Deciding on the right shower and tub wall panels is tough enough, but it becomes ‘doubly-difficult’ when the two systems you’re comparing are newer to the United States market (even if one of them has been around the world market for over 26 years).
While Kohler Choreograph (also known as LuxStone) and Fibo laminate wall panels are both 100% waterproof, simple to maintain, respected brands in their country of origin (everyone knows Kohler in the United States and Fibo is used in 1/3 of the homes in Norway) and are an excellent alternatives to tile, this is where the similarities end.
As you’ll see below the Kohler and Fibo wall panels both have their strengths and weaknesses, just like you and I (note: even my wife of 35+ years thinks I have a few weaknesses…OK I’m lying, she thinks I have more than a few!).
Tile is such an established building material. It dates back more than 25,000 years. That’s a Ripley’s Believe it Or Not stat you don’t even have to pay $14.99 admission to learn.
Tile is the great, great, great Grandfather of shower surround surfaces. It’s a fun, inventive and versatile material. On the other hand, it can be a pain to clean. It can be a pain to install. It can be a drain on your wallet.
It’s because of these downsides of tile new materials (like laminate shower wall panels discussed in this article) are looking to ‘bump tile’ off its bathroom throne (OK – that’s a bad pun – I know!).
If you’re not familiar with laminate wall panels they were invented over 25 years ago in Norway. They’re 3/8” thick. The thickness of most tiles. They’re approximately 2’ x 8’ in size. They’re used in shower, tub and bathroom walls to provide a waterproof, yet stylish surround. They install like laminate flooring. They click and lock together. However, unlike laminate flooring they also are adhered and waterproofed with a hybrid polymer sealant.
In this article we’ll take a look ‘under the hood’ (or in this case under the grout joint or wall panel) and compare the advantages of laminate wall panels vs. a tile shower and vice versa.
At the end there will be a quiz (but don’t sweat it – you won’t be graded!) to see which system you’d like to use for your next bathroom remodeling project.
You’ve probably heard of FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out), but I’ll bet you haven’t heard of FOFO. FOFO is the Fear of Figuring it Out …on the fly…. while blowing your hard-earned money in the process. I would tell you about FOFO’s cousin (FOFU – the Fear of F***ing Up), but I stopped swearing 15 years ago.
When it comes to remodeling (and shower remodeling mistakes in particular) FOFO and FOFU (for those of you who swear) are waaaay too common. You know the following facts are true from past projects:
Fact #1) Mistakes can be costly.
Fact #2) Remodeling mistakes can make the project drag on longer than a painting project done by ‘Eldon The Painter’ (he was the painter who never left on the old TV show, Murphy Brown).
Nobody (whether you’re DIY’ing the job or using a contractor) wants to shell out extra dough when better planning could have helped you get your job done for less.
In this article it’s my goal (as a guy whose team has worked with thousands of homeowners and contractors) to give you practical shower remodeling tips to reduce your mistakes. I want to save you time, money and aggravation.
So, let’s look at 11 shower remodeling mistakes you don’t need to make.
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. Let’s check out the 9 dumb mistakes.
I remember when our company got into the bathtub and shower wall panel business 15 years ago. All the rage was the quick to install ‘One Day Bathroom’ with acrylic wall panels. The manufacturer promoted an in and out process. Simply take 3 sheets of acrylic. Cut them to size. Adhere them with butyl tape over ceramic tile walls and voila, in one day, your customer has a new shower or tub surround.
They told us this would be a simple (and profitable) job.
And the truth is it is simple and profitable for the contractor doing it. However, here’s the question…and it’s the only question (in the end) which matters.
Are acrylic tub and shower ‘makeovers’ which go over tile the best option for the owner of the home?
The (somewhat) straightforward answer to this question is yes, no and maybe (right now, you’re likely thinking, “Mike – what kind of a B.S. ‘Switzerland-like’ answer is that?). But, in actuality there are a number of factors you need to look at when you’re comparing whether to get a low-cost acrylic wall panel system vs. a higher-end product like laminate shower wall panels.
OK, if you’re not familiar with laminate wall panels I’ll step back and tell you they’re approximately 2’ wide x 8’ tall x 3/8” thick waterproof wall panels. They have a laminate front (which can have tile, stone and marble patterns), are applied on a marine grade plywood backing with a vapor barrier on the rear surface. This product is used extensively in countries like Norway where you’d find it on 1/3 of the bathroom and shower walls. It’s also growing by leaps and bounds in the United States today.
Since you’re likely not a shower wall panel installer or salesperson (and likely don’t play one TV – and neither does anyone else to the best of my knowledge) it can be difficult knowing how to compare acrylic and laminate wall panels. You just know you want the best bathroom surround system for your job. This is exactly the reason I wrote this article.
Below I’ll look at the advantages of laminate wall panels vs. acrylic. Second, I’ll turn the tables and we’ll peek at the disadvantages of acrylic wall panels vs. laminate.
At the end, I’d love your opinion and/or additional questions so you can get your arms around your best choice.
In the United States (especially in the late 1980’s and 1990’s) cultured marble shower wall panels were hot. Builders and homeowners loved their 3/8” thick construction. They loved their durability. They loved the fact they look like marble slabs – at a far lower cost. You can even get a cultured marble vanity top or shower pan to match your walls.
In Europe (and especially in Norway) in the 1990’s a new wall panel product was born. This system would take the Euro bathroom wall surround market by storm. These units, called laminated shower panels, are also 3/8” thick. However, unlike its ‘molded’ brother cultured stone, which is made in big sheets, the laminate panels are 2’ x 8’ sections. They weigh 26 lbs.
Laminated wall panels have grown like wildfire. They’re now as popular as ceramic tile in Norway. They make up 1/3 of the bathroom wall surround market in this country.
It wasn’t until last year (when laminate panels were introduced in the U.S.) that these two wall systems would ‘face off.’ OK, it’s not exactly a ‘championship wrestling Battle Royale’ yet, but homeowners in the United States are now comparing and contrasting these two options.
The question I (and my team) get all the time now (since we design with both) is what are the advantages and disadvantages of each system? Which do you like better? Which would be best for my project? Which product is cheaper? (Note, actually they cost about the same, so this isn’t a big factor in choosing one over another).
While it would be simple to declare one the ‘winner,’ like in life, it’s not that simple. As I tell customers,
“Wall panels are like people. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.”
In this article my goal is to deliver this comparison in true Joe Friday from Dragnet fashion. I’m going to offer up “Just the facts ma’am, as Joe used to say (or sir, if we’re going to be P.C. about it).”
If your tile and fiberglass shower and tub wall surround panels today are a disaster, you’re not alone. Moldy, dirty tile grout joints. Yellowed, stained and cracked fiberglass. You know you don’t want to stare at (or deal with the maintenance of) these products any more.
So, you’re burning a digital trail on Google attempting to find a high-quality, high-style option to blow up the ugliness which is your shower wall surrounds today. Your ‘digital tire-kicking’ has led you to 3 common options:
Option #1 – Bath-in-a-Day acrylic wall panels – These 1/8” thick (or should I say thin) panels aren’t impressive. They’re pressed out of a mold (and look it). You can’t find a DIY kit to save your life (note- the reason for this is the ‘Bath-in-a-Day’ franchises want to come out to hard-close you in an old-fashioned Tin-Men-esque style).
Option #2 –Decorative PVC composite wall panels – These ¼” thick panels have many bold patterns. They’re simple to install. You’re just not sure if you want so much pattern in your walls – or if the designs fit your interior design theme.
Option #3 –Cultured marble or solid surface wall panels – These man-made 3/8” thick wall panels (which look like marble, granite and stone) are built like a tank. They’re durable. They’re rock-solid. That’s the good news. The bad news is they’re traditional – but you want a contemporary look. They’re heavy (a 60” wide panel will weigh about 130 pounds and takes 2 people to install). They’re an option, but their look and installation scare you.
You start to think, is there a contemporary, higher-quality, simple to install option which beats the ‘usual’ choices?
If you haven’t grown up in Europe you may be saying, “What in the ‘H-E-Double Hockey sticks’ (you’re using this term because this is a ‘family-friendly’ blog post) are laminated wall panels and why should I give a hoot?”
In this article my goal is to help you get your arms around that question by giving you information about 11 frequently asked questions about this product. You’ll see why 1/3 of the homes in Norway use these bathroom panels. You’ll see why they’re getting HOT, HOT, HOT in the United States as well. Let’s dig in.
Just think about the assumptions and ‘old wives’ tales’ you heard growing up you know today are a bunch of hogwash. Here’s a few assumptions I’ve put in my rear-view mirror:
Assumption #1)If you eat watermelon seeds, you’ll grow a watermelon in your stomach. As a little kid (before seedless watermelons) I ate a tone of watermelon seeds and I haven’t grown a watermelon yet.
Assumption#2)Eating chocolate causes acne. Studies have shown it’s not the chocolate which is the problem, it’s the sugar and dairy in the chocolate. I wish I would have known this as a pimply-faced teenager. It’s cool to know today my “Hershey bar with Almonds pick-me-up strategy” won’t cause me to break out (especially since Mr. Hershey takes all the sugar out just for me).
Assumption #3)Eating carrots will improve your eyesight. While carrots do contain nutrients like Vitamin A, it’s been shown they have no positive effect on your eyesight. I’m calling my Mom right now to give her a piece of my mind (…. just kidding Mom).
The reality is we can’t believe everything our parents and friends tell us. We can’t believe everything we read. However, there is one source everyone can believe. We can believe all the political news on the Internet (a bit of sarcasm thrown in).
Just like you can’t (and shouldn’t) believe all the old sayings rummaging around in your head, you can’t believe the ‘half-truths’ and assumptions you’re hearing about shower wall panels (even from your contractor or the guy/gal in the orange smock at the big-box store). As a guy who has been in the shower wall panel installation and supply industry from (what seems like) the time Moses was a boy, when I think I’ve heard it all, I hear another gem coming from homeowners and contractors alike.
In this article my goal is simple:
I want to blow up the B.S. circulating about shower wall panels. Here’s how.
I’m going to list 10 assumptions about shower wall panels you need to throw out your bathroom window right now. Killing these assumptions will help you make sound purchases based on better information.
At the end, let me know other ‘false-truths’ you’ve heard you now know are full of it.
You’ve finally gotten a hold of Pauly Path-Of-Least-Resistance, President of Krazy Cool Contracting Inc. You’ve set up a Free in-home estimate for next Thursday. Your goal of upgrading the bathroom for you and your husband Bill – now that your 3 kids are (almost) out of the house – is about to become a reality.
Pauly’s the hard to get contractor in your small town. Despite his funny name (and company name for that matter) he’s known for high quality bathroom remodeling work and stands by his warranties. Your neighbors and friends have told you to use him.
Since the 3 other companies you’ve called haven’t even sent you a quote (after meeting with them a month ago) you’re ready to rock n’ roll with Pauly. He’s a shoo-in to get your job. This is a fact you’re trying to keep on the Q-T, so his price won’t force you to get a 2nd job!
Everything’s going well during your initial appointment until you break the news to Pauly. You tell him you want a partially colored free-standing walk in curved glass block shower wall. You also mention you want grout free wall panels and an easy to clean shower pan. You want simplicity at all costs (OK – maybe not at all costs) but certainly simpler to maintain is high on your list.
Pauly starts ripping off all the reasons he CAN’T do this job based on your product choices. Here are some things he rants about:
I don’t know how to do a glass block shower – and I don’t know any subcontractors who know their way around this material either.
I’ve never installed a curved glass wall of any sort (glass or glass blocks for that matter) before.
He asks, why do you want glass blocks? They’re out of style anyway.
You know the block wall will fall if it’s not supported on all sides.
Why do you want grout free wall panels? They look cheap and plasticky.
After he’s done ripping off all the reasons it CAN’T be done you’re tempted to chime in with the trite motivational statement, “Can is just can’t without a T.” You bite your tongue and think better of it (after all he’s the best contractor in town and you don’t want to piss him off).
However, you’re not ready to give up on your glass block shower dream– and you’re prepared for his objections. You’ve got a list of 7 secrets (I’ve given you the cheat-sheet below) your chosen ‘path-of-least-resistance’ contractor, Pauly, may not want to know, but you can share to get him over to your side.
You’ve decided to venture out into the harsh-cruel world of bathroom remodeling for your own home or one of your rentals. You’re no longer willing to be a slave to an outdated, unsafe and flat-out ugly shower, tub, vanity, toilet – you name it. You desire the promised land of a Pinterest and Houzz-inspired bathroom. A space which is relaxing, well-light, safe for your family, with plenty of storage. This bathroom won’t have you on your hands and knees praying for a savior to liberate your hand from your scrub brush.
Making the decision to remodel is easy. Planning and doing the job -whether you hire a ‘professional contractor’ (you may debate if there is such a thing) or rolling up your sleeves and doing it yourself – is another thing.
You need guidance and support.
At times you need a savior to bail your butt out. Ouch!
How can you move from the vision of a beautiful spa-inspired bathroom, minimize the trials and tribulations of the construction process and be ‘saved’ from the nastiness which is your current space?
You could go into the Mojave Desert looking for a stone tablet with words of bathroom remodeling wisdom. I doubt you’ll find anything useful. You will locate funky lizards, cougars and tasty prickly pears (if you haven’t tried this fruit, you should – but I digress). Bathroom remodeling inspiration will be in short supply.
A better strategy – crank up your electronic tablet and put into practice the 10 Commandments of bathroom remodeling success below. Will they save you from all trials and tribulations along the way? I doubt it. They will get you a more inspired bathroom with less hassle along the way. Your friends and family may exalt you and your bathroom transformation – and even want to check out your ‘throne’ (I’m getting too flowery here). Let’s check out the 10 Commandments.