Bathtub wall surrounds are a great modern alternative to traditional bath surrounds made of ceramic tile and grout. They are generally constructed of fiberglass or an acrylic material. Many of them on the market have been engineered so well that visually they are virtually indistinguishable from traditional tile and grout bath surrounds.
Bath Tub Surround Benefits
One of the great benefits of these surrounds is their comparatively low cost. The cost of the unit is reasonable compared to some of the ceramic tile on the market. They can be installed in a couple of hours.
Compare that to the labor costs of a craftsman coming in to set all the whole ceramic tiles, cut and apply the border tiles, letting the mastic set up, and then having to come back out to grout and sponge the joints! If an acrylic surround with molded tiles and grout lines looks the same as the real thing, the decision is a no-brainer.
Some of the advantages of acrylic bathtub surrounds are: thermally molded acrylic surrounds are more durable and stronger than grouted tile, fiberglass, or other materials; no grout means no mold or mildew, no yellowing, cracking, or fading, since no epoxy resins are utilized in the manufacturing process.
Let’s look at surface preparation. Some surround manufacturers have models they say can applied directly to the partition studs. This is not generally recommended. Although they can be applied to regular sheetrock, it is prudent to remember that bathrooms and bathtubs specifically, tend to be high moisture areas. In view of that, the two preferred backing materials are greenboard (moisture resistant sheetrock) or cement board. Cement board has become a very popular choice in the past few years.
One word of caution: do not attempt to apply a bathtub surround over existing ceramic tile; you will not get a good seal on the non-porous surface.
Panels or Units?
Bathtub wall surrounds can be purchased as complete units or made up of several panels. As you might have guessed, panels offer a couple of advantages.
First, they are easier to handle (not to mention getting them through the bathroom door!). Secondly, even though we do our best, how many amongst us haven’t gotten our dimensions off just a hair when doing our preparation?
Panels offer a bit of flexibility if we need to do minor trimming or if the tub enclosure is a bit out of square.
The tools you will need to make an installation are:
- an electric jigsaw
an electric drill with a hole bit
and a utility knife
As far as materials go, you should have on hand about 7 or 8 tubes of a construction grade adhesive such as liquid nails, 2 tubes of silicone caulk, and 1 tube of acrylic latex caulk.
Depending on which model and manufacturer you choose you will have their detailed installation instructions but here is what you will typically need to do. First, measure and lay out on the appropriate surround panel where the holes need to be for the shower head and the any water supply nipples and manifold access that you have. Double check your measurements and then and drill the holes.
Next, dry fit all panels on the tub or shower and do any modification you need, either to the tub/shower enclosure or the panels. Now run a silicone caulk bead along the tub where the first panel will sit. Apply adhesive to the back of the panel as you would anything else – a bead around the perimeter and then a big ‘X’ from corner to corner. Set the panel in place and apply pressure.
Now just repeat with the rest of the panels and run a bead of acrylic latex caulk to the intersections of the bathtub wall surround and wall. Install the plumbing hardware and let the glue and caulk set up. Finally, take a long hot bath and relax.
photo by Editor B – CreativeCommons Attribution