How to Compare a Low Profile vs. a Ramped vs. a Zero Threshold Shower Pan
If you need a safer shower pan in your bathroom remodel or new home and don’t have a clue which option is best for you, I can tell you you’re not alone.
You see I’ve worked with thousands of people who want to ‘age in place’ or their mobility is not as good as they’d like it to be. They want a shower pan which not only works now, but into the future as well. But they’re frozen in their tracks trying to figure out which option is best.
You’ve likely heard terms like low profile shower pan, or zero threshold shower or a ramped base. However, if you’re being honest (and even if you’re being dishonest) they’re all Greek to you. And not only are there a lot of options in curb vs. curbless shower pan designs, but they’re available in a bevy (that’s a fancy word I threw in to impress you – is it working?) of material options. You can get shower pans made of solid surface, cultured granite, expanded polystyrene, mortar beds, acrylic, and fiberglass to name a few.
And while it would be nice if this article answered ALL your questions – quite frankly to do it, this article would be too darn long – and I might lose your interest (unless I’m very informative and/or an over-the-top entertainer). So, you may be asking – what is this article going to answer – and what will it leave out. Here’s what I will (and won’t) cover in this post.
- In Section 1 I’ll define what low profile, ramped and zero threshold showers are.
- In Section 2 I’ll dig into the advantages and disadvantages of each of these safe shower base designs and who(m) they’re best suited for (IMHO).
- Finally in Section 3 while I won’t recommend any particular manufacturer’s base or tell you what material type is best – I will give you additional articles to help you draw your own conclusion which safe shower base option is right for your situation.
So, let’s begin by defining these 3 types of safe shower floor pans.
Section 1 – The definition of low profile, ramped and zero threshold shower pans
Definition of a low-profile shower pan
A low-profile pan has a lower curb (or threshold) from 1 ¼” to 3” high on one, two or three sides. This low curb makes it simple to step over. A low profile pan can be made of many materials from solid surface, cultured granite, expanded polystyrene, acrylic, and fiberglass (to name the most popular).
Definition of a ramped shower pan
A ramped shower pan has a slope at its entrance. This slope can either be part of the shower pan – or separate from the pan. This raised area makes it possible to roll a wheelchair in. Ramped shower bases – like they’re low-profile counterparts – can be made of solid surface, cultured granite, expanded polystyrene, acrylic and fiberglass.
Definition of a Zero Threshold shower pan (also known as a wet room or flat shower floor)
A zero threshold shower pan has no curb to step over. It’s a flat floor between the bathroom and the shower ‘wet space.’ And while it doesn’t have a curb, it’s still pitched to a shower drain which is the lowest point in the room. A zero-threshold pan can be made from solid surface, cultured granite, expanded polystyrene, acrylic, and fiberglass. One thing to note with zero threshold pans, your floor joists may need to be lowered for several of these materials to create one continuous waterproof space between the shower and bathroom.
Now, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of these 3 safe shower pan options.
Section 2 – The advantages and disadvantages of low profile, ramped and zero threshold shower pans
I want you to know my goal in this article IS NOT to sell you a shower pan. And it’s NOT to tell you which manufacturer or material I like best (because they all have their place depending on your needs). However, what I do care about is one thing and one thing only….
I want to make sure you learn enough to choose the best (and safest) shower base for your project (and your family).
And the other reason I’m not looking to steer you in any particular direction, is my company (which does wholesale shower pans across the country and is a Cleveland bathroom remodeling contractor also) – offers a wide range of options, and we don’t believe choosing a shower pan (or any type) is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ proposition. Bottom line – you NEED the right pan for you.
So – lets’ look at the advantages and disadvantages of these 3 safe shower pans. I’ll identify who(m) I think each option is best suited for at the end of each section.
(Option 1) Advantages of a low-profile shower pan
Of the 3 types of shower pans in this article, the low-profile pan is BY FAR the most popular and the advantages below are the reasons.
- Low profile pans are more cost effective than ramped or zero threshold one level showers – Hey, unless you’re ‘made of money’ (as your Dad NEVER said) cost is a key variable in making decisions for your bathroom project. Since low profile pans are made in common-sizes and at high volumes, they’ll cost less than a ramped or one level wet room system.
- They’re good for resale – Since almost anyone (except someone in a wheelchair) can use these pans, they don’t have a negative impact on resale and don’t look like ‘someone with a handicap’ lives here (and sorry to NOT be politically correct how I said that, but I want to let you know how some potential buyers will view options like ramped shower pans).
- They look contemporary – A lower profile pan looks much less ‘bulky’ (and ‘old-school) than a “standard” 4” or 5” shower curb which is a pain (literally) to step over. Low profile pans are modern.
- They come in cool patterns – You’ll see fun stone shower pan lines like this unit from Spain which show how high fashion low profile shower pans can be.
- You can add on a ramp later – With this solid surface shower pan you can adhere an ‘add-on’ ramp later if someone in your family needs more assistance.
- Offers more privacy than ramped shower pans– Since you can use glass doors with low curb shower pans, you can maintain your privacy vs. a ramped shower base where you can’t use a glass door at the entry.
(Option 1) Disadvantages of a low-profile shower pan
- You’ll need shower glass or a weighted curtain to keep water inside – Since low profile pans are low to the ground (and have less room for water to build up inside when you drain gets clogged) – you’ll want to use glass shower doors (or at a minimum a weighted shower curtain) to keep water inside.
- You’ll need to be more careful if you have a small corner shower pan – Since low profile pans don’t by their nature have as much depth for water to build up, you’ll need to be more cautious if you’re choosing one for a small corner shower – which doesn’t have a lot of surface area.
- They’re difficult to use with a wheelchair – Going over a 1 1/8” to 3” high shower curb with a wheelchair IS NOT easy (or recommended).
Who is a low-profile shower pan best for? Low profile pans are best for those who need a safer shower pan, but also want one which is cost effective, and contemporary in design. This pan IS NOT a good choice for someone who uses a wheelchair – or might need one in the future.
So, now that we’ve covered the advantages and disadvantages of low-profile pan, let’s look at the ramped shower base.
(Option 2) Advantages of a ramped shower pan
- You’ll be able to keep your bathroom floor intact– Unlike a zero threshold one level shower where you’ll waterproof the room (shower and bathroom floors), a ramped shower base only needs to be waterproofed where the base is set.
- Ramped bases are less expensive than one level zero threshold shower pans – Although ramped bases are more expensive than low profile pans, they’re less expensive than zero threshold showers which require waterproofing a larger area than simply the shower space.
(Option 2) Disadvantages of a ramped shower pan
- They scream out ‘disability’ and hurt resale value – NO-BODY chooses a ramped shower pan UNLESS they need a ramped shower pan. They’re reserved for people with disabilities (and sorry for not using a politically correct term). And people who don’t have disabilities don’t want a shower designed for someone with special needs (I’m just ‘keepin’ it real here, as Randy Jackson from American Idol used to say). And if this your forever home, I’d strongly consider the higher (initial) investment (that’s the PC term for it’s going to cost you more) of a zero-threshold shower which looks stylish and works for people of all abilities (now I’m using a nicer term).
- You can’t fully enclose the shower – Since you can’t add a glass shower door where the ramp is, you’ll need to be comfortable with an open roll in shower– even if you’d prefer a warmer, fully-enclosed glass shower.
- Water can roll out – If you do use a ramped roll in shower, you’ll need to come to grips with the fact that while it’s simpler to ‘roll in,’ it’s also simpler for water to ‘roll out.’ And if you choose this base, I’d recommend waterproofing 4’ outside the shower pan for extra protection.
- You have to ‘travel up,’ then ‘travel down’ in a small area – Since ramped pans are sloped in the front, by necessity what goes up the ramp (you and your wheelchair), must go down the ramp (towards the drain). And if the dexterity of the person using this base is not so good, this exercise of traveling up and then traveling down a ramp can be a challenge vs. the ease of navigating through a one level (zero-threshold) shower floor.
Who is a ramped shower pan best for? While I’ll admit I’m NOT a big fan of ramped shower pans based on the disadvantages above, they can be the right choice for someone who uses a wheelchair, has a limited budget and isn’t worried about resale value.
So, lastly let’s turn our attention to the advantages and disadvantages of zero-threshold shower pan (AKA the one level wet room shower).
(Option 3) Advantages of a zero threshold one level shower system
- They can be used in small showers – Since zero-threshold showers don’t require dividing the space between the shower and bathroom floor – they can be used in smaller bathrooms (and showers). This is one reason they’re popular in Europe and Asia where bathrooms are tinier.
- They’re easy for people of all abilities to use – Since you don’t have to step over a curb (or travel up a ramp, and then down towards a drain), the one level shower is uber-easy to get into and out of. It’s perfect for grandkids and grandparents alike.
- You don’t have to worry about water coming out – When you make a zero-threshold shower with a one level wet room system (where the shower and bathrooms floors are waterproofed) you won’t care if water comes out of the shower – because the bathroom floor is also waterproofed!
- There’s no curb to trip over – You won’t need to worry about an elderly parent tripping and breaking their hip because there is no curb to trip over!
- You’ll get a contemporary look – Bathrooms trends today favor clean and sleek looks. This is exactly what you get with a barrier free zero threshold shower.
- You can add a glass shower enclosure – If you want to be cozy and warm in the shower, you can still use a full glass enclosure in a one level shower.
(Option 3) Disadvantages of a zero threshold one level shower system
- It’s more expensive than a low profile or a sloped shower pan – Unfortunately for most of us, budget matters. And there’s no denying zero threshold one level showers are more expensive. Not only are the material costs higher, but the labor is also because you may need to alter the joists and/or waterproof the shower and bathroom floors.
- Fewer contractors are experienced installing zero threshold wet room showers – When you talk about a zero-threshold shower, there are some contractors who (as my dad used to say), “Don’t know their butts from a hole in the ground.” They’ll recommend ‘old school’ techniques for a ‘no-barrier entry’ (like ‘dropping the floor’ and pouring a mortar base). Or they’ll simply pass on your job (or blow you off after seeing your project) due to a lack of knowledge (which may be better in the long than ‘experimenting’ on your home).
Who is a zero-threshold shower pan best for? What’s interesting about zero-threshold showers is they’re not only used for people who need a safer shower, but also for people who want a more stylish shower. And while you’ll pay more for this system, it’s nice knowing it’ll give you a look and function which makes it a positive selling feature if you decide to move down the road. Bottom line – it’s safe and stylish.
Section 3 – Additional articles to learn more about safe shower pans
While the articles below WERE NOT meant to be a comprehensive guide to choose the best material and manufacturer for your safer shower pan, they will help you learn more about safer shower pans and which one is best for you. And if you don’t find this to be true – please ask about my ‘Money-Back-Guarantee’ (oops, I forgot I gave you this article for free!).
So, what’s the best – and safest – shower pan for you? How can I (or my team) help you?
Even though I’ve worked to lay out the advantages and disadvantages of low-profile, ramped and zero threshold shower pans – I know I haven’t talked to you individually about your project and specific size and needs.
Recognizing this – I’d like to tell you me (and my team) would love to help you with more information, recommendations and product options. And who knows, you may even decide to buy (or have a system installed if you live in Cleveland Ohio) a safe shower pan from my company (hey, I gotta make a living somehow and pay those kid’s college expenses!).
So, if you’d like assistance nationwide, call Innovate Building Solutions at 877-668-5888 or click for a Free Design Consultation. We offer lines of grout free shower wall panels, shower bases, glass shower doors and bathroom accessories.
Lastly, if you’re a remodeler or builder and want advice on remodeling products, industry trends, marketing and sales tips to grow your business (and cut day to day hassles), read my newest blog – Innovate Builders Blog. It’s packed with ideas you can use now to make money in your business. Click here to Sign Up for the Innovate Builders Blog. If you’d like to learn how to become a shower wall panel dealer or call and ask for Mike at 888-467-7488.
To connect on LinkedIn, go to @MikeFotiLinkedIn.
Thanks for reading,