An increasingly popular option for alcove enclosures for bathtubs and showers is a surround kit that uses acrylic or fiberglass panels. This type of kit is cheaper and easier to install than ceramic tile wall enclosures and is remarkably easy to maintain. There are two types of installation for tub/shower surround kits: direct-to-studs that anchor to framing, and adhesive-type kits that use adhesives to stick the panels onto the bathroom walls. Kits designs for direct-to-stud scenarios (described here) are most often used for new construction or major remodeling jobs, where studs are already exposed. Adhesive types, on the other hand, are designed for retrofit application to existing wall surfaces, using construction adhesives.
In a typical remodeling project using a direct-to-studs surround kit, you first install a bathtub or shower base, then finish the wall with the surround kit, attaching the panels directly to the studs, with no need for drywall or cement board as a backer. If you don't already have exposed studs, the panels can be used as a template to outline an area of the wall where you will remove the drywall. These tub and shower surrounds have top, bottom, and side flanges that are screwed or nailed to the wall studs.
Some surround kits are designed for a specific shower base or tub, while others can be retrofit to any existing tub of appropriate size. Tub and shower surround kits can come as a single complete unit, but these are usually used for new construction. Most tub and shower surrounds designed for remodeling applications come in several pieces to make installation in tight spaces easier.
The surround kits designed for attachment to studs are usually made of fiberglass or acrylic material that is quite sturdy, sometimes featuring built-in molded shelving. Make sure to read the instructions before installing any tub or shower surround. You may void the warranty if it isn’t done according to the manufacturer's specifications.
When buying a direct-to-stud surround, make sure that you get the right size for the width of the tub or shower you have. This type of surround can't be trimmed to fit in the same way that is possible with adhesive-type surrounds.
Equipment / Tools
- Pry bar
- Reciprocating saw (if needed)
- Hole saws
- Carpenter's level
- Tape measure
- Caulk gun
- Tub or shower surround kit
- Tub-and-tile caulk
- Roofing nails or utility screws
Prepare the Walls
Unless the studs are already exposed, installation starts by stripping the walls down to the studs around where the surround will sit. This is demolition work that may require a pry bar and reciprocating saw, depending on what type of wall surface is present.
Often, it is best to cut out an area of the wall slightly larger than the surround, because this makes it easier to anchor the flanges to the studs. After installation, you can then install drywall so it butts up to the surround over the nailing flanges.
When removing drywall, make sure to remove all nails or screws, and check to make sure the studs lie in a flat plane. If necessary, you may need to shim out the studs if they are uneven or bowed. This ensures that the surround panels will lie flat against the walls.
Make sure the installation is done according to the manufacturer's instructions. If an adhesive or silicone sealant is also required on the wall, then be sure to follow this procedure.
Install the Back Wall Panel
Install the back wall panel first. (Some kits have one back panel; others have two.) Position the back surround panel on the tub and level it. Have someone help hold it in place while you check to see how it fits against the walls and the edge of the tub or shower base.
Once the panel is oriented properly, drill pilot holes through the top, bottom, and side flanges where the panel meets the center of the studs, and use nails or screws to secure it to the wall. Short roofing nails with large heads work well for this. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for the nailing interval.
Install the Side Wall Panels
Install the side wall without plumbing fixtures on it. (This side is done first because no holes are required and it is easy to install.) Position the panel against the side wall, and lock it in place where it adjoins the back panel. Level the panel and make sure it sits flush against the lip of the tub or shower pan. Drill pilot holes in the panel flanges where they meet the studs, and screw or nail the panel to the wall.
Some kits have two side wall panels. If so, install the remaining panel before turning to the front wall panel.
Prepare the Front Wall Panel
The final panel is the one containing the plumbing fixtures; this is usually the front wall of the shower. Before installing this last panel, it will have to be drilled for the tub or shower valve and maybe a tub spout.
Take measurements off of the back wall to the center of the valve, and off of the tub or shower base to the center of the valve. Transfer these measurements to the tub surround panel. Measure very carefully, as there is no fix if you drill the holes incorrectly.
Drill holes in the surround panel using a drill and hole saw. For the faucet valve hole, select a hole saw bit that is large enough to accommodate the trim screws as well as the shower valve (the faucet escutcheon plate will cover the slightly larger hole). For the tub spout or shower arm, choose a hole saw just slightly larger than the stub-out pipe.
When drilling the holes, it helps to set the drill to rotate in reverse, since this prevents the teeth of the hole saw from ripping the acrylic panel. The pilot bit will help keep the hole bit in place while the hole is drilled.
Install the Front Wall Panel
Once all of the holes are drilled in the last surround panel, check to make sure they line up with the plumbing stub-outs before locking it in place permanently. If the measurements were slightly off, make small adjustments until the holes line up correctly. Then lock the panel into the back wall and level it up. Screw or nail the panel's flanges to the studs after drilling pilot holes.
Complete the Installation
Finish by completing any wall patching that is necessary, then install and caulk the plumbing handles, escutcheons, and trim. If the directions say so, also caulk the seams between panels, and along the shower base or the edge of the tub. Let the caulk cure as directed (usually at least 24 hours) before using the shower.