Don’t take a bath renewing your tub

Posted by on March 16th, 2016


It’s spring. Outside, gorgeous flowers bloom in all their colorful splendor.

Why does it look a lot more like fall in the bath tub?

Probably because of the long streaks of orange, brown – and maybe even a little pink – left behind by hard water over the years.

If you don’t stay right on top of those stains, all the time, they will become so stubborn not even a magical eraser can remove them.

And they don’t exactly embody a warm invitation to sit, or God forbid, lay back and take a long soak.

When it’s time to throw in the proverbial towel on the deepest bathtub stains, dismayed homeowners still have a few options.

Depending on your budget and expectations, you can refinish, reline or replace that old tub.

Personal preferences, aesthetics, permanence, cost and convenience definitely come into play. The company hired is also of paramount importance.

Make sure to get reliable referrals and check with the Better Business Bureau, especially if an offer seems way out of line with what other companies are charging for the same services.

Refinish and win

Tubs and shower stalls made of cast-iron, steel or fiberglass are all candidates for refinishing – also known as glazing or resurfacing.

A technician deep cleans and sands the tub to repair chips and cracks, then applies a durable epoxy coating. The coating can be matched to your existing color, or be changed.

Different companies use different methods and epoxy for coating the tub, but in general, the bathroom will be out of order for two or three days.

There are do-it-yourself kits for refinishing the bath, but they involve putting the epoxy on with a brush or roller, and don’t look as smooth as having a professional do it. They are not recommended, though they are inexpensive.

Refinishing is also the least expensive professional option, costing between $300 and $1,000.

Re-lining: The perfect cover

The New Kid on the Block is re-lining. Like the band of the same name, the practice has been around since the late 1980s.

This process of custom-fitting a new acrylic cover for your crummy tub and/or shower walls has a few limitations. Freestanding, fiberglass and acrylic tubs can’t be relined.

But most people have walls around their tubs, and many tubs are made with steel or cast-iron, which are the perfect candidates.

The  bathtub re-lining job is relatively speedy and cleanup free. Barring any bizarre occurrence, you can use your bathtub the same day.

A technician takes a series of photos and measurements. A sheet of acrylic is heated and molded off-site to fit your tub. The new tub liner fits right over your old one.

Some companies use generalized sizes within a certain tolerance, others say they can make the mold to fit the tub exactly. Find out which one you hired.

Prep work involves a thorough cleaning. The installation tech may or may not remove existing tile work, depending on cost or preference.

For an extra cost, most relining companies will also design wall liners to fit over the existing walls. Shelves and other amenities are available.

Again, make sure it is a well-respected and established company without a lot of complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau.

By its very nature, re-lining is designed to cover up what is already there. If moisture or mold problems are trapped inside, liners aren’t solving that problem.

Done correctly, the acrylic liner should be sealed tight against any water incursion.

Bathtub liners cost about $1,400, and a nice wall will run about double that.

BEWARE: If you have a house with plumbing installed before 1990, plan to spend another $750 on upgrades. The minimum bid for the whole job is about $$3,500.

Replace the old

New tubs – at least the basic, white models most of us know and love, are relatively inexpensive. Just sitting there in a big box store, a tub looks small and easy to handle.

“And just think of the fun it would be to demolish an old tub” – says many an intrepid do-it-yourselfer.

History tells us a bathtub replacement will not be all fun when the actual work begins.

The thrill of the smashing sledge hammer quickly gives way to the drudgery of removing at least some of the tiles around the tub, and possible tweaks to the flooring, as well.

A new tub also means the fixtures, and likely some of the plumbing, will have to be replaced as well. That’s more work, or – if a contractor is doing it – more money.

Prepare for pieces of drywall, tiles and plenty of dust in the wake of a replacement project. And even if you survive the mess, you still have to move the new tub, and put it in place.

Think a couch is tough to get through doorways and down hallways? You ain’t seen nothing yet. All this while you’re unable to use your bathroom.

Professional bathtub replacement runs as high as $3,000. You can spend a lot less and do it yourself, but the sweat equity will take its toll.

Replacing is an option for the homeowner who thinks resurfacing or re-lining an old tub is like lipstick on a pig. The ugliness is still lurking under the surface, and some people would rather have something glistening and new.

There’s the rub-a-dub

For homeowners ready for a full-scale, long term remodel, replacement is almost certainly the best bet. You’ll get exactly what you want to complete the look you’re going for, a long-term warranty and a brand new bathroom luxury.

But price-conscious homeowners can add years of life to existing tubs by refinishing or re-lining.