A Step by Step Guide to Buying Shower Wall Panels
So, you’re sick and tired of cleaning tile shower grout and are determined to buy a shower wall panel system to eliminate the hassle of moldy and dirty joints once and for all.
You said to yourself, “How difficult can it be buying shower wall panels?” Of course, you said this BEFORE you got down to the task at hand. Then you found soooo many different products, sizes, thicknesses, and installation methods it made your head spin.
Suddenly, the simple – I’m buying shower wall panels – wasn’t simple any longer. Different manufacturers making different claims. You don’t know what to believe. It started sounding as one-sided as cable news channels reporting on the political candidates – ha! ha!
As a guy who has lead a business (for more years than I care to admit) which wholesales shower wall panels across the United States, and does bathroom remodeling in Cleveland Ohio which installs them I can tell you I’ve seen ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ in shower wall panel options. And I DO NOT want you to experience the ugly (either because you paid too much for an inferior product, or feel you got ‘stuck with’ a choice which ‘cheapened’ your newly remodeled bathroom).
To guide you through this shower wall panel buying decision, I’ll lay out a 9-step process. I don’t want you to waste time or get a product you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. So, let’s dig in.
Step 1 – Determine your budget
Isn’t it disheartening to spend a LOT of time researching a product, then you ‘fall in love’ with it only to learn it’s waaaay beyond your budget?
This is a lesson in frustration you can do without. You need to think through your budget FIRST, so you don’t go on a ‘wild goose chase’ (as my Dad used to say).
If money is tight (or you’re using these panels in a low-cost rental) your ‘top’ (or lowest budget) choices will be FRP (fiberglass reinforced plastic), fiberglass or acrylic. For a standard 60” x 32” shower these 3 types of wall panels will cost between $250 and $1,000.
On the other hand, if you want an upgraded system – without blowing BIG BUCKS – the mid-priced offerings are laminate wall panels, PVC composite units or cultured stone. Expect to pay between $1,000 and $2,500 for a 3-wall standard sized 60” x 32” shower alcove.
And if budget is no option (you just hit the lottery or your rich Uncle Biff died leaving you a big inheritance), check out marble or granite slabs or high gloss acrylic wall panels. These panels will run between $3,000 and $6,000 for a standard 60” x 32” alcove shower.
Finally, if you want to do a ‘deep dive’ (OK – I’ll admit I HATE this corporate jargon phrase, but used it to amuse you) into this subject read, How Much Will My Shower Wall Panel Project Cost? or click on the image below.
Step 2 – Decide if you’re going to DIY this project yourself, work with a buddy or have it professionally installed
Not all shower wall panels are the same difficulty to install (right now, you’re likely saying, “Tell me something I don’t know Captain Obvious?”).
Some low-priced systems like FRP (fiberglass reinforced plastic), fiberglass and acrylic are relatively straightforward to put in (although you need to watch for shrinkage when you’re cutting them). However, these same systems are hard to install alone because they’re wafer thin and awkward especially if you have a 60” or larger wall to do). In addition, some of these panels’ (especially acrylic) are only sold through professional installing dealers (which makes it tough on the DIY’er to buy them).
For the mid-priced panels – my favorite (as far as ease of installation is concerned) for a DIY’er are the PVC composite shower panels. They’re super-simple to cut (you can even cut them with a carpenter’s knife). Another winning system is laminate shower panels (which are 2’ x 8’ x 3/8” thick rigid boards which only weigh 26 lbs.). They can be installed by one person, which is a BIG bonus if you like to work alone. The cultured stone shower panels – while thick and durable – are super-heavy (a 5’ x 8’ x 3/8” thick panel weighs 120 lbs.). So, if you’re using this product YOU WILL need help installing.
Also – the very expensive wall panels like marble slabs and high gloss acrylic are tricky to install. However, if you have the bucks to buy them, you most likely have the bucks to hire a professional installer.
Step 3 – Measure how tall do you need the panels to be?
The height of your shower system is a key component in figuring out what system you should use. Some people love to take their wall panels to the ceiling (which in most bathrooms is 96” tall) so they no longer have to paint the area between the shower surround and the ceiling.
Others prefer to save money with shorter panels (and/or make it easier to install by not having to match the panels up to an uneven ceiling). They like to buy a 72” or 80” tall system. Some products (like the PVC composite wall panels seen below and cultured stone are available in multiple system heights) while other panels only come in 8’ high panels (like laminate and high gloss acrylic wall panels).
PVC Composite Wall Panels
When checking on prices ask your supplier if you have height options.
Step 4 – Measure the width of your walls.
The width of your wall panels (if they’re ‘standard widths’ like 36”, 48” and 60” wide or custom sizes) will not only determine if you will need to cut or ‘seam’ panels together, but can also be a key factor if you’re able to afford them (note – with solid surface or cultured stone systems you’ll pay a 25% to 50% premium for custom cut shower wall panel widths).
However, with interlocking panels (like the laminate wall panels which click and lock like laminate flooring) you can do literally any length walls with the same 2’ x 8’ panels (checkout the laminate wall panels being installed below). This feature eliminates the premium associated with custom sized walls.
In addition, some systems need ‘seam trim’ if your wall is wider than the width of their standard panels (which in many cases maxes out at 60” wide).
For whatever system you’re looking to buy, figure out the widths you need and ask if your preferred choice is available in only standard widths, or if they can be ‘customized’ without extra cost to you.
Step 5 – Make sure you can buy a ‘shower kit’ with all the supplies you need
One of the ‘nails-on-a-chalkboard’ moments is when you’re assembling a toy for your son, daughter or grandchild and come upon those 3 NASTY words….
Batteries not included!
Then when you realize there a Z-E-R-O batteries in the house and you have to go out to crazy-crowded stores so you don’t let the little one down, you’re more than a bit bummed (OK, if we’re being real, you’re muttering a few ‘not-PG-rated’ words)!
The same frustration (and worse) happens with shower wall panels, although the result can be way more problematic than missing a few batteries. Some retailers and manufacturers sell ‘panels only.’ And as a matter of fact, I have tons of people who call us and ask if they can buy the ‘panels only.’ We tell them no and say this is a BAD idea. And here’s why.
If the manufacturer or supply house leaves it up to you to figure out the ‘all-too-important’ sealant to use between or behind the panels, you know who they’re going to blame if years from now the system fails. In case you haven’t come up with this answer. It would be ….
In addition, some wall panel manufacturers want you to ‘figure out’ the trim pieces for the end of the wall (cheap systems like FRP are famous for this).
These ‘errors and omissions’ (as they might say in a court of law) are a BIG PAIN IN THE REAR FOR YOU!
Why settle for guessing and buying a ‘hodge-podge’ (as my Dad used to say) of sealants and trims you ‘hope’ are the right products with your wall panels?
My advice is if you’re buying a wall panel system which doesn’t include a kit with everything you need, I’d look at another product. You don’t want to learn (after the fact) your warranty was voided because you bought the wrong sealant AND wasted your time chasing down parts. And while we’re talking about warranty, let’s check out Step 6.
Step 6 – Does the manufacturer put their money where their mouth is? Ask about the warranty.
It’s easy for a manufacturer to brag their shower wall panels are the best thing since sliced Wonder Bread (even though my health-conscious, carb-cutting wife doesn’t think sliced Wonder bread is ANYTHING to brag about!). Claims are worthless UNLESS they’re backed with a long and strong warranty.
And all warranties for shower wall panels ARE NOT created equal.
You’ll find 1 year, 10 year and even lifetime warranties. Generally, you’ll find the cheaper the panels, the shorter the warranty. And if you’re simply doing a ‘fix and flip’ of a rental property maybe warranty isn’t a big concern. However, if you’re planning to stay in your home until they ‘wheel you out,’ you’ll want a warranty you can count on.
Manufacturers like Fibo (who make laminate wall panels), Sentrel (who make the PVC composite wall panels) and Onyx (who make cultured granite wall panels) have industry leading lifetime warranties. They’re moderately priced products with excellent warranties. There’s nothing like a robust warranty to give you peace of mind and a value-oriented purchase.
Step 7 – Ask for free samples to ‘experience’ the product for yourself
So many products look ‘Be-U-Tee-Full’ in digitally created renderings. However, after you get your hands on them, the actual product pales in comparison to the image you loved so much!
This same challenge is also true of shower wall panels.
For example, some ‘tile-looking’ acrylic and cultured stone panels shine on the Internet. However, when you see them in real life, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know they’re as molded (and not in a good way) as your favorite Bundt cake (but not as tasty or as good looking as the cake shown below). Sorry to taunt you with this picture! And besides not being ‘tasty,’ these panels don’t give you the realistic look you want.
To make sure you’re not a victim of a beautiful looking image which disappoints you when you see it live and in living color, insist on getting product samples.
If the manufacturer or distributor won’t get you a sample, it’s time to say, “Next!”
Step 8 – Identify if the finishes and pattern options elevate your bathroom
While a plain white glossy shower wall panel may be all you (functionally) need, it may not create the ‘wow’ look you want. And when you’re spending a good chunk of change remodeling your bathroom, why shouldn’t your shower wall panels get you excited to use (and show off) your bathroom?
And this is where you need to know what finish and pattern options are available.
For example, do you want a more reflective, high gloss color or use large format faux tile wall panels to make your bathroom feel bigger? Or conversely, are you looking for the relaxed ‘spa feeling’ and want a ‘matte finished wall panel to ‘take you away Calgon’ (and if you’re not familiar with this reference have a chuckle while watching this old 1978 commercial below).
Or perhaps you’d like a faux tile pattern or a wood like ceramic look – like you get with the laminate wall panels below? Or maybe a marble texture associated with cultured marble, PVC composite panels (shown below) or laminate wall panels would be best?
PVC Composite Wall Panels
Waterproof Laminate Wall Panels
There’s no reason to settle for a boring shower if you’re choosing grout free wall panels over tile! There ARE panels to upgrade your space, and they don’t have to cost you an arm and a leg either.
Step 9 – Make sure you can get accessories which not only make your shower easy to use, but also nicer to look at.
If you share your shower with someone (like me) who need A LOT of product (shampoos, conditioners, facial masks you name it), you know you NEED accessories (like recessed niches and corner shelves) to keep it organized. Or you may need functional accessories like safety grab bars or fold down seats which you want to know can be safely mounted to keep you loved ones out of the hospital.
And I’ll be honest with you (as if I intended to be dishonest with you), some shower wall panel accessories look like they were designed by old dudes with mullets from the 1980’s (just look at acrylic wall panel ‘corner caddies’ to see what I mean).
Check the manufacturer and distributor web sites for shower accessory options. Do they offer choices which compliment your brushed nickel rain head or wood-look paneled walls? Can you get accessories you need to keep your family safe? How are the accessories installed?
Don’t allow shower accessories to be the ‘ugly ducklings’ of your shower!
How can I (or a member of my team) help you?
After reading these 9 steps to guide your shower wall panel purchase do you still need help with the plethora (OK – that’s a fancy word I used to impress you) of options? If so – we’d love to be of service to you.
Our company – Innovate Building Solutions – is a nationwide supplier of several lines of wall panels – and grout free shower pans. Call us at 877-668-5888 or if you’d like a free wall panel sample click on the links below.
- Click here for a free sample of laminate wall panels.
- Click here for a free sample of PVC composite wall panels.
- Click here for a free sample of high gloss acrylic wall panels.
Call for advice on shower and tub wall panels, grout free cultured stone shower pans, contemporary acrylic bases, or unique glass enclosures at 877-668-5888. Click for a Free Design Consultation. For a Cleveland bathroom remodeling project call The Bath Doctor at 216-658-1280.
Thanks for reading and putting up with my humor,