The shower tray is the most critical part of a cubicle. If you are fitting a shower cubicle in your house it is vital that the shower tray is installed correctly because leaks and water damage can occur if it is not completely rock-solid and absolutely level.
The joints between the shower tray and the walls are where most problems occur. It is vital that there is no differential movement between the shower tray and the wall. Movement will crack grout and cause seals to pull away from the surfaces it is meant to protect.
There are many different types of trays on the market and they can be made from a whole host of materials.
Steel, ceramic, stone resin, acrylic and fibreglass are all commonly used materials. And there is a wide variety of shapes and sizes as well. So the choice can seem overwhelming. This guide will help steer you through the decision-making process.
Sizes – Bigger Is Best
When it comes to the size of your shower tray try and go for the biggest that will fit comfortably into your room.
Try and avoid fitting very small showers. A 700 x 700mm shower will feel very claustrophobic in use. If you have the room opt for something bigger. Sometimes a quadrant shape will allow you to gain extra showering room without taking up too much floor space.
Visit a showroom and stand inside a few cubicles. This will give you a better idea of what you will be comfortable with. This is especially important if you are tall.
A common installation these days is to remove a bath and fit a shower in its place. The size of baths in the UK is normally 1700 x 700mm. So the easiest option is to buy a shower tray exactly the same size. The walls will need to be redecorated as there will be damage from removing the old bath. But this will give a very decent-sized shower cubicle.
Shapes – Square, Rectangular or Quadrant
There are square trays, rectangular, quadrant and special trays for walk-in cubicles. No particular shape is any better, although quadrant cubicles offer the best compromise between elbow room and footprint.
As mentioned above, choose the biggest tray that fits comfortably into your room. But you don’t want it to overpower the design and make the rest of the room feel cramped.
The cubicle that fits on a square or rectangular tray will have a hard corner. A quadrant shower does not have this hard corner. It curves away from your line of sight making the room feel more open. This works well as a design technique in small bathrooms.
Pentagon-style showers also do away with the hard corner but these are less common.
If you can find one, we would recommend using a tray that incorporates an up-stand. This tray has a small filet that tucks up behind the tiles or panels, ensuring a completely waterproof finish.
The other option if you are worried about water escaping is to fit a shower pod which is a self-contained unit.
You could also vary the design of your shower by choosing a shower tray in something other than white. Coloured trays are available but are less common. Black trays and slate effect can be obtained relatively quickly but other colours might have to be made to order and could be expensive.
Power Showers And Tray Depth
One aspect that has changed over recent years is the depth of shower trays. They are now much, much shallower.
Maybe it’s an aesthetic thing, maybe it’s a cost-saving technique (as they use less material). Either way shower trays have much less depth to them than they used to. This makes getting in and out of them a lot easier because access is less restricted.
The downside is that they cannot hold as much water. Ordinarily, the water should just drain away instantly. But with the introduction of power showers, there is a problem that can occur.
The amount of water that a shower outputs can sometimes be greater than the amount of water that your waste pipes can handle. As a result, water can build up in the tray. And with trays being so shallow this could lead to overspill.
So if you are thinking of installing a very powerful shower you might want to think about upgrading your waste pipes too.
Fitting A Tray With Shower Wall Panels
Grout does not cope with movement – at all. It just cracks. And once cracked it stops doing its job of stopping water from getting through.
Shower wall panels use no grout so tiny movements of the shower tray are irrelevant. However, we would always recommend fitting the tray in such a way as to eliminate all movement.
The tray needs to be installed first and sealed to the existing wall to ensure no moisture can get down behind it and the wall. Smear the silicone up the wall slightly so that there is a skirt of silicone running around the tray. Run the panels down over this and the seal again on the front where the panels meet the shower tray.
This results in a very neat finish as can be seen in the above photos. All of these installations have used panels rather than tiles.
Shower Tray Materials
Many materials are used to make shower trays. The two most popular are acrylic and stone resin. Other materials that are used include enamelled steel, fibreglass, porcelain and ceramics.
We will concentrate on the main two because the majority of trays sold in the UK are made from one or the other.
These are made in a similar way to acrylic baths. A sheet of acrylic is moulded to the required shape and then reinforced with fibreglass. A chipboard base is attached and legs are screwed into this board to raise the tray up. This enables pipework to be run underneath the tray.
The surface of the tray will be patterned to provide a non-slip surface. Some patterns also help to guide water towards the shower waste.
If the pipework can be run under the floor the legs are not required. Fitting the tray flat on the floor will make the shower feel more solid. It is vital that the tray is fixed to the wall securely if the legs are used. Any movement between the tray and the wall needs to be eliminated.
The acrylic surface is hard-wearing and should retain its sheen for years. It is susceptible to scratches but these can be polished out if not too deep.
Stone Resin Trays
These trays are made by mixing a stone powder with a resin and then moulded into shape. There will be a pattern moulded into the surface to provide grip underfoot. They are very solid but are also heavy. This can make installation and manoeuvring the tray into place slightly more difficult, especially for large trays.
Some stone resin trays have legs to raise them up but most don’t. If you need to run pipes under the tray it will need to be raised up on a platform. This can be made out of plywood and timber but some manufacturers insist on a layer of cement as well. Check with the manufacturer beforehand if you are unsure.
The gel-coat surface finish on stone resin shower trays can flatten over time and lose its sheen. But these trays are very robust and do not damage easily.
The other materials used to make shower trays are much less common. Price plays a part because acrylic and tone resin trays are made in huge quantities. Economies of scale then come into play making them comparatively cheap.
Steel and ceramic trays are a high-quality option but the advantages do not really outweigh the extra cost.
There are occasions when no tray is needed. In a wet-room the whole floor becomes the tray. The floor is either tiled or covered with a special vinyl membrane. the tiles or vinyl are returned up the wall slightly to form a waterproof skirting.
Choosing a shower is a very involved process. All of the various components have to be weighed up and compared. You need a clear idea of what you are looking to achieve. And then you need a clear plan to know which products are going to help you obtain the best results.