DEAR TIM: Can you help me sort out things as I try to make up my mind about bathtubs? My bathtub is a mess, and a friend told me to consider bathtub refinishing. I went online and discovered that bathtub reglazing might not be the wisest thing for me. I’ve always wanted a clawfoot bathtub, but maybe it’s not too practical. To further complicate things, there is a possibility that my mother may come to live with me. Perhaps I should be looking at walk-in bathtubs. It’s so tough making a decision. I’m floundering. Nancy W., Memphis, TN
DEAR NANCY: You have the home-improvement disease paralysis by analysis. It’s very common, and many of my clients contracted it. In fact, the fear of the disease stops many from even starting a project because they are overwhelmed with making hundreds of decisions about every item that might be used in the new house or the remodeling job.
I would suggest that you first stop and think about what the real prospects are that your mother will come to stay with you. That, in my opinion, is the primary variable in this discussion about bathtubs and showers. Even if you plan this remodel job around her, I feel you may have all sorts of options and will be able to a get a tub that provides lots of bathtub safety as well as good looks.
My own mother used walk-in bathtubs later in life. She loved all of them. I had this fear that they would never seal correctly and leak. That never happened, so I’m a believer in these wonderful tubs that allow people to walk in, close the swinging door, sit down and enjoy a soothing tub bath.
Don’t overlook another option you have. You can get bathtub liners that fit over your existing tub. Most of these are acrylic bathtubs that fit inside your existing tub. Frequently you get the entire system which includes new sidewalls made from the same material. Understand that the inner dimensions of the tub will get slightly smaller as the bathtub liner needs to nest inside your existing tub. This solution offers minimal mess as there is no or minimal demolition.
I can understand your hesitation about bathtub resurfacing. Some companies mislead, in my opinion, when they call it reglazing. A true glaze is a clear ceramic coating that’s fired onto the tub at high temperature. The glaze becomes a thin layer of glass. The bathtub reglazing that I’ve seen advertised is really just high-performance bathtub paint. It’s not as hard or durable as the original glaze from the factory. You may also have peeling issues down the road. Do extensive online research before choosing this path.
If you decide that your mother may not be coming, then you have all sorts of options. Think about a major remodeling that might allow you to use one of the elegant corner bathtubs. They sure can make a bathroom interesting. I recently took an existing platform tub and made it into a corner bathtub that has a granite shelf surrounding it. A creative designer or remodeling contractor can help you with ideas like this.
Be sure to give cast-iron bathtubs a serious look. I have two of these in my existing home, and plan to put them in a new home I’m building. I love the feel of cast iron and when you insulate around them, hot water will stay hot in the tub for a very long time. I always pack fiberglass batts around the tub after it’s installed. My past customers thanked me for doing this easy task that only took about five minutes often using scrap insulation that otherwise might have been discarded.
Be sure to look at tubs that are not standard sized. You can get tubs that are slightly wider than normal, deeper than normal and longer than those you might have grown up in. To see these, you may have to visit a plumbing showroom at a business that just sells plumbing supplies. You’ll never see all the options at a home center. I know of a plumbing dealer that has about 20 tubs on the showroom floor, all of which you can climb into to test drive. I suggest leaving your clothes on though as there are no shades on the plate-glass windows!
Be sure to install a new bathtub faucet and a complete drain system if you tear out the old tub. These extra items are well worth the cost, as you don’t want to hassle with this bathroom fixture once this job is over. Now is the time to make this part of your home maintenance free for many years.
Take the time to read the written installation instructions once you’ve made your decision about what tub you’ll use. I urge you to do this because it will allow you to do a great interview of the contractor you’ll use. Ask questions about the installation process making sure the contractor knows exactly how the tub should be supported and any special installation steps that must be taken to ensure the warranty is valid.