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Shower Surrounds and Wall Tile

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General Info
There are several types of shower and tub surrounds. The traditional surround is wall tile/marble. However, cultured marble, fiberglass surround and one piece fiberglass tub and shower units are very popular.

Tile, marble, cultured marble, fiberglass surround
The preparation for tile cultured marble and a fiberglass surround is about the same. The plumber installs a steel or cast iron tub, backing is attached around the tub (either water-resistant drywall (green board" or cement board), the surround is attached to the backing. Cement board commonly known as wonderboard™, tile backer or backing board is superior to drywall in this application.
Green board is a type of water resistant drywall. If water gets behind the surround mold mildew will grow. Eventually the tiles will loosen and need to be replaced. A green board backing will generally last 15-20 years if it is well-maintained.
Cement board is made of light-weight cement and aggregate. Even if water is able to get behind the surround material it won't mildew or rot.

One piece fiberglass tub surround
This is the most economical solution for a tub/shower arrangement. The tub and walls are formed out of fiberglass into a single unit. The unit is installed during the plumbing rough-in stage. The unit is not as solid as a steel or cast iron tub but it won't leak unless the fiberglass is damaged.

Wall tile/marble
Advantages: patterns and colors are virtually unlimited, aesthetically pleasing, Strong and resilient.
Disadvantages: Expensive, hard to clean, will probably need replacing after 15-20 years depending on maintenance and backing material, Grout can crack allowing water behind the tile

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiberglass surround
Advantages: Inexpensive, won't leak unless it is damaged, fairly strong, quick installation
Disadvantages: Looks cheap, limited colors and styles, can leak if caulking deteriorates around edges.

Cultured marble
Advantages: Very solid and heavy, won't leak, aesthetically pleasing, Will never wear out. it is cut from large sheet to just about any size or design.
Disadvantages: expensive compared to fiberglass surround, doesn't look quite as nice as ceramic tile, can leak if caulking deteriorates.

One piece fiberglass shower unit
Advantages: Cheapest option, installs quick, no need for backing around the tub, will not leak unless fiberglass is damaged.
Disadvantages: Looks cheap, the fiberglass tub is flimsy compared to a cast iron tub, not as comfortable as most cast iron tubs, limited selection of colors and styles.

Inspection
  • Tiles should be level and straight and flat. Grout lines should be consistent in width.
  • Cultured marble should be cut accurately with no overhangs or chipped edges. The caulk between panels and in corners should be smooth.

Project management
The surrounds are installed after the painting is complete. It is not a critical path item, and generally all the surrounds can be installed in 1-2 days.

Notes to the owner builder
In "show" bathrooms or master baths it is a good idea to avoid fiberglass surrounds or one-piece fiberglass units. However, for a general bathroom or a kids bathroom they work fine and can save you significant money.

 

 

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