So, you want to know how much your shower wall panel project will cost. Here’s my answer….
OK – I know the ‘Switzerland’ answer I just dished out isn’t exactly what you were looking for!
However, it’s true. Here’s the ‘it depends factors’ you need to know.
- “It depends factor #1” – The type and cost of the panels will vary. – Prices of the individual panels vary greatly. At the bottom of the barrel you have FRP (fiberglass reinforced plastic), fiberglass and acrylic. In the ‘solar-plexus (as they used to say in the Championship wrestling matches I used to watch), or in the pricing ‘mid-section,’ you’ll find cultured stone, solid surface, laminated wall panels and PVC composites. Lastly, for the penthouse suite of wall panels you’ll find quartz and optical grade high gloss panels.
- “It depends factor #2” – Your labor costs will not be equal across wall panel lines – Not all wall panels are created equal. Some can be cut and hung on the wall quickly with no backer board and done as a one-person job. Others are heavy, awkward to move and you’ll need two people.
- “It depends factor #3” – Standard and custom shower kits will range in availability and pricing – With some panel options you’ll find shower kits (both standards and custom) in virtually any size. With other lines (especially the cheap ‘crank them out’ standard units), kits are only stocked in the fastest turning shower and tub sizes.
Just like real life, shower wall panel project costs (and choices) are more complicated than you think at first glance. Material prices and regional labor cost variations (obviously the labor in Des Moines Iowa is a tad – or more than a tad – lower than New York City) factor in.
So, at this point you may be asking, “Mike, how do I get beyond this ‘it depends’ B.S. and get to the ‘brass tacks’ (whatever brass tacks means anyway). I want a straight answer and know what I need to budget for this project. I need to know if I can afford these panels. I need to know if I can afford to have someone else put them up for me or if I’ll need to roll up my sleeves and DIY the job.”
These questions are exactly what this article is about. While prices can (and will) vary regionally, I’ll give you ballpark ranges. In addition, I can (and will) give you pointers on how to save a few bucks along the way.
So, enough talk already. It’s time to pull out your pencil, we’ll talk turkey about prices and deal with the part of the project everyone loves to HATE – spending the bucks to get the job done. For comparison purposes I’ll look at the most common sized tub/shower area which is 60” x 32” (obviously a smaller shower will be less, and bigger, more custom ones will be more expensive).
Cost Factor #1 Shower Wall Panel Material Costs (comparing a 60” x 32” x 96” shower wall panel system)
The low cost (bottom of the barrel) shower wall panels – FRP, fiberglass and acrylic
- FRP (Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic) – These .090” thick panels don’t look pretty, but you can get ‘er done with them if you’re looking for a quick flip in a low-rent section of town. They come in 4’ x 8’ sheets, cost about $35 a panel (you’ll need 4) and will have to be seamed in the back. All in with adhesives and trim pieces I’d budget for the 60 x 32” size about $200 to $300 depending on regional price variations. You can cut them custom to size, but this installation won’t be the ‘Taj Mahal’ of wall panels.
- Fiberglass – Most fiberglass systems are direct to stud installations and cost between $300 to $450 and are 72” to 74” tall. They are cost-effective, but only available in standard sizes with no ability to customize. They are 1/8” thick (a bit thicker than FRP), but not substantial by any means.
- Acrylic – Acrylic wall panels are chosen over fiberglass and FRP because they don’t fade or yellow. They do need to be installed over a backer board (a moisture resistant green board will work) and are priced for the 60” x 32” size in the $600 to $800 range. Acrylic panels can be customized, but if you’re looking to buy them ‘retail,’ good luck. The ‘bath in a day’ companies who install acrylic panels in standard or custom jobs refuse to wholesale if you’re looking to DIY the job.
Mid-priced shower wall panels – PVC composite, cultured stone/solid surface and laminated wall panels
- PVC composite– Decorative PVC composite wall panels are digitally printed with decorative stone images and at ¼” thickness are 2x thicker than the options above. They’re available in standard and custom sizes. A standard 80” shower wall panel kit will range from $1,000 to $1,300 and for a 96” size from $1,450 to $1,800. You can also buy them in ‘a la carte’ sizes with trim pieces for a custom shower. This installation is doable for a DIY’er or professional contractor.
- Cultured stone and solid surface – Most cultured stone or solid surface panels are 3/8” thick (3x thicker than the products in the low-price category) and can be purchased through retail chains or through a specialty wall panel wholesaler in standard sizes (most often you’ll find 72”, 84” or 96” heights). In addition, they can be customized for non-standard sizes and manufactured in made to order sizes (that can mean no cutting for you). In the 60” x 32” x 96” size expect to pay between $1,100 to $1,900 (shorter sizes will be less).
- Laminated wall panels – These 3/8” thick waterproof wall panels click, lock and seal together (like laminate flooring) and come in a 23.6” x 94.4” size. Since they’re made in modular sizes (and can be cut to size), they can be used for standard or custom sized showers. The price for a 60” x 32” x 94.4” system will range between $1,300 and $1,700.
High priced shower wall panels – Optical grade high gloss acrylic and marble shower panels
- Optical grade high gloss acrylic – Although these high gloss acrylic panels are only 3/16” thick, they make up for their lack of thickness in ‘cool factor.’ If you want the sleek, contemporary look of back painted glass for a Euro-inspired bathroom with style, this product is for you. The price may knock you off your chair (for a 60 x 36 x 96 system expect to pay between $3,200 to $3,600), but their styling is unforgettable.
- Marble slabs – Perhaps the classic luxury leader would be marble shower wall slabs. The cost of these slabs can depend on the marble slab you choose, but in all cases, they will be ultra-expensive. Expect to pay $4,000 to $8,000 for the marble alone. This product won’t be a ‘cheap date’ and its maintenance won’t be simple either. However, if you have the money to buy these panels, you’ll likely have the money for someone else to maintain them.
Cost Saving Tips for Factor #1 – Shower Panel Material Prices
As you can see from the list above shower wall panel prices can vary greatly. Before you make your choice, use the following tips to save money (and aggravation).
- Cost saving tip #1 – Make sure you get can get your favorite panels wholesale. Figure out if they can be cut to size. For example, with acrylic walls most companies who install them refuse to wholesale them (so all you find on the wholesale market are standard sizes, which may or may not work). Before you get too far look for a shower wall panel dealer who can sell it direct to you or has a network of installing dealers (if DIY isn’t your bag).
- Cost saving tip #2 – Make sure you ‘get the full material cost’ before buying – While the numbers above included estimated costs for adhesives, they didn’t include the backer board. Some systems use no backer board (i.e. they’re direct to stud), while others use more expensive green boards or cement boards. Make sure you’ve got a ‘complete price’ so you don’t have unexpected costs you’re sucking up along the way. (see Cost Factor #2 about backer boards below).
- Cost saving tip #3 – Make sure you know delivery costs and taxes – If you’re buying heavy materials like cultured stone or marble slabs the cost to get them to your property can be significant (and if you do your own delivery you’ll have to ‘sweat’ breaking them along the way). In addition, sometimes buying out of state can be cheaper than in-state if you can buy them without tax. Make sure to get a complete tally of material costs including delivery and taxes.
Cost Factor #2 Shower Wall Panel Backer Boards
Sometimes what you don’t see is as important as what you do see.
You need to make sure the wall panel materials you analyzed in ‘cost factor #1’ are put on the right backer board so they’ll be sturdy, adhered properly and the wall won’t bow or fail. So, you’ll want the right backer board materials (which vary in cost). I’ll take you from the least expensive backer board to the most expensive and give you an idea of which ones are used with each wall panel system.
- Direct to stud – In many cases a ‘direct to stud’ application means the product is screwed into the wood framing behind the wall. You’ll see this with Fiberglass wall panels. Another direct to stud application are the laminated wall panels below which are screwed onto wood furring strips or OSB (Oriented Strand Board). A direct to stud project will be the lowest cost backer board approach.
- Green board – Moisture resistant green board is simple to work with. You’ll buy this product in 4’ x 8’ sheets which are ½” to 5/8” thick. Expect material costs between $50 to $80 per 60” x 32” shower. You’ll find green board backer boards used in most wall panel systems including FRP, acrylic, PVC composites, cultured stone, solid surface and the optical grade acrylic mentioned above.
- Cement board – Thank God most wall panel systems don’t need cement board. A cement-based backer board will cost the same as the green board (use the $50 to $80 range for this 60” x 32” shower). However, they’re harder to cut and handle and are a hassle to install. You’ll need cement board only for the marble slab panels mentioned above.
Cost Saving Tips for Factor #2 – Shower Wall Panel Backer Board Prices
Although wall backer boards are an ‘unsung’ element in shower and tub wall panel installations (you don’t see them behind the wall), ignoring the right choice is a mistake you don’t want to make. Here’s a few tips to keep yourself out of big-time hot water down the road.
- Cost saving tip #1 – Don’t go over old tile and ignore backer boards all together – When I hear ‘Bath in a Day’ companies brag about getting in and out in a day while going over old tile, I cringe. If there is mold behind the wall nobody will know it until you see a health problem in one of your family members (and then who is eating the medical bills and the cost to redo the shower). As my Dad would say to me if was alive, “Michael, this is penny-wise and pound-foolish.”
- Cost saving tip #2 – If you can use a system with no backer board, that’s a bonus – Direct to stud wall panel systems like fiberglass and laminated wall panels cut out one shower cost, and that’s a good thing).
Cost Factor #3 Installation Labor Costs– Entering the land of the ‘great unknown’
The huge ‘X-Factor’ in shower wall panels are labor costs. Here’s 3 labor-driven questions which should be top of mind before buying a wall panel system (but often aren’t).
- Question #1) Who can install this system for me?
- Question #2) Can I buy them and/or install them myself to save money?
- Question #3) How heavy are the panels?
From my POV people focus on Cost Factor #1 (material costs) the most. It’s straightforward.
People occasionally think about Cost factor #2 (wall backer board cost). It’s a sleepy (behind-the-wall) factor.
However, most people underestimate Cost Factor #3 (labor costs) as a key driver to choose the best system.
Here’s 3 questions (and some cost-saving suggestions) to help you understand shower wall panel labor costs.
- Question #1 – Who can install these wall panels for me? Construction labor is a ‘needle in a haystack’ today. Qualified people available to do the job is getting slimmer and slimmer. If you’re looking for the easiest systems to find a professional contractor to install, they’re often the ones which have been around the longest (and your local contractor is familiar with). Systems like fiberglass and acrylic are common and simple to find installers for. With this being said, IMHO these are the least exciting (and least attractive) products. Here’s some cost-saving ideas to use other systems which are better looking:
- Cost saving idea to find an installer – Look for systems which are lighter, easier to handle and have installation videos to convince a first-time contractor to put them up for you- If you’re asking a contractor to install a wall panel they’ve never done before I’ll tell you in plainly bad English, “It ain’t gonna be easy.” The best way to get them over the ‘it’s new, I ain’t gonna do it hump,’ is to find simple to install systems which look sharp. My two favorites are PVC composite wall panels (which can be cut with a carpenter’s knife) and the click, lock and seal laminate wall panels. Make it simple for your first-time contractor, and don’t settle for plasticky fiberglass or acrylic panels.
- Question #2 – Can I buy them (BIY) and/or install (DIY) them myself? Some products (like the acrylic wall panels) can be nearly impossible to purchase wholesale (they’re only sold through authorized installers) and if you can find them they are a finicky (this is a nice word for a pain in the butt) to install. Other wall panels are awkward to work with (cultured stone and the high gloss acrylic come to mind) and you’ll need two people to do the job.
- Cost saving DIY idea – The #1 wall panel I’d recommend for a DIY’er is one which combines the allusive qualities of being not too heavy yet compact enough for a one-person installation. The only system which scores well on these accounts are the laminated wall panels. Since they’re 26 lbs. and click, lock and seal together in 2’ x 8’ sections, one person can do it solo.
- Question #3 – How heavy are the panels – If you’ve ever moved a 130 lb. 5’ x 8’ cultured stone back panels into a 5’ x 8’ bathroom with an 8’ ceiling you know what a ‘bear’ it is. While it’s good to have a sturdy material, one which is this heavy is a pain in the butt (unless you have a professional contractor doing it for you – then you can watch them sweat). Look for lighter, yet sturdy materials for a high-quality job.
As you can tell from this article there are a number of things (including material costs, backer board costs and labor costs) to truly know the ‘all-in’ pricing for a shower wall panel system.
We understand shower wall panel pricing and costing can be complex. We would be honored to guide you through the selection process. Feel free to reach out to me and my team (which includes Georgia, Michelle, Terry, Kerry, Ryan, Diane and Jeff) for 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.
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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.
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