What Is a Green, Low Cost, Stylish and Low Maintenance Product for Tub and Shower Enclosures?

Reader Contribution by Jessica Kellner

What is a green, low cost, stylish and low maintenance product for tub and shower enclosures? We’d like to avoid tiles and grout, due to the mold buildup in the grout.  

Suzanne Roberts
Pleasant Hill, California

Well, this is my first go at answering an “ask the expert” question for MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and you’ve come up with quite a doozy! Finding a shower surround that is not tile and meets all of your requirements was tough, but I’ve got a few good suggestions for you:

1. Concrete: A concrete shower surround is going to be quite inexpensive and can look excellent. On the eco-friendliness scale, concrete is middle-of-the-road. You can generally find it locally made and it is low-energy to produce; that is except for the Portland cement, which is energy-intensive to produce. Concrete with fly ash, which replaces a portion of the Portland cement, is much more environmentally friendly, but also more difficult to find. You would have to use some kind of water-proofing finish on concrete, as it becomes porous when it dries and this might run into some more environmental problems. One solution would be to use water-resistant concrete such as Hycrete, which is Cradle-to-Cradle certified, provides LEED points to homes and buildings, and requires no sealant. A Hycrete representative said the product would work fine as a shower surround, but recommended an under-concrete waterproofing membrane to further enhance the product, or to make sure to use a fully waterproof product to seal the joints. My hunch is that a waterproof grout over the joints would work. Another possibility is to use preformed cementboard, such as Minerit Special Performance Board, which comes with a water-insulating layer on both sides of the product. Some of your cost is going to depend on whether you can do the labor yourself or must hire someone to do it.

2. Mortar: Our winner of the Natural Home Bathroom of the Year contest last year had an innovative shower solution: She molded the shower out of red-tinted mortar (much like concrete but with a finer grain) and, after the mortar dried and cracked, sealed the cracks with a soft black grout. The result was a beautiful and durable shower.

3. Recycled plastic: Parkland Plastics out of Indiana produces PLAS-TEX waterproof, fiberglass-free, chemically inert and recyclable shower surround walls made of 95 percent recycled resins and designed for easy installation and low maintenance. They also offer a VOC-free structural sealant for installation.

4. Soapstone: Finally, soapstone is naturally nonporous and makes for a gorgeous shower surround, but it’s going to cost more. Hart Stoneworks in Colorado makes environmentally conscientious soapstone tiles. They will involve grout but much less than traditional tiles because the individual soapstone tiles are quite large.

I hope this helps you find what you are looking for.

Jessica Kellner, managing editor, Natural Home magazine

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