"a practical hands-on
   guide to bathroom

Shower Purchase Tips
There are basically two different types of showers - stall showers (walk-in) and tub/showers (a tub and shower combined).

Stall showers:

A stall shower consists of basically four components - shower base, walls, stall shower faucet (no tub spout) and a shower door.  This website does not talk about hand-made shower bases.  We recommend having a professional install them.  There are many quality "store-bought" bases available and that's what these instructions will cover.

Also, when purchasing your materials, always keep quality in mind since it will be cheaper in the long run.  If improperly installed, good quality materials will be just as bad as cheaply made materials.

Purchasing a shower base:                                                               

Shower bases can be purchased at most plumbing supply houses or "big box stores".  They vary in size from 32" x 32" to 42" x 72"
When deciding the size of the base you're going to buy, measure the width in your shower from stud-to-stud.  The depth is measured from the back wall stud to the front of the shower.  The material quality of bases can vary substantially.  Never purchase a low quality base or one that has imperfections (in some parts of the country they're called "seconds").   If, down the road, your base needs to be replaced, the wall system surrounding it will need to be replaced also - you can't remove an installed shower base without breaking the walls.

When choosing which shower base to buy, the most important thing to look for is that it has a "lip" (flange) going around the three sides (not the front).  When you install your walls, they will fit over the lip (flange) and rest on the horizontal part of the base.  You will then caulk where your walls meet the base.  Caulking is a maintenance item and it will fail after X number of years - depending on the amount of use the shower receives, water temperature, etc.  Most people don't recaulk often enough because it's one of those irritating things to do and they think they can't do it.  If the caulk fails, the lip on the shower base won't let any water run behind it.  Remember - LIP (FLANGES) ON SHOWER BASES ARE A GOOD THING.

The second thing to look for is the type of cleaner the manufacturer recommends.  Some bases can only be cleaned with a liquid product (nothing gritty) and some bases will allow you to use tougher (gritty) cleaning materials.  Usually bases that allow you to use "tougher" cleaning materials are slightly more expensive.  You need to evaluate your personal situation and choose the one that is appropriate for your needs.  For example - if this is a bathroom that a lot of teenagers use, you might want to choose a base that allows you to use "tougher" cleaning materials.

The third thing to look at is the shape.  They come in many sizes and shapes - the most popular is a rectangle.  Keep in mind they are also available in square, neoangle and quarter circle.  If you install a neoangle or quarter circle shape base, you will definitely need custom-made shower doors and, with those shapes, the shower doors tend to leak over time.  Square and rectangle bases are the most problem free.

The fourth thing (and to some people the most important) to look for is color.  Do you want white, another solid color or a speckled color base?  Something to keep in mind is that some shades of speckled colors will "hide" any dirt to allow more time between cleaning.  The rule of thumb is that the lighter the color - the more the dirt will show.  Also, the darker the color - the more soap film will show - most soap film is white.

Also, it is not uncommon for a person to think their shower base is leaking when, in fact, they have a leaking shower door that is allowing water to run outside the shower area onto the floor and then to a lower level (causing ceiling damage in the lower level).  

If you have purchased your product,
click here for installation instructions.

Purchasing a product for your walls:

Shower walls should be practical in terms of ease of cleaning, be attractive and well constructed to withstand decades of normal shower use.  An attractive, clean shower is very important to help get the day off to a good start (as opposed to a dirty, depressing, leaking shower).  There are many different products you can use for your shower walls.  Focus on quality materials - this website will talk about solid panel products (one panel per wall) and tile.

The most important thing to know is that the walls have to be waterproof.  Any solid panel product will be waterproof and tile walls are waterproof if it is installed over a cement panel backing.  Remember, the grout between the tiles is
not waterproof so water will go through it and get whatever is behind it wet.  TILE WALLS SHOULD ALWAYS BE INSTALLED OVER CEMENT PANEL BACKING.  Solid panel products can be installed over mildew-resistant drywall with drywall screws - cement panels aren't necessary.

Today, tile manufacturers have many beautiful products that were not available years ago, including fired clay tiles that can be used on both floors and walls.  In fact, many people put the same tile on their shower walls as on their bathroom floor.  Solid panel products such as cultured marble, solid surface materials, quartz, etc. are typically custom made products.  Solid panel products are usually easier to clean than tile (no grout).

After that, your decision will be based on the look you want and ease of cleaning.  Both products come in many colors and styles.  When measuring for the amount you want to buy - when installing tile, always purchase 10% more than you think you'll need.  The difference will be used for cutting and waste.  When buying a custom made solid panel product (cultured marble, solid surface materials, etc.) order 1-2" more on each panel than you think you'll need.  No walls are perfectly square and you'll need the extra to make up the difference.

Also, while your shower walls are open (and you're looking at the studs) you may consider installing insulation in the walls to help "deaden" the sound of the shower and improve comfort if it's an outside exposure wall.

If you have purchased your product,
click here for installation instructions.

Purchasing a faucet:

There are many different manufacturers, styles and finishes of faucets available.  Chrome finish is the most popular and timeless.  Prices vary dramatically with different finishes.  Bathroom cleaners should be carefully selected since some finishes can be damaged using the wrong cleaners.

I also recommend purchasing a brand name faucet so any parts needed will be readily accessible.  Many quality shower faucets are available; however, I recommend you always purchase an antiscald faucet with volume control.  A volume control is important to give the person using the shower the ability to increase or decrease water flow depending on their needs - long hair needs more water flow, cleaning the shower needs less flow, etc.  Also, washerless faucets are a good choice.

I highly recommend not purchasing any faucet that has plastic plumbing fittings.  You'll understand the reasoning when you install it.  The only other comment I have is if you have a stall shower - you need only a mixing valve, shower arm and showerhead (no tub spout) and if you have a tub/shower you need all those plus the tub spout.  Most manufacturers sell both as a package.  There are a large variety of showerheads that can be purchased alone - not as part of a package.  All showerheads have a maximum flow of 2.5 gallons per minute as mandated by Federal law.  The quality and intensity of water flow can vary a great deal from manufacturer to manufacturer - if possible have the seller demonstrate the showerhead as some plumbing supply houses can to do.

If you have purchased your faucet,
click here for installation instructions.

Purchasing a shower door:

Always purchase good quality shower doors (good quality does not always mean expensive).  Keep away from "cheap" doors since they are normally just that - cheaply made.  If you purchase good quality name brand doors and you need parts in the future, normally there is no problem getting them through a plumbing supply house.  Also, if you purchase a "special buy" door, be especially careful.  Close-out's or special buys are sometimes doors that the boxes have been opened, so be certain all parts are included.

Purchasing shower doors is a bit tricky, depending on the configuration of your shower.  If you have a three-walled shower (three full size walls), you can buy a "store-bought" shower door.  If, for example, you have a corner shower (with a stationary glass panel on one wall) or a built-in shower seat on one of the end walls, I highly recommend you have a professional make custom-made shower doors.  Also, some doors should not be installed by the homeowner - heavy 3/8" & 1/2" doors, French doors, steam doors, doors with a stationary panel, neoangle doors and other unique kinds should be installed by a professional.  Spend a few dollars to get the job done right - it'll be worth it in the long run.  It's the shower door that keeps the water in and it should fit perfectly.  Also, by law, all glass in shower doors is tempered (safety) glass which will shatter into tiny pieces if hit hard (old style doors are not tempered glass - I know of a person who fell in his shower and cut his arm so badly he had to have it amputated).  NEVER reinstall old shower doors to save a buck - especially if they aren't tempered glass.

Measure your opening.  Something to keep in mind is that if your opening is less than 44", you want a hinged door or a hinged door with a stationary panel instead of a sliding door.  If you have a sliding door in that opening, you'll only have a little less than 22" to get your body through - and how many of us can fit through a 22" opening!  For your information, hinged doors much larger than 28" tend to sag causing unnecessary leaking and closure issues.

Regarding the height of the doors - Most tub/shower doors are about 57" high and stall shower doors are about 70" high (variations in sizes are available).  Keep in mind that - for example - a 60" wide stall shower door may (in most cases) be used on a tub when the top header needs to be higher to accommodate a tall user or someone with special needs.

Sliding shower doors come in either a framed or frameless style (meaning either a frame around the door itself or no frame around the door itself).  Cheap framed doors have plastic in place of glass - keep away from these as they are low quality.  Frameless shower doors are the choice for most people because they are a lot easier to keep clean than framed doors.  The glass in frameless doors can be 3/16", 1/4" or 3/8" thick - I prefer the 1/4" thick glass.  Doors that are 3/8" are beautiful, but more expensive than most of us want to spend and doors that are 3/16" glass are cheap in appearance (in my opinion).

Hinged shower doors also come in either framed or frameless style.  If you get a hinged door, my preference is one with a "continuous hinge".  Hinged doors are not my favorite because every time you open them they drip outside the shower, they typically have seals on the door bottoms that have to be replaced and when they get old they sag (like people).  Also, when a hinged door is attached to the wall, it is critical that a 2" x 4" is in the area where the mounting screws are to be anchored - otherwise sagging and leaking problems will occur.

Keep in mind that with shower doors, generally the less metal on the entire enclosure the more it'll cost - for example:  framed doors are the least expensive.  Shower glass comes in many types (clear, obscure, rain, fluted, etc.) and the metal comes in many finishes (chrome, brushed nickel, oil rubbed bronze, etc).  Also, ask your store/installer what to clean it with - many store-bought cleaners will damage finishes.
If you have purchased your shower doors,
click here for installation instructions.

A tub/shower consists of three have-to-have components:  tub, walls and a faucet with a spout,  A shower door is optional - a shower curtain can be used.  You just have to keep the water in the tub/shower area.  Water on the floor outside the tub is never a good thing!  It is not uncommon for a person to think they have a tub/shower leak when, in fact, they have a leaking shower door or shower curtain that is allowing water to run outside the tub area onto the floor and then to a lower level (causing ceiling damage to the lower level).

The information for purchasing wall materials and the faucet is the same as for stall showers.  The only item that is different is there is a bathtub instead of a stall shower base.  These tips also cover whirlpool tubs.  After all, a whirlpool is just a tub with water or air jets and a motor.  All whirlpools require a dedicated electric circuit on a GFI outlet.  At no time should a whirlpool be allowed to run "dry" - in most cases, this will cause the motor to malfunction or burn out. 

Purchasing a bathtub:

There are many different styles, sizes and manufacturers of tubs available - at many different prices.  They are available in both standard depth and deep-soaking depth.  Within the deep-soaking tub selection, you can install either a nonjetted tub, jetted whirlpool (with water jets) or a jetted whirlpool (with air jets) - commonly called an air tub.  The first thing to do is measure your space the same way the instructions for a stall shower base state so you'll know what will fit.  Once you have your size, the next step is to research what height, style and color tub you want.  Keep in mind that the lower the tub height, the less deep the water will be.  People who like to soak in a tub may want a higher tub height to cover more of their body.  Another thing to keep in mind is that the higher the tub height, the higher you have to lift your legs to get in.  This may be a problem for people with physical problems.  Also, grab bars are recommended in a tub area for safety reasons (there are some that are very attractive and do not look institutional).

Tubs should also have a "lip" (flange) around the three sides, just like shower bases.

One final thing to know is that all tubs must have a nonslip surface and different manufacturers have different definitions of nonslip surfaces - some easier to clean than others.  Check for manufacturers cleaning instructions.

If you have purchased your bathtub,
click here for installation instructions.