The shower wall lining is not the first thing that people think about when buying a shower. But it is actually very important. It is critical in ensuring the finished job will perform without any problems further down the line.
There’s nothing quite like a nice refreshing shower. What was once a luxury is now seen as a necessity with every home having some form of shower. The most common is the over-bath shower. But shower cubicles are also installed where room allows.
You will need to pay attention to the walls if you are thinking of installing a shower cubicle. Or if you are in the process of updating your current one.
Tiles v Panels
Tiles have always been the go-to product in the past. But people have looked for better alternatives. This is due to the well known shortcomings of a tiled wall. Grout becomes mouldy, cracks can appear and water gets behind tiles. This will cause no end of damage to walls and structure of the building.
Waterproof wall panels have grown in popularity year on year and are seen as the modern alternative to tiles. They are easy to install, they use no grout and, importantly, require no maintenance. There is a wide choice of designs including panels that look exactly like tiles. They are used extensively in commercial situations and are perfect for use in domestic showers.
You are going to need to ensure the walls of your cubicle are waterproof unless you opt for an all-in-one shower pod . Bathroom cladding is perfect as a shower wall lining. It is what cladding is designed to do. We have an article on this very subject here.
But there are some things to consider. How big is the cubicle? Is it a new installation or are you keeping components from a previous installation? Maybe you just want to freshen things up.
Installing A Completely New Shower
There are two basic choices if you are starting from scratch: shower pod or shower cubicle.
A shower pod has the walls built-in to the unit. This means you do not have to worry about making everything watertight. They are expensive though. So a cubicle is a better value option. And the one that a much larger number of householders opt for.
The first thing you need to ensure is that the shower tray is rock solid. Any movement at all will cause problems long term. Never run bathroom cladding (or tiles for that matter) behind the shower tray. The shower wall lining needs to be run down onto the top surface of the tray.
Once the tray is in place you have two choices:
- Fit the glass enclosure and then fit the cladding to butt up to the cubicle frame
- Fit the cladding first and then install the enclosure on top of the panels.
The first option results in a very neat finish and is achieved without needing any trims. The panels need to be cut reasonable accurately. But this is not a difficult task as cladding is very easy to cut. See our guide on scribing panels for a perfect fit.
The second option is easier but there will be visible cut ends on the sides of the panels. So a capping trim is needed to cover these edges.
Shower Wall Lining An Existing Unit
Here, you again have two options which correspond to the same 2 options above.
The first option is the same as option 1 above. Fit the panels inside the existing enclosure and butt the cladding up to the frame of the cubicle. This is straightforward but it is a bit fiddly. Trying to manoeuvre the panels around inside the confined space is a challenge. Smaller panels are easier to work with than large sheets.
Removing the existing glass enclosure and re-fitting it once the walls have been lined is another option. We would not recommend this approach. When shower enclosures are installed there tends to be a lot of silicone used to seal and stick the components to the wall. Trying to remove these frames (which are only soft aluminium) can result in damage – either bending or buckling. It is feasible but beware that there could be problems.
It might seem odd to be discussing shower trays when the article is about shower walls. But there is a reason for including this topic. One of the main reasons that tiled shower walls fail in the first place is a badly fitted shower tray. Wall panels are a more forgiving product but it is still vital that the tray is installed correctly.
So here is a run down of things you need to remember.
The first thing you need to do when installing a shower is to ensure the tray is absolutely rock solid. This might seem like a simple rule but in practice it is not as straightforward as it first appears.
Acrylic Shower Trays
Acrylic is flexible and will move slightly when being used. The acrylic surface is backed by fibreglass to make it stiffer. A baseboard is fitted underneath to provide even more stability. But they can still flex slightly in use. This movement is one of the reasons showers develop leaks over time. The movement pulls silicone seals off the surface it is applied to. And grout will crack if any force is applied to it.
Stone Resin Trays
Stone resin trays are much more solid but there are situations where they can move as well. They are often fitted onto a wooden floor in an upstairs setting. Here, the joists and floorboards enable small movements to occur which then creates the same issue as highlighted above.
If there are masonry walls cut a groove into them with an angle grinder. The bottom of the shower tray is then be inserted into the slot and will be unable to move in relation to the wall. Wooden blocks or bricks underneath raised trays are another option. This to ensures that the whole of the lower surface is supported not just isolated spots where the shower legs attach.
If buying a new tray choose one with upstands. These trays have small, thin, fillets of tray material that slot up behind the tiles or wall panels. The joint between the tray and the shower wall lining is the most critical. And this design effectively eliminates leaks in this area.