Looking for a new bathtub surround? Learn the pros and cons of everything from solid-surface bathtub and surround combinations to affordable acrylic plastic panels. Photo courtesy of Sterling
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine
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Shopping for a bathtub and wall surround kit
Tubs and shower tub surrounds come in all types of materials and price ranges. They all have a hard shiny surface, but they differ in stiffness, reparability and projected longevity. We divided them into three material categories and price ranges. The first two categories are the most popular.
Premium composites and solid-surface: $600 to $1,200
Sterling tub/surround combo
This Sterling Ensemble tile pattern tub/surround costs almost $1,000, but will last much longer than inexpensive alternatives.
Swanstone bathtub surrounds
The Swanstone tub surround shown here costs almost $900.
Premium composite bathtub and surround combinations offer caulkless seams and more realistic tile and texture patterns. Solid-surface panels offer the largest selection of styles, including faux granite, quartz and marble. You can order matching solid-surface trim kits that eliminate the need for tile around the edge. Expect a life span of 30-plus years. Some brands include a lifetime warranty. The composite units mount directly to studs with screws and clips; the solid-surface panels glue to either walls or studs.
Strongest and most scratch- and chip-resistant of any material
Most realistic tile and texture patterns
Longer life (30-plus years; some with lifetime warranty)
Caulkless designs eliminate recaulking
Scratches and chips can be repaired
Harder to cut
Some models require a mortar bed under the tub
Requires a special order at most home centers
Fiberglass and composites: $300 to $600
In this category, you get sturdy shelves and overall stiffness, plus a more durable surface.
Fiberglass units are stronger and far more chip- and-scratch resistant than the bathtub surrounds in the next category. Composite tub surrounds and tubs are the strongest and have the longest projected life span. Most mount directly to bare studs with screws, nails or manufacturer-provided clips, although a few can be glued to a clean, smooth surface. Add about $200 for a matching tub.
Easy to install
Longer life (15 to 20 years)
Composite units have tighter corner radii, so shelves and soap dishes can be molded right into the corners, opening up personal shower space.
Light scratches can be repaired.
Fiberglass units have wide radius corners so shelves must be located on the back wall.
Swanstone TI30000.010; $490
Swanstone RM5801-SS shower wall; $432 at Sears
Acrylic-surface plastic shower tub surrounds: $55 to $300
Models in this category all have the same surface layer, but they vary a lot in stiffness.
The lowest-priced tub surrounds are just flat sheets of acrylic, capped polystyrene that you glue to moisture-resistant drywall. Spend a bit more and you’ll get features like tile patterns, molded shelves and soap dishes. But since they’re made from the same thin material, they can be pretty flimsy even when glued to the wall. Spend a bit more and you get stiffer acrylic-capped ABS plastic. However, the best models in this category include fiberglass reinforcement to make the shelves really stiff. The $55 bathtub surrounds are popular because they fit a tight budget, and they’re fine for low-use showers. But for most bathrooms, we suggest you spend about $200 to $300 for a fiberglass-reinforced bathtub surround.
Usually in stock at home centers
Easy to cut and drill
Scratches and chips more readily than other surfaces and can’t be repaired