A Brutally Honest Guide to Choose the Right Shower Wall Panels
You’ve told your spouse either this old nasty shower goes, or they’re sleeping in the garage. You’re burning up your keyboard searching the Internet for the perfect shower wall panel system for your master bathroom. You’re SOOOO done with tile grout joints!
Every manufacturer, supplier and installer claim their system is the greatest thing since the invention of the Blackberry (oops – maybe a bad example there). Yes, their pictures are pretty. However, there’s so much sales hype on their web pages it’s hard to know what to believe.
You need to cut through the B.S. You need the straight scoop. You don’t want to buy a system only to find out later you paid too much, or it was a pain in the rear to install. You want to get going but not make a choice you’ll regret. This is (hopefully) the last time you’re remodeling this bathroom.
If this describes your situation, you’re exactly who this article is for.
Below, I’ll dish out 7 brutally honest shower wall panel tips to help you figure out the best decision for your job. You may ask why I’m writing this?
Well – you see I’ve been around the shower wall panel block before (not that there is such an actual block – otherwise, it would look kind of funny). My business has bought, used and sold 6 shower wall panel systems over the years. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the (mostly) ugly of systems we’ve pulled off to install better wall surrounds.
To tell you the truth, there’s even some wall panel systems my company has sold and installed my wife of 34 years (Rose) would never have allowed me to put in our house (yes – you can see who would be the driver of the remodeling bus in our house!). Not that these systems were bad or non-functional. It’s that systems like acrylic (which we used to sell back in our early wall panel days) look cheap and plasticky. You see, Rose ain’t goin’ for that!
So, my goal in this article is to, as Randy Jackson used to say, ‘Keep it real dog.’ I’ll give you 7 brutally honest tips (from my POV) to help you choose the right shower wall panels for your project. I want to save you time, money and aggravation with time-sucking Internet research.
Brutally honest tip #1 – Don’t buy a shower wall panel system which is a pain in the rear to install (unless you can afford to hire a contractor to do it for you)
How would you like to install a 130 lb. 5’ x 8’ cultured granite or marble back wall panel in a tiny bathroom? How about if it was on the second floor and you’ve got to beg a friend to help you haul up your small stairs and install it with you?
Or, how would you like to put up wafer-thin 1/8” thick acrylic panels which noodle around like a cheap rubber-band and install with messy black butyl tape?
If it’s sounds like these products are a hard DIY installation, it’s because they are. Now, on the other hand, if you can get a contractor to install your acrylic or cultured granite wall panels, then go for it.
If you need to DIY your job to keep the lid on construction costs you can barely afford then I have two better alternatives for you.
The first are laminated shower wall panels. These 2’ x 8’ x 3/8” thick panels (which weigh 26 lbs./ piece) simply click, lock and seal together. They can be installed by one person (it will be nice not to have to beg a friend or relative to help you).
The second easy installation option is decorative PVC panels. These units are 2x thicker than acrylic or fiberglass and can be cut with a carpenter’s knife. In addition, with their 3” wide edge trim pieces – even if you screw up a cut it’s buried behind the trim so you’re still good to go.
Brutally honest tip #2 – Some shower wall panel systems will cost you an arm and a leg (and you may not have either to spare)
As Mom and Dad used to tell you when as a kid you begged for the coolest thing on your ‘desperately want’ list, “Money doesn’t grow on trees!”
So trite, yet so true. It’s been interesting for me to see how my 23 and 20-year-old son’s now value money waaaay different than they did before Mommy and Daddy were footing all the bills. They’re not completely ‘off the payroll’ yet, but Rose and I are hopeful.
When it comes to shower wall panels prices can range big-time. Some systems (while cool) can blow your budget even though they’re as slick as all get-out. One of my favorite budget-busting alternative systems are contemporary high gloss wall panels.
If you want to get your arms around shower wall panel system costs I’d recommend reading How Much Will My Shower Wall Panel System Cost? In this article, you’ll learn the ins and outs of pricing before you get your heart set on a system you can’t afford.
Brutally honest tip #3 – You don’t have to settle for fake looking products
I hate fake-looking shower and bathtub wall panels.
And beyond the bathroom wall panels if you’re looking for the ultimate fake-looking product (which I’ve never been ‘man-enough’ to try) it would be the “McRib’ by McDonalds!
Who wouldn’t want a ‘molded’ rib product (sarcasm intended)? Now, doesn’t that sound fun and delicious. I thought it was the grossest looking thing out there. McDonalds even calls it a ‘restructured boneless pork patty.’ Yum!
One of the reasons I think shower wall panels are (today at least) a vastly undersold product in the United States is because many systems are (literally) made out of a mold. Now, hopefully it’s not the same mold as the McRib (but I guess you never know).
How realistic are fiberglass ‘faux tile’ walls or acrylic walls or solid surface walls for that matter? When you see real tile walls isn’t the grout joint a different color than the tile?
This lack of realism causes owners to say, ‘that product looks cheap.’ It’s not real and it doesn’t take a crack (no grout joint pun intended) detective to figure it out.
The cool thing today is you don’t have to settle for fake-looking any more.
My favorite – ultra-realistic – wall panels are the laminate units. You’ll feel the (faux) grout joint indented into the wall surface. It will be a different color than the tile or stone pattern.
Don’t put up with fake walls or fake ribs (McChomp) anymore!
Brutally honest tip #4 – Some contractors will tell you, “Go pound salt” if they’ve never installed the wall panel system you’d like to use. You’ll have to reduce their risk to get what you want.
In retail you’ve heard ‘the customer is always right.’ Burger King tells you ‘have it your way.’
Well these nice, warm, fuzzy customer-friendly saying are all a bunch of ‘whoopty-hell’ (as the coach of the Cleveland Browns Freddie Kitchens would say) when it comes to shower wall panels.
Since our company wholesales wall panels across the country I’ve heard countless homeowners say, “Mike, our contractor told us they won’t install the wall panels I LOVE on your site because they’ve never installed them before. What can I do?”
When you ask a contractor to ‘take a risk’ installing shower wall panels they’ve never worked with before, they flat out aren’t lovin’ this ‘new-fangled’ idea. They’re thinking about the following.
– Who’s going to pay for new panels if I screw up the cuts?
– How much should I charge for this? How long will it take?
– Will my field team mess this up or will I have to come in to do this job (and my time is in crazy-short supply to begin with)?
You see a new wall panel concept is often an unwanted ‘new path’ most contractors don’t want to travel down. So how you can you get what you want? I’d say take the risk out of the job for them.
You can do the following:
- Offer to buy (once they approve the sizes) the panels yourself.
- Find on-line videos showing how the product is installed.
- Tell them if they make a cutting mistake, you’ll buy another panel for them.
The reality is, when you’re asking a contractor to do something new most won’t embrace your idea. They’ll only see RISK and a loss of RETURN. Make it as easy as possible. Don’t listen to the words of the Who song, “You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need.” You should get what you want, but in today’s tight construction availability market, you’ll have to make it easy for your contractor and take risk out.
Brutally honest tip #5 – Bath in a day makeover systems are junk (IMHO)
I’m not a fan of the ‘One Day Bathroom Makeover.’ There you have it.
You’ve seen the ads EVERYWHERE. You’ll have a luxurious bathroom in a day. Well, I for one I don’t believe the hype and I’d call out the ‘Gimmick Police’ (if there is such a thing) on them. Here’s why.
First, the bath in a day showers are made of 1/8” thin, cheap glossy acrylic systems. They not only look behind the times, they don’t scream luxury to me.
Second, the systems are often installed over old tile to save time and money. Since you don’t know (with 100% certainty) if there’s mold trapped behind the walls, you’re taking a risk with your family’s health. This is not a risk I’d recommend taking.
No matter what wall panel system you use DO NOT go over old tile and say it will be fine. It doesn’t take long to get the tile down and know there’s no mold behind the wall.
As my Dad would say to me (if he was alive), “Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish.”
Brutally honest tip #6 – Some wall panel systems are ‘old school.’ Don’t settle
You actually thought the powder blue leisure suit your Mom bought you in Junior High looked cool.
Your big hair and mullet WAS (emphasis on the ‘was’) stylish. Today, you wouldn’t be caught dead ‘sporting’ this ‘look,’ unless its for a retro-Halloween costume.
However, while you know trends come and go, I’ll bet you know someone who still thinks their ‘blast-from-the-past’ fashions look hot (in my case I’ve got my wife who gives me an ever-so-gentle-nudge letting me know when I’m looking a little long-in-the-tooth).
There are waaaay too many wall panel systems on the market which look out of style. Some use rounded recessed niches built from molds developed 30 years ago. Some panels (like acrylic) only come in glossy finishes (when the market today prefers matte).
Don’t remodel yourself in a bathroom time-warp which reminds others of a re-run of The Brady Bunch.
There are cool fashion-forward wall panels. However, I’ll tell you many of them are imported. I just love these sleek contemporary high gloss wall panels (made in Australia).
Or, what do you think about these modern minimalist cracked cement wall panels? These ‘bad-boys’ are flying off the shelf. They’re imported from Norway.
Don’t settle for ‘old school’ wall panels. If you’re updating your bathroom do it right with panels which aren’t the equivalent of the ‘leisure-suit’ of yesteryear.
Brutally honest tip #7 – The more ‘behind-the-times’ the system is, the easier it will be to find an installer
I wish I could tell you it’ll be easy to find a shower wall panel contractor whose familiar with the hottest new systems. However, I’d be lying. Here’s the reality.
The more old-school the system is (acrylic, fiberglass and cultured marble wall panels please stand up), the simpler it will be to find an installer. And when you think about this it makes perfect sense. Since the products have been around it’s easier to find people to put them in.
However, if you’re looking for fashion-forward shower wall panels (IMHO – the ones which fit this category are laminate wall panels, PVC composites and high gloss acrylics) you’ll need to be smarter to find qualified, installation-ready contractors. I would suggest asking your supplier the following:
- Do you have installation videos I can get to my contractor (or look at myself) to get this project moving?
- Do you know of trained installers or local shower wall panel dealers who can get this job done for me?
- Can I call you for assistance before and during the project?
I’ll be flat-out honest with you. Cooler, newer products will be tougher. When you’re on the leading edge you’ll have more homework to get your project off the ground.
It’ll be worth it in the end, but you’ll need to be willing to put your research and learning elbow grease to work.
I hope being brutally honest hasn’t made you chuck the idea of using shower wall panels.
The reality is, like all remodeling projects, there are hurdles to work through. It’s always good to go into a job knowing reality vs. getting slapped in the face mid-stream with problems you didn’t anticipate.
I know shower wall panel selections can be daunting (after all our company has used 6 of them – to date) and not all systems are alike.
If you need help ‘sifting through the choices’ me and my team (including Georgia, Michelle, Ryan, Jeff, Kerry and Terry) would love to help. Call us on the numbers below or click the links.
‘Here’s one thing I’m going to promise you. I’ve got some very nice people who will help you, and here’s the big bonus. IMHO none of them are as wacky as me. How’s that for a selling point – ha! ha!
Seriously, we’d love to help.
For Nationwide supply of tub and shower wall panels, shower enclosures and shower bases call Innovate Building Solutions at 877-668-5888. For a remodeling project in Cleveland contact Cleveland Design and Remodeling at 216-658-1270 or The Bath Doctor at 614-252-7294 in Columbus Ohio.
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.