Low-cost alcove showers are often made with acrylic or fiberglass surround panels, which are installed over a shower floor consisting of a prefabricated acrylic base. Those surround walls are perfectly serviceable, but they are essentially plastic and thus not all that attractive. At some point, you may want to replace those low-cost surround panels with something more stylish.
Turning an old fiberglass or acrylic shower alcove into a custom-tiled shower is easier than you think. The process involves leaving the current shower pan in place, but removing the wall panels and replacing them with ceramic tile surfaces. This can save you considerable time and cost over demolishing and replacing the entire shower since there’s no drain connection or tricky work of setting a new shower pan. The same process can be used if you have surround panels above a combination bathtub/shower alcove.
Anatomy of a Tile Shower
Installation of ceramic tile on the walls of a shower alcove is much like tiling any wall surface, but because these areas are subject to constant moisture, you need to take special precautions to seal the wall against moisture penetration. Ceramic tile should never be applied directly to drywall in any situation—and especially in a shower, where moisture is likely to penetrate eventually.
The traditional method of tiling shower walls, demonstrated here, is to apply plastic sheeting against the wall studs. Over the plastic water barrier, standard waterproof cement board backer panels are installed, with the cracks between panels sealed with waterproof joint tape and thin-set adhesive. From here, installation of tile proceeds as for any ceramic tile—the tiles are glued to the backer board with thin-set adhesive, then grouted with a mortar-based grout, and sealed with a liquid sealer.
A new form of backer board is available that allows you to bypass the plastic sheeting water barrier. Sold under brand names such as Denshield, these products have a waterproof membrane built into the panels. The seams are sealed, and ceramic tile is applied with thin-set adhesive. This form of backer board is now preferred by professionals since it speeds installation.
Tiling shower walls is really no harder than any other form of ceramic tile installation—which is to say that it is a moderately advanced project. Tiling walls is somewhat more difficult than tiling floors, and careful layout of the tile job is essential in the tight space of a shower alcove. There is a considerable amount of tile cutting required, and drilling holes in tiles for shower fittings is frequently necessary. This is a project best suited for DIYers who have had a successful experience with tiling and who have a good degree of patience.
DIYers willing to tackle the job can enjoy considerable cost savings, as the primary cost of a professional installation lies in the labor, not the materials.
Source: The Spruce