Solid-surface kitchen countertops have been a favorite of designers and homeowners for years. The material is durable, stain-resistant and easy to clean. And because the color goes all the way through, the counter can take a light sanding if it suffers any nicks or scratches. Solid surfacing also works in the bathroom. Manufacturers offer vanity tops and vertical-grade solid surfacing that can be applied to tub and shower walls. It comes in 1/8- and ¼-in.-thick sheets that are glued to the existing wall. Specially designed molding creates a clean, finished look. Hiring a certified fabricator to cut and install the material will cost $700 to $800 for a three-wall, 5-ft. tub surround. But you can purchase a prepackaged kit (about $600) and install it yourself.
For our bath, we covered up the old yellow-tile walls around a 5-ft. tub with Wilsonart's SSV. The ⅛-in.-thick material comes in two solid colors (white and almond) and two granite patterns (white and beige). We chose Frosty White, one of the solid colors. The trim, included in the price of the kit, is available in seven colors. This lets you pick molding and a soap dish that match or contrast the wall panels. Kits include a pair of 30 x 60-in. wall panels and a single 60 x 60-in. panel. Shower-wall kits with 6-ft.-tall panels are available for two-wall ($480) and three-wall shower stalls ($640). Our installation was a bit atypical: The SSV wall panels extend from the tub up to the ceiling. In most baths, they stop 18 to 22 in. short. But all the tools and techniques shown here are essentially the same for any SSV wall system. For this installation, we enlisted the help of Dwain Burton, national product specialist for Wilsonart International, the manufacturer of Gibraltar solid surfacing.
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; 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. Install the large panel to the back wall of the tub first.
With the panels in place, you're ready to install the decorative trim pieces that come with the kit. Measure the back wall and cut a length of molding 1/8 in. less; that allows the trim to expand without buckling.