Though tiles are standard fare for showers, they can be time-consuming to install and challenging to keep clean, particularly for smaller or rough-hewn tiles. To bypass grout issues, many designers and tile installers tightly butt tiles together. This tactic, however, does not eliminate the need for grout or seam lines entirely. If quick installation is important, or you simply prefer to use another material over tile, consider acrylic, stone, back-painted glass or solid surfaces.
Acrylic and Fiberglass
Pre-formed acrylic or fiberglass panels and molds have long been available. With advances in technology and manufacturing, instead of flat shower walls, some panels come with stamped or embossed patterns. Select manufacturers offer additional options for white shower surrounds.
Quick and easy to install, as well as easy to clean, acrylic and fiberglass shower kits are lightweight and provide a cost-effective, do-it-yourself alternative to custom or tiled showers. Kits come in standard sizes, such as 36-by-36, and some fabricators will produce custom sizes based on site check measurements.
Back-painted glass is a surface treatment that is moving from commercial interiors into homes. The back side of clear glass is painted and applied facing the wall, so there is no concern about water damage or cleaning materials removing the color from the glass. The glass panels can be cut to the exact size required for the shower, provided they will fit through doorways. Corners have discreet seams, but the rest of the installation can be seam-free. Cuts for shower fixtures are made in advance off-site, pre-installation. A great benefit of glass, no matter the back-painted color, is the reflective quality that will help make the completed bathroom look larger.
If your budget allows, consider stone or stone-look walls. Real stone is a much greater investment, but the selection is vast and the look unique. Slab sizes may vary by quarry and distributor, but floor-to-ceiling slabs for large walk-in showers are easily obtained. As with stone countertops, a good installer can disguise the seams.
An alternative to full stone slabs is a stone panel system. Some manufacturers will place a high-pressure laminate onto a moisture resistant MDF core, while others will affix a thin ¼-inch layer of real stone to the surface core. Stone-look laminate is the most cost-friendly option, followed by the thin stone layer and MDF combination, and then natural stone. Real stone, unlike laminate, will require regular maintenance to protect the stone.
Composite materials and solid-surface countertop materials, such as quartz, can make the transition into shower interiors. These materials are available from the manufacturer in slabs of varying thicknesses, such as ¼ inch and ½ inch. In most instances, the slabs must be purchased from a local fabricator, who will cut them to the necessary size and complete the installation process. Composite and solid-surface panels are heavier than acrylic or fiberglass but significantly lighter than natural stone.