Saturday, 26 January 2013

Out with the with the new

Dear Joe,

I have a grungy old cast iron tub in my small bathroom.  It’s scratched and gross and I can’t get it clean.  I want to replace it but I don’t have the money to redo my whole bathroom.  Is it possible to replace it without going through the expense of redoing the whole room?  Any advice you have would be great, and could you give me an idea as to how much it might cost?  Thank you very much,




Thanks for the great question.  The short answer is yes, it is possible.  But you have multiple options when considering a bathtub retrofit and some of them may be possible, and some may not.  It depends on the layout of your bathroom and your budget. 

As far as pricing goes, the cost of a new tub will range from $150 for an enamel steel model to over $2000 for a high end 3 piece acrylic built in unit.  Labour rates are going to vary from contractor to contractor, as will the quality of the installation.  For average priced material (say $1500) look to spend about the same on labour.  Now the labour should be about the same across the board, unless you get into ceramic tile or something custom.  Make sure you use a contractor you have experience working with. This will make the renovation process painless and stress free.  If you don’t have a contractor you trust, get referrals from people you trust so you don’t venture blindly into a dirty, stressful, costly situation.

Depending on the size and layout of the bath, getting a new tub into position can be quite difficult as most old bathrooms where constructed only wide enough to accommodate a built in tub.  The tub was installed prior to the plasterwork being installed, thus, you now have a room that is 2 inches too narrow to remove the old and install the new tub.  Getting the old one out is the easy, if very noisy, part.  Cast iron as strong and flexible as it is, is as brittle as glass.  Pull out your sledge hammer and bust it up into manageable sized pieces, and haul it away.  Now you have a hole fit for a tub.  The trick will be slipping the new tub in without damaging the walls, floor or other fixtures in the bathroom.  With some strength, patience and a little bit o’lube, you should be able to maneuver the new unit into place.  If the bathroom is really small a new tub and an acrylic tub surround or ceramic tile surround may be your only option for replacement.  If you have a bit more wiggle room then consider a built in tub-shower.  They’re definitely more difficult to install but they are much easier to maintain.

Whenever it’s reasonable, I always advocate for a more cost effective, ecologically sensitive and simpler solutions to problems like yours.  There are a couple other options you may wish to explore.  Firstly, cast iron tubs are the most durable and comfortable bathing implements ever made.  When you can save one from the scrap yard you’re always doing yourself a service.  These great old fixtures are candidates for refinishing.  There are myriad companies out and about that do nothing but refinish old tubs and tiles.  Consider having one of these guys come in and apply a new finish to your old faithful.  Granted nothing will ever match the durability of the original enamel but you will have a tub that looks like new, performs better than anything that you’ll ever replace it with (except another cast iron tub) and at a fraction of the cost.  Look to spend under $1000 to have this done.  You can also find tub liner companies who will come to your home, install a custom fit acrylic liner and skirt to your existing tub complete with matching tub surround.  Speaking from experience, this is a great affordable option and gets you a nice clean finish, comparable to a replacement acrylic tub at a fraction of the cost.  Look to spend under $1000 for this service as well.

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