What To Know About Walk-In Showers

We walk through the details to help you decide if a walk-in shower is right for you.

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If you’re longing for a walk-in shower, you have lots of company. “They’re super popular right now,” says Chuck Khiel, vice president of Fred Home Improvement in Bethesda, Maryland. Why? While there’s an environmental advantage to showering — it uses a lot less water than bathing, according to the EPA — most people simply prefer showering. Adding a walk-in shower improves the experience, from making it easier to get in and out (helpful for anyone with mobility issues) to providing a more enjoyable shower. Another plus, walk-in showers are fairly affordable. And, you can add a variety of luxurious shower features. Here’s what you need to know as you consider a walk-in shower for your home.

What Is a Walk-In Shower?

In the strictest of definitions, a walk-in shower has no curb or enclosure, making it possible to easily walk or roll into it. Think locker room showers.

But in practice, the term has broader meaning, including showers with no or low curbs, and partial enclosures or full enclosures with doors or curtains.

The floor of the shower is sloped toward a drain, and the walls are typically tiled but other materials are also used. “Ceramic or porcelain tile is popular,” says Khiel, “but we’ve also used natural stone and even full slabs of granite.” You can add features to walk-ins that traditional tub showers don’t have, like body sprays, rain showerheads, niches for soaps and shampoos and benches.

Shower enclosures, including doors, are often glass, to let in light and give a sense of airy openness to the shower space.

Walk-In Shower Sizes

There aren’t really standard sizes for walk-in showers. They can be built to fill whatever space you have. “There’s no limit to how big a walk-in shower can be,” says Khiel, “but I don’t recommend going smaller than 32 inches x 32 inches. A 36-inch x 36-inch shower is a good size because it’s easy to move around in.” Shower pans (for the floor of the shower) are sold in a variety of sizes and can also be custom-made.

Can You Convert a Standard Tub Into a Walk-In Shower?

Yes! In fact, it’s a popular project. “The majority of the walk-in showers we install are replacing tubs,” says Khiel. So the walk-in size is dictated by the space the tub occupied (a 32-inch-wide x 60-inch-long alcove, for example).

How To Build a Walk-In Shower

The steps for installing a walk-in shower in an existing bathroom include demolition down to the studs, moving plumbing, waterproofing the walls and floor, installing a sloped floor and drain, applying tile or other surface material and installing the enclosure. The trickiest parts are the finished surface on the wall, plumbing and waterproofing, which all require a high level of skill.

Whether you choose tile or other products for the walls, installing the finish material requires careful planning and execution for the shower to look its best. You’ll also need cut materials and use tools, like a tile saw, that you might not be familiar with.

Plumbing can be particularly challenging if you’re replacing an existing tub with a walk-in shower because you have to move things around. “The location of the valve for a tub is too low for a walk-in,” says Khiel.

Then there’s the waterproofing. “It’s especially critical,” he says. If you don’t get that right, you’ll have bigger problems down the road. Khiel’s crews place a waterproofing membrane made by Schluter, called Kerdi, behind the tile and underneath the shower floor.

With new construction, the project is easier because there is easier access to the plumbing.

How Much Does a Walk-In Shower Cost?

“For a tub-to-shower conversion, it might be $15,000 to $20,000 for labor and materials,” says Khiel. That would include tearing out the tub, taking the walls down to the studs, waterproofing, moving the plumbing, basic fixtures, glass enclosure and ceramic tile that’s $6 to $8 per square foot.”

The kinds of fixtures and features you include can increase the price dramatically.

If you have the skills and tools to do the labor yourself, materials will cost in the range of $6,000 to $8,000, Khiel says.

Kathleen Childers
Kathleen Childers, a Minnesota-based writer, covers topics about home and life for a variety of clients.