9 Dumb Mistakes You can Avoid When Choosing a Shower Wall Panel System
Updated July 9, 2023
I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was 28 years old. My wife and I were cash-strapped first-time homeowners. I bought new carpet for a bathroom floor 3 times. Yes, you heard that right. I bought the same carpet 3 times because I made dumb mistakes and cut it wrong 2 previous times. My wife, Rose can tell you how mad I was.
Any of us who does home improvement (or bathroom remodeling projects) has a ‘blooper real’ of stupid mistakes (even if we don’t publicly ‘fess up’ to them). These screw- ups may be accompanied by some ‘choice words’ (which Mom might still wash our mouths out with soap – BTW does anyone do that anymore? – if she heard them). In addition, these remodeling mistakes suck up money, delay the project and are painful to deal with.
No one likes going back to the store (whether it’s the ‘big box’ down the road or making another on-line purchase etc.) and dishing out more money because we messed up.
It’s for this reason I wrote this post. I’ve seen (and had to console many homeowners and remodeling contractors alike) when they’ve made dumb mistakes buying or installing shower wall panels or the accessories which go with these panels.
My goal in this article is simple. I’m going to identify 9 dumb mistakes with shower and bathroom wall panels. Then I’ll offer up ideas to make sure you’re not a ‘victim’ of them, and help you save money and aggravation along the way. And since ‘dumb mistakes’ (unfortunately) seem to grow, I’ve added a bonus 10th dumb mistakes (with a helpful video) so you won’t repeat this one either. Let’s check out the dumb mistakes.
Dumb Mistake #1 – You install wall backer board before putting in the shower base and/or choosing your shower wall panels
To begin with not all wall panels, use the same backer board system. For example, PVC composite and cultured stone shower wall panels use moisture resistant green board. Laminate wall panels, on the other hand, are installed onto OSB (Oriented Strand Board), 1” x 6” furring strips or plywood. If you put up the wrong type of backer board for the wall panel system you end up using, you’ll need to rip off the incorrect materials you put up initially. Now that’s money down the drain (no bad shower system pun intended!).
In addition, backer boards need to be installed AFTER the shower pan is in. In most cases the backer board is installed near the top edge of the flange of the shower pan. You don’t want backer board behind the pan (just in case water were to penetrate through, you’d want water to stay inside the pan, and not travel under it).
Here’s the bottom line with dumb mistake #1. Figure out the wall panels you like best. Buy and install your shower pan second. Third, install the right backer board before putting up the wall panels.
Dumb Mistake #2 – You assume you can’t get a shower wall panel system because your contractor tells you have a custom size
There are shower and tub wall panel systems (fiberglass is one which comes to mind) which are only available in standard sizes (36” x 36”, 48” x 36” and 60” x 32” are most common). However, you’re in no way limited to standard sizes if you want to ‘chuck the tile grout FOREVER’ and install wall panels.
Using systems like cultured stone, decorative PVC composite and laminate shower wall panels you can get panels which are either custom-made to size or can be cut to fit custom sizes.
Here’s the bottom line for mistake #2. You can do a custom size shower and use grout free wall panels. As the band The Who might say (can you tell I’m a rocker here?), Don’t be Fooled Again!
Dumb Mistake #3 – The ‘big-box’ is the ‘only box’ you can buy from
Big box stores can be great. They carry (on average) 36,000 SKU’s (stock keeping units). They are building material ‘generalists.’ They have a lot of (the most popular) items in stock. That’s the good news. The bad news is they’ll have a hard time being an expert on any of them or carrying unique products which aren’t popular to the ‘masses.’
Where this doesn’t work out for you is if you want detailed design help with grout free shower panels for your odd-shaped bathroom. Or if you need to know the ‘nitty-gritty’ on technical installation details. It’s not that the people with the blue or orange smocks aren’t smart, it’s just that they can’t be experts about everything, and every building product known to man and woman.
The mistake you shouldn’t make is assume you’re limited to their selection (they often serve the ‘mass market’) and their knowledge.
For example, in the universe of wall panels they’re fun patterns and colors in niche systems like high gloss acrylic. There are simple to install, design and fashion-forward panels like laminate wall panels. There are lightweight and mobile-friendly panels made of PVC with intricate digital images on the front.
You have options. However, you’re more likely to find these options at shower wall specialty dealers than a big box store.
The bottom line for dumb mistake #3 is look on Google, Pinterest and Houzz for specialty wall panel dealers who can explain the details (and show you a larger selection) of grout free wall panels. Don’t settle for boring white and beige, mass-market panels stocked in your local big-box store.
Dumb Mistake #4 – Not knowing your stud spacing before choosing your recessed niches
If you only have room for a small stand up shower, recessed niches can be not only space-effective, but can help you have a safer (you won’t be leaving leaky shampoo bottles on the floor) and more stylish shower (or won’t have to use ugly plasticky ‘shower trees’ hanging over the shower head).
The challenge with recessed niches is they’re placed between studs and unless you have ‘X-Ray vision’ (or own X-Ray goggles they used to sell on the back of comic books I used to think were soooooo cool when I was an 8-year-old kid), you won’t know the stud spacing until you’ve done the demo.
So, if you’d like to use a recessed niche (and avoid returning a niche you bought because it’s the wrong size and have to eat shipping costs or restock fees), it’s best to demo the shower before buying your niches.
Bottom line you’ll avoid dumb mistake #4 by demoing the shower first and buying your recessed niches second.
Dumb Mistake #5 – Not planning ahead. Mom’s moving in, now how do we make the shower safer for her?
Although you knew Mom was getting older and her mobility wasn’t the greatest, you didn’t think you’d be bringing her to live with you this soon. Although Dad passed years ago, you thought her ranch home would work and she’d be able to live there for years to come.
However, one fall in the shower a few months ago and now you and your husband are scrambling to move Mom in with you. The challenge is how to make your shower safe. Although you added nice grout free wall panels, you now want to add a stylish safety grab bar. But where can you put it and know it’s attached securely?
Even though you installed shower wall panels a while ago, you wouldn’t need to worry about where to put safety grab bars if you had spent just a few extra dollars before you installed the shower wall panels. All you need to do is add plywood between the studs and then you can put up safety bars literally anyplace (and at any time) you’d like.
The bottom line is you can avoid dumb mistake #5 (not being able to create a safe shower by adding grab bars years down the road) if you put in plywood between the studs during the installation process.
Dumb Mistake #6 – Saving a ‘few dollars’ and putting wall panels over old tile
This ‘penny-wise and pound foolish’ (as my Dad would say if he was alive today) installation approach of going over old tile with grout free wall panels is a mistake you don’t want to make. Sure, it can save you a few dollars to ‘cover-over’ your old tile. However, what you don’t know is if there is (or has ever been) moisture behind your old tile shower walls.
If so, then with grout free wall panels you glue onto old tiles, you’ve now trapped the moisture and created the ‘perfect’ (if you’re a glutton for health-problems) breeding ground for mold.
Don’t do this dumb installation mistake.
The bottom line is you can avoid dumb mistake #6 by taking down the old ceramic tile and the material behind them. Get to the bare studs. Put up the right backer board (see dumb mistake #1). Then install your shower or bathtub wall panels.
Dumb Mistake #7 – Not having (or knowing what is) the right tools to cut your wall panels
Just like ‘I didn’t know officer’ isn’t usually a good enough excuse to get you ‘off’ getting a ticket from a police officer (unless you’re really pretty and I’m sure that’s not me based on past experiences), not knowing the right tools (or using the right process) to cut a shower wall panels, likely won’t get you a free wall panel from your supplier after you cut your last one wrong.
If you ‘assume’ you know the right blade to use or how to cut the materials doesn’t mean you’re right. This ‘lack of knowledge’ can have expensive consequences.
The bottom line to avoid dumb mistake #7, make sure you watch on-line videos and read (or at least glance through) the instruction manuals. Bad cuts = extra costs. Extra costs = a project with a lot of frustration.
Dumb Mistake #8 – Not knowing how to finish the exposed edges
Some wall panel systems come premade with rolled and polished edges (with solid surface and cultured stone panels this is often true). With other systems like PVC composite and laminated wall panels there is an edge trim piece you’ll need to use.
Determine if the shower wall panel system you want to use comes with prefinished edges or a finishing system. Figure out how trim pieces are attached. Analyze if you like how they look.
The bottom line is there is no reason to be fooled by dumb mistake #8. Ask questions up front so you won’t be (unpleasantly) surprised by extra costs or not liking how the edges look at the end.
Dumb Mistake #9 – Buying wall panels and then trying to figure out (after the fact) who you can get to install them
Labor to do a bathroom remodeling project in today’s people-constrained market is no simple matter.
It’s hard finding good people. In construction, it’s doubly difficult finding good people.
When it comes to specialty products like grout free wall panels, you’ll find contractors who will refuse to install them for you if they haven’t installed the panel system you’d like to use. In addition, some of the heavier (cultured stone panels, for example) or thin and awkward panels (like acrylic or fiberglass) require 2 people to install. This can be a staffing problem for your contractor (and harder for you if you can’t ‘bribe’ a buddy or family to help you in exchange for a nice steak dinner).
Look for simple-to-install panels you can install yourself and/or can be installed by one person. One such example would be the laminate wall panels. They are 2’ x 8’ x 3/8” thick. They aren’t heavy (they weigh 26 pounds) and are sturdy enough to be installed by 1 person.
Avoid dumb mistake #9 by having a game-plan for the installation of your wall panels before you make a purchase choose a panel which can be installed by one person.
(Bonus) Dumb Mistake #10 – You buy the wrong size (or number) of wall panels and get stuck with extras you don’t need!
When you (or your contractor) is doing a project (or using a new material) for the first time, it can be easier than you’d like to make a dumb mistake (and yes, I’ve certainly been-there, done-that before!). So if you don’t want to be a victim of a dumb wall panel buying mistake there’s 2 really smart things you can do to prevent this.
Avoid dumb mistake #10 – First you can seek advice from a shower wall expert. There are people who work with shower projects each and every day. They can do the computations for you and explain the benefits (and drawbacks) of getting a little extra materials. And/or second you can watch the video below on ‘how to order laminate wall panels.’ These panels are stylish, sturdy, and installation friendly – but since they’re about 2′ wide there are some things to think through before ordering (and this video covers those things).
Purchasing and installing shower wall panels (and the accessories which come with them) – while not exactly brain-surgery – does require thought and planning to make sure you don’t repeat the 9 dumb mistakes mentioned above.
If you want help ‘weeding through the jungle’ of shower and bathroom wall panel choices me and my team (which includes Terry, Diane, Michelle, Stacy, Georgia, Chelsea, Ryan, Dylan and Jeff) would love to help.
Click on the links below or give us a call. We’ll talk through your project and give you pointers, so you won’t be like I was at the age of 28 and end up buying 3 pieces of carpet (or wall panels in this case) to do one job!
How can I (or a member of my team) help you?
If you need help with standard or custom shower wall panel system design, installation or supply, contact me and my team. We would love to help.
Call us at 877-668-5888 for nationwide wholesale supply on products like laminated wall panels, glass shower enclosures or rigid acrylic shower pans. For a local project call 216-658-1280 in Cleveland or 614-252-3242 in Columbus.
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.