Tub Surround vs Tile

patrice607October 30, 2005

I'm about to begin a bath remodel and can not decide on what to put around the tub. This bath is used by my sons (15 and 19 ) Our last bath remodel was 3 years ago and the grout already needs attention. I love the look of tile but resealing/regrouting isn't my idea of a fun way to spend the week-end. DH thinks the prefab surrounds look too much like the Holiday Inn. Are there any nice looking, higher end surrounds that have the look and elegance of tile? I'd love to do granite but I need to reconcile my champagne taste and beer budget.

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Solid surface material (corian type) is the single best material for "wet walls". Easy to clean, no grout, comes in different "colors", wont support mold, mildew. To clean it you use a scotch brite pad and cleaner. I had it in my old house for almost 25 years, raised 5 kids, and it still looked like new.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 12:49AM
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I'm not sure why your grout should need attention after 3 years. Mildew? One of the various anti mildew sprays should take care of that. Falling out? Possibly a problem with the grout used or the backing?. We've had shower tile for years that had daily use without a real grout problem. Maybe posting a detailed account of the problem on the new bathroom site would get Bill Vincent's attention.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 2:03PM
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We used Swanstone in our girls bathroom. Extremely easy to keep clean.

Here is a link that might be useful: Swanstone website

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 4:54PM
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We have the manufactured marble tub and surround. It looks great even after about 10 years. I have had tile and grout in previous homes, and I would NEVER go back to that.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 7:14PM
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Thanks for the input. How much should I expect to pay for Swanstone or a cultured marble tub surround?

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 7:56PM
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Cultured marble and swanstone do have some maintenance issues. Solid surface you use a scotch brite. I would go for the solid surface, over the lifetime of the product its the least expensive. It will cost more upfront, but only because its worth it.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 8:02PM
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Tom -

Is Corian in the same price range as granite/marble?

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 9:47PM
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Typically less expensive. But there are other brands besides Corian, all of which are good products. Stone in a shower is not a good application. Water stains, soap scum, all work against stone. If you go stone, SEAL SEAL SEAL SEAL. Plus you can install Solid surface, while you can't install Stone yourself. Or at least not well.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 10:50PM
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I love my Swanstone tub surround -- in Bermunda Sand. I paid @ $750 for a kit, which included color-coordinated caulk, adhesive & cove molding for corners, plus a separately ordered corner shelf -- special order from Lowe's (price at HD was significantly higher -- closer to $1K). Mine was installed over a concrete backer board.

Here's a pic of my tub surround after the Swanstone walls were installed but before it was caulked & before the corners & shelf were installed:

Here's another partial shot:

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 11:00PM
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How heavy are those Swanstone tub surround walls? Can one person manage? Is it practical to DIY?

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 7:53AM
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They're not that heavy, but I'd recommend that two people do it, at least with the larger wall, because the piece is unwieldy. It's not a difficult DIY job so long as you're reasonably handy & have a circular saw to make the main cuts & a hole saw for your plumbing. You'll need to use 2 X 4s to brace the installation while the adhesive sets. Once it's in, it's so easy to care for.

I said concrete backer board above -- I meant cement board (duh) -- I used Durock.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 8:59AM
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Altho' you can't tell from my pix, the Bermuda Sand & other similar styles aren't one solid color. Up close, mine looks like a sandy beach.

I was wrong about the installation kit -- it's sold separately (but the price I quoted above included it -- that was in fall of 2004). Also, there's a recessed soap dish available & an even bigger recess for shampoo, etc -- www.swanstone.com/products/accessories/rs2215/index.php -- too big for the space between my odd studs (the bath part of the house was an addition -- my tub wall has all sorts of weird framing), but it may work for you.

The link below has the shelf that I installed -- you can see from the pic what I mean about the variegated color (looks like it's the Bermuda Sand).

Here is a link that might be useful: Swanstone in variegated color

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 9:26AM
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dcdame - did you somehow "wrap" the corner where the bathroom gets wider? It looks like that corner is covered in the material too? Our bathroom is like that and I don't know how to handle the corner.

It looks really nice. I'm practically on my way out the door to Lowes!

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 11:06AM
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Warning re the white Swanstone...ugly as a roach on a restaurant ceiling. I too was attracted by the no-grout feature for a bathroom that would see heavy dog-washing use (and kid washing if I had any). I have a thread lower down on the forum whether to keep it or yank it off the walls, and niknak had the same opinion. Anyone considering Swanstone know this...the 'granite' colors are indeed very nice, have a low-lustre surface and good visual interest without screaming at you (I have seen a showroom install). The matte colors (white, bisque, and one other color) are straight-out Holiday Inn. Also, the panels are heavy (the weights are on the boxes to advise you, several hundred pounds), it is not a 1-person job. If you do go with a color Swanstone product, I would also say to AVOID the kit with the integrated trim. It seems like a money saver over walls plus a trim kit, but if you don't get the walls perfectly level in the corners the mis-match shows terribly. Whereas a little slippage with flat wall panels would be concealed by the trim strip. I would be interested to hear other stories/see photos of anyone who has made a Swanstone tub surround 'work'...maybe I can save $$ and get mine looking decent. It hasn't been caulked yet, I was so disgusted with the appearance after the glue-on I told the plumber to stop working on it.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 2:59PM
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Our costs were similar to dcdames. We originally ordered with Home Depot but had problems so we went with a local plumbing company. Our color is Tahiti Desert, which is very similar to the Bermuda Sand. My husband & I DIY'd the whole job, you definitely need 2 people. All I do for maintenance is wipe it down with a sponge every once in a while.

Here is a link that might be useful: Our swanstone walls

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 5:14PM
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Wow! Thanks for the great input. I've tried talking to friends and family about this and nobody has an opinion. I love this forum! Thanks for sharing.

One more thing...Is Lowe's the best place to go for a good price?

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 6:37PM
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Patrice607 - I would compare Lowe's, Home Depot & local plumbing stores. Swanstone has a list of dealers on their website. We found the plumbing store was $200-$300 less than Home Depot.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2005 at 4:52PM
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For plumbing stores, watch out for shipping charges if they don't have it in stock. The materials cost may be lower but the total cost higher. I took a local plumbing supplier's order sheet to Lowe's and they added up their materials cost, added the guy's materials cost which was lower (ie not including his shipping charges) and refunded me the difference.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2005 at 3:38PM
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The Swanstone showers are indeed beautiful, but if the look of tile is something you desire, you can get it without any grout issues by using kerdi over sheetrock and grouting with spectralock expoxy grout. We have it in our master and it is great stuff. The cost would be about the same, and it is DIY friendly.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2005 at 9:18AM
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I am looking at the Swanstone beadboard vs. tile. I was thinking of getting white, so I was interested to see rileysmom17 comment on the white looking cheap. I wonder if the Tahiti white would look better.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2005 at 10:01AM
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My wife and I have 2 bathrooms with Swanstone. 1 is a tub surround and the second in a 4' standup shower. We are extremely happy with both of them. 1 tip though, install the soap dishes upside down and water will not lay in them and they remain functional.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2005 at 5:23PM
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Is there caulking that needs to be done with the Swanstone panels? I am looking to replace a fiberglass tub surround unit with a tub and tiles or solid surface. I really hate the way caulking gets when it ages.
I forgot that GW had this forum. What a resource.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2005 at 2:39PM
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dcdame, why did you install over backer board? Isn't that Swanstone a direct-to-stud application?


    Bookmark   June 26, 2006 at 7:11PM
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If you check the instructions on the Swanstone website, the panels are installed over sheetrock, greenboard or wood.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2006 at 4:31PM
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Can anyone here post an update. I am considering Swanstone and am curious if you that have it are still happy and how long you have had it. Thanks.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2007 at 8:32PM
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I just finished a Swanstone install over a 72" Laurel Mountain whirlpool tub. This is the second Swanstone surround I have done. (I got a lot better at it this time) I was a professional tile installer for 10 years and didn't want the maintenance of grout in a tub area.

Here is what you should know about Swanstone:
1) There is caulking (and the associated periodic maintenance) in the corners where the panels meet and also at the base of the panels where they meet the tub. This will have to be re-done every 3-5 years if you dry your tub/shower after use. If you don't towel down your walls, you'll need to do it more frequently.
2) Swanstone requires carbide blades to cut. Dont even think about reusing a carbide blade for cutting other materials after it has been used on Swanstone. Even carbide dulls quickly when cutting this material. YouÂll destroy a hole saw and probably 3 or more scroll saw/saber saw blades during your installation. Plus a 40 tooth finish grade carbide circular blade. Consider it part of the price of your project. Make sure you have extras before you even start.
3) Scribing and coping the panel walls so they fit closely in the corners and against the tub is a must. Swanstone is easy to sand with a belt sander (makes a mess, use a good respirator). An Accuscribe tool makes this a lot easier.
4) 2 people are required to move and dry fit the panels. They are unwieldy and the material is very dense. Both people need good dry leather gloves on. The edges, when cut with carbide blades, are sharp.
5) You want a really solid backer board behind Swanstone. The panels are a quarter inch thick so they can bow unless adhered to something that is quite rigid. I used Durrock cement backer board. The backer board should be primed with a good primer (Zinsser) before installing the Swanstone product.
6) Acetone!! They say you can clean the Swanstone product well enough with alcohol before caulking. DonÂt waste your time with alcohol. Use acetone. In my experience, Swanstone is impervious to acetone and you will create a much faster drying and oil free bonding surface for silicone caulk with acetone. I wiped all sides and edges with acetone to remove all oil and fine dust after cutting & coping and dry fitting prior to installation. The bond to the walls is very strong.
7) The biggest headache is the required 2x4 bracing. Setting this up is a royal PITA. Use masking tape to hold vertical 2x4Âs in place against the panels while you position and wedge into place the horizontal 2x4Âs that create the side to side pressure. Measure the inside dimension between the vertical 2x4Âs exactly and then add 1/16 of an inch, this is enough to create sufficient side to side pressure. Make sure you pre-drill holes at an angle through the horizontal braces so that you can screw them to the vertical braces. If a horizontal 2x4 falls out, it will damage your tub and you get to start all over. Bracing the back wall panel with shims takes time and patience. Do not be in a hurry, you have plenty of time before the silicone adhesive sets up.
8) A word on framing: Use Timberstrand studs behind the cement backer board. This will draw a lot of comments from folks, but here is the line of logic: Timberstrand is delivered with a much lower moisture content than any other kind of stud except steel. It is also perfectly straight & square. Due to its low moisture content, it undergoes much less dimensional change once installed. This is critical behind tub & shower walls. Timber strand is 3 times more expensive than regular lumber, but it is worth it in this area. When you frame with it, take the time to get everything perfectly square and plumb and you will have a much easier time with coping and fitting the Swanstone panels.

Further up in this thread, there was a comment made about redoing grout in tile after 3 years. Yeah, that is true in my experience if the lumber behind the backer board was "wet" (high moisture content) when the tile was installed. This is common. Problem is, it becomes a self perpetuating problem that requires major tear out and remodeling in pretty short order. The cycle goes like this: Tile & grout is installed over high moisture content lumber. The lumber twists and shrinks as it dries out causing micro fine cracks in the grout (grout is brittle). Folks shower and the walls get wet which introduces more moisture that gets behind the grout and ultimately the tile. Do this daily for a year or so and the backer board is now wet. The backer board transfers moisture to the studs so they undergo expansion causing bigger gaps to appear in the grout and more water to be added to the system. Leave it untreated for 5 years and your studs will begin to rot and tile starts falling off the walls. Plus you have mold growing in cracks in your grout that is really tough to keep out.
IÂve done two bathrooms in my current house with pretty intricate tile work. They are beautiful! Nothing looks as nice as well done tile. However, both are occasional use bathrooms that get used maybe 10 times per year. I did Durrock over steel studs in both tiled shower areas and they should hold up for 20+ years with nothing more than yearly resealing of the grout. The two daily use shower areas are Swanstone over Durrock with Timberstrand studs in one and steel studs in the other. They should now hold up for 20+ years as well with twice daily use and once every three years re-caulking of the seams.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2010 at 1:18PM
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All good points. One thing I would add about how unwieldy the walls can be: if I had it to do over again, I would try putting up the back wall first, then come back the next day and do the end walls. It was a beast getting them all braced at once, even with two people. Love the product, though. It's gotten lots of compliments from guests.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 5:54PM
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I have a 100+ year old house. The bathroom downstairs has a tub width of 51" and side panels of 29". I would like to put in a tub surround. Can I cut the piece or pieces of the tub surround to fit these measurements?

What would you suggest?

    Bookmark   June 14, 2011 at 1:02PM
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We bought a thin wall surround for our bathroom. We had an indoor construction worker install it. He already had installed 20 tub surrounds without any problem. In our bathroom, the overlap does not want to stick on the side walls of the shower. It seems it could stick on the back wall. We are at odds as to what to do. Tub surround is made of polystyrene.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 6:06PM
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"I love the look of tile but resealing/regrouting isn't my idea of a fun way to spend the week-end."

Tile and grout that need major repair in three years was not installed correctly.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 6:22PM
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This thread has been going on a long time and I was wondering how well the Swanstone surrounds are holding up. I am about to purchase the Beadboard walls for my shower (I am disappointed to hear that the white looks industrial, since that is what I was going to choose!!)
I am curious if the vertical the ridges in the beadboard are prone to getting dirty since the rest of the unit seems so easy to care for.
Thanks for any input you might have!

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 9:59PM
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A solid surface or engineered stone is the way to go in a shower surround. With tile you are always going to have the maintenance issues associated with grout and having to seal the tile. Any of the engineered stone products such as cultured marble or solid surface (with a permanent sealant) that are custom made will provide a seamless surface that won't leak and is easy to clean. You asked about a slab granite look. Look for an area dealer for TruStone, it's an engineered stone that goes through a photofusion process that gives the look of slab stone but more affordable and practical than natural stone

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 2:58PM
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