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Not so long ago, showers were usually either installed above the alcove bathtub or were a plain metal-framed cabin. Today's showers have moved away from the tub and become stylish features in themselves; it is now common to find both fixtures as separate entities in the same bathroom.
Modern showers exist in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles – square, rectangular, one-piece, modular, custom-built – offering great scope for creativity; a shower can be located in a corner, between three walls, be completely freestanding or part of a tub/shower unit. This guide describes the various features of modular and one-piece showers.
Are you remodelling an existing bathroom or designing one in a brand new home?
Will the shower be used in the main bathroom or a guest bathroom?
Will the shower be installed upstairs and, if so, is your staircase wide enough for the model you have chosen?
Is it possible to move existing drain pipes and water supply lines?
Is the inside of the shower large enough for comfort?
What accessories might be required, bearing in mind that some shower stalls are available with preformed shelves and seats?
Bathrooms and washrooms have undergone a transformation over the decades, evolving from a purely utilitarian space into a room devoted to well-being and relaxation.
Showers can be divided into four main categories:
One-piece shower enclosures are formed from a single piece and are seamless. They are therefore perfectly watertight. Since they come as a single unit, with or without a roof cap, they are easier to install than a modular (or multi-piece) unit. They are typically made of acrylic or fibreglass. However, one-piece showers do have some drawbacks: they may be too large to manoeuvre through certain spaces or difficult to integrate with an existing bathroom layout. This is why one-piece showers are usually better suited to new bathroom builds.
Modular showers are delivered in two or more sections. This kind of shower is easier to transport and to manoeuvre, and fits into most bathroom layouts. Due to the seams, there is more risk of leaks than with single-piece enclosures, but if installed properly this should not pose a problem. This type of shower also requires slightly more upkeep, since the seams will tend to accumulate dirt and grime. Modular showers are generally made of acrylic, fibreglass, ABS or polymer, and they come with or without a roof cap.
The traditional, metal-framed shower cabin is still available on the market. While it is less appealing than other models in terms of look and design, its moderate price makes it an attractive option in certain cases.
The walls and base of a tiled shower are covered in ceramic tiles. "Tile-ready" shower bases are made specifically for this purpose and make tiling the shower floor much simpler. Moreover, some acrylic shower pans are designed specifically for installation below tiled walls.
"Walk-in" or "barrier-free" showers have little or no curb, which makes them more accessible for persons with reduced mobility.
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Various shapes exist:
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Just like bathtubs, showers have changed considerably over the decades. The arrival of acrylic – used to make most single-piece and multi-piece showers – has totally transformed the market. Nevertheless, showers have retained some of their basic original characteristics, and these are important to consider when choosing the most appropriate model for your new bathroom, according to whether it is a renovation or a new build.
Modular walls and bases materials
The vast majority of showers on the market are made of acrylic, a material that has revolutionized the industry by introducing curves and rounded forms. Shower enclosures may also be made of fibreglass, ABS (a type of plastic) and polymer.
Acrylic is a synthetic material produced in the form of a sheet 3-5 mm thick. The sheets, which measure 5' or 6' wide by 10' long, are heated to make them malleable before being fitted into a mould. When the mould is cool, the newly formed acrylic shell is removed. A mix of polyester resin and fibreglass is then blown onto the surface of the acrylic shell to reinforce it. The quality of the acrylic and its thickness determine its heat-retention capacity and its durability. The acrylic is dyed all the way through, so its colour is not just on the surface.
Some manufacturers make showers that match the other bathroom fixtures – toilet, tub and washbasin. The most common colours are white, off-white, beige and black.
Acrylic is less rigid than other materials, so the structure supporting the shower must be perfectly level and very sturdy.
Less expensive than acrylic
More delicate finish than acrylic
Less expensive than acrylic
More difficult to clean
Polymer (or styrene)
Less expensive than acrylic
More difficult to keep clean
Heavy to install
Shower sizes vary from one model and one manufacturer to another. There are standard dimensions, however, which range from 30" to 42" in width, 30" to 60" (even 72") in length, and 64" to 80" in height. Showers with roof caps are higher than models without.
The panels designed to cover the walls of an alcove bathtub to install a shower over the tub are made in compatible sizes.
The location of the shower head and faucets will depend on the shower model. Acrylic shower surrounds can easily be cut to make openings for the faucets.
The drain is a hole in the shower pan through which the water is evacuated towards the drain pipes. The position of the drain depends on the pan; the important thing is to make sure that the pan you choose is compatible and can be aligned with the existing drain line (in the case of a remodel), or that you have enough space to install new plumbing lines (in the case of a new build).
Modern showers usually come with tempered glass (safety glass) or plexiglas (acrylic glass) doors. It is worth comparing these two types of material and the various hardware for them: hinges, pivots, closing mechanisms and frames.
Patterns on the glass can be etched, silk-screened or adhered. The glass can also be textured across the entire surface. Textures:
The door is easier to clean if the pattern is on the outside of the glass and not constantly in contact with the water and soap.
Acrylic glass (plexiglas)
Plexiglas doors are available in a range of patterns
Shower doors come in a wide range of styles for one-piece and modular showers. Door opening and closing mechanisms range from sliding tracks to hinges and pivots. Door frames are made of aluminium and are available in various colours and finishes, such as brushed nickel, satin silver and polished brass. Door closing systems often use magnetic seals, which are more watertight than traditional rubber gaskets. This type of closing mechanism can be adjusted once the shower is in place, for example if the door is slightly out of plumb, and it is also easy to replace.
The first step in any bathroom renovation is to establish the amount of work required. Ask yourself if you are prepared to move drains, plumbing lines, cabinets and fittings, or even to knock down walls. If you do not want to make major changes and prefer to use the existing plumbing connections, you must choose your shower accordingly, taking into account the location of the drain and faucet valves.
If, on the other hand, you decide to completely remodel from A to Z, it is essential to plan your new space carefully, and for this you may want to enlist the help of a professional bathroom designer. The amount of clearance space you need to leave in front of the shower will depend on its shape and the type of door you choose.
The installation method will depend on the type of shower. Fitting a new shower unit is fairly straightforward if you are simply replacing an old fixture without moving existing plumbing or drainage lines. To install a shower yourself, the basic tools you will need are screwdrivers, a level, an adjustable wrench, a hacksaw, a putty knife, anti-microbial caulk and a tape measure.
For both modular and one-piece showers, you will need to open up the wall in order to secure the new shower walls to the wall studs. Assembly methods for modular shower walls vary depending on the manufacturer but they are generally fairly easy to install. If the only modular elements you buy are the base and walls, it is important to ensure that the doors you choose will be compatible with the modular parts.
If you are turning your existing bathtub into a tub/shower unit, it is advisable to fasten the new surround to cement board panels pre-installed along the walls of the alcove.
Steam showers or showers fitted with massage systems should be installed by professionals.
Shower heads, faucets and valves are available in myriad styles to meet all needs. Prices vary according to quality and design. Beautiful faucets will enhance your shower and give it an elegant finishing touch.
Some multi-functional showers are equipped with massage and/or steam shower systems.
Finally, if you prefer not to install doors on your shower, there are many stylish shower rods and curtains to choose from. Shower curtain designs exist for all tastes: clear or opaque, patterned or plain, bright or neutral colours.
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