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The Great Debate – Framed or Frameless Showers

Within the shower enclosure world there is a constant debate on what is truly a frameless enclosure. It’s interesting that industry professionals would have different opinions about what is and isn’t frameless.

Technically, the word frameless is synonymous with “heavy glass,” or “European” shower doors. In other words, a shower enclosure that uses glass with a 3/8-inch thickness or greater. European heavy glass shower enclosures come in a variety of configurations and utilize a few different materials for installation. Some have doors that hinge, some have doors that slide, some have doors that roll. There are even frameless enclosures with no doors at all.

The fixed panels in a heavy glass enclosure are secured in different ways. They may be held in place by glass clamps, stand-offs or channels. Materials include aluminum, brass or stainless steel, and some fixed panels sit in a groove, or kerf, engineered into the substrate. This type of installation requires no metal fastener at all, but this is the exception to the rule. There is normally some type of mechanical fastener involved in the installation, and this is where the controversy starts! There are those who feel, very strongly, that enclosures using a channel to secure the panels are not actually frameless. In other words, the channel itself constitutes a frame.

It’s perfectly normal for people to have opinions about this, but they are only opinions. An aluminum U-channel for a frameless enclosure is not a frame. An enclosure that uses channels to hold heavy glass fixed panels in place is still a heavy glass enclosure. Now, I know this is going to make certain people upset, but it’s true. There is no rule that says a frameless fixed panel can’t be held in place by a channel. A header is another extrusion that is sometimes used in the installation of frameless shower enclosures. It adds additional support where needed but is not considered a frame. U-channels and headers are used in frameless enclosures in Europe, where European enclosures originated. That pretty much settles the argument, in my view.

My advice is not to worry. Your European frameless heavy glass shower enclosure may or may not have a channel at the bottom. It is up to you to decide. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. An aluminum channel may be preferable to you for several reasons and may be the only practical application in some situations. Some people prefer the look of a channel to the larger and more bulky brackets. Some feel just the opposite. A channel is likely to do a better job at containing water at the bottom, so if that is something that is crucial you may want to consider it. Most importantly, when all is said and done, you need to be happy with the finished product. As far as I am concerned the matter is settled, but I am always open to dialogue if you have a different point of view.  


Chris Phillips

Chris Phillips

Chris Phillips has deep roots in the glass and glazing industry. His family featured some glaziers (including his dad) and Chris followed their path into the industry. First Chris completed his apprenticeship in Las Vegas in the early 90’s and worked on many of the landmark buildings there including Caesars Palace, The Mirage, The Rio, the Luxor and more. He then started Showcase Shower Door Co. in Santa Cruz, California in 2005. He has personally installed more than one thousand shower installations in his career with that number being added to daily.