Choosing a Glass Shower Door
The essential guide to selecting, installing, and maintaining a glass door for your shower or tub.
Synopsis: Contributing editor Sean Groom surveys the world of glass shower doors, which fall into three categories: framed, semiframeless, and frameless. Taking each style in turn, he discusses installation, hardware, cost, and aesthetics. He also looks at the glass itself, which is usually clear but is available also in a host of obscure varieties that provide greater privacy.
The rise of two bathroom-remodeling trends—larger showers and frameless doors (and enclosures)—is not a coincidence. A larger shower takes up more space, and that can make the area outside the shower feel small and confined. The right glass and hardware can relieve the sense of claustrophobia, though, because they can make the shower virtually invisible.
Shower doors break down into three styles: framed, semiframeless, and frameless, with corresponding increases in cost and complexity. Here’s what you need to know to buy the right product for your bathroom.
The most open, invisible shower doors rely on shallow channels and/or clips along walls and at the bottom of panels. Clips connect the panels to one another. To add rigidity, these doors and panels are either 3⁄8-in. or 1⁄2-in. thick. If you’re thinking about installing doors yourself, keep in mind that a single swinging glass door can weigh 130 lb. Depending on the configuration of the shower, a header (thin compared to those on a semiframeless door) or diagonal corner braces may be needed for reinforcement.
Frameless doors come in two categories: semicustom and custom. Semicustom types offer door or door-and-panel combinations to fit a wide range of standard shower configurations, including bench cutouts and kneewalls. With a custom shower, doors and enclosures are templated to the space and can be cut to any size and shape. Custom options make it possible to fit a shower under an eave by scribing a glass door against both a kneewall and a sloped ceiling, or to create a steam-shower enclosure under a ceiling of a nonstandard height.
Clear vinyl seals are available to prevent water from passing through the gaps between panels, but custom-shower fabricators often claim that their tight installation tolerances eliminate the need for them.
Semiframeless doors have no vertical aluminum frame. The exposed glass edges of the door(s) and the interior edge of any fixed panel provide a more open look than that of framed doors. The channels connecting the glass panels to the wall and the header provide enough support that 1⁄4-in.-thick glass is sufficiently strong. (Some brands offer a 5⁄16-in.-thick option for a more solid feel.) Because semiframeless shower doors use the same type of metal channel along the walls as framed units do, they are as adept at accommodating out-of-square openings and as effective at containing water in the shower area. Prices run from $175 to several thousand dollars.
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