Prefab vs.Tiled Shower: Which is a Better Choice?

Modern Bathroom.
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You are remodeling your bathroom and you need a new shower/tub. Should you install a prefabricated (prefab) shower stall or construct a tiled shower stall?

Two Types of Shower Stalls

Pre-fabricated shower stall units are formed in a factory, shipped to your home in one or several pieces, and are then installed in your bathroom.

By contrast, the tiled shower is site-built, constructed from scratch by carpenters and tilers.

Carpenters construct the frame, walling it in with a cement-based board such as Wonderboard. Tilers step in and finish the tilework.

Types of Pre-fabricated Units

They are composed of a shower pan and solid side panels. One deciding factor between one-piece or multi-piece units is whether you can get the one-piece unit through the doors of older homes. Homeowners often choose multi-piece units for this very reason.

Multi-Piece Best Pick: Buy on Amazon - American Standard Acrylux 60" x 32" Shower Kit

If you are looking for a sleeker, better-styled shower unit, American Standard has a shower stall unit made of Acrylic capped ABS, reinforced by fiberglass. This kit is everything you need: all wall panels, glass door, and shower pan.

Consider a Wall Kit if Your Tub is in Good Condition

An alternative to full kits like the American Standard are wall kits.

Wall kits are for bathtub-only or tub-shower combinations.

The tub stays in place but you cover everything above the tub with wall panels.

Wall Kit Best Pick: Buy on Amazon - Swanstone Veritek Tub Wall Kit

Swanstone's Veritek Tub Wall Kit is a good, reasonably priced way to refurbish your icky tub/shower combination.

This is a five-panel wall kit that effectively obliterates nasty shower walls, covering them with white, bone, or bisque-tinted Veritek panels.

For a faux-tile look, the panels have simulated grout lines. Best thing: all of the soap dishes and convenience shelves that come pre-molded into the panels.

Pre-fab Units are DIY-friendly

Once considered the ugly duckling of the bathroom remodel trade, pre-fabricated stalls now come in a variety of textures, colors, and shapes, giving tiled shower units a run for their money. Many units can be installed by a do-it-yourself remodeler.

Pros

  1. Speed: Fast installation, whether by pros or DIY. Have a new shower by end of the day.
  2. Cost: Typically cheaper than tiled stall.
  3. Weight: Lighter and can be installed in problem areas, such as on a floor with problematic joists below.
  4. Flexible: If there is any chance that the floor might flex, the shower pan will not crack with movement. It is nearly impossible for the pan to leak.
  5. DIY: Easy for do-it-yourself home remodelers to install.
  6. Seamless or Few Seams: Fewer seams mean easier cleaning.

Cons

  1. Limited Styles: Pre-fab kits offer fewer design options than tiled shower stalls.
  2. Size Inflexibility: Available only in set sizes.
  3. Too Large? One-piece units may not be appropriate for remodeling because size may prevent them from passing through doorways. One-piece units are intended mainly for new houses or additions.

    Tiled Showers Allow for More Creativity

    Pros

    1. Design: Literally an infinite range of design options, since it is built from scratch.
    2. Eco-Friendlier: Looking for a greener alternative to ceramic tileEco-friendly tile made with between 40% and 60% recycled content is available, too. Recycled tile looks just as sharp--or even sharper--than "from scratch" tile and costs roughly the same.
    3. Sizing: Size can be adjusted to fit any space.
    4. Resale: Slightly better resale value.
    5. Tight Spaces: Good for remodeling, since it is often difficult to get large building materials through doorways.

    Cons

    1. Cost: More expensive than the pre-fabricated units.
    2. DIY: Difficult, if not impossible, for do-it-yourselfer to build well. Many novices will be overwhelmed by this exacting project. If you just want to re-tile a shower, it is possible to tile it yourself. A middle option is also available: mating a fiberglass/acrylic shower pan with tile walls.
    1. Water Leaks: Probability of shower pan leaking because it can crack with the settling of a house. Note, though, that you have a couple of alternatives. In some instances, it is possible to install fiberglass shower pans in conjunction with tiled walls. Or, even better, if you want to keep the look of tile throughout, install a polyurethane shower pan which can be tiled over.
    2. Slower: Slow installation time due to curing process.

    Fixing a Pre-fab Unit

    Is it just a matter of your pre-fab unit going bad? They do not always have to be replaced entirely. 

    1. Spot repair with fiberglass compound or installing a liner. Spot repair is just what is sounds like: fix until you can do the right thing--replace.
    2. Bathrub relining is considered inferior to a full replacement as liners can leak, allowing water to permeate between the tub and liner.