Editor’s Note: We’ve offered you some information on growing uses of solid surface in hospital applications, particularly those involving vertical surfaces, so here’s a bit of hands-on information.
I started my solid surface career doing tub/shower surrounds in Pennsylvania in 1978. The first “kit” took two days to install! Contrast that to the three hours it took recently to install wet walls in my current house.
Some key points:
- Walls must be clean, dry and sound. Although the solid surface material will never fail, your installation or the wall you are applying it to might! Sometimes it is easier to cut out the old wall board and replace it with moisture-resistant (MR) board. Keep the wall board 1 in. ABOVE the rim of the tub/shower pan. This will prevent water wicking up the wall if there is a leak. Eliminate stress—don’t force-fit the solid surface to the walls.
- You can install over tile. The tile must be sound; there can be no loose tiles or rotting walls behind the tiles. Clean the tile with denatured alcohol and an abrasive pad (NO adhesive will stick to soap film).
- I use a full tube of silicone per panel for gluing, no panel adhesive.
- Although many fabricators use solid coved corners for one-piece installations, I don’t recommend it. I prefer to use a coved piece that is about 8 in. wide and coved or bent to fit the corner. These are installed to the side panels with 100 percent silicone. You could also butt corners together.
- Butt seams on long walls are covered with matching batten strips using silicon – no hard seams. Expansion and contraction from temperature changes and normal wall movement can crack hard seams.
- Solid surface should never be installed directly to masonry walls. Above grade, apply furring strips and wallboard. Below grade, build a separate stud wall and moisture barrier. Check with the material manufacturer for specific acceptable applications.
- I do not recommend solid surface in steam rooms. Silicone corner joints likely won’t hold up under constant expansion and contraction of the solid surface. Again, check with the material manufacturer for specific acceptable applications.
Shower Wall Installation
- Find the centerline vertically of the long wall of the tub area. Measure from the centerline to either corner.
- Cut one panel to this width. Check the fit and scribe with a compass. Sand to fit with a belt sander.
- Install the panel. Apply a 1/4-in. or larger bead of silicone from the edge of the sheet all the way around the backside of the sheet. Use the rest of the tube to run diagonal lines across the sheet.
- Cut the next panel to width, scribe and install as in steps two and three.
- Go back and push the first panel against the wall again.
- Cut the “foot” panel to 1/4-in. wider than needed. Check the fit, scribe 1/4-in. and sand to fit. Install this panel following steps two and three.
- Go back and push both previous panels to the wall.
- Measure the spout, faucet controls and shower head from the wall panels to center, and to center above tub rim. Cut this panel 1/4-in. wide and mark for holes (remember the panel is 1/4-in. oversized). Try to get a feel for how straight the walls are and adjust. Check fit and scribe as necessary. Install this panel as in steps two and three.
- Go back and push all previous panels to walls. You may have to do this several times.
Note: Dabs of hot melt adhesive in the corners can be used to hold the panels until the silicone sets. Apply the hot melt to the wall—the solid surface will draw heat out of the hot melt before you get the panel installed.
Silicone Caulking: The Master’s Touch
Caulking is an art form that must be learned and practiced! I have pants from the old days that can stand up in the corner by themselves because I didn’t know how to do silicone caulking correctly. The last wet wall project took one square section of paper towel to clean up. I have seen the light of silicone installation!
“Push” caulking is the only way to go. It forces the silicone into the gaps between the panels and, when done correctly, leaves little or nothing to clean up.
I use three colors of silicone: white for white solid surface; translucent white for off-white, bone and light beige colors; clear for all other colors.
The panels must be cleaned with denatured alcohol using a clean white cloth or paper towel. The alcohol could dissolve the colorant or ink in a colored cloth or paper towel and ruin the job.
Apply the barest minimum possible —you can always add more. It is my belief that any chemical that can dissolve/remove pure silicone caulk will not be good for your skin. If you can learn to apply the correct amount, there will not be anything to remove.