Refinish or replace the bathtub?

By Tim Carter
Saturday, December 5, 2009

Q: My bathtub is a mess, and a friend told me to consider refinishing. I read online that bathtub re-glazing might not be the wisest thing. 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 will come live with me, so perhaps I should be looking at walk-in bathtubs. -- Nancy W., Memphis

A: You have the home improvement disease known as "paralysis by analysis." It's quite common. In fact, just the fear of having to decide among hundreds of choices stops many people from even starting a project.

I would suggest that you think first about the real prospects that your mother will come to stay with you. That is the primary variable. Even if you plan this remodel job around her, you may have all sorts of options and will be able to a get a tub that provides safety as well as good looks.

Walk-in tubs allow people to walk in, close the swinging door, sit down and enjoy a soothing bath. My mother used walk-in bathtubs later in life, and she loved all of them. I had a fear that they would leak, but that never happened, and the experience left me a believer.

Don't overlook another option: liners. Most of these are acrylic bathtubs that fit inside your existing tub. Understand that the inner dimensions of the tub will get slightly smaller. This solution offers minimal mess, as there is no or minimal demolition.

I can understand your hesitation about bathtub resurfacing. Some companies mislead when they call it re-glazing. 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 re-glazing 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 down the road. Do extensive research before choosing this option.

If you determine that your mother is unlikely to move in, you have all sorts of options. Think about a major remodeling that would allow you to use an elegant corner bathtub. These sure can make a bathroom interesting. I recently took a platform tub and made it into a corner bathtub with 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 house 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 for a very long time. I always pack fiberglass batts around these tubs after they're installed.

You should also think about tubs that are not standard size. You can get models that are slightly wider than normal, deeper than normal and longer than those you might have grown up with. To see these models, you may have to visit a plumbing supply showroom, as you'll never see all the options at a home center.

Tim Carter is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. He can be contacted via his Web site at

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