Instructables

How to Install a Tub Surround

Picture of How to Install a Tub Surround
Sooner or later, every bathroom needs a tuneup—and the tub’s shower enclosure is often the best place to start. An enclosure is large enough to dominate the room and set the tone, yet it’s often the area most in need of repair. As always, the culprit is water. Tiled walls are especially vulnerable because every 4-in. tile has 16 in. of leak potential at its edges. When well installed and regularly maintained, tiled shower walls can last a generation or more. When not, they mold, crack and crumble until replacement becomes the best option.

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.

 
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Step 1: Choosing a Surround

Shopping for surrounds is fairly simple because quality and price are directly related to panel thickness. At the starter level, you’ll find ABS or PVC plastic panels so thin they won’t stand against a wall without additional support. Midpriced thermal-plastic units with formed features and appearances are generally more stylish and better made. And finally, there are pressed-fiberglass kits, with thick, nearly rigid panels that are very durable.

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.