Prefab shower stalls – The good, the bad, the ugly?
Along with kitchen remodels, bathroom remodels are among the most popular projects for homeowners to undertake – especially when selling their home. These remodels often seduce potential buyers and add value to the home. Remodeling Magazine’s “Cost vs. Value Report” found that midrange bathroom remodels recoup 65.2% of the cost, while upscale bathroom remodels recouped less, at 58.3%. This represents a huge difference in cost – $16,000 for midrange as opposed to $50,000 for upscale, which doesn’t necessarily translate to return.
The early days of the prefabricated shower stall were pretty ugly. Flimsy plastic often warped and cracked, leaving homeowners disappointed. But prefab shower stalls have changed. They now come in a variety of styles and colors, even faux tile, and usually have features, like soap dishes, shelves and seats, molded right into the plastic. Crack and chip resistant, prefab shower stalls are also watertight. Prefab showers come in multi-piece kits that usually include a wall-surround and a shower pan, or base. But the big advantage for many homeowners is that they can be installed in a day (if you’re particularly handy) and cost a fraction of a professional tile job.
Materials and cost top the list of concerns when shopping for a prefab stall. Fiberglass stalls are created by pouring a heated combination of materials in a gel-coated mold. While the gel coating remains on the fiberglass for some time, it won’t last forever. Once it wears away, the porous fiberglass is exposed to the elements and the situation quickly deteriorates from there. You can count on fiberglass to last about 15 years, and most manufacturers offer a warranty for at least 10. Fiberglass is the most common stall produced, and some models offer a range of luxury features, from jets to steam. Depending on what features you opt for, a fiberglass prefab shower can run anywhere from $500-$5,000.
Acrylic shower stalls are made using a vacuum process. Like fiberglass, the materials that comprise acrylic are heated, stretched and poured into a mold. The acrylic stall is then vacuumed into the final molded shape. This process makes acrylic more durable by eliminating pores that can harbor hard-water buildup, soap scum and mold that will cause it to crack or leak. However, because acrylic is stretched to fit the mold, there may be variable thickness, making the shower weaker in some spots than in others. Acrylic shower kits are typically more expensive than fiberglass, starting at $700.
As you shop for prefab showers, you’ll inevitably run across Vikrell®. Vikrell is made of fiberglass, resin and filler but is nonporous, making it similar to an acrylic. This kind of poly composite material generally comes with a residential 10-year warranty. The material is very low-maintenance, easy to clean and durable, yet it is very thin. For shower walls this doesn’t present an issue. However, if a good foundation is not provided for a Vikrell tub, some consumers report cracking under the force of a dropped bottle of shampoo. Basic Vikrell shower stalls can be had for about $600.
This may seem obvious, but a simple piece of advice is to pay attention to the measurements of the shelves in your prefab shower stall. There’s nothing worse than discovering that your shelves don’t accommodate your bottles and soaps after installation, as there’s no way to add additional shelves.
Assessing your bathroom for a prefabricated shower kit is another consideration. As with any project, it’s always best to consult with a professional before tackling a job yourself, but here are some of the more common questions and concerns:
- Can I install a prefab shower stall over existing tile? It’s possible. You’ll need to be sure you can cover the edge of the old tile. If you can’t find a prefab shower that does, then you will have to consider removing the existing tile, which always risks damaging the wall underneath.
- What equipment will I need, if I chose to do it myself? You will need an electric drill, tape measure, caulk, plumb level, screws, hole saw, tape, pencil, work gloves, hammer, an adjustable wrench, shower/tub adhesive and protective goggles.
- Is this a one-person job? If you’re skilled, yes, but you’ll definitely need another person to help position the shower.
- Do the prefab kits come with instructions? Yes.
- Should I do extra waterproofing? Yes. It’s generally recommended that quality silicone be used on the joints between the walls, floor and shower stall. Installing water-resistant drywall around the top edge of the stall is also a good idea.
- Should I have experience in plumbing? Yes. It’s generally recommended that you’re comfortable working with plumbing to install prefab stalls.
- How long would it take a professional? It would take a professional about a day. Depending on your area and your handyman, this could cost anywhere from $200-$600.