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How to Buy a New Bathtub and Surround

Read this before you start shopping for bathtubs and tub surrounds.

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

Shopping for a bathtub and wall surround kit

Tubs and 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.

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

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 tub 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.

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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.

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Acrylic-surface plastic 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 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.

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