What are the best choices for tub surrounds?

Asked By: Tman on Friday, February 12, 2010
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Answer Rick, What are the best choices for tub surrounds? I had an extensive dry rot repair in my bathroom which required taking out the ceramic tile surround. I now have to figure out what is the best material to use for the surround. I would like something that is reasonably priced, low maintenance, easy to install by a novice and has the least chance of having any moisture leaks, again. Any suggestions? Thanks, Tom

Tom, thanks for you question. Having had a lot of experience with situations similar to yours, I can offer you advice on what I have found to work the best.

First of all, I assume that you have removed all the rotted wood and mold. Water leaking over time is usually the culprit when it comes to this type of damage and it can really be a big mess, which I am sure you found out. But, now that you have made the repairs and are ready to cover the walls there are a few things to take into consideration.

You need to make sure that if your tub does not already have a flange or lip built in, that you add one. This will need to be secured to the edges of the tub that meet the walls with some type of silicone adhesive that will work with all types of tub materials. The flange will help prevent water from getting out of the tub area and stop it from penetrating the walls.

built in tub flange

The tub above is one that already has the tub flange built in as a part of the unit. Of course this is the most ideal situation. However if you do not have a flange, which could have been the cause of the leaking in the first place, then you need to install a tub flange kit. There are several different types, but if installed correctly, they will all get the job done and you can do this yourself.

tub flange kit

Above is one example of a kit that is actually installed with self drilling screws. Not all tubs will accept this type of kit. Below you will see one example of a tub flange kit that comes in strips. Many of these can be attached using silicone.

tub flange strips

Here is a cross section of how the flange is supposed to work with the tub, backer board or cement board and the tile or other tub surround material. This one shows a tub with a built in flange, but even if you have to install your own flange kit the concept is still the same.

flange and tub cross section

It is highly recommended to have the backer board be a cement board product like Wonderboard. When this is installed right, it will be very unlikely that you will ever have a leaking problem again. Especially when using ceramic, marble, or granite tile. The service is much harder and repels water to help prevent water or moisture penetration. Even when using green board (Water board) drywall, there can still be water problems if water penetrates the material for a long period of time.

cememt board, wonderboard

Now as to what is best to install as a surround for the tub/shower. You do have a number of choices. If you are going to do the job yourself, tile or marble or granite tile squares, would probably be the easiest. I know you may be leery of this since you had a water problem before and the idea of grout lines may seem a little scary. However, with your tub and walls prepared in the right way, this should not be a concern. I cannot remember the last time we had a problem with water after we follow the procedure already mentioned in this answer.

large tile

The above photo shows a tile installation using large square tile. Of course you can use smaller tile if you want, but the larger tile provides less grout lines and is easier to clean. You can use marble or granite as well and get a great look.

You could probably also install a vinyl or fiberglass tub surround kit. This usually comes in sections and can actually look like tile. It is probably the cheapest way to go, is easy to take care of and you can install it yourself. However, it does have the least expensive look as well, but as you can seen from the photo below, it is not a bad.

vinly tub surround kit

Cultured Marble or Granite makes a really beautiful finish. There are so many different colors and styles to choose from and because it is installed in three sections, there are not grout lines, just a couple of seams in the corners. This would be the more expensive option of the ones already mentioned, and although you could install this yourself, you should at least have someone who has had some experience help you install it. Better yet, let the professionals install it and then if a piece would break during installation, they will have to replace it without charge. If you break a piece, you will have to pay for a new one.

cutured marble or granite

You can also go with a real marble or granite surround as shown it the phtoo above, but the cost will be up to three time higher then the cultured material or more and you will definitely have to have it professionally installed. Again, there will be no grout lines and when they are finished you will barely be able to see the seams.

To recap your question:

Cost low to high: Vinyl surround, ceramic tile, marble or granite tile, cultured marble or granite, real marble or granite

Easiest to install: Tile or Vinyl surround

Least likely to leak: Vinyl surround, Cultured or real Marble or Granite (Again with proper preparation, leaking should not be a problem with any of these.

Easiest to clean in order: Vinyl surround, cultured or real marble or granite, marble or granite tile, ceramic tile

I hope this helps. Rick


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