Go Tub-Less: Dump Your Tub for a Roomy Shower?

Changing your bathtub to a shower is trending ... is it right for you? Here’s a few things to consider.

If you’re thinking of converting your bathtub to a shower, you’re in good company. The American Institute of Architects says that the tub-less bathroom is growing in popularity.

Its annual Home Design Trends Survey found that more than 65% of homeowners preferred a stall shower without a tub in 2016. Compare that to 44% in 2012, the first year they specifically surveyed about tub-less bathrooms.

However, there’s a caveat: Even if you only use your tub to wash the mini-blinds, most real estate agents are adamant about having at least one bathtub in your house to preserve marketability.

A recent Houzz poll agrees, with 58% of respondents claiming, “you’ll never sell that house without a tub.”

The conclusion? Go ahead and convert your old tub or tub/shower combo into a cool, walk-in shower, as long as one other bathroom in your house has a tub for tasks such as bathing small children or if you have room in the master for both, a walk in shower and a freestanding bathtub.   

Do You Need to Relocate Your Shower?

If you’re planning a simple conversion (not a full bathroom makeover), then your project is straightforward.

If your old tub is in an alcove, (a long back wall and two shorter side walls) you can remove it and be left with a space that’s about 30 to 42 inches deep and 5 feet wide — a good space for a shower. With minor modifications, your water supply and drain lines will already be in place, saving you money on plumbing costs.

If you have a free-standing tub, a bit more planning may be involved. Many free-standing tubs are positioned under or near windows — and you may want to avoid large windows in your new shower enclosure.

That means putting your shower in a different location. But you’ll want to have it as close as possible to the existing water supply and drain lines to keep plumbing costs low. Moving plumbing to a new location can add hundreds of dollars to your project.

Will Your Dream Shower Fit?

Most building codes say the floor of a shower stall should be at least 30-inches-by-30 inches. A 36-inch-by-36-inch-wide stall is the minimum recommended by the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA). If you’re building to the NKBA standards, an existing tub alcove probably needs modification — such as adding short sections of wall — to make the finished shower space 36 inches deep.

  • Finished ceiling height: At least 80 inches.
  • Distance from side of toilet to shower wall: 15 inches minimum measured from the center of the toilet to the wall; 18 inches is recommended.
  • Distance from front of toilet to shower wall (or any wall): 21 inches minimum measured from the front of the toilet bowl to the wall; 30 inches is recommended.
  • Shower door swing: Should clear all obstructions, especially the toilet and vanity cabinet. Sliding glass doors or shower curtains can help solve door swing problems.

Tear-Out Tips

Removing your old tub might not be simple. If it’s cast-iron, you’ll need some muscle to get it out of way. If it’s in good condition, you could sell it online or donate it to a ReStore outlet. Intact tile and any fixtures also can be donated or sold to stores that sell salvaged building materials.

During tear-out, you should:

  • Evaluate the condition of existing pipes and replace if necessary.
  • Check framing and subfloor for mold, mildew and rot and repair as needed.
  • Make sure your shower valve is in good condition — now is the time to upgrade to a pressure-balancing valve that controls temps and volume ($200 to $900).

The Shower Floor: Curbs height

The floor of your shower (aka the shower pan) has a lot to say about the style and cost of your conversion. You have a choice of two basic types of pan: one corrals water with curbs that you step over as you enter; the other is curbless.

Shower pans with curbs form a complete enclosure to contain water spray and channel it to a drain. The floor of the shower pan has the proper pitch to drain water. Showers with curbs are usually easier — and cheaper — to install than curbless installations.

Curbless shower stalls (aka barrier-free showers) are very popular but trickier to make — the drainage slope of the floor has to be built below the level of the surrounding flooring surface. That means either raising the level of the surrounding floor, or lowering the shower pan.

If you raise the bathroom floor, it’ll be higher than any other floor that it meets, such as the floor of your master bedroom. You’ll need a transition threshold and ramp if you need a wheelchair accessible shower.

What are the Options?

Tile or Stone Showers are costly option. They’re typically made of porcelain tile of a natural stone like marble or travertine, and require a hot mopped shower pan, extensive wall preparation and custom glass. In addition to taking nearly a month to install tile and stone showers can be costly, the average is nearly $15,000 with materials and a contractor.

Shower stall kits are low-cost options. They’re typically made of acrylic or fiberglass, and include pre-made sides, a lightweight floor pan with curbs and a drain hole, and ¼” hinged glass door. They’re made to fit into corners and old bathtub alcoves. Individual pieces make kit installation fast and relatively easy. The shower pan has curbs to contain water and a built-in slope for drainage. They are typically not the most attractive option, however if it is function you are looking for this is an option.

Solid Surface Mosaic Tile Shower Kits are pre-built to look like hand set natural stone an mosaic tile showers built on site with all of the installation benefits of a shower stall.  This an option that gives you the best of both worlds, the high-end hand-made look and feel, ease of installation, usually just a few hours, and at a fraction of the cost of a tile or stone shower. In addition to the obvious cost benefit they are also much easier to clean than the natural stone showers or fiberglass stalls.

The curbs typically are considered barrier free so are 6” high or less and have options like niches for shampoo, small shelves, soap dishes, shaving steps and benches.


What’s the Cost?

Warren Buffet said it very clearly, “Cost is what you pay, Value is what you get.” It is as important when buying and installing a shower as any other home improvement purchase because it is something that is only done every 10 or 15 years, so if you invested an extra $1,000 to get your “dream shower” rather than a “functional shower” it would cost you just $5 per month more. I don’t know about you but for me a great shower experience every day is worth much more than the cost of a cup of coffee each month.

In Closing, Some Fun Shower Facts:

  • 42% of Americans pee in the shower.
  • 52% sing in the shower (the most-sung tune: “Singin’ In The Rain”).
  • 53% prefer to shower in the morning; 29% shower in the evening.
  • 7% claim they never shower or take a bath — ever. YUCK!

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