Shower Wall Kits: Instant Fix For Damaged Walls?

Shower with Wall Kit
Shower with Wall Kit. Image Source / Getty Images

Shower and tub walls really get pounded.  Subjected to water and abrasive cleaners, and left to stand in a humid environment, it's no wonder that your walls are moldy and falling apart.  

Unlike interior walls (which can be repainted) or floors (which can be resurfaced), shower walls present one problem:  ceramic or acrylic is difficult to paint.  Instead, shower wall kits aim to cover up your problem with water-proof panels.

Shower Wall Kits:  One Solution to Poor, Damaged Walls

Beyond ripping out and re-grouting tile, or full replacement, there is a compromise solution:  shower wall kits.  Within the larger family of tub surrounds, these pre-fabricated, interlocking panels come pre-cut and can be installed in hours, rather than days.  

Similar to bathtub reliners--another cover-up solution--you'll need to be aware of some downsides like low resale value and mediocre appearance.

Demolition Not Required:  Large Panels Install on Existing Surface

Wall kits are just that:  walls.  Your existing shower pan or bathtub stays in place.  Considered a new-construction product, they do not install over studs.  

Instead, they are a remodel item that is installed over existing solid surfaces.  They will not cure all woes.  If the sub-surface is crumbly or loose, it will need to be fixed or repaired.  Plus, all mold, mildew, and fungus must be cleared up before installing the wall kits or it may continue to grow.

Simple Models Are Three-Piece Kits, Requiring Corner Caulking and Exact Spacing

Three-piece wall kits have two short panels for the ends of the bathtub (usually 32" wide) and one long panel for the back wall running the length of the tub (usually 60" long).  

This configuration works only when your alcove is exactly the same size (or you are willing to cut the panels down to size).

 Because nothing is covering the corners, they are caulked with silicone caulk.

Five-Piece Kits Have Two Additional Panels for Corners

Five-piece wall kits have the same two short panels and one long panel for the back.  But they have two additional items that provide for a more water-tight fit:  corners.

Best Smooth Surface Pick:  Buy From Amazon - ASB Vantage Tub Wall

The ASB Vantage is a very low-cost 5-piece wall kit with a smooth surface (does not try to emulate tile). 

Best Tile-Look Pick:  Buy From Amazon - Swanstone Veritek Tub Wall Kit

Swanstone's Veritek is a light-weight acrylic material.  This unit is embossed with grout-like impressions.  Important note:  this product description can be deceptive because even though Swanstone is a solid surface, Veritek is not a solid surface.  Solid surface is a vastly different, heavier material composed of 33% binding resins and 66% minerals.  Veritek has no mineral content.

Pros

  • Molded Shelves, Nooks:  Panel kits often, but not always, come with many molded inset shelves, soap dishes, and even towel racks.
  • Few Seams:  Wall kits' two or three long seams mean that there is lower chance of water infiltration.
  • No Special Skills/Tools Required:  Tilework is hard to get right.  Putting up wall panels is easy, and no specialized skills are needed.

Cons

  • Unrealistic Looking Tile:  Panels that simulate tile don't look like tile.  This is because plastic manufacturing still cannot duplicate the color contrast between tile and grout.  So, embossing is the only thing that gives panels a tile look, and it's not very close.
  • Low Grade Remodel:  Wall kits are considered quick fixes that extend the life of your tub or shower by a few more years.  Not recommended for a master bathroom if you want the highest possible resale value.
  • Flimsy Construction:  Pricier wall kits are made of sturdy solid surface, fiberglass, or thick acrylic sheets.  Lower cost wall kits such as those featured here are made of thin panels that can buckle and warp if not properly installed.  Even when installed correctly, the walls will have a hollow, insubstantial feeling.