As a relatively new product in the shower market, Wetwall waterproof shower wall panels are an increasingly popular choice for bathroom remodeling. However, when it comes to installation, many homeowners and even contractors are confused about how to install these products properly. Currently, one of the most common questions homeowners ask is whether or not it is acceptable to install Wetwall shower panels directly over the drywall.
As a design-build remodeling firm based in Portland, Oregon, our team at Lamont Bros. Design & Construction regularly installs Wetwall shower wall panels on our remodeling projects. Having been through this process several times, our team of remodeling experts is uniquely qualified to provide insights on best practices when installing Wetwall shower panels.
In this article, we’ll address the question of whether or not you should install Wetwall panels over drywall. After reading this article, you’ll have a better understanding of installation best practices when it comes to Wetwall shower panels and be able to decide on your bathroom remodel. The specific topics we’ll cover include:
- Overview of Wetwall Panels & their Composition
- Wetwall Manufacturer’s Installation Recommendations
- Pros & Cons of Installing Wetwall over Drywall
What is Wetwall and How is it Made?
Wetwall is a type of paneling that is used in bathrooms, showers, and wet rooms to waterproof the walls. This type of wall covering is an alternative to tile or fiberglass, offering a range of designs that can mimic the look of tiles, marble, stone, or even wood.
Wetwall panels are designed to be waterproof. They are manufactured using a core material made of wood and plastic with a decorative outer layer. The panels themselves come with click-together tongue and groove edges, so the panels interlock with one another. This ensures that they can withstand exposure to water without the risk of damage or decay that you might find with traditional wall materials.
Is it Safe to Install Wetwall Over Drywall?
Many homeowners and contractors hesitate to install Wetwall directly on top of the drywall. The concern is mainly due to the properties of drywall and what happens if it gets wet.
What is drywall?
Drywall is a type of building material used to cover walls and ceilings. It is composed of a layer of gypsum, a naturally occurring mineral, sandwiched between two layers of heavy paper.
The reason that moisture is a concern with drywall is because the gypsum used to make it is porous and can absorb water. This can cause the drywall to swell and deteriorate. Furthermore, prolonged exposure to water can cause drywall to develop mold and mildew, which can pose health risks.
Is Drywall Normally Used as a Backer for Waterproof Surfaces?
Generally speaking, drywall is not used as a backer for waterproof surfaces. Typically this is because it is either not necessary or not waterproof enough.
For example, fiberglass shower inserts typically sit upon bare studs rather than a layer of drywall. This is because the fiberglass inserts are installed into a new home before the drywall, and need to be fastened to studs for structural security.
In cases involving tile, there needs to be a waterproof substrate underneath the tile. Grout is often not waterproof, and grout lines are prone to leaking as they age. As a result, tile showers need a waterproof backer to prevent water from seeping into the wall or floor structure. Also, a waterproof backer provides a solid, flat surface for tile adhesion, ensuring the longevity and integrity of the tile installation. Products like Hydro-Blok and Schluter are common substrates used for waterproofing showers.
What is the Manufacturer’s Recommendation for Installing Wetwall?
According to Wetwall’s manufacturer, it is safe to install Wetwall over drywall. Unlike tile, the Wetwall material itself is waterproof and does not require a waterproof backer underneath it.
One of the major selling points for Wetwall is that it can be safely and quickly installed over existing surfaces. Wilsonart, the manufacturer of Wetwall, explains it like this:
“Our patented tongue-and-groove panels fit and lock into existing spaces to quickly go over various substrates — gypsum (sheetrock), greenboard, fiberboard, cement or concrete board, plaster and of course, even tile.”
According to the installation instructions, Wetwall can be installed over drywall as long as the Wetwall panels are installed correctly. This includes applying a sealant to all of the corners, joints, and seams within the shower.
Should I Install Wetwall Over Drywall in My Bathroom?
Just because the manufacturer says you can install Wetwall over drywall doesn’t mean it’s always the best course of action. Ultimately, the decision on how your Wetwall panels are installed comes down to how much risk you want to take.
In many cases, contractors will treat Wetwall or similar products like a tile job. They will incorporate a waterproof backer as a redundancy to ensure that the shower remains waterproof even if the panels leak. However, this can add significant material and labor costs to a project.
To better understand whether or not you should install Wetwall on top of drywall in your own home, consider the pros and cons.
Advantages of Installing Wetwall over Drywall
When considering Wetwall for your bathroom, you might choose to install it over drywall for these reasons:
Installing Wetwall over Drywall can save you a lot of money in labor and material costs. Waterproof backer boards like Hydro-Blok can be up to 8 times more expensive than drywall per square foot. By using drywall as a backer for your Wetwall shower, your contractor won’t have to charge you demolition and installation costs to remove the drywall and replace it with a waterproof substrate.
The manufacturers of Wetwall products officially approve drywall as a suitable backer, as long as their specialized sealants and adhesives are used to install the panels.
The process of using drywall as a backer for Wetwall simplifies the installation process, particularly in scenarios where drywall is already used in the rest of the bathroom, eliminating the need for additional tools or materials.
Disadvantages of Installing Wetwall Over Drywall
Although approved by the manufacturer, installing Wetwall over drywall may be a risky decision. Here are some reasons why you might not want to do it:
Potential Risk of Water Damage
If the Wetwall sealant fails, water could potentially permeate the drywall, leading to structural damage and potential health risks associated with mold and mildew.
Lack of Redundancy
Drywall doesn’t provide an additional layer of waterproofing, which goes against the principle of redundancy in construction, particularly in areas exposed to water.
Many professionals in the construction industry may not be comfortable with the idea of drywall as a backer for wet areas because of the risks associated with water damage. An installer may refuse to warranty their work if they are not confident in the installation method.
Want to Learn More About Bathroom Remodeling?
After reading this article, you should be more confident in your understanding of Wetwall and how it is installed. With this information, you can decide whether or not you want to install your Wetwall panels over the existing drywall or have a new backer installed, as well. Now, take the next step in your bathroom remodeling research. To learn more about bathroom design, remodeling, and products, download our free Bathroom Remodel Buyer’s Guide.
Ready to start the process of remodeling your bathroom with the help of top renovation experts? If so, click the link below to schedule a free consultation with a member of our design team. We’ll help you navigate the process of remodeling your bathroom so you never have to face the challenges alone.