So what are the differences between the three? Well believe it or not it's actually as simple as what their name is. I'll cover the three different types and what the main differences are and give examples of each in this blog. Let's get to it.
Framed Shower Doors
These are the most common ones you will find in big box stores. They're generally a universal type of door that will fit a range of opening sizes. They can be either bypass sliding doors (top left and middle), a single sliding door with one fixed panel (top right), or a hinged style door with or without a fixed panel (bottom middle). These are also going to be the least expensive option of the three and also the most easily accessible. Many years ago there were very limited options of what was available for shower doors and so you ended up with those typical chrome or brass colored frames with an opaque style glass (bottom right picture) and that was about it. Those are usually the ones that we end up taking out when we do a remodel. Nowadays they have several options available and some of them are very nice looking and of higher quality as well.
Most of them will have multiple finish options. Usually a satin nickel, oil rubbed bronze, and chrome. Some will even have a few more finishes to choose from. On top of that, a lot of them will have different glass options available. From frosted, clear and a few other choices, you should be able to find one you like. Some of the downsides to this type of shower door is the fact that they are universal size, have thinner glass, usually between 3/16 and 1/4 inch and appear to be more closed off and make the shower look smaller. The problem with universal sizes is that if you're opening is on the smaller size of the range the doors will overlap quite a bit and it won't quite look right (like the bottom left picture). As you can see in the picture, this door overlaps quite a bit. It also cuts down on the opening that you have available to get in and out of the bathtub or shower. Some of the nicer framed shower doors have a smaller range. Some have as little as two inches of adjustment. So for example, you may have a shower door that fits in an opening of 58 to 60 inches. Those are a better option compared to some of the least expensive options that may have a 4 to 5 inch spread. The cost for framed shower doors can be anywhere from $150 all the way up to $800 depending on the brand and design. Most framed shower doors are going to average around $350 for materials and cost about $300 to install them.
Semi-frameless Shower Doors
Semi-frameless shower doors can also be found in big box stores but are more commonly made in custom glass shops. They come the same as framed shower doors which are sliding bypass doors, single sliding door with a fixed panel and swinging door with or without fixed panels. The glass on these shower doors are typically 3/8 to 1/2 inch thick and tempered glass as well. They come in multiple finishes as well as different styles of handles. Additional options can include towel bars and hooks. The store-bought doors are also going to be a universal size and are most commonly bypass style doors. They will have multiple finishes available but you will not be able to select different styles of handle or any options. The difference between a Framed door and Semi-Frameless door can be seen in the before and after picture below. It's quite a difference!
There are a few semi-frameless hinged doors in the big box stores but they're not very common. Most of the semi-frameless style doors are going to be custom made to fit the opening of the shower itself allowing for a perfect fit and tight tolerances, as little as 1/16 inch in some cases. The benefits of semi-frameless vs Frameless shower doors is they have the same minimal look of a frameless shower door but have greater stability. Oftentimes because of the design of the shower you have to go with a semi-frameless design. An example of this would be a shower with a outside corner. You can see this in the picture above with the attached tub (bottom right). With semi-frameless shower doors your imagination is the limit. These are typically the doors that we install when we do custom bathroom remodeling. Prices on shower doors are greatly determined by the design of the door and enclosure itself. But typically start at around $1000 for a door and panel. If you have a large shower with multiple panels they can cost as much as $2,000. Installation cost can be between $600 and $1000 depending on the difficulty of the installation.
Frameless Shower Doors
Frameless shower doors are pretty much going to be a single glass hinged style door. These are commonly found on smaller showers or showers with a smaller opening to get in and out of it but they can also be installed on bathtubs as a splash guard. They usually consist of the glass door itself, two hinges and a handle. Sometimes you have a fixed panel next to the door but typically it's just the shower door itself. These doors, like the semi-frameless, are going to come in 3/8 or 1/2 inch thick tempered glass. They come in a multitude of finishes for the hinges and handles as well as different styles of handles. The benefits are that they are very clean looking and give the most view in and out of the shower and place a greater emphasis on design when creating your custom shower.
Because frameless doors are typically just doors themselves the cost is actually usually less, most doors will run between $500 and $750. Installation of a single door usually runs around $400 - $500.
One final thought on shower doors. Many of them now come with some type of aftermarket coating that prevents water streaks. I highly recommend you getting a door with this type of coating applied. It will make your life much easier when it comes to cleaning. So there you have it, the break down of shower doors. I hope you found this helpful. Let me know if it was.