Selecting Shower Enclosures
Glass block can be used to create custom enclosure designs or installed as a pre-designed shower enclosure.

Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Corning Corporation

Shower enclosures used to be simple affairs—a shower curtain suspended from a simple pipe or wire framework over a bathtub or floor with a drain. Nicer showers were tiled alcoves with a curtain or safety-glass door. While those options still exist, budget and taste can take homeowners into design arenas that treat showers like art.

Shower Styles
Shape is one factor that has transformed how showers look and where they can be located. A shower enclosure is no longer just a square or rectangular stall. Angled, round, and free-form shapes provide opportunities to open up space in a bathroom, fit a shower in a tight area, and bring functional style to the bathroom.

A neo-angle-door enclosure increases placement options with its contemporary shape and pivoting door. Another concept is the Iridess, a curved, translucent, glass-free shower enclosure from Clarke Products of Grand Prairie, Texas. These door-free enclosures are offered in four unusual shapes.

Selecting Shower Enclosures
Glass shower doors can be installed in a track system or on trackless, pivoting hinges.

Enclosure Materials

  • Fiberglass—a mix of polyester resin and fiberglass strands—is still the most popular material for shower modules and sectionals.
  • Acrylic and tempered-glass sheets are available for framed, unframed, and curved-surface applications. Both are easy-care and durable surfaces.
  • Cast acrylic, like the Iridess, can be shaped into curved enclosures. Iridess has a high-gloss finish on one side and matte finish on the other, so it acts like a prism to produce a glowing color. Company president Don Clarke says it is designed for those who like spacious, walk-in showers with no shower doors to clean and a unique color element.
  • Glass block offers aesthetic value, durability, privacy, is stain resistant, and easy to clean. Pittsburgh Corning offers a system for four glass-block shower enclosures and a custom design option using their ProVantage mortar-less method, which incorporates a special spacer system and joint finish. Bob DeGusipe, marketing manager, says the glass-block systems can be installed by professionals or reasonably handy homeowners.
  • Tile is ever popular and gives a distinctive custom look with the wide variety of colors, material (ceramic, stone and marble), sizes, and shapes. Its limiting feature has been the grout used for installation. Grout provides a platform for mold and mildew growth. Proper sealing, cleaning, and maintenance can eliminate that concern. New grouts and sealers also have additives that claim to inhibit or block mildew or baterial growth.

    Selecting Shower Enclosures
    The Iridess shower enclosure features a contemporary shape, door-less entry, and translucent color.

    Photo Credit: Clarke Products

  • Solid-surface materials like DuPont Corian offer non-porous, color throughout, surfaces for wet environments. Corian is a blend of natural materials and pure acrylic polymers and comes in a wide-ranging color palette. Solid surfacing is easily repaired or renewed because the color goes all the way through the material. Since it is nonporous, solid surface materials will not support the growth of mold, mildew, or bacteria.
  • Metal’s popularity now extends to the bathroom. Metal enclosures are available in stainless steel and in copper. Frigo’s fingerprint-free stainless-steel enclosures are antibacterial, non-corrosive, stain-resistant, mildew-proof, and easy-to-clean. According to the company, metal walls are backed with a sound suppressant/attenuation material that prevents sound transfer or reverberation, and helps maintain a constant ambient temperature. Embossed patterns are also available.

Planning and Costs
Because the size of American bathrooms has grown—almost doubling from the typical 5-foot-by-8-foot dimensions of a generation ago—many owners of newer homes easily accommodate the shower of their dreams. Those with older homes and smaller bathrooms also have more options for replacing aging shower or tub-shower units.

A water-filled paradise is not cheap, however. Costs run from about $3,200 for a custom copper unit with non-tarnishing sealer, to about $3,000 for Pittsburgh Corning’s glass-block wall system (complete with an allowance for tiling the back wall), to about $1,900 for a prefabricated fiberglass module. Add installation, plumbing, electrical work, and fixtures to that price to get a good sense of the final total.

Preplanning is important. There must be enough room to get the unit through the house and into the space. Homeowners should also consider water flow and necessary water and waste lines. For example, popular power showerheads may require a certain size module, drains, supply lines, and space to operate effectively. Steam baths may not work with all modules. If wheelchair access is needed, enclosures need to be low-threshold and barrier-free.

In addition, homeowners must decide whether an integral, flip-up, or removable shower seat is desired and how many soap/shampoo ledges they need. Add decisions on a dome light, grab bar, any special set-up for faucets, and whether a shower door or curtain is needed.

Credit: Renovate Your World