Acrylic Vs. Gel Coat in Shower Units

Always install shower stalls exactly as directed to avoid plumbing problems and water damage.

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Homeowners often face choices between two unknown quantities. For instance, many pre-fabricated showers fall into one of two categories, acrylic and gel coat. While some of us know that acrylic constitutes a type of plastic, gel coat proves more elusive. To complicate matters, acrylic and gel coat showers contain almost identical compositional materials. The true difference between these two lies in the material differences of their surface coating and how those differences affect the performance and price of a unit.

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The term acrylic refers generically to all acrylic polymers, or plastics made from acrylic acids or derivatives thereof. Pre-fabricated acrylic shower stalls assume one of two forms, those made from reinforced acrylic and those made from fiberglass with an acrylic shell. Manufacturers mold reinforced acrylic units by placing acrylic resin in a vacuum, shaping it and adding a layer of fiberglass to strengthen the unit. Fiberglass units with acrylic shells have a fiberglass interior covered in a layer of acrylic.

Gel Coat Showers

Gel coat refers to fiberglass bathtubs or showers with a layer of gel coating added for protection. These units may contain fiberglass within the gel coat or on top of it to strengthen the surface of the shower. Manufacturers use gel coat because it exhibits a great deal of strength relative to its light weight and easy maneuverability. The material is also inexpensive, making it a suitable material for pre-fabricated, mass-produced shower stalls and bathtubs.

Material Properties

Acrylic and gel coat showers contain many of the same materials – fiberglass, layers of foam insulation and plastics – and exhibit some similar characteristics. Both types of showers resist leaking and the growth of mold. You can easily clean acrylic and gel coat showers and repair them without sacrificing the integrity of the material. The primary differences between the two lie in strength and aesthetic value. Acrylic is eight times thicker than gel coat, providing significantly more strength. It also comes in more colors than gel coat and retains its color longer.

Price and Size

Acrylic showers typically have heftier price tags than their gel coat counterparts. According to an article in “Popular Mechanics,” acrylic showers may cost two to three times as much as gel coat showers. However, acrylic showers contain more elements than gel coat showers. The acrylic molding process allows for the creation of much larger units with more parts because manufacturers can pour acrylic resin into a mold. Fiberglass showers with gel coat exhibit less malleability during the manufacturing process.

ReferencesRenovating a Bathroom; Fine HomebuildingPopular Mechanics Home Improvement Guide; Merle HenkeniusLog Home Living; Tracy Marushak RuffMerriam-Webster Dictionary: AcrylicSafety Tubs: Acrylic vs. FiberglassPhoto Credit BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty ImagesRead Next:

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