Tub areas and shower stalls are some of the most common trouble areas in any home. The main reason for these problems can be summed up in one word: water. Water from tubs and showers often damage walls and floors. Water, in the form of vapor, can damage interior wall surfaces. This water vapor can enter the wall cavity and damage the framing of the structure. It can even damage the paint on the exterior surface of the bathroom wall.
Leaks from water supply lines and the drain system can also cause damage in and around tub and shower areas. Such plumbing leaks get most of the blame for tub and shower area problems. In fact, most of the water damage in these areas is caused between the time the water came out of the spigot or shower head to the time it was supposed to flow down the drain.
There are good, inexpensive materials which can provide many years of service in both tub and shower walls. Regardless of the price tag, the wrong material, or material that is poorly installed, is bound to fail.
The following sections are a list of materials intended as an overview of the most commonly used tub and shower wall materials. It also includes some basic recommendations for their proper installation.
Tile is the traditional material used for shower and tub walls. When properly installed, it will also last for decades. The most common tile used for tub and shower walls is installed on concrete products, such as the "Wonderboard" and "Durock" concrete boards, or on a site mixed concrete base. Some new and lighter weight fiberglass materials are also being successfully used as tile substrates in wet areas.
Plasterboard, even the so-called "waterproof" plasterboard, such a "greenboard" or "tile backer board" is not a recommended substrate for tile installation in a wet area. Similar poor results are being experienced with tile installation on plywood.
When concrete board is used, the board should be fastened to the framing with screws. All joints, corners, and blemishes need to be taped and mudded. The tile should be installed with thinset, preferably mixed with a latex "milk", and grouted with a high quality grout, also mixed with a latex "milk".
Tiled concrete shower bases require an "easy test" drain, a vinyl membrane, and expert work. Built-in benches or other horizontal surfaces in a shower and custom built tubs, also require vinyl membranes.
Pre-fabricated shower bases made of a concrete product or fiberglass are available in various sizes and shapes and can be used with tile walls and various other types of shower wall materials.
The quality of the actual tile used in a tub or shower area is relatively unimportant to the longevity of the installation. Budget priced glazed tile can be successfully used if properly installed.
Single piece fiberglass and acrylic showers and tubs are relatively inexpensive and good quality products. They are usually too large to be installed in a remodeling situation but are often used in new construction.
It is also possible to purchase multi-piece tubs and shower stalls, using fiberglass or a combination of metal and fiberglass. These allow for installation after the original construction of the house. They are economical, and provide good tub and shower installation.
This product is usually known by the brand name, Formica. It appears to be slightly more scratch resistant than fiberglass. In addition, it does not have the "molded" look of fiberglass, and can also provide many years of use. Plastic laminate tub and shower walls can be installed in one piece, with the corners pre-bent at the factory, or in several pieces. The one piece system is longer lasting. This product must also be installed on a good substrate such as "greenboard" type drywall.
There is a wide range of imitation marble tub and shower wall products. The best known and highest quality product appears to be Dupont's "Corian." This product is roughly in the same cost category as a high quality tile installation, and when installed professionally, will provide a long lasting and low maintenance surface. Some of the other products have proven to be much less effective, and are not repairable or easily maintained.