Shower Pan vs Tile: Best Option for Showers

When it comes to the floor of your shower, you have the option of a shower pan (shower base) or tiles. Each of them has their advantages and disadvantages with the decision between them depending largely on your personal preferences. 

Shower pans are cheaper to buy and install compared to shower tiles. Also, shower pans don’t require resealing and regrouting like shower tiles. They’re also 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 all you want is a fix for the leaking shower pan, go for a shower pan as it’s cheaper and easier to maintain.

Shower Pan vs Tile: Best Option for Showers

Differences between shower pans and tiles

The differences between a shower pan and tiles include the following:

Shower panShower tiles
Easy to installDifficult to install
Low costMedium to high cost
Low maintenanceHigh maintenance
Last for at least 10 yearsLast for at least 20 years
Easy to keep waterproofRequires resealing to keep waterproof
Lightweight Medium to heavyweight
Hard to customizeEasy to customize
Not eco-friendlyEco-friendly

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.

Cost

Shower tiles cost more to purchase, install and maintain compared to 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.

Maintenance 

It’s cheaper and easier to clean and maintain shower pans compared to shower tiles. You only need to give them a wipe after a shower to keep them clean. Shower tiles, on the other hand, require regrouting, resealing and scrubbing to keep them clean.

Durability

Both shower pans and shower tiles have varying durability. Shower pans have varying durability with cast iron being the most durable and acrylic 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.

Waterproofing 

When installed properly, shower pans and shower tiles can both 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. 

Weight 

Shower pans are made of light materials (apart from cast iron pans) and will thus fare on 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 the shower you have. Shower pans are prefabricated and may not fit odd-shaped showers. 

Ordering customized shower pans is very costly. Besides that, you can cover as large a floor as you want with tiles which isn’t possible with shower pans due to their fixed sizes.

Eco-friendliness

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 that you add a shower curb as it helps keep the water within the shower stall.

Can be installed together

You can install shower tiles on a shower pan if you want to. Make sure that the shower pan you have has been rated to be used with shower tiles or pebbles.

Similar waterproofing

Both shower pans and tiles provide great waterproofing to keep the water from affecting the subfloor.

Shower pan (shower base)

A shower pan is a prefabricated piece of material that makes up the floor of the shower. A shower pan is also called a shower base, shower receptacle or shower floor. Installing shower pans is quite easy as it involves screwing the pan in the floor then 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 common 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 which are both 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

Shower bases made of cast iron are among the most durable and can be finished in different styles and colors. They retain heat well although they might be a bit cold in the winter. Cast iron shower pans are often covered with a tough coat of enamel or porcelain glaze. 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 both acrylic and fiberglass shower pans. 

With cultured marble shower bases, the problems include their being porous hence absorbing water, and the fact that 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 which 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:

Pros Cons 
Fast and easy installation – no expert neededThere are size limitations
Easy to maintain Have little real estate value
Lightweight May not fit showers with odd shapes
Low costDifficult to repair
Very minimal seamsNot friendly to the environment
Have a flexible baseLimited number of designs
You can change the material above itCan squeak under weight

Pros 

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 major 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. 

  • Lightweight

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.

Cons

The downsides to using shower pans are as follows:

  • Need standard showers

If the shower stall has odd shape or it’s not level, you will need to buy a customized shower pan or risk operational issues in future. This costs more than buying a standard shower pan. 

  • Poor placement of the drain

Most shower pans have the 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 area of the floor for the shower drain.

  • Difficult to repair

When shower pans fail or become damaged, the solution is often to replace it unlike tiles which can be fixed individually. Replacing it requires removing the whole shower and laying the new one in 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 instead release harmful compounds into the environment.

While shower pans are often referred to as shower bases, the  shower pan vs shower base comparison reveals that a shower pan is the floor you stand on when taking a shower while the shower base is the floor underneath the shower pan. 

Shower tiles 

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

In this type of shower tiles, the tiles are installed on a shower pan. For this method, you should make sure that the shower pan in question has been rated to allow tiles or other materials installed on it. Tileable shower base systems cost about $500 without the installation cost.

Shower tiles pros and cons

Pros Cons 
Eco-friendlyLabor intensive to install
Increase the real estate value of the homeHigh maintenance requirements
Many design optionsHigh cost
Easy to customizeMore likely to leak
Flexible in sizeCan break up and grow mold
Flexible in shapeSlippery hence a health risk
Don’t squeak under the weight of users 

Pros

The advantages of shower tiles include the following:

  • Many available designs

Showe 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 for it without spending too much like in the case of a customized shower pan. You can even just cut up tiles to fit certain areas of the bathroom. 

  • 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. 

  • Eco-friendly

When you dispose of the materials from the tile shower floor, it’ll not harm the environment since most of the items are made from earth with stone, clay and sand used in making tiles.

Cons 

The disadvantages of using shower tiles include the following:

  • Require high maintenance

Shower tiles require occasional regrouting since grout can easily fall out, crack, grow mold among other issues. It’s an expense and a routine you have to keep to throughout the lifetime of the tiles. 

  • 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 hence the reason why you should buy the tiles in excess for replacements later on. You can also paint the tiles to have a matching color no matter 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 about 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 installed over it. This setup has many benefits including great functionality where the pan below it 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 you can vary what material you place on it. You can even install tiles on the shower pan, pebbles or even use it the way it is. However, for a more permanent and customized look, nothing beats shower tiles.

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