What Type of Shower Base Should You Use?
By Tim Koehler
Replacing your shower base? There are many different types of shower bases, and each of them come with their own pros and cons. Some of them make easy DIY projects, and some of them should not be attempted by amateurs. Read on and I’ll walk you through the different types of bases, price levels, pros and cons, and installation tips to help you choose the right shower base for your home.
Pre-cast Shower Base
comes in various shapes and sizes and are ready to install. Neo angle bases are made to fit in a corner. They come with a curb or curbs, tile flanges and a built-in drain pocket. These are easy to install for the do-it-yourselfer. They are available in many different materials. Some manufacturers will make a custom pre-cast base to fit most any size, shape and drain location. For instance a 60 x 32 shower base is the same size as a standard bathtub and the drain location can be left or right.
Note: Read manufacturer’s installation instructions thoroughly before installing. The entire success of your project depends on a good installation of the base. Do not install pre-cast bases out of level. Most manufacturers require some type of fast setting cement to be installed under the belly of the base for added support.
What every pre-cast base must have:
• Adequate slope: There must be adequate slope from all points of the perimeter towards the drain to allow water to flow into the drain. The recommended minimum is ¼” slope for every 12” of length. Tip: water test before installing.
• Tile flange: This assures a watertight seal where the wall surround meets the base. A flange should be located on all non-curbed sides of a base. It is about 1/2” tall, and the wall material is installed over top of the flange.
• Slip resistance: For safety, the bottom or shower floor should not be slick but must have some texture to give some resistance. A surface that is easy to clean: Some manufacturers have rough, slip resistant floors that collect soap scum and are hard to keep clean.
• A good warranty: Keep in mind, if your base fails, the walls will have to be torn out to replace it.
Acrylic Shower Base
is made by thermo-forming acrylic over a fiberglass substrate.
• Pros: Acrylic is lightweight, non porous, easy to clean and comes in a variety of sizes and colors. Acrylic is a very tough and durable man made plastic. Corian counter tops are made of acrylic as are airplane windshields, skylights, and outdoor signs. The color goes the whole way through the material so if you do scratch the surface, it will not be a different color. Light scratches and blemishes can be buffed out with a polish. The gloss finish will last a lifetime and can be repaired
• Cons: Certain cleaners are caustic and will cause significant damage to the finish. Often, this type of surface damage is not repairable. Acrylic is more expensive than fiberglass.
Fiberglass Shower Base
is a fiberglass substrate with a sprayed-on gel-coat finish.
• Pros: Fiberglass is lightweight and less expensive. It has an attractive gloss finish.
• Cons: There are not as many choices for sizes and colors. Fiberglass has a thin gel coat finish which is sprayed on. The thickness of the finish may not be consistent and the color is only as deep as the gel coat. A scratch may show a different color than the finish. Over a period of time the finish tends to wear and stain. Once it is stained, it is difficult to clean.
Solid Surface Shower Base
is made of different composites. It can be cast or compression molded. If you are looking for this type of shower base, the most important consideration is the reputation of the company and the warranty. Swanstone is a good example of a solid surface base.
• Pros: Solid surface means the material is consistent throughout and the finish is not sprayed on. Solid surface is sturdier than acrylic or fiberglass. Some are manufactured to standard sizes and some are custom made sizes.
• Cons: These bases are usually more expensive but are worth the extra money Allow adequate lead time and take measurements carefully. Solid surfaces bases may take up to 6 weeks or more to get. Since they are made to your exact measurements, they cannot be returned.
Cultured Marble Shower Base
is a man-made composite consisting of crushed limestone and resin (high-tech glue). The finish is a gel coat. It is sprayed on and air hardens. The finish can resemble real marble or not.
• Pros: It has a luxurious, high gloss look and is resistant to most shampoos, soaps, hair dyes, and make-up but it will scratch easily. Many design configurations and sizes are available. Color choices range from solid colors to marble and granite patterns. Typically you would purchase these from a local manufacturer.
• Cons: Cultured marble is heavy. It can chip easily but it can be repaired. Lighter colors can yellow after a period of time. Some bases do not have a tile flange. I would not recommend any shower base without a tile flange because this system relies on a caulk joint to seal the joint. If the caulking shrinks or separates, water will get behind the surround.
Custom Tile Shower Base
can be built from scratch or can be built from a kit that makes it easier for a do-it-yourselfer. A custom tile base is time consuming and can be tedious. If you are not handy and have limited patience, use a precast base. These bases are made by framing the outline of the shower base with standard 2 x 4 construction. Then the plumber installs the drain and the shower base liner. At this point many municipalities require an inspection.
Tip: apply for your permit before you start the job. Now, the tricky part is pouring the base. The cement base must be poured and worked so that there is adequate slope towards the drain. The cement must set for several days before you can start to set the tile.
Tip: Use a tile that has texture for a slip-resistant floor. This process must be done with great care. If you have a leak, the whole base has to be torn out. A large percentage of the tile shower bases my company has torn-out, were leaking.
• Pros:You can make any size or shape you want. This type of base is totally customizable. There are literally thousands of tile patterns and colors to choose from. One-of-a-kind designer looks are inexpensive and can be put together with stock tiles.
• Cons: This system is not do-it-yourself friendly – especially folding the corners of the liner. If don’t have experience, enlist the help of a tile contractor. You have to get this one right the first time. Tile showers are prone to leaking and leaks can go undetected for years. Grout can crack allowing water to seep in. It is porous, making it difficult to clean, so it should be sealed often.
Tile Shower Base Pan
is one piece with integrated drains and tile flanges or splash walls. They are leak proof, have the proper slope built-in and are easy to install. This base would be best described as a pre-cast base, which after installation is ready to have tile installed in the base. It is a great time saver and insures a leak proof installation.
Barrier Free or Walk-in Shower Base
are available in pre-cast and custom tile bases. They are designed to allow a person in a wheel chair or with limited leg mobility to enter the shower with easy access. They have a minimal curb or are “curb-less” which allows the wheel chair to roll over and enter the shower.