10 of Your Biggest Worries Buying Shower Wall Panels (and information you need to know to NOT make a decision you’ll regret)
While I’m no philosopher, I get a chuckle from this quote from 15th century philosopher Michel de Montaigne who said…
“My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”
You’ve heard the age-old saying 90% of what you worry about never comes true. However, this still leaves you with the gnawing feeling, “Why do I always seem to be part of the other 10%?”
It’s natural to worry. You know exactly what I’m saying if you lived through (or are trying to live through) your kid’s teenage years! You don’t get gray hair for nothing! No, they’re EARNED (over and over again through child-REARING!). But I digress…
And I don’t know about you, but my worrying extends beyond my kids. I also worry about making bad decisions with money (both personally and professionally). And the last used black truck we bought for our business certainly gave me a bad case of indigestion. When the engine blew after 9 months of use, I was stuck with a big financial loss.
And I’m sure if you’re considering buying waterproof shower wall panels you have a few worries of your own. You have gnawing questions none of the ‘happy-happy’ web sites answer. They gush and claim their panels are the ‘greatest thing since sliced Wonderbread (and BTW – do they even still make Wonderbread?). However, you’re not sure you’re ready to buy everything they’re selling.
You don’t want a leaky shower like the tile you’re replacing. You don’t want to make mistakes.
You do want a high-quality system which lasts and looks great for years to come. You do want to get rid of bacteria, mold, evil grout joints or yellowed and stained walls.
However, you also know you’re not a shower wall panel expert (and you worry some companies trying to sell you wall panels are only concerned with getting their paws on your cash – ASAP!).
So, how do you deal with your worries and gain confidence you’re making a smart decision for your shower wall surrounds? Simply, you need to do what Mom and Dad told you back in the day. You need to address these worries head on. And that’s what this article is all about.
As someone whose been in the shower wall installation and nationwide supply business for over 20 years (and currently sells 4 different wall panel products) I know there is no perfect wall panel system. Yes, you heard that right. There are Z-E-R-O perfect wall panel products. However, there are some which are pretty doggone good and will last, not leak, and look great for years to come.
Here’s what I can tell you. I’ve dealt with thousands of customers over this time and heard your fears. And yes – 90% of your concerns never occur, but who wants to be part of the ‘other 10%?” Not me. And unless you’ve got money and time to burn, not you either.
So, in this article I’m going to list the Top 10 worries about shower wall panels and attack them head on. My goal is to give you the straight scoop. My goal is to help you find the best shower wall panel system for you so you can go back to worrying about your teenager (or older kids you still worry about like they were teenagers).
So, start furrowing your eyebrows and let’s dig into (and slay) those worries.
Worry #1 – Shower wall panels are too thin
Shower wall panels come in wafer-thin FRP (Fiberglass Reinforced Panels) which are .09” thick to 3/8” ‘thick and bulky’ solid surface and laminate shower wall panels.
While its better to install a thicker panel, the thickness of the material is rarely an issue because they’re installed (either glued up or screwed into) a 7/16” to ½” wall backer system which makes them firm (even with a really thin and cheap system).
I have people ask all the time (and this is a Ripley’s Believe it or Not question IMHO) if you can cut through the top surface of the 4 choices of wall panels we offer. Now, I’m not quite sure why they ask this because if you’re in a shower and someone has a knife, you’re either having a nightmare or might eventually be ‘staring’ (although you might not be living) on a future episode of Homicide Hunter.
However, here’s what I can tell you. While it’s simple to cut through 1/8” thick acrylic or .09” FRP panels, I don’t think it’s something to worry about because who the heck is using a knife in a shower (unless you have a MAD spouse or significant ‘utter’ who owns too many knives and heard you just purchased a $1,000,000 life insurance policy)?
Worry #2 – The shower wall panels will discolor
I wish I could tell you to never worry about this concern, but I’ve seen in ‘living-color’ yellowed and dingy shower wall panels which look AWFUL! If want to stay away from discoloring, don’t buy junk at the bottom-rung of the shower wall panel market. These products would be FRP panels and fiberglass walls. Sure, they’re cheap. And yes, they’re cheap (and can discolor).
Bottom line is – if you want to risk discoloration, buy cheap wall panels. Otherwise, it’s not an issue.
Worry #3 – The panels will fall off the wall
While I own one business where I’ve witnessed product fall off the wall (my home organization business is called repeatedly to replace low quality wire closet and pantry shelves which have fallen off the wall due to weight), I’ve never experienced this problem with grout free wall panels.
When you use the right wall backer board and apply the right sealant or use the right screws, I’ve never seen a wall panel (of any type) fall off the wall.
Worry #4 – Shower wall panels look cheap and don’t resemble the ‘real thing’
Worry #4 is legit. In my opinion molded shower wall panels (like acrylic, fiberglass, and cultured granite) which are built in molds and supposed to look like stone and tile, look like what they are.
They’re molded shower wall panels trying hard to look real.
To me molded products are cheap imitations. They’re the cubic zirconium rings of shower wall surrounds. And who wants a cheap imitation? Not me.
For my money there are 2 cool products which look like the real thing yet cost less and eliminate future maintenance. And (if you promise not to tell anyone) I’ll share them with you below.
- Secret ‘look-a-like’ product #1 – Laminate wall panels which substitute for tile and stone – These panels have CNC routed ‘faux joints’ which are different colors from the ‘tile’ pattern. It’s super-hard to tell the difference between the real thing and the faux wall panel.
- Secret ‘look-a-like’ product #2 – High gloss wall panels which substitute for back painted glass – Back painted glass is cool, sleek, and simple to clean. Those are smart features. However, the bad thing is back painted glass costs a ton of money. A sharper alternative – which captures the same look – are high gloss wall panels. They’re sleek and less expensive than the real thing (although they’re still not a ‘cheap date’).
Worry #5 – The shower wall panels will crack during delivery and installation
Some shower wall products are prone to cracking, others are not. The ones where cracking in delivery or installation are real are Kohler Choreograph, optical grade high gloss acrylic and cultured marble and granite.
Bottom line – wall panels and cracking problems are not created equal across product types.
Worry #6 – I’ll need special equipment or training to cut and install wall panels.
Not everyone is cut out (OK –bad pun intended) to do a shower wall panel installation. Some wall panels are simpler to work with than others. However, with this being said, none of the system below require special tools. You simply need standard woodworking equipment and a sharp blade. Here’s a list my company’s installation crews would rank from hardest to easiest to install.
- Optical grade high gloss acrylic (prone to cracking and awkward to handle)
- Acrylic wall panels (they’re installed using messy black butyl tape, are flimsy, and can shrink when cut in cold weather)
- Laminate wall panels (they click and lock together like laminate flooring, are simple to cut, but not as pliable as some other systems)
- Fiberglass (simple to cut, although they’re only made for standard sized showers)
- Cultured marble or granite (surprisingly easy to cut and ‘easy to fit’ around edges, although they’re heavy and prone to cracking)
- PVC composite (it can even be cut with a carpenter’s knife – a super-easy installation, light to work with, but flimsy)
Worry #7 – Will these shower wall panels last?
When it comes to durability, shower wall panels are not created equal. The best way to estimate how long shower panels will last is to check out the warranty provided by the manufacturer. And those with a short warranty tell you all you need to know.
At the bottom of the barrel are FRP panels. Most FRP manufacturers with their ‘infamous’ limited warranty only cover the panels from 1 to 5 years. Unless you’re doing a ‘fix and flip’ in a low-rent section of town, you’re not getting much piece of mind with these ‘wall panel gems’ (sarcasm intended).
In the middle of the road you’ll find ‘high gloss optical grade acrylic’ panels at 10 years. Many fiberglass panels are also in this same 10-year warranty range (check with each specific manufacturer).
At the top of the heap you’ll find lifetime warranties with most acrylic wall panels (although this warranty only applies when they’re installed by authorized dealers). You’ll find one manufacturer of cultured granite has a warranty which is simply stated as ‘forever.’ Now, that’s that will give you piece of mind! You’ll also find a lifetime warranty with laminate shower wall panels.
Worry #8 – When I buy shower wall panels will I get all the supplies I need?
This IS something you should worry about. However, most people won’t realize it’s a problem until AFTER they buy a system. Some shower wall panels should come with a ‘Batteries (‘er supplies) Not Included” warning.
Most fiberglass, acrylic and Kohler Choreograph systems don’t include the adhesives and trim pieces as part of the package. This leaves homeowners and contractors alike scrambling (and worrying) if they’re buying the right adhesives and trim pieces after the fact. It also makes the system more expensive than you originally thought.
I believe shower wall panels should be sold as a complete kit. Then you KNOW you’re getting the right adhesives and trims (and your warranty isn’t voided by some technicality). Who wants to deal with wasted trips going to your crazy-busy home center store? Then when you’re there you can’t find a clerk, and when you do, they have NO IDEA what sealant or screws to recommend for your panels.
Here’s 3 systems which are sold as complete kits. There’s no ‘batteries not included’ problem here:
- Complete shower kit #1 – Laminate shower wall panels
- Complete shower kit #2 – Solid surface shower wall panels
- Complete shower kit #3 – PVC composite shower panels
Worry #9 – Will it be OK to install shower wall panels over old tile?
Who wouldn’t like to skip a couple of steps? As you know, demoing the old nasty ceramic tile and backer system is dusty and nasty (although not usually too time-consuming). And secondly, it’s nice ‘to think’ you’ll save money eliminating new wall backer board by slapping up the panels over old tile.
And while I’d like to tell you to save your money and skip these two steps, I think you’re right to be worried about installing wall panels over old tile. Flat out, it’s a BAD IDEA. Here’s why.
If there is ANY moisture behind the tile shower wall surround when you put a grout free wall panel system in front of it, you’ve now trapped water inside and provided the perfect breeding ground for mold. This can be dangerous to your family’s health. This may force you to pull EVERYTHING down when a health problem crops up.
Don’t be ‘penny-wise and pound foolish’ as my Dad used to say. Take the old stuff down. It’ll take you a little more time and cost a bit more, but you’ll enjoy the piece of mind knowing you won’t have to rip everything out down the road if mold grows behind the walls.
Worry #10 – Will the shower wall panels be sturdy enough to add grab bars, seats, and corner shelves?
While you may be remodeling a shower for you and your partner today, you may also be doing this with an eye on your ‘tomorrows.’ You may be thinking will this shower work if Mom or Dad moves in. You may be wondering if you can add a seat or safety grab if your husband’s hip gets worse.
These are legitimate concerns. Not all wall panels work equally well to retrofit your shower for future safety features.
One system I LOVE for its long-term safety capabilities are the laminate wall panels. Since these panels are 3/8” thick (and backed by not only a marine grade plywood but also screwed and installed onto a ½” thick Oriented Strand Board -a version of plywood), you’re ready to add anything (seats, grab bars or corner shelves) down the road.
In addition, systems like cultured granite are also smart and sturdy. However, you’ll need to add plywood between the studs (at least for the bottom 4’ of the walls) so you can mount things later.
With other systems add plywood for the first 4’ as well so you’re prepared to add safety accessories if you need them later.
How can we help you next?
Although the philosopher I quoted in the beginning of this article said, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortunate, most of which never happened’ can be a reassuring thought, none of us wants to make a bad buying decision and live with ‘buyer’s remorse.’ You don’t want a product which leaks, discolors or looks downright awful. So, here’s 2 strategies to get you on the right buying path for a wall surround system:
- Strategy 1 – Comb through these 10 worries…again… and know what you’re getting yourself into. There’s no sense making rookie mistakes when by becoming more educated you (or your contractor) can do the job right the first time.
- Strategy 2 – Work with a FREE (yes – the magic word) shower wall panel ‘therapist’ (and no he or she SHOULDN’T look like the guy below) to lead you through your options. Since our company sells 4 systems – and WE KNOW – they aren’t all created and installed equal, we would be glad to help you find the best choice for your budget, design tastes or installation capabilities.
Isn’t the time right to get rid of your worries and choose the right shower wall panel system and move on to something really BIG to worry about…. like your kids???
Call or click these links for help
For a remodeling project call The Bath Doctor in Cleveland at 216-658-1270 or for product supply in Columbus call 614-252-7294.