How to Buy a New Bathtub and Surround

Read this before you start shopping

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 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.

For how to information, see Install an Acrylic Tub and Tub Surround.

Premium composites and solid-surface: $600 to $1,200

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.

PROS:

  • 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

CONS:

  • More expensive
  • 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 surrounds in the next category. Composite 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.

PROS:

  • Affordable
  • 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.

CONS:

  • Fiberglass units have wide radius corners so shelves must be located on the back wall.

EXAMPLES:

  • Swanstone TI30000.010; $490

  • Swanstone RM5801-SS shower wall; $432 at Sears

Acrylic-surface plastic surrounds: $55 to $300

Models in this category all have the same surface layer, but they vary a lot in stiffness.

The lowest-priced units 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 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 unit.

PROS:

  • Low cost
  • Usually in stock at home centers
  • Easy to cut and drill

CONS:

  • Scratches and chips more readily than other surfaces and can't be repaired
  • Shortest life (10 to 15 years)
  • Back wall shelves intrude into shower space

EXAMPLES:

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