Easily accessible showers, ones with little or no threshold present at the entrance, are trending now. They not only do they look modern and sleek when they are incorporated well into the designs, but they are also extremely versatile, allowing access by users of all ages and abilities.
Easy access showers can come in two forms: custom-built and prefab models. In the guide below, we cover the benefits of prefab showers and things to consider when selecting one. To learn tips for creating a custom-built accessible shower, click here.
What is a Prefab Shower Stall?
“Prefab” is short for prefabricated, which means the shower stall or shower components were constructed off-site in a factory, as opposed to on-site which happens when you have a custom shower stall built. The components of a prefab shower, namely the walls, floor, and seat (if one is included) can either be purchased as one complete unit or as separate pieces that are assembled onsite. Prefab showers can be found in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors ranging from simple white models through designer patterns and styles.
Benefits of a Prefab Shower Stall
- Less Mess: Much of the work is performed off-site resulting in less construction mess in your home.
- Reduced Time to Install: All the installer needs to do is assemble and install it, as opposed to constructing each component of the shower from scratch.
- Easier to Clean: Prefab showers are usually made of solid molded pieces. Hence, they lack the tile grout lines found on many custom shower walls that are prone to develop mold.
- Less Water Leakage: If installed correctly, prefab showers usually have less incidence of water leaks, than custom built showers.
Prefabricated Shower Types
Prefab showers can be ordered as one seamless shower unit or in multiple pieces that get assembled onsite. We have identified some of the advantages and disadvantages of each type below.
- One-Piece Prefab Shower:
- Pro: Faster to install because is already fully assembled.
- Pro: Easy to clean because there are very few joints where mold and dirt will get caught.
- Pro: If installed correctly, one-piece units are less prone to water leakage problems than prefab models assembled on-site.
- Con: The drawback of a one-piece prefab shower is that it is a large, heavy, unwieldy unit which often won’t fit up the staircases or through the doorways and hallways of the home. A one-piece unit is usually a better consideration during the initial construction phase of a home.
- Multi-Piece Prefab Shower:
- Pro: It comes in several pieces, so it is much easier to transport into the bathroom, making it a better option for remodeling projects.
- Con: More joints than a one-piece unit, which means there is more potential for water leaks.
Prefabricated Shower Shapes
Most prefab shower stalls are square or rectangular in shape. Round stalls and neo-angular shower stalls exist as well. We have highlighted some the main benefits and drawbacks of each shower shape below.
- Square or Rectangular Shower Stall: Space permitting, square and rectangular shaped shower stalls are the best consideration for accessibility needs. Reason being, they tend to work best with adaptive equipment, such as grab bars, bath seats, benches, and rolling shower chairs.
- Neo-Angle Shower Stall: A corner-style unit, with a rounded or neo-angled front wall, may be a good consideration if you have a small bathroom and need to maximize the available floor space inside the bathroom to make it easier to move around inside the room using a walker or wheelchair. The drawback is that the interior of the shower stall is smaller, which can make it more more difficult to find shower equipment to fit inside.
- Round Shower Stall: Small, round shower stalls typically don’t work well for accessibility needs. It is harder to install grab bars on the rounded walls and many of the adaptive equipment options will not fit well inside.
Ideal Threshold Height = Zero!
If your home’s architecture permits, a prefab shower with a zero-threshold entrance is ideal (aka curbless shower or wheelchair accessible shower). Even a simple, seemingly harmless threshold of one or two inches, can prevent entrance by a walker or wheelchair, increasing the chances there may one day be a time when you’ll need to ask for assistance to get in and out of the shower.
What if your home has concrete slab floors or other architectural design features that would make it more difficult (or impossible) to recess the shower unit into the floor, as necessary to create a flush, threshold-less entrance?
If installing a threshold at the shower entrance can’t be avoided, try to select a prefab shower model with the lowest threshold possible. Ideally, the threshold should be rounded (aka beveled) and a maximum of ½ inch high. This height will still allow the possibility to enter and exit using a walker, wheelchair, or wheeled shower chair.
Prefab Shower Seats: 3 Different Options
Prior to selecting a prefabricated shower unit it is important to determine what type of shower seat you want. There are three different seat options, which include:
- Built-In Molded Shower Seat
Prefabricated shower stalls may come equipped with a molded seat included as part of the shower unit, providing a sturdy, stable seat to transition on and off of. Some drawbacks of a built-in molded seat are that you cannot adjust the seat height and you cannot remove it if you need to use a wheeled shower chair in the future.
Shower stalls with built-in molded seats are available with the seat located on the left or on the right side of the stall. Plumbing permitting, we recommend to select a model that has the seat located on the side of your shower that is most easily accessible, allowing you to directly approach the seat (i.e. the side that is not blocked by the toilet or a vanity).
Why? When one side of the bath seat is readily accessible, it provides the option to sit down on the side of the seat prior to entering the shower stall. Then from a safe seated position each leg can be lifted over the threshold (if a threshold is present). Even in a thresholdless shower, it is helpful to have one side of the seat exposed because it allows someone who relies on a wheelchair to park beside the bench and slide sideways from their wheelchair seat onto the bench seat. Prior to ordering a shower with a built-in seat, confirm that the seat’s height, width, and depth is adequate for your needs.
- Wall-Mounted Shower Seat
An alternative to a shower stall with built-in molded seat, is one with a wall mounted shower seat. Shower stall models can be purchased pre-equipped with a wall mounted seat. Or, it is also possible to purchase only the shower stall and install a wall-mounted shower seat of your choice.
Wall-mounted shower seats come in a variety of types. There are models that hang fully suspended from the wall (no legs) and models that have two or more legs that extend down to the floor for added support. The models with legs provide an added degree of stability and are less likely to work their way loose over the years.
Once installed, some wall mounted seats are designed to be rigidly fixed in place, while others have a hinge, allowing them to be flipped up out of the way when not in use. The type with a hinge allows for the greatest degree of flexibility because it can be flipped up out of the way if there is a time when someone living in the household requires assistance into and out of the shower using a wheeled shower chair.
- Portable Shower Seat
Lastly, you have the option to choose a shower stall unit that is seat-less and only includes a shower floor and walls. Then you can purchase a portable-style shower stool, chair, or bench to place inside. The drawback of using a portable-style shower seat is that it is not attached to anything, so it may tip or wiggle a bit when you sit down and stand up. If you opt for a portable shower seat, the larger the seat you choose the more stable it will be. You can also consider installing a grab bar on the wall for added support when sitting down and standing up.
Prefab Shower: Curtain or Door?
Is a shower curtain or shower door best? This is a common question that arises when designing an accessible shower. The answer: Shower curtains are usually preferable to shower doors. While a door may hold the water in better, it creates one more obstacle for a person using a wheeled mobility device to contend with. In short, it is a problem because a person using a walker or wheelchair must approach a door, grasp the handle, then move backwards (with their mobility aid) while pulling the door open, which is not easy for everyone to manage to do.
When a shower curtain is used in conjunction with a curbless shower or low-threshold shower, there are a number of good ways to help prevent the water from escaping the stall, which include:
- Trench Drain: Install a trench drain along the edge of the shower and/or add a collapsible rubber water dam along the outer edge of the shower stall.
- Weighted Curtain: Select a weighted shower curtain or alternatively a shower curtain made out of a heavier material.
- Long Curtain: Choose the longest curtain possible that ‘almost’ touches the floor, but does not drag on the floor, because mildew will be more likely to build in the folds.
- Slope the Floor: Slope the floor slightly towards the drain.
- Install Water Stoppers: Water stoppers come in a variety of forms, which include: collapsible rubber thresholds, clips to hold the shower curtain closed, or small plastic triangular pieces that get installed on either side of the shower opening to prevent the water from escaping at the corners.
Shower Door Considerations
“If” you do opt to install a shower door, keep the following in mind:
- Direction of Door Swing: It is important to always install a hinged-style shower door so it swings outwards. Why? If a person falls inside a shower stall with an inward opening door their body can block the door from being opened, making it difficult for emergency personnel to get them out.
- Leave One Side of the Seat Exposed: If a bath seat is present, one side of the seat should be exposed and free of any doors or walls, making it possible for a person using a walker to back up and sit down on the side of the bath seat first, thereby eliminating the need to “step” into the shower stall if the shower has a small threshold present at the entrance. Leaving one side of the seat exposed, likewise makes it possible for a wheelchair user to slide sideways from their wheelchair seat onto the bath seat.
- Sliding Doors: If you intend to install sliding shower doors, consider the frameless shower doors. This type eliminates the need to install a raised track on the floor, which creates a barrier for walker and wheelchair wheels, making it more difficult (or impossible) for a walker or wheelchair user to enter and exit the shower independently. Also, make sure to take into consideration the height and weight of the doors selected. The heavier the doors are, the harder it will be for a person who has mobility impairments to open and close.
- Glass Shower Door Alert! It is important to be aware that glass shower doors have a history of spontaneously shattering at times, which has potential to be dangerous if someone is present in the room when it happens.
Prefabricated Shower Stall: Materials
Prefabricated shower stalls can be found made from acrylic, fiberglass, solid-surface materials, tempered glass, or a combination of these materials. The majority of the models that are available will have a fiberglass frame with an acrylic or polyester gelcoat. Below we have highlighted some of the pros and cons for each type of shower material.
1. Tempered Glass Shower Enclosures
Tempered glass is designed such that if it shatters, it will fracture into many tiny pieces, instead of large, jagged glass shards, like a regular pane of glass.
- Glass shower doors have a history of shattering spontaneously, even when nobody is touching them or present in the room.
- If some, or all of the walls are made from glass it can make it difficult (or impossible) to install soap dishes, storage shelves, grab bars and wall-mounted bath seats on the walls inside the shower.
2. Fiberglass Showers
Fiberglass is a type of plastic that is reinforced with glass fibers. Fiberglass tubs will usually have a fiberglass frame and a strong, shiny gel top coat made from fiberglass reinforced polyester.
- Strong, durable material.
- Usually the least expensive type of shower unit, making it a good consideration for persons who are budget-conscious.
- Lightweight, which makes the unit easier for installers to transport and assemble.
- The finish is typically fairly easy to repair if damage such as scratches or chips occur.
- Fiberglass shower stalls will typically wear out faster than acrylic or solid-surface materials.
- Color is not present through the entire thickness of the material, so scratches or chipped areas may have a different color than the surrounding area.
- More porous and prone to staining and color fading than acrylic or solid-surface materials.
- More prone to scratching, cracking and chipping than acrylic or solid-surface materials.
3. Acrylic Showers
Acrylic is a type of plastic with a shiny glass-like finish. It is comprised of synthetic resins and textile fibers made from one or more derivatives of acrylic acid.
- Typically stronger, more durable, and tend to have a longer lifespan than fiberglass showers.
- Less porous that fiberglass, which reduces the chance that stains, dirt, or soap scum will penetrate the surface.
- Less prone to scratches and chips.
- Color is present throughout the entire thickness of the material, making scratches and chips less visible.
- Wider selection of color options.
- More expensive than fiberglass showers.
- More difficult to repair scratches or chips.
4. Solid-Surface Materials
These are composite materials that are either cast or compression molded. They are made by mixing marble dust, polyester and acrylic resin with powdered bauxite filler and pigments. Examples of solid-surface materials include Vikrell, Swanstone Veritek, and Corian, among others.
- Structurally rigid, durable, non-porous, low maintenance, easy to clean, mold and mildew resistant, chip and crack resistant.
- If scratches or chips do occur they are usually easy to repair or refinish.
- Available in a wide variety of colors.
- Color is present through the entire thickness of the material, meaning any scratches that may occur will be less visible.
- Can mimic the appearance of wood grains and natural stone (i.e. cultured marble, cultured onyx, cultured granite all have the look of natural stone).
- More expensive.
- They are thicker and heavier materials, often making it necessary to have a second person to carry and install the panels.
- Requires specialty tools to install.
- Lead time between product order and product arrival can be 4-6 weeks.
Prefabricated Shower Kits
Prefabricated showers can be ordered as shower kits, each of which will come with different parts. Some prefabricated shower model kits only come with the walls and a shower pan. Other models automatically include or have the option to include, slip-resistant flooring, a built-in seat, storage shelves, grab bars, handheld showerhead, shower doors and/or a collapsible water dram or trench drain at the front opening of the shower pan to help retain the water.
The sky’s the limit!
You can opt to buy a one-piece shower unit or a shower assembly kit with all the features already included, or you can mix, match, and customize the shower in any way you want by doing one of the following:
- Select a kit that has prefabricated wall panels and install your own floor material.
- Select a prefabricated shower pan and install your own custom-built tile walls.
- Choose a basic model with a shower pan and wood-backed wall panels, then select your own shower seat & grab bars and install them wherever you want.
Shower Controls: Type & Position
The type and location of the shower controls is an important consideration. Single, lever-style shower controls are easiest for most users to operate. Ideally, the shower controls should be located adjacent to the seat, making it possible for a bather to easily control the water pressure and temperature from a seated position. If the layout won’t allow for this, then install a handheld showerhead with an on/off switch located on the showerhead itself.
In a small, transfer-style shower (36”x36”) the controls can be located on the wall opposite the seat. Ideally, they should be installed between the centerline of the wall and the shower opening so it is possible to reach in, turn the water on, and adjust the temperature, prior to getting in.
Location of the Drain: An Important Detail!
Make sure to select a shower stall model with a drain that is in the same location as your existing tub or shower drain, so the plumbing will line up correctly. Drains can be located on the left, right, or center of a prefab shower stall. If the existing drain location in your bathroom creates a problem in selecting a shower model with a seat that is in an accessible location, then opt for a shower stall that does not have a permanently installed seat and insert a portable shower seat wherever you need.
Walls Should Include Wood Blocking!
Prior to installing a prefab shower stall, check whether or not the walls are reinforced by wood, also known as “wood blocking” or “wood backed walls”. This means there are wood panels glued to the back of the shower walls, making it possible to attach a grab bar or shower seat. If the shower model you select does not have wood-blocked walls, ask your contractor to install wood blocking inside your bathroom walls, prior to installing the shower stall, so grab bars, shower seats and other items can safely be installed anywhere you want or need in the future.
Cost to Install a Prefabricated Shower
The cost to purchase and install a prefabricated shower stall “with a small threshold present at the entryway” usually ranges from $1,000 to $5,000. The cost will vary based on the size of the stall, material the shower stall is made out of, the type and number of features the shower stall includes, and your geographic area.
On average, it will normally cost more to purchase and install a threshold-less, barrier-free shower because architectural adjustments will need to be made to lower the shower floor in order to make the interior shower floor flush with the exterior bathroom floor. A curbless shower can sometimes be installed for as little as $10,000, but will often cost more that this. The price can vary widely based on size of the bathroom, price of the shower unit you select, the geographic area where you live, and your home’s architecture. Consult with a local contractor to get a more accurate estimate.
The Homeability Advice™
Installing a prefabricated shower unit can be a great way to quickly transform an inaccessible bathing space into an accessible one. When selecting a prefabricated shower unit, keep in mind that any amenities that may be included with it, such as the seat, soap dish, storage shelves, controls and grab bars will be permanently fixed in place, so make sure they fit your functional needs, prior to ordering.
If you will be replacing your shower only, installing a prefabricated shower is typically cheaper, requires less on-site preparation time for installation than custom-built showers, and can oftentimes be installed in as little as a day, rather than the weeks it normally requires to install a custom-built shower. However, if you will be fully remodeling the bathroom and in doing so the bathroom will be gutted to the wall studs, then it may be equivalent in cost, or possibly even cheaper, to install a custom-built shower. Discuss both options with your contractor to determine which solution is right for you.
A shower with no threshold at all, also known as a curbless shower, makes great functional design sense for everyone! They are accessible by all users regardless of age or ability level. Architectural features permitting, a curbless-style shower is a great investment in your future independence.
If your finances or the architecture of your home won’t allow for installing a curb-less shower, the next best option is to choose a shower stall with the smallest threshold possible and add a bench-style shower seat that extends to (or slightly over) the shower threshold. This can make it possible for you to sit down on the end of the seat while both legs are still firmly planted outside the shower stall, and from a safe seated position you can lift one leg at a time over the threshold, thereby eliminating the need to ‘step’ in and out. It also allows a person using a wheelchair to park the wheelchair beside the shower seat and independently (or with the assist of another person) slide sideways from the wheelchair seat over onto the shower seat.
To get inspired and discover more about Accessible Bathrooms, follow these links:
- Beginner’s Guide to Accessible Bathrooms
- Getting In & Out of the Bathtub: Benches, Lifts, and Transfer Chairs
- Curbless Showers – A Great Age-Proof Bathing Solution!
- Shower Rods for Accessible Showers
- Shower Curtain for Accessible Tubs & Showers