Replacing bathtub no easy task Removing fixture can be expensive

Homework

November 10, 1996|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

THE BIGGIST headache in remodeling a bathroom -- literally and figuratively -- is the tub.

It's a big brute of a thing that may be quaint (claw feet), ugly (no charm, no feet) or merely outdated (pink). But whatever it is now, it was installed to stay.

Randy and a client have been wrestling with the problem in a bath remodel: Do you keep the old tub, if you sort of like it, or do you replace it? And what about having it recoated -- is that effective?

By coincidence, an e-mail correspondent from Ellicott City dealing with the same issues wrote for advice:

"I'm about to remodel our bathroom, doing all the work myself. It contains a 1950-vintage cast-iron tub (not on feet). It's a great tub -- we like the solid feel and quietness of cast iron -- but the porcelain finish has become dingy and pitted over the years. Should we:

"Keep the tub in place and refinish it? We've heard conflicting advice that refinishing is either a terrific solution, or nothing more than automotive enamel (paint) that won't last long. Is one product better than another?

"Replace it with a solid new tub such as the Americast line, which is not tinny-sounding like steel but is lighter than cast iron?

"Bite the bullet and wrestle in place a heavy cast-iron tub?"

There is not, alas, one right answer -- and certainly not one that works for everybody. But here are some things to consider as you make your decision.

Bathtubs are among the first fixtures installed when a house is built. They go in before drywall is installed and finished, before doors are hung, before stairway landings and railings and before all of the other house parts that can get in the way of a new tub being hauled in the front door.

Sometimes it's impossible in a finished house to make the turns required to get a tub into the bathroom without making major and expensive changes to walls and doors, said Robin Bryan Culver of Bryan Heating and Plumbing Inc. She recalled customers' getting a new tub as far as an adjoining room -- and not being able to get it any farther.

The way tubs are put in also poses a problem in replacing them. Tubs are installed over the plywood sub-floor against stud walls. Most tubs have a flange that is secured to the studs. Then drywall is installed to the top of the flange and tile is set over the flange. The floor and finish flooring are installed against the bottom of the tub, which means the tub is recessed a bit, effectively locking it to the floor.

You can get an old tub out -- they can be torn apart with a maul (cast iron) or a saw (steel), and the pieces removed.

But you can't cut up a new tub to get it into the space.

You might want to consider some alternatives: It's pretty easy to get a shower base through any door, so you might switch to a shower enclosure instead of a tub. A good fiberglass base is not expensive, and the tile work is not that complicated.

You might also consider refinishing the old tub.

According to Debbie Walter, of R&R Porcelain Refinishing, it costs about $225 to refinish a tub in white. They also can refinish it in any color, and can refinish sinks and tile to match. (They don't do existing toilets, but if you buy a new one in white they will refinish that to match other colored fixtures.)

R&R uses a spray-on synthetic porcelain polymer. Workers mask off the entire room, then etch the tub to make the surface porous, so the new finish will bond to it. They then repair any nicks or dents so the finish coat will be smooth. The surface is treated to two coats of primer and three of the polymer. The tub will be out of commission for about 48 hours, then can be used as usual.

Walter said most of the tubs they refinish are about 20 years old, and that if the new surface is properly cared for, it could last another 10 to 20 years. "Proper" care means always using nonabrasive cleaners. And it probably means that you wouldn't want to recoat a tub that gets heavy use (or abuse), such as in a children's bathroom.

If you decide to replace the tub, measure to make sure the new tub will fit, and that it will go around the walls and through the doors to get where it needs to be (hint: Turn it on end).

There are a number of choices in new tubs, said Harvey Stein, a sales associate at Schumacher & Seiler in Timonium. Here are some: The oldest type is cast iron. It provides a high degree of sound deadening, retains heat well and can be very comfortable. However, it usually weighs more than 300 pounds and is cold to the touch when you first settle in. Cost: about $350.

Americast, mentioned by the e-mail correspondent, is a brand name of American Standard; other companies, such as Bootz Plumbingware of Evansville, Ind., also make this type of tub, Stein said. The weight is only about 120 pounds, making it easier to handle, and has good heat retention. Cost: about $300.

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