When to Choose a Fiberglass Bath Surround
My initial reaction to this question is NEVER! However, I will admit that bath surrounds are useful in some cases.
The first time I saw a bath surround in a million dollar home was in Nashville at a broker open house. The first floor of the house had a lovely white and grey marbled shower with fancy custom vanities. When I walked up the stairs to see the 2nd, 3rd and 4th bathroom I couldn't believe my eyes. Decent granite-topped vanities followed by fiberglass bath surrounds?! What was the list price on this house? Over a million. How are they getting away with this? Do people not realize that this is a product used in mobile homes, not million dollar houses? Maybe it was my background in selling tile or maybe I didn't understand modern homes. This wasn't a house that was built in 1992 and had appreciated due to it's location. No, this home was newly built. WHY? WHY? WHY?
It wasn't until I was showing a home to buyers who wanted an "income property" that I realized the utility in these surrounds. My very logical buyer client pointed out how perfect it was to have the surround since it would be easy to clean after each Airbnb guest left. Ohhhhhhh! My snobbery fell to the side. I've become less judgmental with age and have now come to accept that people have reasons for making decisions and it's not always based on their aesthetic capability.
We can all agree that as long as you're cleaning your own house, the easier and faster it is to clean, the better. Trading in some eye candy for something that requires little cleaning makes sense to busy families. The more grout lines in the bathroom, the more chance mold and water deposits have a chance to make your grout look discolored not to mention potentially hazardous. With shower panels you don't need harsh chemicals to remove such stains. Simply use vinegar to do the job.
Of course, some bath surrounds such as Swanstone cost over $3,000 most surrounds cost less than $1,000 depending on which sort of material you choose. For the DIYer, surrounds may be easier to install than backer board, tile and grout. There are plenty of YouTube videos to show you how to do it.
When to Use Them
There is certainly a place for these simple, practical and occasionally nice-looking surrounds. If you are planning on keeping your home for a while and you don't care about wowing your guests with fancy bathroom design and you just want something that's easy to clean, this is a good choice for you. If you are remodeling your house and want to sell it for the highest price possible, don't use a bath surround (I've never heard a buyer say "Look at this beautiful fiberglass bath surround!") If you want something that is durable, sustainable and will last a lifetime, don't go for fiberglass or acrylic, go for solid surface surrounds that will not crack or bend and can stand up to use.