When it comes to alternatives, you can choose from new tile, plastic tub surround kits and professionally installed solid-surface panels. A quick look at the numbers will tell you why tub surround kits are so popular. A professionally installed solid-surface job can cost between $1100 and $2000, and standard tile installations run from about $600 to $1000. Plastic tub surround kits, including pressed fiberglass, range between $60 and $500, with the most popular kits costing around $150.
This project was originally published in the January 2001 issue of Popular Mechanics. You can find more great projects at Popular Mechanics DIY Central.
Step 1: Choosing a Surround
Because all these kits do a good job of repelling water, ease-of-installation, appearance and maintenance issues are the deciding factors. The flimsier the material, the more troublesome it is to install. Thin panels often require wooden bracing until the adhesive sets and they can mirror adhesive beads and imperfections in the walls. As for maintenance, it’s best to avoid a pebbly texture or a high sheen unless you have soft water and clean religiously. A smooth, low-luster surface does a better job of concealing water spots and soap scum.
Another important consideration is the number of pieces in the kit. Three and five pieces are standard. Three-piece units cost a little less, but they work well only when tub walls are framed square and plumb. Five-piece units are usually a better choice because they are more forgiving of crooked walls and out-of-square corners.
We opted for a five-piece, pressed-fiberglass kit at the high end of the price range. The Swan Model TW-32 is sturdy, rigid and has the surface we wanted (Swan Corp., 1 City Centre, Suite 2300, St. Louis, MO 63101). It’s fairly simple in design, with only three soap trays, and it carries a 20-year warranty—10 years longer than most professionally installed solid-surface products. Swan’s suggested list price for the TW-32 is $479, but you probably can buy it for less at local retailers.