5 Best DIY Shower Wall Panel Systems You Can Buy Under $1,750
So, you’re living with a cheap fiberglass tub/shower surround the original home builder slapped in YEARS AGO. It’s tired. It’s stained. You’re worried it’ll crack any day now. You can’t clean the scum from the bottom no matter what ‘potion’ you’ve tried.
You know you need to replace it. However, you don’t want to replace one piece of junk (sorry to be so cruel, but you know I speak the truth) with another cheap wall panel system. You DO want an upgrade. You DO want a better wall panel system. But you CAN’T afford to break the bank to get it.
You’re even considering DIY’ing your job to save a few bucks, but the panels you see at the home center stores are average at best (and that’s being generous). You want a sharp-looking, low maintenance shower surround you can get without dipping into the kid’s college fund. While tile is an option, the idea of cleaning moldy grout joints isn’t exactly what you have in mind with your free time.
So, what are your best options? What are shower surround choices in the ‘mid-priced’ range you’ll love showering in, but won’t break the bank?
Frankly, I get asked this question all the time.
Since my company has sold a variety of shower and bathtub surround systems to thousands of customers over the years, I know a few systems I believe will be what you’re looking for.
So – here’s what I’m going to do.
Even though I’m not Johnny Carson (and certainly don’t enjoy his income either) I’m going to give you my top 5 list for shower wall panels under $1,750. I’m going to start with the best one (IMHO) and go down to #5 (which is still a pretty sharp). For each I’ll tell you what I love about them and what IMHO could be better. Basically, I’ll give you the advantages and disadvantages of each.
I’ll also give you an estimated cost range for standard showers ranging 48” x 36” and 60” x 32” sizes (2 of the more popular choices).
At the end please do me a favor. I’d like to know which one you like the best and why. And promise to call me (or a member of our team) if you need more insights or want a quote on one of these products (we sell 3 of the 5 I’ll discuss– and we offer a few others which didn’t make the list).
So, without further delay let’s look at the 5 best DIY shower wall panel systems under $1,750.
#1 Shower wall panel system under $1,750- Laminate wall panels
While laminate wall panels are the ‘newest on the scene’ in the United States (although the product was invented 40 years ago in Europe) they’re catching on like wildfire. Here’s why:
9 reasons to like laminate shower & tub wall panels (advantages)
- 1) They’re stylish – Who wants a boring shower or bathtub surround? If you’re renovating, you want to upgrade. With matte and gloss finishes and different tile textures these panels are C-O-O-L.
- 2) They’re flexible – If you have an odd sized shower and you know finding wall panels can be near impossible, I understand your pain. Since these 2’ x 8’ x 3/8” thick panels simply click and lock together, you can make them work for any sized wall (you simply cut off the excess you don’t need at the end of the wall) without it costing you an arm and a leg.
- 3) They’re realistic – So many wall panels (especially on the budget end of the market) look cheap. Since laminate panels have recessed ‘faux joints,’ they look and feel like actual grout joints (without the mold or maintenance). You’ll swear (don’t let your Mom hear you) they’re real tiles and stone.
- 4) They’re durable – Being 3/8” thick with a tough high-pressure laminate outer ‘skin,’ they’re built to last.
- 5) You can get stylish accessories – Just like accessories make the dress, the contemporary shower accessories which go with this line not only make the shower work well, but more importantly function well also.
- 6) You’ll be able to use a lower cost backer board behind the wall – Instead of moisture resistant green-board, this system uses lower cost Oriented Strand Board (which is a version of plywood) to attach the panels.
- 7) It’s simple to maneuver the panels around staircases and inside smaller bathrooms – The 2’ x 8’ x 3/8” thick panels are only 26 lbs. and can be installed even in a tiny home bathroom.
- 8) You won’t see any corner trim pieces – There is a hidden inside corner profile which gives you a sleek look, yet still waterproofs your corners.
- 9) You get a lifetime warranty – This long warranty gives you peace of mind.
Here’s a few things which could be better (disadvantages) about laminate wall panels
- There are no bases made specifically to match these panels. While you can use any shower pan or wet room system, none are specifically designed for these panels. In most cases people use grout free shower pans made from acrylic or cultured stone.
- There is no subway tile design pattern (yet) – Although I know the manufacturer is planning on introducing this product in August of 2020, as of today you can’t get a subway tile design (which is uber-popular in the Midwest).
- There are no window trim kits – With some wall panel systems you can get a pre-made window trim kit to wrap your windows. For now, with laminate panels you either use ‘off-cuts’ from the walls with trim pieces to finish around your window or use cultured granite window kits (see best system #3 below for more info).
- No corner seats match the line – While it’s not hard to find stylish fold down teak seats (or other materials) which work with this line, there aren’t any seats designed to match the panels.
Estimated Costs of laminate wall panels– Expect to pay between $1,350 and $1,650 for 48 x 36 to 60 x 32 sizes of laminate panels which will reach to the top of an 8’ ceiling. Also, what’s nice about these panels is custom sizes are not more expensive than standard sized showers.
#2 Shower wall panel system under $1,750- PVC composite wall panels
If you can say ‘easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy’ this would be an appropriate description of a PVC composite wall panel installation (and a B-I-G reason to like them). Let’s look at what’s hot about these panels.
7 reasons to like PVC shower & tub wall panels (advantages)
- 1) Simple to cut and install – This product can be cut with any woodworking equipment (or even a carpenter’s knife). It’s the simplest system to install. And since it has 3” trim pieces, you can even make bad cuts and STILL get away with it because the end trim pieces will cover up any ‘bone-head’ cuts you make.
- 2) Stylish marbleized patterns – These bold (and subdued) marbleized patterns have an upper end look, at a budget price.
- 3) A nice range of accessories – From recessed niches, to corner seats to corner shelves, you’ll get a wide range of accessories in matching patterns to make your shower experience pleasurable – and stylish.
- 4) 3 standard heights for tubs and showers – If you only need a tub surround, a 60” tall PVC system will work. For a mid-sized shower alcove (or to take your tub panels close to the ceiling) the 80” DIY shower panel kit makes sense. For tall showers, 96” high panels will be your best choice.
- 5) Hidden inside corner trims – The inside corner waterproofing piece is hidden behind the face of the panels.
- 6) Lightweight materials – PVC is light (although the 60” wide back panel can be awkward) and won’t break your back like heavy stone panel systems can do.
- 7) Matching shower pans are available (although they can be a little pricey) – You can match your wall panels to your shower base. Currently a limited number of standard pans are available and reasonably priced. Custom sizes are an option but aren’t cheap.
Here’s a few things which could be better (disadvantages) about PVC composite wall panels
- Tile patterns don’t look realistic – Since the face of these panels is smooth, the tile patterns (while looking good in digital images) aren’t realistic to me in R.L. (Real Life).
- ¼” thick panels are thinner than other top-ranking wall panel systems – While ¼” thick panels will work, they’re 1/3 thinner than some of the other top 5 options like laminate shower walls and cultured stone.
- The pattern is only on the top surface – If the panels get deep scratches you can see the white PVC beneath the surface (although I must say I’ve not heard one complaint about this in the 7 years we’ve sold them).
- Only one finish – All the wall panels come in a ‘semi-gloss.’ If you want a relaxed matte finish or a super-bright gloss look, you’ll need to choose another option.
Estimated Costs of PVC composite wall panels– You’ll pay $1,150 for a 60” high system for a tub surround and up to $1,750 for a 60 x 32 x 96 shower surround. Note – if you need a custom size, you’ll pay a 25-35% premium.
#3 Shower wall panel system under $1,750- Cultured granite wall panels
If you want a ‘built like a tank’ wall panel system, cultured granite is the choice for you. It’s durable-times two! Unfortunately, we can only supply these panels to our Ohio customers due to manufacture’s restrictions. However, let’s look at what’s to like about this product!
7 reasons to like cultured granite shower & tub wall panels (advantages)
- 1) Built like Fort Knox – These 3/8” thick panels are colored throughout and built like the ‘engineered stone’ they are.
- 2) Guaranteed forever – One cultured granite supplier (the one we partner with) has a simple guarantee – it’s FOREVER! Now, that’s confidence.
- 3) Shower pans and vanity tops are available to match the panels – If you want your tops and pans to match your walls you can make this happen with cultured granite. It’s the only system I’m aware of where you can get vanity tops, pans and walls to match.
- 4) Made to order sizes – If you’re man (or woman) enough to handle HUGE wall panels they can be made in this line. Here’s a Ripley’s Believe it or Not stat; even a 100” x 100” panel is possible, although you may need to bust a hole in the side of your house to get them in- ha! ha! These panels can be made to the specific size of your wall(s). This will save you cutting time and needing to say ‘aw shucks’ (or something like that I can’t print) if you screw up a cut.
- 5) Easy to find – Cultured granite is available in-home centers, and through bathroom remodeling contractors and dealers. Note, some distribution outlets won’t sell a DIY’er.
- 6) Intricate window trim kits made to the size of your shower window- Window kits are precut to your sizes and design style so you can trim around a shower window without the worry of leaking (and save installation time).
- 7) You can get corner and bench seats – While these stone seats are too heavy to fold down, you can get a sturdy corner bench seat which is curved (for a graceful look) or angled (when space is tighter). It works for someone who weighs up to 350 lbs.
Here’s a few things which could be better (disadvantages) about cultured granite wall panels
- These ‘boys are HEAVY! – You’d better eat your Wheaties (and/or have a buddy who’ll be looking to be paid with a steak dinner) to install these shower wall panels. A ‘back wall’ panel which is 60” wide x 96” high will ‘weigh in’ over 100 lbs.
- Accessories look ‘old school’ – Corner caddies and soap dishes look circa 1990’s (or when mullets were popular). If you want a contemporary look, it’s not all that.
- Stone tile patters WILL NOT make you think you’re seeing the real thing – Since these panels are made in a mold, some look like they’re made in a mold. They don’t score high on the realism scale – especially since the faux grout joints are the same color as the ‘faux stone.’
- Boring colors – While you can get matte and gloss finishes, the color pallet (and little flecks in them) aren’t going to wow the editors of House Beautiful.
Estimated Costs of cultured granite wall panels– Expect to pay between $1,350 and $1,750 for a gloss finish 48 x 36 to 60 x 32 sizes of cultured granite panels which can be made in any height you need. Note – the ‘matte finished’ panels will be 42% more expensive than gloss.
#4 Shower wall panel system under $1,750- Kohler Choreograph wall panels* (note the asterisks)
This is a wall panel (and accessory) system I thought was so cool when it was introduced 4 years ago at the International Builders Show. Today I’ll tell you this system has one huge * (asterisk) permanently embedded by its name. That asterisk (and you’ll see it in my thoughts about ‘what could be better’) is availability. I don’t know what Kohler’s problem is, but 4 years later and I still hear people waiting for MONTHS to get product (and when they do it’s broken in shipment way too often). So, why – you may ask – did I still put it on the top 5 list? Here’s why:
5 reasons to like Kohler Choreography shower & tub wall panels (advantages)
- 1) Stylish look – These matte finished panels are fashion-forward. They can be used in upscale bathrooms, but don’t cost a ton.
- 2) Deep, and inventive accessory line – Who ever thought you could have adjustable shelves in a shower? Or how about a place for your toothbrush or shaver? The designers at Kohler knocked it out of the park with the accessories.
- 3) It’s a stone product – These 3/8” panels are solid as a rock once they’re installed (although breakage during installation and shipment can be a challenge).
- 4) Colors can be coordinated with other Kohler bath products – While the shower pan won’t be the same material as the wall panels, you can color-coordinate your Kohler plumbing fixtures and Kohler acrylic shower pans with the walls.
- 5) Fun accent panels add a dramatic touch – Don’t settle for a ‘generic shower’ when you can use accent panels to add interest.
Here’s a few things which could be better (disadvantages) about Kohler Choreograph wall panels
- Availability – I don’t care how much a product has ‘cool factor,’ if you can’t get it, it’s WORTHLESS. Here’s what I can tell you from experience. My company offered this product when it came out 4 years ago. Today, we have ‘hid the web page’ we developed (which means it still exists, but you can’t see it publicly on the site) to sell these panels because deliveries and availability were TERRIBLE. I’d like to say the problem has been fixed. From my feedback from homeowners and contractors who call us, it hasn’t.
- It has inside corner trim pieces – You don’t want to see metal in the corners. Choreograph uses exposed metal corner trim pieces which detract from the look.
- It only comes in a matte finish – While I like matte, some people hate it. They want high gloss to make a small bathroom look brighter. If you want gloss, choose another product.
- Very short warranty – I don’t know what Kohler is worried about, but they have the shortest warranty of all 5 products on this list at 10 years. They’re the biggest manufacturer of the group but are tied for worst (with some acrylic wall panels) with the shortest warranty. It smacks of a lack of confidence in the product.
- Arrives broken too often. If you look at online reviews, you’ll see this engineered stone material doesn’t ‘travel’ well on standard truck lines. So, if buy it, see if you can pick it up instead of having it delivered. Then be careful while transporting it to your home.
- Batteries (‘er sealants) not included – Don’t you hate when you don’t have all the materials you need for a job? This ‘batteries-not-included’ moment is frustration you can do without. So, you need to know the Kohler Choreograph system doesn’t include sealants. You’ll need to fend for yourself, figure out the right adhesives you need and then make a separate trip to the store to get them.
- For larger walls you’ll need a visible seam trim piece – The largest wall panels is 60” wide. If you’ve got a 72” wide space (for example) you’ll need a visible metal seam trim piece.
Estimated Costs of Kohler Choreograph wall panels– Expect to pay between $1,490 and $1,750 for 48 x 36 to 60 x 32 sizes of the Choreograph panels (without sealant) which come in 72” or 96” tall sizes.
#5 Shower wall panel system under $1,750- Acrylic wall panels* (note the asterisks)
Ok – you may be asking – so here’s the second item in the list with an asterisk, what gives?
Well the reason the acrylic wall panels have an asterisk is many company’s who advertise these panels REFUSE to wholesale them to you. They’ll only sell them to you IF they install them (which will cost you A LOT more than $1,750). So, not withstanding this challenge let’s take a look at 5 things to like about acrylic wall panels.
5 reasons to like acrylic shower & tub wall panels (advantages)
- 1) It’s the least expensive system on this list – As you’ll see below the retail pricing of acrylic wall panels (IF you can find them) is less than the other 4 items on this list). It’s always nice to spend less.
- 2) Installs in one day – Many of the acrylic installation companies boast ‘one day installations’ (although some do cut time by going over old material – which IMHO is a BIG mistake). This material installs quickly, in any event.
- 3) Multiple designs – There are subway tile, windmill style and stone tile designs in multiple marbleized and solid colors.
- 4) Acrylic won’t stain or yellow – Acrylic doesn’t fade or yellow like the fiberglass walls you may be looking to replace.
- 5) 10 years to a lifetime guarantee for the cheapest material on the list-The material warranty in relation to the price is not bad.
Here’s a few things which could be better (disadvantages) about acrylic wall panels
- It’s hard to find this material if you want to DIY it – You’ll see the company’s who advertise acrylic panels in the newspaper, online or via direct mail magazines. These companies will rarely sell materials to a do-it-yourselfer.
- It looks cheap – Let’s face facts, acrylic is a plastic. Some people won’t accept this as a ‘high quality’ shower or bathtub wall upgrade.
- The accessories are ugly and outdated – Corner caddies which are made from a mold, don’t scream out high-quality!
- The product is promoted by too many ‘one-call-close’ sales reps – Since the acrylic market is flooded with companies the competition between them is intense. This results in high-pressure tactics from some companies. Their reps will ‘make you an offer you can’t refuse IF you sign tonight!’ You shouldn’t feel pressured to do business with anyone.
- Going over old tiles IS NOT the way to go – Way too many acrylic companies – in order to save them money and to get ‘in and out’ in one day promote going over your old tile with acrylic panels. Don’t be talked into this. If you put a waterproof wall panel over a wall with mold behind old tiles, you’ll trap the mold inside. Trapped mold is baaaaaad!
Estimated Costs of acrylic wall panels– Expect to pay between $600 and $800 for 48 x 36 to 60 x 32 sizes of acrylic panels. Most likely you’ll find the product in home centers.
How can we help you next?
I know I’ve thrown a lot of advantages and disadvantages at you with my list of 5 best DIY shower wall panels under $1,750. In the end I’d recommend you do your homework. Get samples. See which system you like best. Don’t settle for ‘cheap imitations’ to tile.
In the end, remember one thing….
This bathroom is (or should be) all about YOU!
If you need help sifting through options, me and my team would love to help. Call us at 877-668-5888 or click below to request a wall panel sample of 3 of the 5 systems mentioned above.
- Free laminate wall panel sample
- Free PVC composite wall panel sample
- Free cultured granite wall panel sample
Thanks for reading,
Call or click these links for help
If you’re looking for wholesale direct nationwide supply (or a recommendation for an installing dealer) of grout free shower panels or durable shower pans call Innovate Building Solutions at 877-668-5888. If you want to be a tub or shower wall panel dealer call Mike at 888-467-7488.
For a remodeling project call The Bath Doctor in Cleveland at 216-658-1270 or for product supply in Columbus call 614-252-7294.