Traditionally bathrooms have been covered from floor to ceiling in ceramic or porcelain tiles. Over time tile manufacturers have developed and grown, and so have tile selections. Tile setters/installers have honed their skills and through proper vetting you can find a contractor who can build a long lasting and beautiful wet space in your bathroom. Vetting of your contractor is exceptionally important as tile does not have any forgiveness for lack of proper preparation, lack of knowledge about the latest products, trims, waterproofing and installation/finishing techniques to give you the long-lasting finished product you are seeking.
The issues with traditional tile in wet spaces, especially bath and shower wet spaces, are the materials which go into the installation. The tile itself is a solid surface, seamless and waterproof material. The problem with tile lies within the seams and grouting that is used to seal the hundreds of individual tile pieces together. Grout is a material that substantially consists of sand and bonding agents. Grout is very porous. Porosity is what allows water to penetrate through the grout to the substrate. Substrate preparation for tile work consist of water shielding layers to manage water penetration through the tile. In addition to water penetration this porosity allows organic matter like soaps and dirt from your skin to build up. This organic matter is what mold and mildews feed on, and it is also what homeowners fight with cleaning products and scrub brushes to keep their surfaces looking clean and fresh.
Surface prep, the important areas that are hidden by tile work, are in any professional’s opinion the most important part of the whole project. Tile requires layers of properly installed materials to manage water that penetrates through the grout lines. If this layer is inadequately installed or rushed through your tile will have a significantly shortened lifespan and your home may be damaged by water.
Solid surface materials such as acrylics, composites and cultured stones are products have been manufactured to offer an alternative to traditional tile. These seamless materials offer one-piece seamless slabs that provide unmatched water proofing protection. Just like tile, the options are seemingly endless. These products can achieve the same level of aesthetics as tile, and in fact often are designed to mimic the traditional look of tile. More often though, seamless options will be offered in flat colors like white or almond or in slabs designed to recreate the look of one large slab of granite or stone. The options, components and trims are almost endless. Be sure to add in color matched seamless soap caddies and recessed niches to build a practical and useable shower sanctuary.
The biggest advantage of solid surface materials though lies within its ability to completely lock out water penetration. By eliminating the grout lines, you have eliminated over 90 percent of the potential for failure and water leaks. The best systems are thoroughly engineered to come in kits offering multiple layers of flashing, flanges, and water-proof mastics to provide bullet proof barriers even where the silicone seams exist in the corners and around the tub or shower base.
While tile manufacturers are vast and are mostly kilns and factories stamping and producing tiles. Solid surface manufacturers are much more specialized. We do not recommend the off the shelf products, kits and one size fits all solutions from hardware stores, however some of these stores do offer consumers a retail channel to some of the best manufactures of custom solid surface materials.
The issue with these special orders, is the knowledge to take the measurements you need when placing the order. It can be difficult to know what size pan and what size wall slabs you need, without knowing the dimensions and thicknesses of the walls and existing components of your shower. We would recommend always having a professional do your measuring and take your order in your home. Some great resources in my area, Illinois and Wisconsin, are companies like TubToday, Walk in Tub USA and Fox Valley Home Services. There are many others, but I am partial to these. If you are not in this area, try internet searches for “bath and shower installers” or “bath and shower experts”. Most companies provide free written quotes and will be happy to schedule time to measure your project. Cheers!!