or daughter or hiring a contractor to install a new shower system you’ve got to recognize who has ‘hand’ in the relationship (this is who has a stronger position).
After the economy tanked in 2008, you’d be darn-well-sure, you could sleep comfortably knowing it would be easy to find a competent bathroom remodeling contractor who wouldn’t bail out on you in the middle of a job. You had ‘hand.’
They needed the work. Any small morsel of a job was welcome to keep their businesses afloat.
Today’s it’s a different world. After the recession in 2008 many contractors left (and didn’t return) to the remodeling industry. Now with an expanding economy (certainly a welcome thing), it’s a different world.
Your ‘contractor is king.’ They know they’re in demand. I’ve heard horror stories from homeowners of contractors walking out in the middle of a job. They knew they priced the job too low or took on more than they could chew. So, they did what a cowardly person would. They bailed. They left you hanging with a half-done job. Do you know anyone this has happened to?
Since you could be the victim of this ‘contractor-bailed-on-me’ problem I recommend before you buy shower wall panels you think through your ‘Plan B’ and have to install them yourself.
Ask yourself, “How comfortable would I be installing this shower wall panel system myself?” Would my wall panel choice be really heavy, cumbersome and prone to cracking for a DIY’er (like cultured stone)? Would it be ‘too thin and flexible’ (like acrylic) where you’ll feel like you’re installing pieces of spaghetti on a wall (OK – as an Italian that sounds tasty to me – or at least until the soap gets on it – but I digress).
If cultured stone and acrylic feel like shaky options to you, I’d recommend your ‘Plan B’ self-installed wall panel system be laminated shower wall panels or PVC composite.
The laminated wall panels are 2’ x 8’ x 3/8”. They’re sturdy and only weigh 26 lbs. and can be installed by one person.
Another good option are decorative PVC composite walls. While they come in larger sheets, they’re 2x thicker than acrylic and simple to cut.
Whatever you decide, make sure you pick a system you could self-install (or find someone who could help you with it).
#2 -Think through whether running the panels up to the ceiling is as good an idea as you think
In theory, running your shower wall panels to the top of your 8’ ceiling is a fantastic idea. When you run the panels all the way up there is ZERO painting you need to do down the road.
The problem with this strategy is twofold. First, your ceiling isn’t as level as you think (it might be 95 ½” on one end and 96” high on the other, for example). Second, if you try to be ‘too perfect’ with your height and cut your wall panels too big you can crack a panel during installation (this is especially true with cultured granite).
To remove your installation anxiety (and spend a few less bucks) install either 84” or 90” high panels. It will make your installation simpler. It won’t make your ceiling height variation noticeable, and there is still minimal painting in the 6-12” strip above.
#3 – Could I save a few bucks using a system which requires less expensive backer boards?
Most shower wall panels are installed by gluing or screwing them to a backer board. The time, cost and aggravation of installing the backer board system are often overlooked factors in choosing shower wall panels.
Many wall systems (including culture stone, acrylic and PVC composites) are glued up using moisture resistant green board as the backer.
However, if you want to save a few bucks go with a screw up wall panel. One example is the laminated wall panels. With a direct to stud approach you’ll only need 1” x 6” furring strips or Oriented Strand Board (OSB) as a backer (which costs less than green board).
#4 – Are there hidden maintenance costs to these panels?
Don’t you hate hidden costs? OK, I’m sure you and I both realize there no certainties in life (except dying and paying taxes – unless you’re a ‘select politician’). However, you don’t want to have maintenance costs and hassles you didn’t anticipate.
It was weird when learned about a hidden cost just last month of a product my business has been selling for years. This hidden cost cropped up when I learned you have to reseal matte finished cultured granite shower panels. I never knew this before.
What people won’t realize is this small hidden cost of cultured granite can be eliminated (even if you want matte look) with other lines. For example, with a matte finished laminated wall panel system there are zero sealants needed on the top surface – EVER (say that in your best Valley Girl voice).
Try to uncover hidden costs. Stamp them out before you get snagged into paying for them down the road.
#5 – Can the cuts be ‘fudged’ if I’m a klutz?
If you’re being real you know you ‘resemble’ the following:
- Statement 1) You wouldn’t being DIY’ing this job if you had the bucks to pay someone else to do it.
- Statement 2) You’re not exactly Bob Villa, Chip Gaines or Tim the Tool Man Taylor with a saw in your hands.
Also, if you decide to install your own shower wall panels, you may need to follow a slightly revised version of the famous line from A Few Good Men when Lieutenant Nathan R. Jessup would say to you because he knows your such a klutz, “You need fudge factor when installing these wall panels. You want fudge factor when installing these panels.”
Given your ‘lack’ of expertise you’ll want a system which is not only simple to cut but can ‘absorb’ bad cuts also. The ‘Ultimate Fudge Fighting Factor’ wall panel system I know is the decorative PVC composite. It has 3” inch wide trim flanges which give you a lot of distance (hidden behind the flanges) to screw up!
#6 – Will my shower wall panel choice look dated 5 or 10 years from now, or should I care less about this?
So, you’re looking at the 4” x 4” molded patterned acrylic wall shower wall panels you bought 5 years ago which you thought looked marvelous (at the time). Today there as dated as big hair and leisure suits. The tiny faux tile pattern makes the space feel smaller and out of style.
When it comes to shower wall panel styles you need to have an eye on the long-term when deciding on a color, pattern or texture. For example, while I love, love, love these hot fire-engine-red bathroom wall panels, I also think I’d get tired of them (and it may be hard to resell the home because they’re a powerful color).
If you know you won’t be in this home forever, you’ll want to lean right (OK – definitely not making a political statement here) and be more conservative. More conservative choices are less patterned walls (it could be smooth solid surface) or matte finished large format wall panels.
If you don’t care about resale, then use whatever the heck you want and live your life with a sense of YOLO (You Only Live Once). That’s not a bad thing either.
#7 – Understand a ‘cover-over’ wall system can be a dangerous ‘coverup’
Ever been a ‘victim’ of a pushy ‘Bath-In-A-Day” acrylic wall panel sales presentation which pushed their quick-installation process? They cover over your old ceramic tile and complete the job in a day. This concept sounds good because having a contractor in your home is a pain.
Although this ‘slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am’ (or sir, to be politically correct) concept sounds good until years later when your daughter gets sick because of mold buildup behind the old tile wall (which is buried behind the new acrylic wall).
You realize this quick installation ‘cover-up’ also covers-over moisture problems brewing behind the wall. Now it’s going to cost you thousands of dollars to pull everything out and get to fresh materials behind the wall.
As my Dad would say, “Don’t be penny-wide and pound foolish.” Even if the shower wall panel installation takes 2 days, isn’t it better knowing for the few dollars (and one extra day) you’re spending today, you won’t have to worry about a disastrous expense tomorrow?
Insist on fresh materials behind the shower wall panels. No cover-ups please.
I know there’s a lot to think about in making the best shower wall panel selection and I’ve put a few more things on your list (you’re probably thinking – sarcastically – ‘Thank you very much Mike!’).
Sorry about that. However, my goal in this article was to outline things most people don’t think about and cut down hidden costs (or problems) down the road.
If this shower wall panel decision is too complex and you want someone to guide you through the selection process, me and my team (which includes Georgia, Michelle, Michelle, (yes there’s 2 Michelle’s!) Terry, Kerry, Ryan, Diane and Jeff) would be honored to help.
Click on the links below or give us a call.
How can I (or a member of my team) help you?
Call us at 877-668-5888 (for nationwide wholesale supply or a connection to a local installing dealer of laminated wall panels). For a local project call 216-658-1280 in Cleveland or 614-252-3242 in Columbus for professional installation service.
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 877-668-5888.