All About Zero-threshold Showers (by Bathroom Renovation Contractor)

Luxury bathroom with zero-threshold shower

To cover zero-threshold showers in detail, we were fortunate to have Chuck Winkles, president of New Life Bath & Kitchen, New Life Painting, and New Life Restoration put together this detailed guide. Chuck is a professional bathroom renovation contractor who has installed many zero-threshold showers.

As a professional bath & kitchen remodelling company, we often get inquiries regarding safe bathing solutions for the elderly or those with accessibility issues.

One of the more popular options is a curbless or walk-in shower which have been increasing in popularity over the years. We’re here to discuss the benefits, types, costs, options, and more when it comes to zero-threshold showers.

What are Zero-Threshold Showers?

A zero-threshold shower is a walk-in shower in which the bathroom floor and shower floor are flush, with no dam. There is no sill to step over, and this makes it easy for a wheelchair to roll right into the shower.

Benefits of Zero-Threshold Showers

Zero-threshold showers are considered a “luxury” style shower, due to their higher cost.

Safer

However, the beauty of this type of shower is it allows people to “age in place” safely and with dignity. As people get older and lose mobility, routine things like taking showers can become very difficult.

Lifting a leg over a threshold to get into the shower can be difficult for someone to do alone. A zero-threshold shower allows a person to continue to manage their own hygiene without help, and it allows for any sort of mobility issue to be more easily managed. Wheelchair? No problem. Walker? It can be handled.

Looks Better

Most custom and luxury bathrooms these days, whether a renovation or new home, are putting in these walk-in showers, not only because they’re safer, but because they look great too.

Editor’s comment:  I absolutely love the look of these showers much more than the old-school tub and shower combo or the shower units that have a lip/step.  

Dimensions

While there are no standard dimensions for a zero-threshold shower, it should be large enough for a wheelchair to pass through easily. This means it should be at least 60 inches wide to accommodate wheelchair turning or assists.

Different Types

Zero-threshold showers range from basic and functional to elaborate and fancy such as a zero-threshold steam shower. Because they are built from scratch, they don’t have to look medical; in fact, a homeowner’s taste can completely dictate the style and options of the shower.

You can include a door to keep splashing at a minimum and keep the temperature inside the shower warmer. Or you could opt for no door, which gives the bathroom a cleaner design aesthetic. Showers without doors also have less to keep clean.

Cost Range

Just like any remodelling project, a zero-threshold shower cost can range, depending on options and what needs to be done. For example, it may need to be placed on a slab foundation, which would mean some of the original foundation would need to be demolished before a zero-threshold pan could be installed.

In addition, a pan for a zero-threshold shower is more expensive than a standard shower pan, which is designed for slope, drain, and water-proofing. It’s durable and is designed to provide quality tile installation. It’s also warrantied against leaks. In general, you should expect to spend between $15,000 and $18,000 for a zero-threshold shower.

Should You DIY or Hire a Contractor?

DIY is great for fixing minor plumbing problems. Or for painting your living room. But when it comes to a zero-threshold shower installation, you should leave that to the pros. And not just any pros either — only very experienced contractors should attempt this kind of work.

For starters, the drainage needs to function properly, and that’s no simple task. In addition, the floors and walls will need to be waterproofed correctly. And the plumbing and tile should be done by professionals. You don’t want to risk the shower failing, because that could damage other parts of your home — creating expensive repairs.

What are the Tile Options?

Happily, you have plenty of tile options when it comes to these types of showers, as the same types that are available to all showers are available to zero-threshold showers. You do need to keep these two things in mind:

  1. The tile should allow for an appropriate slope for correct drainage.
  2. Your tile choice should be slip-resistant.

For slip resistance, the floor tile is smaller in a zero-threshold shower, and the trend for the walls has been larger tiles that minimize grout joints. You can also use other varieties of materials for the walls and ceilings, like acrylic, stone, and composite. But floors have fewer options, as small tile works best to conform to the slope in a zero-threshold shower.

When you choose materials for your ceiling, consider ease of installation, grout joints, and the aesthetics.

What are the Lighting Options?

American Lighting Association recommends “layering” your lighting, meaning using a combination of ambient lighting, accent lighting, and task lighting. There is a common mantra: “Light where you put your money.” And this holds true in a zero-threshold shower because a tile shower is a pricey investment. It should be functional, comfortable, and beautiful, and lighting can aid in achieving all those goals.

Because showers are wet environments, the lights must be rated for moisture. The most popular choices are recessed LED lights. However, sizes and locations can be varied to create different effects. If you have an interesting texture on the walls, for example, locate the lights as close to the wall as possible to “graze” and create shadows.

What Types of Floor Materials are Available?

The best floor material in a zero-threshold shower is tile because the grout joints create a non-slip surface. Ceiling materials can be tile, stone, acrylic, composition, drywall, and plaster.

Can You Convert a Traditional Shower/Tub to a Zero-Threshold Shower?

Can you only convert standalone showers to zero-threshold showers? Or can you convert a shower/tub set-up?

Fortunately, you can convert either set-up into a zero-threshold shower. This process takes about two to three weeks, so hire a contractor you like to be around. First, the tub/shower is demolished. Once that’s done, the drain is moved to a central location. The shower system — from drains to shower benches to pipe seals — needs to be watertight. You’ll need to decide on using either a shower curtain or a stationary piece of glass to shield the water.

Look at magazines and websites for inspiration. Visit showrooms, and get a feel for how a zero-threshold shower looks and operates. Consider options that will make your life easier for aging in place, like a handheld shower option or a seat inside the shower.

Zero-threshold showers are stylish, attractive, and perfect for anyone — whether you intend to age in place, or whether you just want an spa-like update in your bathroom.


Chuck Winkles is the president of New Life Bath & Kitchen, New Life Painting, and New Life Restoration.  Chuck was born in Southern California and currently resides in Santa Maria. He’s been married to his wife Shelley for thirty-eight years and has two sons, Nathan and Noah.

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