The look of your shower largely depends on what is on the floor. You can have a shower pan (shower base) or tiles for your shower floor. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, with the decision between them depending mainly on your personal preferences.
Shower pans are cheaper to buy and install compared to shower tiles. They also don’t require resealing and regrouting like shower tiles. They’re safer with less slipping experienced. However, they’re harder to repair, and you won’t easily find shower pans for oddly-shaped showers.
If you want to go long-term and improve the value of your home, go for shower tiles. However, if you only want a fix for the leaking shower pan, go for a shower pan as it’s cheaper and easier to maintain.
Differences between shower pans and tiles
The differences between a shower pan and tiles include the following:
|Easy to install
|Difficult to install
|Medium to high cost
|Last for at least 10 years
|Last for at least 20 years
|Easy to keep waterproof
|Requires resealing to keep waterproof
|Medium to heavyweight
|Hard to customize
|Easy to customize
Ease of installation
Shower pans are far much easier to install, given that they require preparing the floor, inserting the shower pan, and sealing it. There is very little curing needed for the pan to be ready, unlike shower tiles. Most shower pans are installed in a single day.
On the other hand, shower tiles require lots of tools, preparation, and other procedures before the shower is ready for use. The process will take more than one day to complete. You also have to wait for the tile to set before grouting and using it.
Shower tiles cost more to purchase, install and maintain than shower pans. You have to find tiles rated for use in the watery environment in the shower, prepare the floor and install it. In fact, shower tiles should preferably be installed by a professional.
It’s cheaper and easier to clean and maintain shower pans than shower tiles. You only need to give them a wipe after a shower to keep them clean. On the other hand, shower tiles require regrouting, resealing, and scrubbing to keep them clean.
Both shower pans and shower tiles have varying durability. Cast iron is the most durable for shower pans, and acrylic is the least durable. Depending on the waterproofing level of the tiles, some tiles will last longer than others. For both types of shower floors, the installation highly determines how long they will last.
When installed properly, shower pans and tiles can be highly waterproof. However, shower tiles have more avenues through which water can escape into the subfloor, given the divided nature of the tiles. When grout comes out, water can enter the space below the tiles.
Shower pans are made of light materials (apart from cast iron pans) and will thus fare quite well on compromised floors. Shower tiles require a thick and heavy subfloor; hence not ideal for weak floors.
Flexibility and ease of customization
Shower tiles are more flexible in terms of color and size compared to shower pans. Since you get them in smaller pieces, you can always fit them in the shape and size of your shower. Shower pans are prefabricated and may not fit odd-shaped showers.
Ordering customized shower pans is very costly. Besides, you can cover as large a floor as you want with tiles, which isn’t possible with shower pans due to their fixed sizes.
Shower tiles are more eco-friendly than shower pans since they’re made of biodegradable materials such as stone extracts. Shower pans are made of synthetic materials such as PVC and fiberglass, which aren’t biodegradable when thrown away.
Similarities between shower pans and tiles
The similar aspects between shower pans and shower tiles include the following:
Both require shower curbs
For both of these shower floors, you can choose to add a shower curb or not. I advise adding a shower curb, as it helps keep the water within the shower stall.
They can be installed together
You can install shower tiles on a shower pan if you want to. Ensure your shower pan has been rated for use with shower tiles or pebbles.
Both shower pans and tiles provide great waterproofing to keep water from affecting the subfloor.
Shower pan (shower base)
A shower pan is a prefabricated piece of material that makes up the shower floor. A shower pan is also called a shower base, receptacle, or floor. Installing shower pans is quite easy as it involves screwing the pan into the floor and building the walls around it.
Types of shower pans
The most common types of shower pans are as follows:
- Fiberglass shower pan
Fiberglass shower pans are among the most popular, given their affordability, lightness, and ease of installation. They don’t leak when installed and maintained properly, although they tend to discolor, pick up stains and wear out with time. Prices start from $200 upwards.
- Acrylic shower pan
Next to fiberglass are acrylic shower pans that are affordable and easy to install. They come in different colors and are installed similarly to fiberglass shower pans. However, they aren’t very durable as they scratch easily. Prices start from $300 upwards.
- Molded stone shower base
Molded stone is made by combining synthetic plastic with natural stone. The result is stylish and highly durable. It’s easy to clean and resistant to mold and mildew. Prices start at $800 upwards.
- Cast iron shower pan
Cast iron shower bases are among the most durable and can be finished in different styles and colors. They retain heat well, although they might be cold in the winter. Cast iron shower pans are often covered with a tough enamel or porcelain glaze coat. Kohler cast iron shower pans such as the KOHLER K-9178-0 9178-0 RECEPTOR are among the best on the market.
- Cultured marble shower base
Cultured marble shower bases are made from a single piece of stone cut specifically to fit the size of your shower. This procedure makes them quite costly, although they are more durable than acrylic and fiberglass shower pans.
The problems with cultured marble shower bases include their being porous, absorbing water, and they can also absorb colors from soaps and shampoos. The solution to this is properly treating and sealing them, followed by proper cleaning after each shower.
Besides these types, there are composite shower pans that combine two or more materials, such as acrylic and fiberglass. Composite shower pans are relatively stronger than the constituent materials. Examples include SwanStone, Corian, and Tere-Stone.
Shower pan pros and cons
The pros and cons of shower pans include the following:
|Fast and easy installation – no expert needed
|There are size limitations
|Easy to maintain
|Have little real estate value
|A limited number of designs
|Difficult to repair
|Very minimal seams
|Not friendly to the environment
|Have a flexible base
|Limited number of designs
|You can change the material above it
|Can squeak under weight
The advantages of using a shower pan include the following:
- Prevent slipping
The gentler threshold and less slippery surfaces in shower pans help prevent slipping and falling in the shower, which is one of the most common causes of bathroom injuries.
- Low maintenance
Shower pans don’t crack or require regrouting as easily as tiles do. For this reason, they require less maintenance in general.
- Easy to install
Shower pans require fewer steps and less skill to install than tiles. Most people can thus install shower pans with ease right at home. This also saves you money and time, unlike tiles.
Compared to shower tiles, shower pans are relatively light, with fiberglass and acrylic being among the lightest. This makes them the most suitable for houses with compromised floors. Cast iron shower pans are heavy, though.
The downsides to using shower pans are as follows:
- Need standard showers
If the shower stall has an odd shape or is not level, you must buy a customized shower pan or risk operational issues. This costs more than buying a standard shower pan.
- Poor placement of the drain
Most shower pans have a drain in the center of the pan. This is inconvenient, given that it’s where most people stand when taking a shower. With tiles, you can choose any floor area for the shower drain.
- Difficult to repair
When shower pans fail or become damaged, the solution is often to replace them, unlike tiles which can be fixed individually. Replacing it requires removing the whole shower and laying the new one afresh.
- Not eco-friendly
Most shower pans are made of non-biodegradable materials such as plastics. When disposed of, they don’t decompose and will release harmful compounds into the environment.
While shower pans are often referred to as shower bases, a shower pan is the floor you stand on when taking a shower, while the shower base is the floor underneath the shower pan.
Tile shower floors can be made with either ceramic or porcelain tiles. You need a base with a waterproof liner then you set the tiles, grout and sealer to finish the tile shower floor. Essentially, you’ll be forming a tile shower floor pan with this method. Generally, tile shower floors require more maintenance than shower pans.
Types of shower tiles
While the main types of shower tiles are ceramic and porcelain, there are several types of shower tiles and installations as follows:
- Tile over concrete
For this method, tiles are installed directly onto a concrete shower base. This method requires the use of waterproof materials to keep the water from seeping into the subfloor. It’s quite flexible since you can choose where to locate the shower drain.
- Tileable shower base system
The tiles are installed on a shower pan in this type of shower tiles. For this method, you should ensure that the shower pan has been rated to allow tiles or other materials to be installed on it. Tileable shower base systems cost about $500 without the installation cost.
Shower tiles pros and cons
|Labor intensive to install
|Increase the real estate value of the home
|High maintenance requirements
|Many design options
|Easy to customize
|More likely to leak
|Flexible in size
|Can break up and grow mold
|Flexible in shape
|Slippery hence a health risk
|Don’t squeak under the weight of users
The advantages of shower tiles include the following:
- Many available designs
Shower tiles come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. As long as they’re rated for use in the shower by their PEI ratings, you can easily find the right match for your shower walls to complete the look.
- Easily customizable
If your shower has an odd shape, you can easily find the tiles you want without spending too much, like a customized shower pan. You can even just cut up tiles to fit certain bathroom areas.
- Increases the value of your home
Compared to a non-premium shower pan, a well-done shower tile floor will tremendously increase the value of your home.
Disposing of the materials from the tile shower floor does not harm the environment since most of the items are made from earth with stone, clay, and sand used in making tiles.
The disadvantages of using shower tiles include the following:
- Require high maintenance
Shower tiles require occasional regrouting since grout can easily fall out, crack, and grow mold, among other issues. It’s an expense and a routine you must keep to throughout the lifetime of the tiles. You can use UV light to kill mold and mildew.
- Costly and time-consuming to install
Laying tiles in the shower takes much longer than installing a prefabricated shower pan. It also needs skills to maintain the gradient for the water and to keep the floor waterproof. Shower tiles also need curing, which takes quite long.
- Tiles get damaged
Tiles may crack if they’re put under unbalanced weight or installed poorly. Finding the same exact tiles as the ones on the floor is difficult, so you should buy the tiles in excess for replacements later. You can also paint the tiles to match the color of the tiles underneath.
- Tiles are slippery
The slippery nature of tiles when wet makes them a danger, as you can easily slip and injure yourself in the shower.
These aspects of tiles are quite similar to the concrete shower floor pros and cons, given the many similarities between tiles and concrete in bathrooms.
Shower pan and tile hybrid
You can also create a shower pan and tile combination whereby the shower pan is installed then the tiles are installed over it. This setup has many benefits, including great functionality where the pan below provides a waterproof layer while the tiles above can be matched with the tiles on the wall for a uniform look.
Which is best for the shower: shower pan or tile?
In the debate for shower pans versus tiles, it all depends on your current needs. Shower pans cost less to buy and install, although they are difficult to repair. On the other hand, shower tiles are more customizable, although they require high maintenance, such as resealing and regrouting.
In my experience, the shower pan is better than the shower tile since it costs less, has lower maintenance requirements, and can vary the material you place on it. You can even install tiles on the shower pan, pebbles, or even use it as it is. However, nothing beats shower tiles for a more permanent and customized look.