A prefabricated surround can quickly give a tub and shower area a fresh look. High-quality units have durable finishes along with convenient niches and towel bars. Make sure the unit you buy has panels with flanges that overlap, so you don't have to cut the panels to fit precisely. If your tub opening is the standard 60 inches wide, you probably won't have to cut at all, except to make holes for the spout and the faucet control or handles.
Acrylic or polystyrene tub surrounds are available in modern, decorative, or retro styles and come in many colors. Though these units are less permanent than tile, they install quickly, are relatively inexpensive, and will last for many years.
Preparing the wall surface
The walls should be smooth and even. Scrape away any peeling paint and patch any cracks or weak spots. Apply primer paint to the walls to ensure a strong bond with the adhesive. It's possible to install the panels over tile, but they will have gaps at the front edges, which must be covered with tile or acrylic.
Several hours to install a solid-surface tub surround
Level, drill, caulk gun (or tube), notched trowel, tape measure, utility knife
Measuring and drilling holes
Clean and prime the walls, close the drain, place a drop cloth in the tub; remove the spout and the faucet control or handles
Tub surround kit, manufacturer's recommended adhesive, tub-and-tile caulk, masking tape, cardboard for a template
Check the instructions for the proper order in which to install the panels. Position and mark the first panel to be installed -- in this case, the center one. Apply adhesive to the area using a notched trowel or caulk gun, as specified by the manufacturer. Apply evenly so the panel will not be wavy.
The panel that will cover the plumbing wall will need holes to accommodate the spout and tub controls. Place the panel on a scrap piece of plywood. Make a template (see next step), then cut holes using a utility knife or drill bits and hole saws of the correct size. Install the end pieces the same way as the back pieces.
The panels can be adjusted before the adhesive hardens, which usually takes about a half-hour from the time it is applied. Apply pieces of masking tape to hold the panels in place and ensure that their top edges form a straight line. (The bottom edges will be caulked, so they can be slightly uneven.)