Tile Vs. Plastic Shower Enclosure

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Tile in a shower adds value to a home.
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When installing a new shower or remodeling an existing one, you might want to investigate the various options for shower materials. These days, prefabricated plastic shower enclosures are an affordable choice with an ever-increasing variety of styles. However, the premium look and resale value of tile can be very attractive to homeowners. Both materials have advantages and disadvantages, and the smart homeowner will consider all the pros and cons before deciding.

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Prefabricated Plastic Shower Enclosures

Prefabricated shower enclosures are typically made from acrylic or fiberglass, rather than plastic, and enclose a shower or tub on two or three sides. They may come as a one-piece unit or in multiple parts. The one-piece units are the most leak-proof, having no seams, but their viable sizes are limited by what can fit through your home's doorways.

The wall units of one-piece and multipiece prefabricated units generally come with shelves, soap dishes and other common shower architectural touches molded into them, and some kits include the shower door as well.

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Home improvement stores often have a small range of prefabricated unit styles and sizes in stock, but an increasing variety of styles, looks/finishes and dimensions are available by special order. High-quality plastic units can often closely imitate the look of tile, marble or granite.

Advantages of Prefabricated Units

Innovate Building Solutions lists several advantages of prefabricated shower units. Prefabricated shower enclosures are do-it-yourself-friendly and wallet-friendly. These units typically cost several hundred dollars less than tile options, and can be installed speedily and easily, often directly over studs. Installation typically doesn't take more than a day, even for beginners.

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These units are also easy to clean and maintain, and the small number of seams — unlike the many grout lines and seams of tile — means these units are much more waterproof. They're also flexible and lightweight, so if the subfloor under the shower is a little uneven, has a little give or can't support a lot of weight, prefabricated plastic shower enclosures are a great choice.

Disadvantages of Prefabricated Units

However, these units are also seen as lower-end building materials and may lower resale value. And while the range of prefabricated looks, styles and finishes is expanding, the selection is still limited compared to the nearly infinite variety available with tile. These units also come in a limited range of stock sizes, so if the dimensions of your bathroom don't meet the specifications, you would need to go with a higher-end and more expensive custom kit or go entirely custom with tile.

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If the prefabricated unit is damaged, such as developing a crack, repairs are difficult and may entail replacing the entire unit. Finally, plastic shower enclosures are not environmentally friendly: the process used to create them releases pollutants, and the units are not easily recyclable and will not decompose.

Custom-Tiled Showers

Tiled shower enclosures are made custom for each space they're in. This involves the complicated process of building, pouring and waterproofing a custom mortar shower pan. This part of the installation is very difficult for a beginner to accomplish and usually involves hiring professionals.

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As Specialized Refinishing explains, the process is also labor-intensive and time-consuming, with multiple drying and curing cycles taking up to a week, even for professionals. These materials are also very heavy, generally putting several hundred pounds of weight on the floor underneath, and if the floor is not sturdy enough, it may not hold up well under the weight. It may flex and crack the mortar, grout or tiles.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Tiles

The potential for cracks, the difficult installation process and the many seams also mean tile showers are much more prone to leaks. Grout lines also have to be maintained and regularly sealed for waterproofing and to prevent cracking and mildew.

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However, there is an infinite range of sizes, styles, looks and finishes of tile, which makes it hard to beat. There are thousands of different types of tile in terms of color, pattern, design, shape and materials, and the shape and dimensions of a custom tile shower can be anything you like. Tile is also considered a premium building material and will typically raise resale value.

Finally, ceramic tile is eco-friendly, being made with natural materials or with available options made from 40 to 60 percent recycled materials. Recycled tile looks just as good as other tiles and is in the same price range. The ceramic tile is also easy to clean and maintain. As long as you stay on top of the grout maintenance, cleaning is a breeze, and if a tile is damaged, it can be replaced individually.

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Choosing a Shower Enclosure

In the end, tile and plastic are solid choices of materials for a shower enclosure. If you're worried about the most difficult part of installing a custom tile shower — the shower pan — it's possible to pair a prefabricated shower pan with custom tiled shower walls. This also somewhat reduces the weight on the floor. Evaluate your bathroom's structure and dimensions, your budget and your tastes, and go with the material that best suits your needs.

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Danielle Smyth is a writer and content marketer from upstate New York. She holds a Master of Science in Publishing from Pace University. She owns her own content marketing agency, Wordsmyth Creative Content Marketing, and she enjoys writing home and DIY articles and blogs for clients in a variety of related industries. She also runs her own lifestyle blog, Sweet Frivolity.