A fiberglass shower is a type of prefabricated shower enclosure that is made from fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP). Fiberglass showers offer an affordable, low maintenance, and customizable option for homeowners looking to remodel their bathrooms.
Fiberglass showers consist of two main parts – the shower base/pan and the shower walls. The shower base forms the floor of the enclosure and is molded into a slope to allow water to drain properly. The shower walls form the sides of the enclosure and are made of thin fiberglass panels that attach to the studs in your bathroom wall.
What is Fiberglass?
Fiberglass is made by combining extremely fine strands of glass fibers with plastic polymer resins. The glass fibers act as reinforcement and provide strength, while the plastic resin binds everything together.
When combined, these materials form a strong, lightweight, and weather-resistant material that can be molded into a variety of shapes and sizes. Fiberglass is commonly used to make boat hulls, automobile bodies, swimming pools, and of course – shower enclosures.
The main ingredients in fiberglass are:
- Glass fibers – Provide strength and reinforce the material. Typically made of glass filaments less than 1/10th the thickness of a human hair.
- Polyester resin – Binds the glass fibers together and gives shape to the material. The resin begins in a liquid form and then hardens/cures.
- Pigments – Added to the resin to give color to fiberglass. White is the natural color of cured polyester resin.
- Fillers – Materials like clay or calcium carbonate that help reduce shrinkage and modify properties.
- Catalysts – Added to initiate and accelerate the curing process that transforms liquid resin into solid fiberglass.
The exact ratio of glass fiber to resin can be adjusted to optimize certain properties like strength, weight, and workability for different applications.
Key Takeaway: Fiberglass is a composite material made by combining glass fibers with plastic resins. It is lightweight, strong, and easily shaped.
How Are Fiberglass Showers Constructed?
Fiberglass shower units are made using a process called open molding. This involves building re-usable molds, spraying the mold with a gel coat, and then applying alternating layers of resin and glass fibers.
Here is a simplified overview of how fiberglass showers are manufactured:
- Mold – Made from durable materials like steel or composites. Determines shape, size and features. Can be reused many times.
- Gel Coat – Pigmented polyester resin sprayed onto the mold. Creates a glossy, protective outer layer.
- Resin & Glass – Layers of fiberglass mat and resin applied. Thickness determines strength.
- Curing – The fiberglass “layup” cures and hardens after a few hours.
- Trimming – Excess material trimmed off and holes cut out for plumbing fixtures.
- Finishing – Unit removed from the mold and finished/polished. Ready for shipping.
The gel coat layer helps provide a glossy, scratch-resistant, and watertight surface. The fiberglass reinforced plastic underneath gives the unit strength and rigidity.
This manufacturing process allows fiberglass shower enclosures to be mass produced in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors. The molds can be designed to include any type of built-in features like shelves, seats, or grab bars.
Key Takeaway: Fiberglass tubs and showers are manufactured by spraying a gel coat into a re-usable mold, layering in fiberglass and resin, and curing/hardening.
Benefits of Fiberglass Showers
There are several reasons homeowners may want to choose a fiberglass shower enclosure over other options:
Fiberglass is one of the most budget-friendly shower materials. Fiberglass shower kits can often be purchased for $500 – $1500, making them very wallet-friendly compared to custom tile or stone showers. The lightweight fiberglass panels are also relatively inexpensive for contractors to transport and install.
Quick, Easy Installation
Prefabricated fiberglass shower units can be installed in just a day or two, even for DIYers. The fiberglass walls are thin, lightweight, and designed to be attached directly to wall studs with screws. No building a mortar base or intricate tile work needed.
Since fiberglass units are molded as one-piece, there are no seams, cracks, or grout lines to seal or clean. This minimizes leaks and potential for mold growth. The smooth finish also looks sleek and modern.
Fiberglass shower walls and bases come in a variety of sizes, shapes, textures, and colors. This allows homeowners to find a unit that fits their existing space and matches their style. Additional customization like grab bars or seats can also be built-in.
Simple cleaning with gentle soap and water is all that is required to keep a fiberglass shower looking fresh. No need for re-sealing grout or special treatments required. Just wipe down after each use.
While fiberglass is not as durable or high-end as materials like tile or natural stone, it provides an excellent combination of quality, value, and convenience for homeowners.
Key Takeaway: Fiberglass showers offer affordability, quick installation, a seamless finish, customization options, and easy maintenance compared to other shower materials.
Anatomy of a Fiberglass Shower Unit
A complete fiberglass shower unit consists of several components:
- Shower base – Forms the floor of the enclosure and slopes to the drain. Often has an anti-slip texture.
- Shower walls – Thin, lightweight panels that attach to walls and form the sides of the enclosure.
- Surround – Wall panels that form the back wall of the shower, covering plumbing fixtures.
- Door – Typically a framed glass door on a metal track. Hinged or sliding.
- Plumbing fixtures – Showerhead, handles, valves, etc. May be pre-installed or added later.
- Accessories – Optional features like shelves, grab bars, seats, etc.
The shower base and walls are the main fiberglass components. The other parts like doors, fixtures, and accessories can be chosen separately to customize the enclosure.
Fiberglass shower bases are available in a variety of sizes, ranging from 30 x 30 inches up to 60 x 42 inches. The base forms the footprint of the enclosure.
The fiberglass wall panels are designed for a tight fit against the studs in your bathroom wall and are attached with screws through the fiberglass into the framing. Typical panel thickness is 1/4 inch.
Key Takeaway: A complete fiberglass shower unit includes the base, walls, surround, door, plumbing fixtures, and any optional accessories.
Fiberglass Shower vs Acrylic Shower
Fiberglass and acrylic are two of the most popular and affordable shower materials for homeowners. What is the difference between them?
- Seamless, one-piece construction
- Glossy finish
- Easy installation
- Low maintenance
- Durability – Acrylic is more durable and scratch/stain resistant.
- Longevity – Acrylic lasts longer. Fiberglass may need replacing sooner.
- Reparability – Fiberglass is easier to patch and repair.
- Heat Retention – Acrylic retains heat better. Fiberglass can feel cool.
- Customization – More color/design options available with acrylic.
- Cost – Acrylic is generally 10-20% more expensive than fiberglass.
So in summary, acrylic and fiberglass are very similar materials that both make excellent shower enclosures. Acrylic edges out fiberglass in most performance categories, but does cost a bit more. Fiberglass provides a very affordable shower option, though the tradeoff is it may not last as many years before needing replacement.
Pros and Cons of Fiberglass Showers
- Inexpensive material and installation
- Quick and easy for DIY installation
- Seamless, easy-to-clean finish
- Available in many sizes and colors
- Can include custom features like seats
- Lightweight and easy to remove/replace
- Less durable surface than materials like tile or acrylic
- Can scratch, stain, or lose gloss over time
- Does not retain heat as well as other materials
- Limited design compared to custom tile work
- May need re-coating or replacing after 10-15 years
Fiberglass shower stalls provide homeowners with a budget-friendly option that looks great when newly installed. However, the tradeoff is that fiberglass may require more repairs, maintenance, and earlier replacement compared to premium shower materials.
Key Takeaway: The benefits of fiberglass showers include affordability, quick installation, and low maintenance. Downsides are lesser durability/longevity compared to pricier materials.
How long do fiberglass showers last?
With proper care and maintenance, a fiberglass shower can last 10-15 years before needing replacement. The gel coat finish may need re-coating after 5-7 years to restore gloss. Quality and usage impact longevity.
Can you paint a fiberglass shower?
Yes, fiberglass can be painted but requires proper preparation and primer to bond correctly. Spray paints or epoxies work best. Regrouting tile or acrylic liners are other options vs painting.
Is fiberglass waterproof?
The gel coat layer and resin binder make fiberglass shower units waterproof. However, if cracks or holes form over time, moisture can penetrate and damage the fiberglass underneath. Damaged areas should be patched.
Can you install tile over fiberglass?
It is possible but challenging. Fiberglass is not a suitable substrate for tile since it can flex. Extensive prep and backer board are required to create a stable base for the tile. Many pros recommend complete tear-out and rebuild.
How thick should fiberglass shower walls be?
Fiberglass shower wall panels are typically 1/4″ thick. Thicker panels around 1/2″ are available for larger units or custom showers. The floor base is usually thicker, around 3/8″ or more.
Fiberglass showers offer homeowners a budget-friendly way to quickly upgrade their bathroom with a fresh new shower enclosure. A fiberglass unit can be installed in as little as a day and provide a beautiful new shower with minimal investment.
While fiberglass does not have the same durability or longevity of higher end shower materials like tile, natural stone, or acrylic, it provides the look and functionality most homeowners need from their shower at an affordable price point. With proper care, a fiberglass shower can look great and function well for a decade or more.
If you are searching for an inexpensive, low maintenance shower solution for your bathroom remodeling project, a fiberglass shower enclosure should be strongly considered. Just weigh the benefits of lower cost and easier installation against the tradeoffs of lesser durability compared to premium shower materials.