Prefab Shower Units vs. Custom Showers

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Feb 14, 2010 | Anne Burkley

If you are planning to add a bathroom or remodel an existing one, an important question you'll face is whether to custom build the shower or buy a prefabricated unit. Your decision will depend on budget, space, your taste and expectations.

With the popularity of home improvement shows that regularly showcase custom tile work, frameless glass doors and multiple water features, this luxury is coveted -- even in midrange homes. It'll cost you, though. There is a significant difference in price between the two options, but if you are seeking an upscale look, a custom kit may be a happy medium.

1. Prefabricated Showers

What is a prefab shower?

Prefabricated means that a shower unit has been mass-produced at a factory. They are usually made of plastic, Gelcoat fiberglass and acrylic. Though prefab showers most commonly have no texture and are white or off-white, they can come in a variety of colors with different shelving, seating and door configurations and textures (a tile effect, for example). They are offered in multi-piece or single-piece units (the latter are for new construction), and can come as a kit with wall surround and a shower base, or pan, or you may have to purchase the base separately. They are available in standard widths.

Cost

Prefab showers are chip- and crack-resistant and watertight. Purchase prices start from about $550. At most big box stores you can get a 48", dual-seat shower kit for less than $700. Raise the estimate if you plan to get new fixtures, too. If you want a luxury item such as a steam shower, you can easily spend over $2,000, plus what you will need to pay to have a professional upgrade your plumbing (unless you're able to do it yourself).

Advantages and disadvantages of prefab showers

The advantages of prefab shower units include:

  • ease and speed of installation, making it a great project for an experienced do-it-yourselfer to tackle in one day
  • durability
  • watertight construction.

The disadvantages are:

  • generic appearance when compared to a custom-tiled shower
  • limited selection of standard sizes only
  • lack of availability of parts if you need repair in future
  • possible difficulty removing when you want to change your bathroom.

2. Custom Showers

Custom showers require a high level of skill

We don't recommend that homeowners try to tackle a custom shower by themselves. You need a high level of skill to create the flawless seals that keep the shower watertight, not to mention the craftsmanship it takes to create a custom work of art.

Advantages and disadvantages of custom showers

While the disadvantage to a custom shower is the price tag — many simply can't afford it — there are a good number of advantages to a custom shower: beauty, custom size, custom features, high-end look and return on investment (midrange homes with bathroom remodels including a tiled shower had a 65% return on investment, according to Remodeling Magazine's recent Cost vs. Value report).

Though you could opt for custom solid surfaces such as Corian, most homeowners today choose tile. Tile can be made from natural stone, ceramic or glass. These can be combined in an endless array of sizes, patterns and colors to create a one-of-a-kind shower. Such showers almost always start around the $6,000 mark -- and that's just for basics. Expect to pay more if you plan to:

  • add features like a seat or a shaving ledge to the shower
  • upgrade your fixtures and add water jets
  • order a custom door or half-wall
  • pay a plumber to update the water supply AND/OR
  • hire an electrician to install new lighting above your shower

3. Custom Shower Kits

The best of both?

To answer the call of homeowners everywhere, there are now shower kit units that marry the idea of a natural stone shower or a nice-looking high-quality glass enclosure with a common budget. You will still have the size and creative restraint of anything that is prefabricated, but these units are a step up from the others.

Cost of custom shower kit

You can expect to pay between $2,000 and $3,000 for such a bath kit. For example, American Bath Factory sells both corner and rectangle kits that include handcrafted Sistine stone to create a surround and shower pan, a large pan showerhead, a hand shower and tempered frameless glass door, with optional seats and shelving. These can be installed in just two days and are appropriate for an experienced do-it-yourselfer. If glass block is more your style, you can order a kit from Home Depot that will allow you to create a custom-looking glass block shower. They run about $4,000 and include all the supplies you will need.

 

So, should you go prefab or custom? It's up to you. There are durable, attractive shower units available at every price point. If customization doesn't fit your budget, buy the best prefab shower you can afford with a nice-looking door and get attractive fixtures that match the rest of the room. If you can afford to build a custom shower, you should see some of the investment back when you sell. The rest you can consider an investment in yourself.

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