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Choosing and Fitting... Shower Cubicles, Doors & Trays

Shower cubicles and shower doors are made in sizes and styles to suit almost any bathroom application. The popular versions are sliding, pivot, bi-fold door and walk-in. With cubicles in quadrant, pentangle, corner and front entry door cubicles, also gaining in popularity as confidence in their sealing has grown, wet rooms.

When choosing a shower, after checking the sizes which are available, I would always look at the strength, ease of installation, sealing and door action.

The glass, (which in all reputable makes, is toughened), comes in different thicknesses, the prime ones are 4mm, 6mm, 8mm and 10mm. Any of them will be adequate but obviously the thicker the glass the stronger and more resilient to knocks and misuse, (which like Murphy’s Law is inclined to happen). Also heavier glass influences how positive the gliding action of the rollers will be.

Some good quality shower cubicles incorporate glass which is ‘easy clean’, avoiding one chore in cleaning your bathroom when lime scale or soap residue etc, can create a ‘bloom’ on the glass.
Simplicity of installation is made easier by having easily adjusted side channels, with a reasonable channel depth, to allow any variation in the wall vertical to be allowed for. What's more having a ball race or bearing roller will ensure once fitted it runs smoothly and easily, (it also much longer lasting than any roller using bush’s or slide action on channels).

Sealing of the shower comes from two directions, the quality of the shower, often indicated by being ‘power shower proof’, and how it is installed. As with anything in the bathroom a qualified plumber is by far the best solution as he has the benefit of experience. In spite of this whether you or your plumber is installing, ensure that the instructions are followed precisely, (not all manufacturers have the same recommendations). Generally the best way to seal any cubicle is to use a good quality silicone along the outside edges, where it meets the wall and shower tray, (this allows water to run back into, not out of, the tray). Also one should seal any hole drilled through the wall or cubicle framework.

I mentioned door action when writing about the glass weight improving ease of action and a good quality hinge, or a ball bearing or ball race movement will make opening smoother and last much, much longer and will mean you are more happy with the cubicle chosen. In my opinion the worst alternative is a sliding channel as soap can congeal within the channel and slow or jam the door action. I would also recommend that you determine the type of door you want by who it’s for, available space and where located.

Pivot door cubicles and doors allow water to run off it when opened onto the floor unless a channel is integral to the bottom of the door, (this is particularly if you go for a cheaper, thinner glass types, as the flex of the door when it opens shakes the water off its surface, onto the floor). They also need sufficient space to open wide enough to allow access in smaller bathrooms.

Bi-fold and concertina doors are extremely good for stopping water getting onto the floor and for space saving in small rooms. However they do have a problem with very young or infirm users, as should someone fall or collapse they can end up lying against the door and blocking access for someone to help them.

Sliding doors tend to have restricted access in smaller installations as the doors overlap each other. Also lighter weight doors are particularly susceptible to jamming and you should get as good a quality as possible to avoid this. 

Quadrant and pentangle designs tend to suit larger bathrooms as the interior can be restricted by the loss of the tray corner space. However their shape can be used to reflect the design of a bath in a similar profile, such as a corner bath, creating a series of curves or diagonals within a bathroom.

Walk-in cubicles usually don’t have a door and use a glass panel to deflect the water back towards the tray centre. Normally they suit either larger bathrooms or where you are replacing the bath with a shower. Incidentally before you do this it is worth considering the salability of your home in the future, as most families with young children will need a bath.

The item which tends to be forgotten in the discussion of what cubicle to buy, is the shower tray, it’s just as important as a bath is when selecting a bathroom suite! Always choose a good quality shower tray, acrylic with fiberglass reinforcement or one of the resin and stone composite types are generally the best. When installing, sealing the tray is if anything, more important than the cubicle.

This brings me onto Wet Rooms, a fantastic option if done well. These can frighten a lot of British plumbers, who have not recently installed the newer types, (wet rooms have been successfully installed for years on the Continent), using a good quality ‘Tanking Membrane’ system. They usually incorporate an impermeable sheet, or sheets, encompassing the whole installation, with a compatible tray designed so that they can be tiled over. Coupled with an experienced plumber, a good tiler, (or good joiner if using a waterproof panel system), and all the manufacturers recommended accessories will make the job water tight and maintenance free.

Fully enclosed showers and Hydromassage units are easily fitted units if you require the recognized benefit of multi-directional jets designed to massage the cares of he day away, as the pipe work is within the body of the enclosure. Additionally they are mostly full enclosed and keep condensation down in other parts of the bathroom, (as long as you close the door after use!).

Steam shower cabins are a relatively new luxurious option and have both relaxation and therapeutic benefits. They are available in a large variety of sizes and styles and will make any bathroom the envy of your friends. Fitting these units is relatively easy, however allowing access to the rear for possible eventual maintenance is best done by tiling behind the unit and silicone sealing it to the tiled wall. This will enable easy removal should you need to gain access to the wiring or the steam generator.

Steam units will need periodic de-scaling, particularly if you have hard water, (in much the same way as kettles and steam irons). The electrical connection should always be carried out by a qualified electrician.

If access to a shower cubicle is a problem through mobility difficulties, consider the width of opening of the door, (someone may have to assist or there may have to be room to allow a wheelchair), and amount of room inside the cubicle. Wet rooms and low profile shower trays will make life easier and other useful additions are grab rails and shower seats as you get older.

Published on in Choosing and Fitting, Showers by Fran