Installing the Panels
Solid-surface panels can be glued to almost any wall surface if the surface is flat, structurally sound and perfectly clean. If any of the tiles are loose, pry them off and stick them back in place with ceramic-tile adhesive. If a vast majority of the tiles are loose, remove them and cover the wall with cement backerboard or water-resistant drywall. After protecting the tub bottom with cardboard or an old blanket, remove the showerhead, tub spout and faucet handles. Use a cold chisel and hammer to knock off towel racks or a wall-mounted soap dish. Then, wearing eye protection and either a dust mask or respirator, scuff-sand the tile using a random-orbit sander that's fitted with an 80-grit sandpaper disk (photo 2); wipe off the sanding dust with a damp rag. Next, measure the three walls and trim the panels, if necessary, to fit. Make them about 1/8 in. less than the wall width and height. You can trim the panels with a circular saw, but the quickest, cleanest cuts are made with a router and carbide-tipped straight bit with a top-mounted ball-bearing pilot. Clamp a straightedge guide to the panel and move the router from left to right. The ball-bearing pilot will ride against the straightedge guide and produce a perfectly straight cut. With all three panels trimmed to fit, make a cardboard template of the end wall of the shower. Measure to locate the exact position of the showerhead pipe, tub spout and faucet handle stems. Transfer these dimensions to the cardboard and cut out the holes. Test-fit the cardboard template to make sure the holes align with the pipes in the wall (photo 3) Install the large panel to the back wall of the tub first. Begin by applying continuous beads of silicone adhesive to the entire wall in a gridwork of horizontal and vertical stripes (photo 4). Space the beads about 6 in. apart and apply a double bead of silicone along the top and bottom of the wall, which will provide extra holding power. Next, use a plastic trowel with 1/8-in.-wide notches to spread the silicone across the wall. Then immediately press the panel to the wall (photo 5). Slip 1/16-in.-thick shims under the panel to hold it above the top of the tub. Firmly go over the entire surface with a J-roller to set the panel into the silicone. To lay out and cut the plumbing-end panel, put the cardboard template on top of the end panel and mark the locations of the holes. Remove the template and drill out the holes with a hole saw (photo 6). Cut larger holes with a router and straight bit. Test-fit the end panel to ensure that it fits over the pipes, then spread silicone on the wall and press the panel into place (photo 7) and go over it with a J-roller. Repeat for the opposite end panel.
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