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A shower is a shower is a shower, correct? Wrong! Showers and shower cubicles come in all shapes and sizes and designs, some with doors, some without. Some have aluminum frames and some do not. Today we are going to talk about frameless shower units and how they differ from ordinary showers, both in design, construction and most of all how they differ in cost.
Frameless showers come as two different styles:
Frameless shower enclosure. These are similar to ordinary shower cubicles in that they are a complete enclosure, with a door and fitted around a shower tray. Unlike an ordinary shower cubicle however, the panels do not have an aluminum frame around the glass to strengthen and hold it in place. Because the shower enclosure does not have a strengthening frame, it needs to have stronger and thicker glass to provide the stability and structural support.
Frameless walk-through shower. Unlike a normal shower enclosure, this does not fit into a corner or an alcove of a room. A walkthrough shower is essentially a single pane of thick especially hardened glass which stands away from and parallel to a wall with the shower head mounted in the ceiling. The shower tray of an enclosure is replaced by a suitable floor section incorporating the drain and slope of a normal tray but inset flush with the floor. Depending on the layout of your existing bathroom you can have the walkthrough shower with an opening at either end of the glass panel or have an opening at just one end. The frameless walk-through shower is essentially a mini wet-room within your bathroom.
Because the glass needs to be thicker than usual shower panels, the glass used is tempered and is at least 8mm thick.
You are intending to pay a lot of money to replace your existing shower with a frameless one and you possibly will be doing a bathroom remodel at the same time. It would make sense to get everything right at the planning stage rather than realize halfway through that it would be better to change the design. There are a few questions you can ask yourself to make sure you make the right choices.
✓ What are your reasons for changing the shower? Is it because the existing one has reached the end of its life or do you want to change the style of your bathroom?
✓ Do you want to modernize your bathroom?
✓ Is someone in your household unable to use a normal shower cubicle because of disability or needing assistance with washing.
✓ Who is the bathroom for? Is it for a male, female or both genders? Is the shower intended for one or two people at the same time? Is the bathroom mainly for adults, children or teens?
✓ Do you prefer a classic style, contemporary, chic or period?
✓ How will your bathroom choice blend with the styles in the rest of the house?
✓ Can you get by with just a frameless shower or do you want to continue to use a bathtub as well? Would a hot tub or Jacuzzi be better?
All these questions, and more, will hopefully make you think about what you actually want to achieve in your remodeling work. Make a list of the answers to these questions and approach your remodeling contractor for a discussion on how to achieve your requirements with the least possible expenditure. You never know, he may have ideas you haven’t even thought of. The more information the contractor has at hand in the planning stage, the more your shower remodel ideas will reflect what you truly want and need.
There are a number of reasons to choose a frameless shower, whether it is an enclosure or a walkthrough but there are a number of disadvantages as well. Let us go through each of them and explain further so you know what to look for when you choose your next shower cubicle.
One of the main advantages is the sense of modernity. The shower appears elegant with clean lines and instantly makes your bathroom appear larger and more luxurious. The other décor in your bathroom is not hidden by bulky metal frames and rubber gaskets. The plain glass shows off decorative tiles perfectly.
The frameless shower can be customised. No two showers are the same which makes it tricky if you want to install a door. Frameless showers are completely customisable, as are their doors and you can have one made specifically for your unit. If you prefer a walk-through shower then you don’t need a door at all and you can have the shower as large or as small as you want.
Easily cleaned. Shower panels with frames are difficult to clean. The grooves between the glass and frame is a trap and breeding ground for mold and mildew, and this takes a long time to clean properly (if you can manage to clean it properly at all). The panels do not have the same problems and can be easily cleaned after each use.
Safety. If you have a framed shower cubicle made from thin weak glass you may have a problem when the door flexes too much. Sometimes the door latch sticks and the only way to open the shower cubicle is by forcing the door. This can cause the glass to flex past its safe limit resulting in broken glass on the floor of the bathroom.
Thicker glass. The panels are made from a minimum of 8mm tempered glass. These are much safer and more durable than the usual framed shower panels.
Good investment. Some frameless shower manufacturers advertise that their glass panels have a lifetime warranty and are protected against staining and corrosion. This means you buy one shower unit and you have it for life.
The cost is higher. Frameless shower panels and doors are made of much thicker glass than standard cubicles as they have to withstand large stresses without the support of a metal frame. The average panel can weigh between 80 to 100lbs so often require larger and sturdier brass hardware to hold each panel in its place.
May not always function as well as framed showers. Although frameless showers look good they can sometimes let you down by their performance. Framed doors have either flexible seals between the panel and the walls or a bead of silicon caulk sealant. This prevents water from leaking beyond the confines of the shower cubicle.
Frameless doors and panels don’t have these seals around the joints and water can easily find its way outside the confines of the shower and onto the bathroom floor. The secret to remedy this problem is to ensure the design is correct. The shower head should be mounted in the ceiling and aimed away from the glass and doorway. There are many design choices available and not every one will work properly. Take advice from the contractor or shower installation company when choosing the design as to what will and what will not work.
Do not buy your frameless shower from a hardware or home improvement store, get one made to measure. This will ensure that gaps between panels are at a minimum and are about 1/16 to 1/32 inch to avoid using rubber gaskets.
Frameless shower doors can shatter. This occurrence is rare but it happens. Luckily frameless shower panels are made from tempered glass which is designed to shatter into small pieces in case of breakage. A bit like a car windshield. You can still get the small pieces embedded in your skin but they would will not be as large or as dangerous as if the glass shattered into larger sharper pieces.
Spontaneous glass breaks can be caused by two reasons:
Other breaks can be caused by unusual and unexpected changes in humidity and temperature changes such as happens during excessive heat during the summer or householders turning the air conditioning temperature up higher than usual.
Complicated fitting. Because the panels do not have rubber gaskets or other sealing mechanisms between the panels or between door and panels, the panels will have to be installed to a higher precision so that the gaps are smaller. This is a big problem if the bathroom walls are not vertical so it is usual for these panels to be custom made toci.
Whenever glass is being handled and installed it is better to leave the job to a fully trained professional and frameless shower units are no exception. The glass panels are usually about 8mm thick or more and can be very large in area. This means the glass is heavy and would require two people to safely lift. Although the glass is tempered and so will not easily break, it has been known to spontaneously shatter if it has been roughly transported or handled during installation.
Frameless showers can be installed as a DIY project but take care when handling and lifting the panels. There are some precautions that people who want to install the showers themselves should take and we will discuss these now.
Protect the glass. Never allow the glass to become scratched or cracked. If you do let this happen then point weaknesses are set up causing the glass to shatter unexpectedly. Never place the glass panel ‘on edge’ on the shower tray or other hard surface. You must first put wood and foam shims down onto the hard surfaces so the glass does not become damaged.
Shim the hardware. When door handles, hinges or other hardware is fitted, make sure you fit the spongy shims supplied with the hardware between the glass and the metal. Once again if a hard surface like metal is not padded then point imperfections can be formed in the glass leading to spontaneous shattering at unexpected times.
Fit the panels at the correct height. Remember that panels are designed to have a small gap at the bottom to shed the spray water. On doors a water sweep is attached at the bottom for added protection. Make sure you hang the panels at the correct height as specified by the manufacturer.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing the job yourself?
As we stated elsewhere in this article, fitting a frameless shower is best done by a licensed and trained professional. The contractor may be a licensed plumber or a specialist shower installer or a handyman. Whoever you decide to hire, get the right person. Specialist contractors will tend to concentrate on large or specialized jobs, whereas a licensed handyman will concentrate on small jobs or jobs spanning many trades. You will probably find that your handyman is licensed to work in specialist trades anyway such as plumbing, electrical or carpentry.
What advantages are there if you want to do the job yourself as a DIY project?
✓ The cost of doing the work will be cheaper as you will only have the cost of materials to find.
✓ If you can do without a shower for a while, you can spread the cost of materials and time spent on the job over a longer period of time.
✓ You don’t need strangers in your home, you can do the job in your spare time.
✓ Although you won’t have guarantees to back up the labor, as long as the shower is fitted properly, you will have manufacturer’s warranty.
✓ If you decide to do the work yourself, and you are not qualified, you may not be covered under your home insurance for any damage done. Check your policy.
✓ You may have to learn new skills, which may or may not be a problem.
There may be jobs you cannot do yourself, either because you don’t know how to or because the law says so. In this case you will have to hire a professional to do that particular task and maybe pay a premium rate for a small job (the chances are that the professional will have a minimum charge which may work out expensive if the task is only a couple of hours duration).
✓ The contractor will have experience of fitting frameless showers and will know the problems likely to be encountered.
✓ A competent professional will do the work quickly, efficiently and with the minimum of mess.
✓ The contractor or a specialist company will give you advice on the best type of shower unit to buy.
✓ You will receive guarantees and warranties on labor as well as materials.
✓ You will end up paying more by using a contractor.
You can incorporate a new frameless shower unit as part of a complete bathroom remodel with as many new fixtures as you want.
They will find it easier to acquire custom made glass panels and will have the skills necessary to transport, handle and install them.
A specialist shower installation company will have people available to cover all the trades needed to do the work; electricians, drywall, plumbers, glaziers, carpenters.
✓ A handyman will have experience of many different trades and be able to complete the work competently especially if you are choosing to have a bathroom remodel. There may be tiling, plastering, flooring as well as basic plumbing and electrical work too.
✓ A good handyman will do the work quickly and efficiently with the minimum of mess.
✓ Although he will know more than you regarding the choice of frameless showers, he will not know as much as a specialist contractor.
✓ You will receive guarantees on workmanship and materials.
✓ He will be used to doing small jobs and his prices will be pitched accordingly.
✓ A handyman should have lower overheads and so will be offering lower prices than a contractor.
✓ If you can find any other smaller jobs to finish, he will do those as well, thus making better use of his time.
✓ It won’t matter whether you choose a specialist, plumber or a handyman (apart from the cost), what you must make sure of is whether the professional is licensed to do the work you are hiring him for and that he hold appropriate insurance.
✓ A contractor must hold insurance to cover damages to property due to his actions or inactions.
✓ He must hold insurance to cover injury and fatality to you, your family and any other third party.
✓ He must hold worker’s compensation insurance to cover anyone on his team for injury and fatality.
✓ All other sub-contractors brought in to do specialist work must also hold the appropriate insurance cover.
✓ If you decide to do the work yourself, ask at your local building control office to see if you will be able to do all the work yourself or whether you have to employ a licensed contractor for part of the work.
Contact your home insurance policy company to see whether the premiums or cover will be jeopardised by doing the work as a DIY project. They may decide not to pay out on claims for damage caused by water leaks from the shower.
There are factors which will affect the cost of fitting frameless shower units. Some them you can sort out yourself while others may require the skilled hands of a professional to provide the perfect job. Only you know what your DIY skill level and your bank balance are like so let’s just list them and leave you to work out who is going to do the work.
The design. First of all, are you intending to choose a walk-through or an enclosure frameless shower? A walk-through will require fewer glass panels to make the shower unit and those ones that you have will not require a door to enclose the shower area. Do you want to have an inset shower tray let into the floor or one that sits above the floor?
Removal of old shower. If you are replacing an existing shower cubicle you will need the old one removed and possible tiling replaced.
New tiling. As the new shower unit is such a difference in size and shape it would be a shame to make do with the existing tired old tiles. Why not emphasise the sleek and clean lines of the frameless shower unit with new and daring tile designs.
Replacement shower head. The majority of old fashioned shower cubicles come with shower heads mounted on the wall spraying against the glass panels. This is OK with framed showered where the joints between the panels are sealed with gaskets or framing, but not acceptable with frameless shower units. The new shower unit will need the spray head mounted on the ceiling with its spray pointed downwards away from the glass panels.
Replacement shower unit. If you are having a new shower spray head, how about a new electrically powered hot water provider? The old one will need to be taken out and the new one installed. Depending on the style you may have to enclose the pipework inside the wall and ceiling or it may be surface mounted. Speak to your contractor about this and see which one is the better option.
Wall repair and making good. Depending on the style of shower unit and on the type of hot water provider, you may have to chase the wall and ceiling to enclose the plumbing. After the installation the wall and ceiling surface will require making good either by inserting a piece of plasterboard and plaster skimming over the repair or hiding everything under a new layer of ceramic tiles.
Adding an extractor fan. If you are completely upgrading your bathroom then you may have to add a new extractor fan. In fact many areas now require bathrooms to have extractors as well as windows to reduce the amount of condensation within a house. Adding a fan will either require
Cutting a hole through the wall and adding the fan with its integral liner followed by making good around the hole both on the exterior and interior surfaces.
If there is access to the roof space from the bathroom, then an easier way is to install the fan into the ceiling and install a ventilation duct from the fan to a vent to outside.
When the fan has been fitted, in both cases the fan will need to be electrically connected to the same circuit as the bathroom light.
Other extras. If you are going to the expense of installing a new frameless shower, it would make sense to do this as part of a complete bathroom remodel. A new shower unit would look completely wrong if you did not upgrade the other fixtures in the bathroom to match.
Check your plumbing and electrics. When you start installing more modern appliances such as larger showers and water heaters, you may find that alterations to the existing supplies are necessary. For example the water pressure feeding your house may not be suitable for the chosen plumbing fixtures. It would make sense to have an electrician and a plumber in to inspect and check your services and upgrade anything that is necessary before the bathroom remodel starts.
The cost to install the new frameless shower unit will vary as explained previously. In addition to this there are extra items depending on whether you are doing a complete bathroom remodel. The costs listed in this section will vary depending on the various factors mentioned earlier and depending on where you decide to buy the items.
There are many bathroom remodelling companies all over the country who will gladly give you advice in your choices as well as giving you an estimate to complete the whole job to your specifications. Alternatively, you can visit your local home improvement warehouse store for more choices. These stores give reasonable quality for the discount price when buying their products and you will probably find a few bargains but unfortunately you will have to source your own contractor.
|Costs to install new frameless shower unit and necessary extras.|
|Quality frameless doors||$700 to $1,200 minimum|
|Adding ceramic tiles||$1.50 to $20 per square foot. Hand crafted tiles will be at the high end|
|New shower tray||$100 to $600|
|New shower head||$20 to $300|
|Optional complete bathroom remodel costs|
|Option||Low range||Mid range||High range|
|Cabinet installation||$1,000 to $3,500||$4,000 to $7,000||$7,500 to $15,000|
|Countertop installation||$800 to $2,000||$2,500 to $4,500||$5,000 to $7,000|
|Flooring installation||$800 to $2,000||$2,500 to $4,000||$4,500 to $7,000|
|Lighting installation||$100 to $1,000||$1,100 to $2,000||$2,500 to $4,000|
|Water heater & shower head installation||$450 to $2,000||$2,500 to $5,000||$5,500 to $10,000|
|Sink installation||$150 to $1,000||$1,500 to $2,500||$3,000 to 6,500|
|Toilet installation||$150 to $300||$350 to $500||$550 to $800|
Remember that you won’t have to include all these extra jobs into your work scope unless you want to and you decide to do a complete bathroom remodel. If you are working on a lean budget there is no reason why you cannot have some of the tasks done and then have additional work done when you can afford it. You must also remember that some of these tasks will have cheaper alternatives such as
Whatever you decide to do, it goes without saying that to install a frameless shower unit will require a bathroom remodel to either a lesser or greater extent. Replacing your existing shower cubicle with a larger frameless one of a different layout will always mean changes in the arrangement of the existing fixtures.
With all this talk about costs and how I can save extra expenditure on materials, it would make sense to understand the relationship with the contractor properly. An experienced and licensed contractor will be able to answer your questions about any concerns you may have. They should be able to give you:
Although installing a new shower would probably take a few days at the most, if you decide on a full bathroom remodel, then the duration of the job could take quite a while so it would be quite in order for a contractor to ask for money in advance and at specific milestones during the job. How the arrangement is staged is completely up to you but to be safe and fair to both sides it would be advisable to adhere to these guidelines:
Agree on the amount of deposit needed. Unless there is a good reason, do not pay more than 10% of the total price and ask for a receipt.
Do not pay cash. Doing so implies that something shady is going on. You will also lose out on a paper trail in case legal proceedings have to be taken.
Do not pay the whole amount up front. The contractor might be unscrupulous and disappear the following day.
Unless the materials are custom made, the contractor will usually be able to pay the materials monthly using a trade credit arrangement with their supplier of choice.
Arrange for stage payments to be made based on work done rather than depending on timescale .
Put everything in writing and agree all the terms before starting the work.
Agree with the contractor the best way to handle alterations to the contract. No matter how well organised and planned the job seems to be, there will always be something that wasn’t expected take place. Maybe when the old shower tray was lifted out, you found that a water leak had caused substantial rot in the floor joists. It is obvious that repairs will need to be done before the contracted job can continue and it is even more obvious that the contractor would not have foreseen the occurrence and so would not be expected to include this in his quotation.
Arrange a system whereby additions and alterations can be made to the contract without holding up the work or having the contractor standing around doing nothing. Both scenarios would be detrimental to the job from both viewpoints.
Arrange with the contractor that he will keep a log of work done including ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs so he can justify expenditure and time spent on a job and also so he can have proof that a job was completed before being covered up by tiles or flooring etc.
No matter how careful and conscientious a contractor is, there will often be a time when something he does accidentally causes damage and costs money. Agree with the contractor how they deal with any mistakes or damage that may arise and how they will go about repairing the damage.
Make sure the work is backed up by a guarantee from the contractor and a warranty from the manufacturer and supplier of the materials. Sort out what happens if damage occurs because of faulty installation. Who is going to pay to put things right? Make sure that the contractor’s insurance company will pay out for this type of claim.
There are things to look out for to protect yourself from scams by unscrupulous contractors. Most of these are useful when hiring any contractor but some are specific to frameless showers.
Cost. We have already talked about the expected cost of frameless glass panels and doors so we know what kind of price you should be expecting. Be careful of contractors who try to charge over the top because you look wealthy or live in a wealthy area. If in doubt of how much you think the panels should be, look up online for similar items or get a second opinion before agreeing to anything. When you do agree on a price, get the amount in writing and ask the contractor to list the glass specifications and manufacturer details so you can confirm the price.
Feel comfortable. When dealing with a contractor, pay attention to your intuition. Remember you are allowing a stranger into your home and you either might be alone or not there during the day. It is easy for an unscrupulous person to intimidate a vulnerable person or to search through your belongings. Remember there are plenty of other more trustworthy companies around with whom you will probably feel safer.
Fake insurance. When you receive a copy of the contractor’s insurance document always confirm with the insurance company that the document is valid and will continue to be so during the time working on your job. Do not pay any money upfront until you have satisfied yourself that the insurance is valid.
Fake address. When you are initially doing a search for respectable contractors, check out their published address and make sure they are who they say. A quick call to your local building codes office should give you more confidence as they will probably have heard of the legitimate contractors and may even know a bit about the con artists too.
Do your homework. Almost everyone has access to the internet so why not use it. Find out as much information as you can about the contractor. Look on review forums in your area.
Poor quality materials. Materials in contact with water or in a humid environment will need to be resistant to corrosion. Make sure the metal fixing screws are the correct grade stainless steel to prevent rust corrosion. If the price offered is cheaper than you expect then probably the standard of materials and quality of work will be too. There have been cases of showers being installed without using safety glass. Imagine the injuries if a member of your family slipped in the shower and fell through the glass panel. They would probably be cut in half. Always work with a qualified and local licenced company to avoid scams like this.
Scratched glass. As stated elsewhere in this article, frameless shower doors and panels are susceptible to knocks and scratches. Because they do not have the protection of being enclosed inside a frame, they can easily become knocked, chipped or scratched when being transported and handled. You may be offered these damaged items at either a reduced price or without warranty. Do not accept them even if they seem undamaged. Point load stresses can build up within the glass and cause the panel to shatter for apparently no reason.
Paying by cheque. When being asked to pay upfront for materials or even a deposit, always ensure you make the cheque payable to the contractor’s business name. Many customers are asked to make them payable to the contractor’s wife and this can cause difficulties when it comes to following a paper trail in the event of legal proceedings.
One day wonders. A classic scam involves a contractor who sets up a construction industry linked business, goes out and solicits business from gullible customers, gets paid either a proportion of the money or the full price, does a poor quality job and never comes back to finish. The company then closes down and the contractor opens up another company to do exactly the same scam. Always use a company that has been recommended by an established local business.
Unlicensed contractors. Householders often make the mistake of working with unlicensed contractors thinking it will be cheaper. After all they are offering cheaper prices aren’t they? Unfortunately if they are unlicensed it is probably for a good reason. Are they dependable and able to complete the work to a satisfactory standard? Do they use quality materials? Do they offer a guarantee that they will honor.
Many of them move from region to region and move on when the going gets tough. Others are arrested for trying to defraud other customers. Whatever is the reason, do not work with unlicensed contractors, even if they do offer a cheaper price. In the end, you will have paid them and will then have to pay someone else the full price to have the problem remedied. This will often mean paying for better quality materials as well.
Today we have talked about frameless shower units. They have many good points but unfortunately they also have their bad points. They may look cool and sophisticated but often there are good reasons not to have one installed. You must decide for yourself whether the reason you want to have one installed is good enough. Whatever the reason to have one, always guard against unscrupulous contractors who are only interested in taking your money.
We have given you a lot of information today and I hope you find something useful to you and your personal circumstances.