Can Fiberglass/Acrylic Shower Pans Be Matched to Tile Walls?

A shower with a fiberglass shower pan
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It can be difficult to decide whether to install a tiled shower or a pre-fabricated fiberglass or acrylic shower. Significant time and money are at stake. On top of it all, this is very much a one-way choice; it is not easy to reverse a shower installation if, later on, you think you want something else. The core of any good shower installation is a solid, waterproof shower floor, formally known as a shower pan. Often, showers are created out of one type of material only: either walls and pan made from fiberglass/acrylic or walls and pan made from tile. But what about mixing and matching the two materials differently so that the walls are tile and the floor is acrylic/fiberglass?

Can Fiberglass or Acrylic Match With Tile?

Mating tile walls with a fiberglass or acrylic shower pan is not only possible but it is a common practice. Doing so can save you money on tile work, plus this system has functional value because it gives you the best of both worlds: tile's beauty, acrylic/fiberglass' practicality. Most tile companies will take on this type of project.

Note that you cannot tile on the floor of standard fiberglass/acrylic shower pans. Slight flexing will quickly crack the grout and even the tiles. However, some specialty shower pans such as those made by Tile-Redi are designed for over-tiling.

Benefits of Tiled Shower Walls

Tiling your shower walls gives you the ultimate in design flexibility and beauty. With thousands of available tiles that can be mixed in countless ways, you can create unique shower walls. Tiled shower walls receive a significant amount of water, but hardly as much water as received by the shower pans. In fact, tiled shower walls typically rise about 80 inches above floor level. The space between the top of the shower tile and the ceiling is often painted waterproof drywall. Sometimes, the tile rises to meet the ceiling, as well.

Benefits of Fiberglass or Acrylic Shower Pans

Fiberglass/acrylic shower pans are pure practicality. They are strong enough to hold in water and hold up bathers, but flexible enough to respond to changes in the house's structure over time. If your shower is located in an area with a potentially unstable floor, a flexible shower pan may help compensate for some of the floor's instability. For example, a second-floor bathroom in an older home with a settling foundation will probably benefit from having a fiberglass or acrylic shower pan. Conversely, if the bathroom happens to be located on a concrete basement bathroom floor, flexibility is not much of an issue.

A fiberglass or acrylic shower pan is hardly beautiful, but its plain looks can be justified by knowing that most of the shower is made of tile. Not only that, the part of the shower that is most visible is tile, while the least visible area underfoot is fiberglass/acrylic. These shower pans make it easier for the do-it-yourselfer to tile the shower. Another benefit for the do-it-yourselfer is that these pans immediately establish the shower's footprint: no measuring, no guessing. Fiberglass/acrylic shower pans are rarely very expensive, so these pans represent only a fraction of the project's overall cost.

Fiberglass/Acrylic Pans and Tile Walls: Pros and Cons

Pros

  • It is less expensive to install this combination than an all-tile shower because fewer tiles are purchased and less labor is required.
  • With this type of set-up, the shower pan can flex and thus avoid the cracking associated with tile shower pans
  • Because the shower pan has no seams or grout, the shower is easier to clean.
  • When it comes time to demolish the shower in the future, it is easier because the shower pan will pull up as one piece.
  • Using fiberglass or acrylic shower pans makes do-it-yourself shower tiling a more realistic project than tiling the pans.

Cons

  • Though they are strong, fiberglass and acrylic shower pans are still not 100-percent crack-proof.
  • When using these materials for the shower pan, scratching and gouging is a possibility.
  • For some home buyers, these combination showers may be considered aesthetically inferior to all-tile showers, resulting in slightly lower resale value.
  • It is still possible for water to leak below the shower pan if the drain has been improperly installed or if the pan has begun to crack.