Solid Surface for a Steam Room Ceiling?

Be cautious, but not scared, about using solid surfacing in a non-warranteed application like a steam room. December 28, 2006

We're doing a shower/steam room that is spec'ed to be solid surface material. We sloped the ceiling and want to know how to permanently affix solid surface material to the ceiling and what options there are for substrate for a steam room environment.

Forum Responses
(Laminate and Solid Surface Forum)
From contributor J:
Be very cautious about any use of solid surface materials in a steam room. Most solid surface warranties will not cover this usage, so be sure to double check with the manufacturer of the material. The extreme temperature variations can cause serious problems. I speak from 22 years of experience with solid surface materials, which are wonderful when used in many places except steam rooms.

From contributor K:
Contributor J, you are right that care should be taken. But it is not scary. Once the coefficient of thermal expansion is used to calculate expected size change, the panels can be installed with room to move.

Also, for ceilings they must be supported throughout because of a minor loss in stiffness which is possible with thermoformable materials. 212 degrees F is at the very bottom of the temperatures where these changes may be seen. With repeated use, however, this may be an issue.

Hard seams are to be avoided because of dissimilar material issues. Solid surface has long been used in surgical suites since it can be steam cleaned. This heat/cool cycle is far more drastic than that in a steam room.

From contributor J:

I am sorry, but I must disagree. Here is a quote from the current warranty language from DuPont Corian, the market leader in solid surface materials:

"This warranty is for countertops, vertical applications, backsplashes, DuPont manufactured sinks and vanities, and does not include uses of Corian® in applications such as, but not limited to, saunas, shower pans, steam rooms or outdoor uses in, including by way of example only, RVs, grill tops, outside counters and boats."

Of course, if a fabricator wants to do an installation without warranty coverage, that is their business, but I believe that such a company has an obligation to disclose the potential problem to their customer. I have personally seen several steam room applications that failed, and I would never install solid surface in a steam room myself.

As for hospital surgical suites, I have some experience in that area as well. As a college student, I worked as a janitor and later supervised crews of janitors at a large hospital in San Francisco. We never used steam to disinfect surgical suites - instead, we applied spray disinfectants and antibacterials at room temperature. Perhaps some hospitals do use steam hoses, but I don't think that it is common practice.

The authoritative source for cleaning procedures for surgical suites is the journal "Infection Control Today". A quick search of their website shows many references to steam sterilization of surgical instruments using an enclosed sterilizer or autoclave, but no reference to steam sterilization of wall surfaces.

Steam lines and fittings, which pass through wall materials, can reach temperatures far higher than 212 degrees. That is where the cracks are likely to start.

From contributor K:
You are absolutely correct about the warranty situation with regard to Corian. Our company is the Corian distributor specific to non-warranty/non-certified applications. Sometimes I am a little oversensitive when solid surface materials are limited to warranty applications.

More than 10% of Corian is successfully used in non-warranty applications including all of the applications you cited. DuPont helped develop many of these applications including cladding office towers in Corian. In fact, there has been a Corian roof on one of the plant's buildings for over 25 years.

As to a sauna/shower situation, none of the traditional materials carry a warranty. Each has its own possibility of failure. I did not consider the universal application of Corian in all saunas. I am sure there are some with pressurized steam pipes which can exceed safe temperatures for solid surface. Of course, considerations must be made in these instances. I was only answering a question regarding a shower/sauna and just the ceiling at that.

I would rather see Corian used in every application possible, by people cognizant of its limitations, than see it limited to kitchen and bath surfacing. If Corian had been introduced as just another material like glass, steel, ceramic and wood it might never have found its way to countertops. It is a shame to be so firmly set in peoples minds as its only application.

I recognize your many years of experience and service to the industry. Thank you for explaining the things I missed in my answer.

From contributor J:
I think that we can end this debate by agreeing the steam room applications require caution and careful planning.

I am familiar with contributor K's business, and I am all in favor of "non-warranty/non-certified" applications of solid surface materials. I designed an innovative solid surface dining room table over 20 years ago. I build solid surface chess boards, which I donate to charity auctions. I've designed jewelry boxes and sculptures.

I also make my living, to a large extent, by fixing problems caused by poor quality solid surface workmanship. If contributor K is a bit oversensitive about limitations on the applications of solid surface materials, then I admit that I am a bit oversensitive about fabrication quality issues. I think that we are both justified in our sensitivities.

From the original questioner:
Thanks to all for your comments. I do understand about the non-warranty installation, however I've seen moisture infiltration and associated problems with most tiled enclosures and steam over time. In this application, we will be installing the solid surface material (with room to move) for a residential shower/steam room. Plenty of ventilation and lots of sealant at the joints. As far as warranties go, most corporate lawyers these days are more concerned with covering the companies' behinds than being creative with various uses of their products. Great dialog and lots of good information.