Frameless vs. Framed Shower Doors

Frameless vs. Framed Shower Doors - Kohler Choreograph Shower Wall Kit Frameless vs. Framed Shower Doors - Kohler Choreograph Shower Wall Kit

If you have decided to opt for a shower door instead of a curtain for your shower or bathtub, you still have a choice to make between framed, frameless and semi-frameless options. In this post, we focus on the most common varieties - framed and frameless shower doors - explain what they are, and highlight some features to help pick the best option for your bathroom.

What are framed shower doors?

A framed shower door features glass panels with metal frames to provide structure and support. Framed shower doors normally feature a metal header (top) and track (channel) that are installed against the shower walls and affixed to the base and in which the doors are hung. The glass used in framed doors is normally thinner than the frameless variety, and ranges from 1/8'' to 1/4''. Framed doors tend to come in common sizes with limited ability to adjust or customize based on the dimensions of your specific installation area. You may also see semi-frameless doors, which have a partial frame and expose at least one edge of glass. Semi-frameless doors still rely on metal to provide additional structural support, though aesthetically offer a more modern look.

What are frameless shower doors?

Frameless shower doors are made with thicker (3/8'' to 1/2'') tempered safety glass and do not need the structural support of metal frames, instead getting their support from metal hinges and installation mounts. By loosing the frame, these doors offer a much cleaner and open look. There are a variety of standard sized frameless door options on the market, though frameless panels are great options for unique spaces as they can be easily customized.

Why buy a frameless or framed shower door?

Framed and frameless doors, or glass enclosures in general, are popular alternatives to shower curtains because they can be easier to clean and maintain, offer a higher end look, and are more effective at keeping water in the shower area. Shower curtains have some other drawbacks as well, including potential health issues from PVC liners, and the fact they can draw in unpleasant cold air while you shower.

What are the differences between frameless and framed shower doors?

Once you've decided on a shower door, you'll need to decide if a framed or frameless enclosure is right for you. Here are some of the key differences to consider:

  • Aesthetics: Frameless doors are popular because of their modern, clean look. Without the frame, they make a bathroom feel more spacious and showcase the tile work in the shower. With framed doors, you sacrifice the simplicity and openness of a frameless door, though you have the opportunity to match the metal finish of the frame to the other finishes in your space for a coordinated look.
  • Installation: For standard spaces, framed doors are relatively simple to install and most do-it-yourselfers can finish the job in a few hours. For frameless doors, greater consideration is needed because of how hinges are anchored to the walls to ensure there is enough support for the heavy duty glass. You also need to take extra care with measurements to make sure the glass is installed with even spacing at walls and joins. Frameless doors offer lots of customization, which make them attractive for unique spaces, though will likely require installation by a professional.
  • Maintenance: Frameless doors are easier to maintain than framed. With frameless doors, replacement parts can easily be sourced from multiple manufacturers and because of the simplicity of the components, can easily be switched out. With framed doors, you will need to find replacement parts from the original manufacturer and, depending on the part, may need to disassemble more of the door to complete the repair. Frameless doors are also easier to clean. Without the frame, there are fewer places for water to collect and mildew to build up, and they can easily be cleaned with a squeegee after each use.
  • Cost: Frameless doors are more expensive to buy ($500+) and are more likely professional installation, whereas framed doors can start as low as $150 and can be a DIY project.

Which should you buy?

Cost is likely the biggest determining factor for most people considering a framed or frameless shower door. When factoring the cost of the door and of installation, a frameless door often is more than two times the cost of a framed door. The increased cost should be considered if you are planning on living in your home for more than five years and trying to maximize your value. If you are making quick improvements to your home and plan to sell, or if you own rental properties, a framed door is an upgrade over a curtain for a modest cost. Semi-frameless doors are a good middle ground, offering some of the aesthetic value of frameless, though at a more reasonable price point ($250 vs. $500). If you have a unique space, a frameless door is going to be your best option as they are much easier to have customized to your specific needs.