The Complete Guide to Buying Frameless Shower Enclosures and Shower Doors
This guide, written by glass enclosure and door expert Jake Barr and owner of Pioneer Glass, Dave Brunell, is for anyone exploring new shower doors or frameless shower enclosures. We walk you through all your glass door and enclosure options so you can make the best decision for your specific project.
Bathroom design has changed dramatically over the last five years. Homeowners are building much larger bathrooms and using more elaborate fixtures and tiles. For them, the purpose of the master bath has changed. Many people are looking for an oasis or spa-like bathroom that is both relaxing and elegant, or crisp and airy. Others have smaller bathrooms and want to maximize the space with a sleek update. Regardless of their personal design preferences they all want one thing, frameless shower glass. Most consumers have limited knowledge about shower enclosures and doors. This article will help you make wise decisions to build your dream shower.
For more information about all shower enclosure types:
Glass Options for Frameless Shower Enclosures and Doors
The Glass: Clear or Super Clear?
This may sound simple but there is a big difference here. Regular, clear glass has a green tint to it and in a window with very thin glass you may not even notice it. Frameless shower enclosures and doors use ⅜” and ½” glass which maximizes the green tint and it becomes quite noticeable. Super clear, low iron glass is a much cleaner look and will display your tile or marble dramatically better if you are going for a crisp and airy look. Of the customers who come in and actually see the difference over 95% choose low iron glass for their enclosures despite its higher price point.
The Glass: Clear, Patterned, Obscure or a Fade?
By and large, most frameless showers use low iron or regular clear glass. However, some customers prefer a more obscure privacy glass like frosted (acid wash) or a more decorative pattern. There are generally two reasons for this. One is that they believe an obscure glass will hide any dirt and film better and result in less cleaning time. While that may be correct, with modern glass treatment it is less a factor. Second, by far the majority of customers who prefer not to have see-through glass are looking for privacy. If privacy is your primary concern, be aware that in the frameless glass world the increase in price for “specialty glass” is significant. Luckily there is a better way to accomplish this. Modern technology allows us to now paint into the glass. If the obscuring patterned glass is too big of a price jump, we can still meet your needs by adding a privacy band or a fading privacy band.
This ensures no one can see in from the knees to the shoulders while still providing a nice view of your tile and a bright open view of your bathroom.
Untreated or Coated Glass?
There is a lot of confusion about glass treatments to help protect the glass from dulling or etching. You could elect not to purchase any coating, though we will strongly urge against that. Untreated glass will get dirtier quicker and be harder to clean. In addition, untreated glass will pit and fog much sooner than treated or coated glass. For a reasonable amount of money you can add protection in one of two ways. The first way is to use a pour-on treatment generally with a ten year warranty. We have had good luck with this treatment approach. However, for a similar price you can purchase ShowerGuard which is a coating that is fused to the surface during manufacture. We are big fans of ShowerGuard and it has a lifetime warranty to the original owner. Personally, I cannot imagine going through the time and expense of a new bathroom and not using some type of glass treatment.
Clips or Channel or Both?
When one thinks of frameless shower enclosures, clips are the first thing that comes to mind. They are the most popular, but we are seeing a trend toward using some channels along select edges for a couple reasons. From a practical standpoint, the channel is more watertight, but it also has the added benefit of incorporating a little bit more metal for beauty. The channel style can look particularly great with matte black hardware finishes.
Frameless Sliding Doors or Doors and Panels?
Most think of swinging doors when exploring shower door options, but there are frameless sliding shower doors as well. These are modern-style doors (sometimes called barn door) with exposed rollers. They use strong ⅜” glass as well rather than thinner more flimsy glass found in older style sliding showers. Some can also handle a return glass panel for showers that will have two glass walls. Sliders are an attractive frameless option that may work better in smaller bathrooms where there is not enough space for a swing door. As a general rule it is best to only install sliders on openings larger than 48″. The minimum allowed is 46″.
Many customers who are looking for glass for their bathtub think they are limited to old fashioned framed sliding doors. While these are still available there is no reason why you cannot have sleek frameless shower glass. Barn type rolling frameless shower doors can work well with tubs and with a side knee-wall. And who says you have to use a sliding door on a tub? Frameless doors and panels work fine as well.
In smaller bathrooms a neo-angle shower makes a lot of sense. A neo-angle shower is three or four panes of glass that are angled to create the experience of a larger shower in a relatively small corner space. Neo-Angle shower enclosures work well with a frameless design with or without a headrail. Your decision to include a headrail may come down to whether you like the finishing look that a headrail projects.
Shower Screens (Stationary Panels)
Shower screens are much more popular internationally and while they only make up a small portion of the U.S. market they are growing in popularity. So what is a shower screen? A shower screen is an open shower enclosure that generally uses one panel to keep water inside the shower. The rest of the shower remains open and there is no door. In larger shower enclosures there is enough space to keep the floor dry. In regular size showers it is a good rule to use a solid curb and maintain a sufficient pitch to the base. We recommend the smallest opening one should leave on a shower screen is 22″. That is also the minimum dimension of a swing door.
Steam Showers (and steamy showers)
Real steam showers have track on all the walls and gaskets on the door and transom window over the door. They are equipped with a steam generator and while they have use as a regular shower they are built to be your private steam room. Customers who purchase them are serious about getting the health and lifestyle benefits of true steam. Because the basic idea of calibrating the amount of steam centers on the operation of the transom vent, u channel track is usually used on the sides to prevent steam leakage. Some customers prefer channels and some clips for the appearance. While technically not completely steam-tight they perform well.
Steamy Showers (Floor to Ceiling Glass Enclosures)
There are also what we call steamy showers. Some clients love the look of floor to ceiling glass with a transom as well as loving the feel of a super steamy shower but do not install a steam generator. They install the same basic shower design without gaskets and somewhat create a steamy shower. These bold showers make quite a statement.
When one imagines gridded shower glass the idea of metal grid work is generally what customers envision. Very few grid showers actually use metal anymore. Using the same breakthrough technology that now makes privacy bands, grids are by and large painted into the glass. We can also add metal strips on the outside if requested. This type of grid shower looks sleeker and is easier to clean. Ceramic in-glass printing now allows us to print any image in any color and in any level of obscurity. If you want your shower to look like an English phone booth or have a life-like image of a snow leopard it is very easy to accomplish.
Larger Openings: Centered Glass, Headrail, or Supporting Arm
For larger openings over 66 inches using ⅜ inch glass or over 72 inches using ½ inch glass a traditional door and panel may not be structurally sound. Therefore, there are limits to the size of a door that can be hung on the adjacent panel. There are ways to get that large shower installed with a slight modification
Centering The Door
By far the most popular way around this is to center the door with a panel on each side of the door. This also balances the view of the frameless door. Centering the shower door is very popular and can be aesthetically pleasing even in smaller shower openings.
The second option is a headrail support. While a headrail support moves away from the frameless concept it can still be an extremely attractive option. Also choosing a headrail will allow for more creative design possibilities.
Ceiling Support Arm
The last method of supporting the glass is to use an arm. They are not the most popular option but these supporting arms are hardly noticeable once they are installed. They can also be installed on the wall or ceiling.
Incorporating a Bench or a Knee Wall into Frameless Shower Enclosures
Benches and knee walls are readily doable in frameless shower enclosures. Not only do they serve a practical purpose, in many cases they enhance the beauty of the bathroom. Many shower designs can include two knee walls and a bench. As long as the measurements are exact and the glass is precision cut, using knee walls and benches are great additions to your bathroom design.
The finish choices for sliding shower doors are limited to usually only three or four options. This is because sliding shower doors are specific to the original manufacturer and the roller assembly only works on their particular showers. Frameless shower doors and panels include a wide array of finish options offered from CRL, the leader in glass hardware. CRL has 23 shower hardware finishes so if you are particular about your hardware finish that may be another reason to go with frameless.
Robe Hooks and Towel Bars
While most customers have more interest in handles than towel bars and robe hooks I put these first because they are frequently overlooked. Shower glass is tempered safety glass and cannot be drilled after manufacture. Many bathrooms have readily accessible spots to place towels and robes. Yours may not. Be sure to look over the space and determine if you want robe hooks or towel bars as part of the shower enclosure before you order your shower glass.
We won’t spend a lot of time with handles as they are readily available. I will quickly go over the most common options.
Hinges and Clips
Like handles there are many types of hinges and clips. That being said there are two that are used on 99% of the showers. The most common is a Pinnacle hinge/clip. This has slightly rounded corners and a beveled edge. For those looking for a square look Vienna hinges and clips are used.
That concludes our guide to buying frameless shower enclosures and shower doors. There are quite a few options, however depending on your space, budget, and design preference it’s usually not too difficult to narrow down to the best options for your project. For any additional questions feel free to reach out to connect with one of our glass enclosure professionals. We hope you find this guide helpful.