OK – I’m not writing this to take down the tile industry, and I’m certainly not arrogant enough to think this post has that kind of power.
However, I’ve been on the receiving end of countless homeowners (and even bathroom remodeling contractors) calls who are ‘sick and tired’ (as my Mom used to say) of problems with tile showers. They’re desperately looking for better solutions.
Admittedly, a tile shower can look beautiful once its finally completed. However, how long will it hold up? Will it be a pain to maintain? Will you be protected by a warranty if the shower pan or walls leak?
When it comes to those looking for a richer-looking showers tile is the A#1 top choice… but should it be? And even if you’re sold on tile, are there installation approaches and materials you should use to get a better finished product which lasts longer?
In this article I’ll focus on frustrations surrounding tile showers, and alternatives you need to research if you hate grout (which is the evil-stepbrother or stepsister to tile). I’ll also provide examples of better performing products to use instead of tile (or improved products to use with tile, is you’re set this is the way for you to go).
Let’s check out the 9 reasons you shouldn’t build a tile shower.
Reason #1 to not build a tile shower. They have grout joints…and grout joints can lead to mold
Grout is the necessary evil of a tile job…but its still evil. Grout by its nature has cement. Cement is porous. Water which gets trapped behind tile walls is a bad. Water happens ALL THE TIME in showers (OK – you can call me ‘Captain Obvious’ now).
While you may have a waterproof or partially waterproof backer board (in the case of cement board) behind the wall, these ‘behind the wall surface’ materials aren’t stopping water from penetrating. Trapped water can lead to the dreaded ‘M’ word (‘er that would be mold). You can substitute standard sanded grout for a urethane or epoxy grout, but they still aren’t 100% guaranteed to prevent moisture from getting behind tiles.
If you want the real look of tile and grout without ANY GROUT JOINTS TO MAINTAIN, the best solution is to stop moisture (‘er water) dead in its tracks on the surface BEFORE it gets behind the wall. The way to accomplish this is with…
These 2’ x 8’ x 3/8” thick panels have a high-pressure laminate top surface which blocks moisture before it gets behind the walls yet has a realistic-looking (laminate actually) grout joints. These panels are also made with subway tile or even herringbone tile wall patterns.
Reason #2 to not build a tile shower. It’s expensive
Unless you buy the cheapest tile at the big box store and go through the looooong process of DIYing it, a tile project is gonna cost you.
Not only are tile and tile trim pieces not cheap but installing a tile shower takes a long time. In most cases your contractor will be setting small mosaic tiles on the floor pan (which needs lots of grout) and larger (harder to work with) tile on the walls. There’s a lot of time prepping, cutting and setting these units. And guess who’ll be paying the bill for all this time? ‘Er, that would be you.
Once again grout free shower wall panels like a PVC composite shower surroundand the laminate shower walls make perfect sense to cut labor costs vs. tile. And if you want a herringbone pattern shower surround, these wall panels can be far less cost than tile. In fact in the article below, you’ll be able to see 5 shower wall panel systems you can buy for under $1,750.
Reason #3 to not build a tile shower. The shower floor pan ends up looking dirty
Since all the dirt and grime go down on your shower pan the plethora (OK – I used this big word to make you think I’m smart. Is it working?) of grout joints in your mosaic shower floor pan gets ugly over time (especially if you don’t reseal them…and if you can name one person who actually reseals their tile shower, I’ll be amazed!).
And, who loves to stare down at a dirty floor? I’ll give you the answer. NO ONE.
Whether you have a standard-sized or customer shower pan, there is ZERO reason to put up with a dirty tile floor.
If you have a standard sized shower look at contemporary acrylic shower pans. They’re sleek, stylish and durable (because they have an MDF reinforced bottom) and easy to wipe down. If you have a custom pan, the age-old, but built-like-a-tank custom cultured stone shower pan makes sense.
Reason #4 to not build a tile shower. It’s hard to find a competent human being, alien or robot to do the job
In this age of robotics and fast-moving-technologies, there still isn’t a cost-effective people-less way to install a tile shower inside your home. And there in lies the problem.
If you talk to any remodeling contractor and ask their #1 problem, it’s finding good people (or maybe any people for that matter) to install (and the tile contractors certainly have this problem). And here’s the even more alarming news.
The labor problem in construction is only projected to get worse.
No one is telling their sons and daughters to go into construction – although I’d guess a construction craftsperson with 4 years of experience is making a lot more money that a college student with a 4-year (if you’re lucky) college degree in philosophy (who has also built up a mountain of student debt). This is a debate for another day.
IMHO – superior shower wall panel systems are (by necessity) the wave of the future in bathroom remodeling. They can be installed by carpentry crews (which are easier to find than tile setters) in 1/3 to 1/6th the time of tile.
Reason #5 to not build a tile shower. If you DIY the job, you’ll buy a lot of tools you’ll never use again
DIYing sounds great until you realize the number of (and cost of) specialty tools, equipment and supplies you need for a tile shower.
To make sharp cuts you need a wet saw (which is also a dusty, dirty process).
To gently tap the tiles into place you need a rubber mallet. Not exactly something you’ll use again – unless it is to bop your son over the head when he doesn’t take the garbage out again – OK, probably not it’s intended use.
To make irregular cuts (semi-circles and weird shapes) you’ll need a ‘tile nibbler.’ I bet (sarcasm intended) you have a million uses for a tile nibbler!
You’ll need pointed and square notched trowels.
You’ll even need a specialized, big, thick and dense-cell sponge to get the grout off the tiles (no, taking your spouses’ sponge from the kitchen sink won’t work – and may even get you a ‘free-nights-sleep’ in the doghouse!).
These specialized tools and equipment add up and then gather dust after the DIY tile job is done. Not a smart investment.
Look for wall panel systems which use standard woodworking equipment like shown below.
Reason #6 to not build a tile shower. The tiles can be all ‘catawampus’
Catawampus…that’s a funny word isn’t it? It’s a term you might have heard your Grandpa use to describe something all messed up. He might have described all those tiles going in and out on a wall as being catawampus.
Let’s face it. With tile there are times your tile setter (or you, if you’re DIYing the job) have to ‘fight’ the tiles to get them flush and flat on the wall. In plain English….
THIS CAN BE A PAIN
Why fight with tiles if you can use wall panels with one smooth flat surface? If you want a sleek, high gloss look (like glass tiles, but continuous), maybe a contemporary acrylic shower panel will do the trick. If you want a stone look, the laminate shower panels are winners again. There’s no need to stand for catawampus anymore!
Reason #7 to not build a tile shower. Leaking walls, leaking pans and leaking onto floors below
If you don’t realize it, you’re taking a BIG risk putting in a tile shower. That big risk is leaking. The grout joints in the wall are porous. The grout joints in the pan are porous. Sure – you can protect yourself better today by using waterproof shower pan and wall systems like those made by Wedi and Schluter. However, in front of these systems you still have grout joints. And besides, what guarantees against leaking are you getting from your remodeling contractor or tile setter?
If you want to get rid of leaking – grout free wall panels (as discussed before) work great. For the shower pan – you’ll find acrylic or modern low profile solid surface shower pans are both thoughtful options (note – I would stay away from fiberglass because it can be a pain to clean). And if you really want to protect yourself against leaks – look for higher quality shower kits which have grout free wall panels, shower pans and glass enclosure with are all designed to work together.
Reason #8 to not build a tile shower. They require YOUR time
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if someone else was in charge of clean up?
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if someone else was in charge of calling the ‘Grout Medic’ or ‘Grout Doctor’ to clean those nasty joints?
There is ZERO fun pulling out a scrub brush or calling a contractor to clean grout joints. It’s also not a good omen for tile jobs to know there is an entire industry of franchises built around tile maintenance. Who really want to call a ‘Doctor’ or ‘Medic’ of any type…anyway?
This funny person below cleaning up their tile DOESN” T HAVE TO BE YOU!
Get rid of grout. Chop down maintenance. It’s that simple.
Reason #9 to not build a tile shower. No disgusting ‘nooks and crannies’
Whether you have a tile shower – or any other shower for that matter – you know you need a place for all your stuff. And if you’re like my wife, the stuff just keeps on growing (as Rose tells me ‘the time – and number of products – from waking up to pretty keeps getting bigger and longer).
Given these harsh, cruel aging facts you probably have more shampoos, lotions and potions than ever before. You need niches and storage places to put them (especially if you have a small shower).
If you have a tile shower, you’ll need a tile niche. The grout in the damp insides of these niches ends up looking ugly. This doesn’t need to be the case.
Instead of having your tile setter build a tile niche, a smarter – and better looking– solution are brushed aluminum niches like these. You’ll save cleaning time, and your shower will look better.
If you absolutely love, love, love tile, I’m sorry to ‘pick on’ this industry in this article.
I just know from the world I (and my wife) live in we have little time for maintenance, calling ‘Grout Doctors’ or putting up with leaks (God forbid) which could occur down the road from tile.
The alternatives to tile have never been better. The installation options for grout free wall panels and maintenance free bases have never been faster. It’s become far simpler to do a tub to shower conversion with grout free panels and bases.
Does it make sense for you to rethink your decision to have a tile shower for your new home or remodeling project?