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Prefab Stalls vs. Tiled Showers: Which Is Better?

When deciding on materials for your shower, consider factors like durability, maintenance, cost, and installation. The choice often comes down to two options: a prefabricated shower stall or a custom-built ceramic tile or stone shower.

Prefabricated Shower Stalls

  • Cost: Generally less expensive than custom-built options.
  • Installation: Quicker and easier, suitable for experienced DIY lovers.
  • Design: Limited in sizes and styles.
  • Durability: Customized showers may be more durable and long-lasting.
  • Flexibility: Offers less design flexibility.

Custom-Built ceramic Tile or Stone Showers

  • Cost: It is more expensive and takes more time to install.
  • Durability: Tend to be more durable and long-lasting.
  • Design: Provides a wide range of style choices.
  • Customization: Allows for personalized size, shape, and material choices.
  • Aesthetic Appeal: Tailored to your specific needs and preferences.

Table of Contents

Prefab Shower Stall Introduction

A prefabricated shower stall is a pre-made shower unit, typically made of fiberglass or acrylic. These are manufactured in a factory and shipped to your home as a single or several pieces. They are designed for easy installation and can be set up by professional installers or experienced DIY enthusiasts.

Most prefab shower kits include a pan (base) and two or three solid wall panels. Some kits are one-piece shells, integrating the shower base or bathtub with the walls.

The size of your home’s doorways is a key factor in choosing between a one-piece or multi-piece prefab shower stall. Multi-piece units are often preferred because they’re easier to maneuver into the house. These kits usually have all necessary components, such as a shower pan or tub, wall panels with built-in shelves and soap dishes, and sometimes even the shower door.

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While home improvement centers stock basic shower stall kits, a wider selection is usually available through special orders. One-piece units are bulky and not kept in large store stock so options might be limited. Packaged in flatter boxes, multi-piece units are more readily available in stores due to their easier storage.

Custom-Built Tile or Stone Showers Introduction

Custom-built ceramic tile or stone showers are constructed on-site from scratch by skilled carpenters and tilers. Begin with carpenters creating the structural frame for the shower alcove, using cement board panels.

Once the frame is set up, tilers complete the tile or stone work, giving the shower its final, luxurious appearance. As a crucial part of the construction, the shower door needs to be custom-ordered to fit the specific dimensions and is usually installed by the carpenter.

Given the requirement for experienced labor, custom-tile showers are often more expensive than prefabricated shower units. However, the higher cost is justified by their luxury and customizability, which is rarely matched by even high-end prefabricated showers.

For do-it-yourself enthusiasts, a hybrid approach can be taken. This involves installing a prefabricated shower pan and finishing the walls with custom tiling. Constructing a tile shower pan is quite complex, so you’d better start with a factory-made pan.

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If you’re considering an affordable and DIY-friendly shower option, prefabricated units are great. But remember that they offer limited design choices. Also, ensure that the prefab shower unit can fit through your doors, as they are generally designed for new construction-sized entryways and might not suit older homes.

On the other hand, custom-built tiled or stone showers offer limitless design possibilities, are more durable, and can enhance the value of your home. But remember that these showers often need professional installation, take longer to set up, and the combined cost of materials and labor is higher than for prefab showers.

Continue reading to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each option, which will help you determine the best fit for your bathroom remodeling project.

Pros and Cons of Prefab Showers

Many units can be installed by a DIY remodeler with moderate to advanced skills. A new shower can be completed from start to finish in a single day. Custom-tile showers often take a week or more, even in the hands of a skilled pro. Prefabricated showers are much cheaper than tiled shower stalls, often by hundreds of dollars.

Pros

Cost

The average cost of an acrylic or fiberglass shower insert is between $350 and $2,000, making it more turnkey and affordable than tile, which has a broader range of cost variables, from materials to labor.

Lightweight

Prefabricated showers are plastic of one form or another and much lighter than custom tile showers. A prefabricated shower is a much better choice in a home with structural floor issues.

Low Maintenance

Acrylic or fiberglass shower pans have some flexibility. They will not crack if there is a small amount of flex to the subfloor. Usually, the prefabricated base is embedded in a thin layer of mortar for stability. However, unlike custom tile shower pans, leaking rarely happens with prefabricated shower pans.

Most prefabricated kits have seams only in the corners and along the top of the shower pan or tub. One-piece units have no seams at all. Fewer seams mean easier cleaning and less likelihood of leaking. Prefabricated showers are easier to keep clean than ceramic tile showers, with their many grout lines.

Prefab Showers

Cons

Limited Styles

Prefabricated shower stalls, initially considered economical but plain, now offer various styles, even for higher-end bathrooms. However, prefab kits generally have fewer design options than tiled shower stalls and may require special ordering.

Not Eco-Friendly

The plastics in prefabricated showers aren’t easily recyclable and won’t decompose if they end up in a landfill, posing an environmental concern.

Size Limitations

Economy prefab shower kits are available only in stock sizes. While more expensive upper-end kits can be custom-ordered to specific dimensions, one-piece units sometimes need to be more suitable for remodeling due to their size preventing them from fitting through doorways. These one-piece units are mainly intended for new constructions or additions where they can be installed before the completion of doorways.

Difficult to Repair

Repairing prefabricated showers can be more difficult than fixing ceramic tiles. Once a crack appears in a prefabricated shower, options are limited. Fiberglass repair kits can make spot repairs but are often noticeable. The alternatives are usually full replacement or relining of the shower unit.

Pros and Cons of Custom-Tiled Showers

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Pros

Eco-Friendly Option

Eco-friendly tile with 40 to 60 percent recycled content offers a green alternative. This recycled tile is just as attractive as regular tile and costs about the same.

Infinite Design Options

The main advantage of a tiled shower is the endless creativity it allows. There are thousands of colors, patterns, and sizes available in ceramic and porcelain tiles. Built from scratch, these showers offer an unlimited range of design possibilities. Plus, they can be constructed to fit any available space, regardless of the initial tile size.

Increased Resale Value

Ceramic tile, being natural and made from clay, is a premium building material that can slightly increase your home’s resale value compared to synthetic shower materials. A custom tile shower can be a significant selling point, especially when paired with ceramic tile floors and stone countertops.

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Cons

Costs

Tiling a shower, including labor and materials, can cost between $5 to $30 per square foot. The price per square foot varies significantly by the type of tile used, with porcelain ranging from $6 to $110, ceramic from $10 to $40, and stone from $10 to $110.

Installation

Custom-built tile showers are usually more expensive to install than prefabricated units due to the high cost of skilled labor. Installation is more complex, making it a challenging task for motivated do-it-yourselfers compared to the simpler installation of prefab units.

High Maintenance

While ceramic tile is easy to clean, maintaining the grout lines in tile showers is essential. They are prone to mildew, cracking, and potential leaks if regularly sealed. A large ceramic tile shower adds large weight to the floor structure, which may lead to flexing and damage to both the grout joints and the tiles.

Building a custom tile shower pan is a difficult and labor-intensive project, even for professionals. As an alternative, DIYers may choose to use a fiberglass/acrylic shower pan with tiled walls, but this also requires careful installation and maintenance to prevent leaks.

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