As home renovation magazines, shows, and blogs have grown in popularity, people are becoming increasingly motivated to replace their outdated shower curtains and hardware in favor of more innovative glass shower enclosures. Not only does this increase the value of the house, it can also create a more interesting and welcoming bathroom environment. The see-through effect provided by a glass enclosure adds to an inherent sense of openness of a bathroom. While it may sound daunting to design a shower enclosure that complements the room and accommodates all functional needs, the many customizable features available for shower enclosures allow for endless creativity.
Today, you can buy a shower enclosure from a big box store and attempt to install it yourself. However, the knowledge and skill that a specialist can bring to your project is invaluable. An attractive box on a retail shelf may give the impression that the shower enclosure is easy to install, but that is rarely the case. Shower enclosure professionals know that every bathroom is different, and that precise measurement is critical to having a leak-free and beautiful installation. Deciding to upgrade to a glass enclosure is a significant and worthwhile investment, so it is wise to call upon the expertise of someone who designs showers professionally. Skilled glass specialists can offer homeowners an almost endless variety of glass types, thicknesses, patterns, and hardware finishes to make each installation truly unique, practical, and visually appealing.
There are several factors that go into designing a shower enclosure. Perhaps the most important factor is the shape and size of the space where the shower will be installed, as the design of an enclosure can be limited by how much bathroom space one is willing to allow for its installation. For some people, a shower is just a means to an end – getting clean. For others, a shower area is a comfortable space to relax and unwind at the end of a busy day or to “gear up” to face the day. You should be clear concerning your personal objectives and preferences when allocating space for a shower enclosure.
A shower enclosure is typically built along the edge of the bathroom where it can “borrow” existing walls. When working with three walls that create a nook, which is typically the case
with a bathtub, an inline door can be installed across the opening. When there are two walls making up a corner of the shower, a 90-degree return or neo-angle door can be installed, depending on whether you prefer a rectangular enclosure or one with a more unique shape. Whatever the configuration, any shower enclosure should be designed so that the shower head is aimed at a wall rather than the door. For a sliding door configuration, it is essential that the gap between the sliding panels faces away from the shower head. Together, these two steps will minimize water leakage.
In order for the glass panels to be attached to the wall, the wall must be plumb (fully vertical, or “square”). Any curvature in the wall will make it difficult to form a watertight seal with the glass panel, unless the imperfection is small enough to be completely covered by a silicone bead. If the wall was not constructed with a water-resistant material, it will need to be renovated with tile, glass, fiberglass, acrylic, or another waterproof option. It is important to note that tile cannot be installed directly over sheetrock because any water that reaches the sheetrock will cause it to expand and warp the tile. A proper backer board must be installed when turning a regular bathroom wall into a shower wall.
The location and accessibility of the bathroom also helps determine what kind of enclosure should be chosen. If the bathroom is not on the ground floor, and can only be reached by stairs or elevator, larger or heavier glass panels might pose a problem. Additionally, small doorframes may prevent large glass panels from being moved into the bathroom.
Three Basic Designs
There are three basic forms of shower enclosures: frameless, semi-frameless, and framed. Each style confers its unique qualities and benefits to the overall appearance and functionality of the bathroom.
A frameless shower enclosure features large glass panes with open, untrimmed edges. Because it has fewer supporting metal structures, this design generally requires thicker glass than does a framed enclosure. A frameless enclosure has a clean, minimalistic look that deflects the spotlight to other design features of the shower, such as tile and hardware. This look is ideal for those who do not necessarily want the enclosure itself to draw attention or clash with other style elements in the bathroom. On the other hand, if an artistic design is what you are looking for, frameless panels create a large blank “canvas” for displaying digitally printed images or specially designed glass. Additionally, frameless shower panels are easier to keep in pristine condition than their semi-frameless and framed counterparts, since they afford an unimpeded glass surface that can be easily cleaned.
A framed shower enclosure features metal trim around all glass edges. This makes for a sturdy structure that can support the use of thinner glass panels. The bolder look of the framed enclosure allows the shower to become a part of the overall bathroom design. Matching the color and finish of other bathroom hardware to the shower’s metal frame creates a unified design throughout the room.
The semi-frameless shower enclosure is a hybrid design, combining elements of both framed and frameless enclosures. While semi-frameless showers may have metal trim around the outside of the enclosure, the majority of the door remains unframed. The carrying rod for the glass panels in this category can often be attractive and stylish in their own rite, so some homeowners may prefer this option.
Additional Customization Options
Within each basic form, there are several unique components that can be used to create your ideal enclosure. From door configurations to glass and hardware options, there are thousands of ways to personalize any shower.
One major consideration is choosing between a swing- or sliding-door configuration. A swing door operates on hinges, whereas a sliding door operates on a horizontal track. The environment around the shower typically dictates which type of door is appropriate. For smaller bathrooms with space constraints, a sliding door may be the right choice because it can be opened and closed without taking up any extra space. People with larger bathrooms may prefer the look and feel of a swing door. Certain hardware will allow the door to swing both in and out, but for safety reasons, the door should always have enough room to swing outward. A viable, but less frequently used option, is a shower screen. A shower screen leaves the tub or shower open to the rest of the bathroom, with a single, strategically placed glass panel used to protect the rest of the bathroom from splashing water.
Glass panels for a shower enclosure generally range from 5/32” to 1/2” in thickness. Frameless enclosures require thicker, sturdier panels than framed enclosures do because much of the enclosure’s structure is provided by the glass panels. Glass thickness also plays a key role in the price of a shower enclosure, with thicker panels being more expensive.
No matter the thickness, any shower enclosure sourced from a provider certified by the Safety Glazing Certification Council (SGCC) should be safe and durable. Glass must meet exacting standards in order to be SGCC-certified, ensuring a high rate of safety should a panel be cracked or broken. If broken, SGCC-certified tempered glass breaks down into smaller pieces with duller edges than does standard glass. Ask your installer to choose an SGCC certified supplier, and look for the SGCC tempering mark on your shower door when delivered.
Decorative Glass Options
There are a number of patterns and colors available to make your enclosure stand out or blend in, depending on your preference. Options range from simple and translucent to complex and opaque. Typical colors include various shades of clear, blue, bronze, and gray. In addition, many people opt for patterned glass, as it adds to the design of the enclosure while minimizing the appearance of streaks and water marks. Patterned or opaque glass can also be chosen to hide older or damaged surfaces or hardware.
Another option, cast glass, provides a beautiful, three-dimensional character to glass walls. This specialized glass is available in high- or low-relief, depending on how deep or shallow you want the textured finish to be. Sandblasted glass is a more subtle option, adding a level of opacity and a sense of sophistication to any enclosure. Glass specialists offer many other unique patterns for shower enclosures, from stripes and waves to nature scenes and more.
Keeping shower doors looking pristine can be a concern for glass shower enclosures, but a protective coating can help. For example, Cardinal 10™ Surface Protection provides a non-stick surface that repels both water and oils. Glass treated with Cardinal 10 is extremely resistant to damage, etching, or stains caused by various minerals, soaps, chemicals, and other harmful materials.
In addition to standard glass options, digital in-glass printing offers a whole new world of exciting choices for shower enclosures. Glass printing options, such as Cardinal’s exclusive Satori™ Digital In-Glass Printing, can be used to create striking, high-resolution graphic designs in glass. In the Satori process, the printed frit, or ink, is fused into the glass during the tempering process, becoming part of the glass itself. This ensures that the designs are resistant to chemicals, scratching, UV light, and weathering.
Satori printing can be used to add colored images, words, or patterns to any glass panel. Another example of Satori printing is found in Cardinal’s Priva-Tech™ option. This printed block of color runs horizontally through the glass, creating a privacy screen that allows someone in the shower to see out into the room without sacrificing modesty. With a choice of colors, and the option for crisp or faded edges, the Priva-Tech privacy strip can be as subtle or vivid as necessary to meet your needs.
Some shower enclosure hardware will be dictated by the type of enclosure being installed, but there are still a broad range of choices. A frameless shower enclosure can be connected to the walls and floor with either u-channels or clips. A u-channel is a metal bar in which the edge of the glass can rest, providing for an easy connection between the glass panel and the tiling. Because the u-channel does not surround the entire structure, only panels that connect to tile surfaces, their use does not preclude the shower from being considered “frameless.”
For those who want to keep their shower completely frameless in appearance, clips may be the better option. Glass-to-glass clips connect the panel edges to each other, and sleeve-over-glass clips hold the panels together from the top. Both types are available in 90°, 135°, or 180° angles, depending on the configuration of the shower. Glass-to-wall clips will attach the panel to the shower wall. This minimal use of metal helps to maintain the airy feel of the frameless shower. It should be noted that clips cost more than u-channels, as the glass itself must be notched to accommodate the clips.
For all swinging doors, there are a few types of hinges from which to choose. A glass-to-glass hinge or glass-to-wall hinge mounts the door to the adjacent wall or glass panel and swings like a typical house door. A pivot hinge, however, connects the door to the top and bottom of the enclosure and swings like a revolving door.
In addition to the necessary hardware, there is a broad selection of door handles, pulls, robe hooks, and towel bars to suit any enclosure. When deciding where to place certain hardware, keep two things in mind: you may not want to step into the shower to turn on the water, and you may not want to step out of the shower to grab your towel. Since the water typically starts out cold, the shower controls should be placed so that you can get the water started and warming up without actually being in the shower. Similarly, most people prefer to place the towel bar within close range of the shower opening so that they do not need to reach far for their towel. Thinking about convenience and accessibility in the planning phase is essential to ensuring you have a shower that meets your needs.
When it comes to metal hardware finishes, the two most popular options are powder coating and anodizing. Powder coating involves electrostatically binding dry powder to a metal surface, and then heating the combination until the powder melts to create a uniform layer. When cooled, the coating becomes a smooth, hard shell. Anodizing, on the other hand, is an electrochemical process that thickens the oxide layer on the exterior of the metal. This process physically alters the composition of the surface, rather than just providing a surface coating. With anodization, there is less risk of the surface peeling or chipping, resulting in a more durable finish.
That is not to say that powder coating is a weak option. If applied properly, powder coated shower hardware can last for many years. The main advantage of powder coating is that it provides the user with almost limitless color options. There are dozens of powder coat colors on the market, and various powders can be mixed to create unique combinations. If there is a specific color you need to match your bathroom décor, chances are you can achieve it in a powder-coated finish. While anodization offers fewer color choices, it is an outstanding way to bring out the natural metallic shine of hardware in options like chrome, brushed nickel, and oil-rubbed bronze, among others. Pricing for these processes depends on the quality of the provider, but in general, anodization will cost more than powder coating.
Whether you are remodeling a bathroom or designing it from the ground up, careful consideration should be given to the shower enclosure. A glass shower enclosure can certainly be more than just a place to get clean. It can substantially add to the design of a bathroom, while contributing to the overall quality of the showering experience.
The ideas covered in this whitepaper will help you plan for an enclosure that contributes to both the functionality and the overall design of the bathroom. Once you have an idea of what type of enclosure best suits you and your style, a visit with a professional shower installer will be the next step in designing a glass enclosure that is just as beautiful as it is practical.