The Shower Door Company

Get on track with a modern, frameless shower door

By Mary Beth Breckenridge
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Sunday, April 15, 2001

If you associate the word grunge more with your shower door track than your musical preferences, chances are both you and the shower door are getting up there in years.

Luckily, you can at least do something about the door.

Shower door manufacturers have improved their products to reduce or eliminate the places where water, mildew and other gunk can build up, making the doors easier to clean and maintain.

That doesn't mean form has given way to function, though. More than ever, shower doors are making a style statement, too.

You might be surprised at the choices swinging doors and sliders, doors with frames and doors without, clear glass and a whole slew of patterned types. Remember when your only decision was whether to go with the plain aluminum frame or the gold-toned one? Now you can buy a shower door to match your new brushed-nickel faucet or even the teal in your wallpaper.

The newest look is the frameless door, a European import that dealers say is catching on fast in the United States. Tony Kunkle of Akron Shower Door, a custom door maker in North Hill, Ohio, credits that to the increase in lavishly appointed bathrooms and their owners' reluctance to obscure those show-stopping shower walls.

Frameless enclosures are typically made of clear, heavy glass up to a half-inch thick to which hinges and other hardware are attached directly. Without frames around the glass panels, there's less to clutter the view.

"It helps the divisions between the panels to disappear," says Randy Cohen of Waterloo Home Supply in Akron. "It's a cleaner look, easier to clean around."

Frank Bush of Accent Bathroom & Kitchen Concepts, a construction and remodeling business in Akron that specializes in bathrooms, estimates that 25 percent of the shower doors he sells nowadays are frameless.

They're not without their drawbacks, he says: For one thing, the clear glass demands vigilant upkeep to keep water spots and soap scum from showing. For another, the lack of a frame means there's no gasket between panels or at the door edge to keep water from escaping, although invisible tape can be applied to some joints to stop leaks. Bush says the manufacturers he deals with won't warrant their frameless doors against leaks, although he's never had a customer complain.

Frameless enclosures can also carry a hefty price tag. Waterloo Supply's prices can run as high as $5,000 or $6,000, Cohen says; Kunkle's most expensive enclosure ever was $6,900.

Frameless models may be the trend-setters among shower doors, but framed types remain the old reliables and many of them have changed for the better.

The newer doors have fewer components that need to be cleaned and maintained, and some have gaskets that are less subject to mildew, Cohen says.

One of the biggest improvements is the elimination of the channeled track that sliding shower doors used to ride on, which tended to fill with water and slime. "It had a (drainage) hole there, but it was always plugged up," Bush says.

Most manufacturers have replaced the track with an easy-to-clean, sloping strip. Small plastic guides are attached to the strip to keep the sliding doors in place.

Swinging doors often come with drip rails, channels at the bottom of the doors that catch runoff when the doors are open. A drip rail should be designed to direct the water back to the shower rather than trapping it, Cohen says.

Bush says the rollers on sliding doors have improved, too. Many manufacturers are using harder materials so the wheels won't wear out as fast, and they also roll more easily and stay on the track better, he says.

Another simple but useful change: Many manufacturers have added plastic stops to their sliding doors, so it's impossible to switch the doors' position. That ensures that the doors always overlap the correct way and water doesn't get through the gap, Cohen says.

In addition to the standard two-door slider, an array of door styles are on the market, including triple sliding doors, which allow access to two-thirds of the tub or shower stall instead of just half; doors that pivot on a point that can be adjusted along the overhead rail; and bifold doors that take up less space when they're opened.

The doors have an updated look, too. Cincinnati-area door manufacturer Basco, for example, has 16 frame color choices, including raspberry, teal, rose and red as well as three types of nickel finishes.

Glass styles are also varied. Consumers can choose from several types of mirrored, tinted, etched and patterned glass along with clear glass, or they can have the glass etched with a design.

Tempered glass, the type that's used in automobile windows, is used in most shower doors now. It's safer than standard glass because it breaks into tiny cubes rather than shards.

Anodized aluminum is pretty much standard on all but the cheapest doors, the dealers say. Anodization is an electrolytic process that creates a hard coating on the aluminum, which won't pit or allow the color to come off.

Powder coating is often used for colored frames to create a hard finish, Kunkle says. He recommends avoiding painted doors, however, because they can chip easily.

All those choices in glass types and frame colors can add up, though. Prices range from $457 all the way to $1,635, depending on the glass and frame color.

That can come as a shock to his customers, he says. "They tend to fall in love with a certain glass and a certain frame color, until they find out the price."

Shower door prices can start at less than $100, although all the dealers caution that a cut-rate door may be no bargain. Try out the door to make sure it opens and closes easily and feels solid, they say.

Bush recommends checking the warranty. Some of the better doors carry an unlimited lifetime warranty, he says a pretty good indication that the door is built to last.

The fewer parts and joints a door has, the better, Kunkle says. That means fewer elements to wear out and fewer places for mold and mildew to build up.

Imagination Becomes Reality

Imagine the perfect bathroom. What would it be like? Would it include an elegant (dare we say extravagant) all glass shower? It's easy to imagine, and with AArtistic Frameless Showers, easy to make a reality. The variety of our product line includes over 23 distinct series of hinges that can complement any décor. Complementary hardware, such as pull handles, knobs, towel bars, glass clamps, channels, mirrors, and mirrored accessories make make just about anything you imagine possible.