Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Standing under a walk-in shower is great, but sometimes all you need after a long day is a relaxing, warm soak in a comfortable tub. If you’ve been thinking about converting one of your walk-in showers to a tub, you’re not alone.
Converting a walk-in shower to a bathtub is a remodeling project that requires proper planning and execution. The process begins with evaluating your current bathroom space and progresses to choosing designs that align with the current dimensions. The project can be completed in a week.
This guide will cover everything you need to know about converting your walk-in shower to a tub, the benefits, the costs of the project, and more. You’ll also learn about choosing the right contractor for the job.
Can You Convert a Walk-In Shower to a Bathtub?
You may be wondering if it’s possible to convert your walk-in shower to a bathtub in the first place. In simple terms, you can do it. However, it will come down to a few factors. How much space do you have for the project? If you have adequate space—as is usually the case in properties with walk-in showers— the project will be easier to accomplish. Where space is at a premium, the conversion will be harder to do.
Space is an important part of this discussion because you need enough of it to take an average-sized bathtub. Most of these are around 30 inches wide and 60 inches long, so you’ll need to be sure that the space for the conversion will work.
If you don’t have space, you can either rethink the project or request a custom-sized tub to make it work. However, even customized options may still fail to fit into space adequately. This is why professional consultation is important at the start of this project. The expert will give you a recommendation on the type of bathtubs that can fit a space—if any.
The project will also require adjusting your plumbing to ensure it is compatible with the bathtub to be installed. The adjusting process may require some digging in the shower area, especially if the bathroom is connected to your heating system. This is why you’re likely to need a permit for this conversion, as many states consider it as a bathroom remodeling project.
The technicalities involved in the project and how complicated it can get is why this is rarely a DIY project. You’ll need a lot of technical skills to work on a conversion that will affect your HVAC, electrical, and plumbing systems.
Advantages of Converting a Walk-In Shower to a Tub
There are many reasons why people choose to convert their walk-in shower to a tub. Below is a look at some of these reasons:
- Better water conservation. Using a walk-in shower often requires leaving your shower running for long. This increases the probability of water wastage. Using a bathtub means you’ll only use the exact amount of water needed for a bath. You can also reuse the water when you climb out of the bath for other purposes.
- Improved energy efficiency. From limiting the length of time, you need to keep your heating system on to reducing the overall drag on the system’s infrastructure, changing to a bathtub can help you cut down wastage.
- A more relaxing experience. With your walk-in shower, you can only take quick baths. A bathtub allows you to soak in and relax for a warm (or cold) shower. The experience will also be a lot more relaxing if you choose a bathtub with extra features such as massage-capable jets.
- Improved safety. A sizable number of home accidents occur in the bathroom—especially when people are taking baths. There’s no data to prove that converting your walk-in shower to a bathtub can improve safety, but the latter can often be outfitted with lots of mobility aids that can help reduce the chances of accidents.
- Increased savings on therapy. People with health issues such as arthritis and poor circulation can benefit from regular sessions in a bathtub. Therapists can create programs that can be completed at home, saving time and money.
- Great for homes with children. Bathing young children inside a walk-in shower is often a herculean task. With a tub, the job is easier. They can relax in the water, bring in their toys, and have more fun. This way, you can also get them looking forward to bath time every day.
- Increase in resale value. Households with families tend to favor properties with at least one tub. If you have plans of selling your home at some point, converting at least one of your walk-in showers to a bathtub can allow you to ask for a bit more.
What Happens When Converting a Walk-In Shower to a Tub?
As we’ve touched on briefly above, converting a walk-in shower to a tub is a process that is best handled by qualified professionals. However, it’s still a good idea for you to know what happens during the process so you can know what to expect at every stage of the process.
The Evaluation Stage
At this stage, the contractor focuses on understanding your bathroom’s peculiarities to decide how best to handle the conversion. During this stage, they will pay attention to dimensions and check for any special project requirements.
They will ask many questions to understand your needs and create the perfect design for the project, so be upfront with everything you need from the conversion. Once the evaluation is complete, you should get some designs and a quote for the project. If you approve, your project will begin.
The Construction Stage
This stage will vary from one project to another as everything will be influenced by what the owner wants. The construction stage for a simple partial conversion that doesn’t do away with the shower completely is often easier than a complete conversion where the shower will be removed completely.
Generally, the construction will start with the contractor turning off your water mains (and your HVAC or power supply if necessary) to ensure the work is done safely. All fixtures in the shower area will also be dismantled before the project finally begins.
Depending on the peculiarities surrounding your project, the contractors may go straight to installing the bathtub or start with working on walls and nearby areas first. The shower drain is kept in view during this process as it may either be replaced or moved to align with the position of your bathtub.
The construction process can be completed in a week, barring any difficulties surrounding your project.
Conversion Ideas for a Walk-In Shower to Bathtub Project
There are lots of ways a contractor can convert your walk-in shower to a bathtub. Below are some of them:
Walk-In Shower and Bathtub Mix
As mentioned above, your walk-in shower doesn’t have to be removed completely during this conversion process. The tub can exist alongside the shower. Here’s a rough guide on how the contractor will achieve this process:
- The first step is to put together a rectangular frame made of 2×4 wood pieces, which will be installed in front of the existing shower or beside it. The frame’s interior is lined with studs, and support boards fixed 10 inches away from themselves.
- Once the frame is completed, it is attached to the shower wall, held in place by screws drilled into the wall and the floor.
- After the frame is secured in place, a cement backer board is installed over it. The board will work as the base for your tub surrounds and the wall tiles. The board will be cut out in parts to ensure space for the shower fixtures.
- If you chose to use wall tiles, applying the tiles is the next step of the project. Using a trowel, a board adhesive will be applied to the board at a 45-degree angle. The adhesive is applied in small areas first since it can dry up quickly.
- Once the adhesive is applied, the next step is to apply the tiles row by row, with the bullnose pieces installed at the topmost row. The last tiles in a row that are too large for their space on the board are cut down to ensure a neat fit. The tiling process continues until every section has been covered.
- The next step is to apply grout and caulk when the grout is dry. If you choose this method of conversion, you may have to allow a few days for the grout and caulk to set.
- The next stage is to install bathtub surrounds over your existing bathroom wall—if you chose to have these in the first place. The installation process involves gluing the surrounds with a special adhesive.
- The last step is to install the tub. The exact installation method will come down to the type of tub you have. The fixtures are then installed to the tub, with caulk applied to round off the process.
Complete Walk-In Shower Replacement
If you choose a design where the conversion will see the removal of your walk-in shower, the bulk of the project will involve demolishing the part of the bathroom holding the shower (as well as any fittings that may be in the way of the installation). Some of the things your contractor will do before installing the bathtub will include the following:
Checking for Lead and Asbestos
Before the demolition begins, the walls around the area have to be tested for lead and asbestos first—especially if your home was built earlier than 1978. This test is important as both materials are dangerous. They can cause health problems if improperly handled, and you may also incur fines from the government.
From the test result, the contractor will know if they should take any extra measures to ensure your household and the workers’ safety during and after the conversion project.
The next step of the project is to remove the tiles around the installation area using a hammer and chisel combination. The area where the tub surrounds will be installed is usually the focus, but other walls will be affected if you are remodeling the entire bathroom.
The pipes connected to the walk-in shower presently will be moved to allow a new connection to your bathtub. There is a high probability that the drainage lines will be changed because the drain pipes used with the walk-in shower will generally be smaller than those meant for use in bathtubs. This stage of the process will require opening the subfloor of your bathroom.
Once the demolition is complete and the debris has been cleared, the contractor will get to work on installing the bathtub. The installation process will be similar to what we’ve covered above, with slight variation. Once done, you’ll have to wait for the installation to cure for a while before you start using the tub.
If you’re looking for bathtub inspiration for this conversion, there are tons of options you can choose from. Here’s a collection of ideas on Pinterest you can work with. Don’t forget to look through your contractor’s ideas as well.
What Is the Cost of Converting a Walk-In Shower to Bathtub?
On average, you should expect to spend around $125 per square foot when converting your walk-in shower to a bathtub. This will bring your total amount spent to around $3,000 to $5,000 on average—covering everything, including labor and materials.
The average cost is what you should expect to spend if you’re going for a plain conversion only, without any extra upgrades or special additions. If you’re thinking of getting a complete remodel for the bathroom during this conversion, your costs can increase by 100% or more.
The bulk of the expenses on this project will go to labor payments. You should expect it to gulp around 60% of the budget. Professionals will charge you around $40-$80 per hour on this project, while some general contractors will charge around $250-$450 per day of work. However, if you choose to go with mobile home contractors, you may get different rates.
You should remember that this project will involve plumbing, material testing, and in some cases, electrical configurations. The entire cost may be worked into the quote you receive from a general contractor, but if you choose to hire the professionals on your own, here’s what you should expect:
Licensed plumbers will charge you around $35 to $80 per hour for processes such as rerouting your lines. If they have to work on other complicated tasks such as dealing with the drainage system, the price range per hour will increase to around $60 to $80. You should expect to pay anywhere between $400 and $2000 for the plumbing during the project.
Up to a quarter of that sum can go to materials used, especially if additional plumbing has to be installed to link the new bathtub to the larger bathroom plumbing connection. You may also need to change a few fixtures to ensure compatibility between the tub and your plumbing system.
If you choose to replace your walk-in shower with a jet tub, you will require the services of an electrician to ensure it is functional. Electricians will charge an hourly rate of around $40 to $95. Jet tubs typically require lots of power to work, so the electrician will have to upgrade the electrical panel in your home. This is especially true with bathtubs that need an electrical circuit. The upgrade can cost you as low as $550 and up to $1,800.
General Construction Costs
The demolition of the shower area can cost around $500 to $1500, depending on the size of the area. If your home is one of those where there’s a risk of exposure to asbestos or lead, you should budget around $600 to get samples of the tiles or walls tested. Debris generated during the project will cost around $300 to $600 to dispose of.
In general, you should expect to pay lower costs for materials than labor costs during construction, but this will come down to your choice of materials. Your new bathtub will be the biggest expense. You can expect to spend around $450 to $7500 on this. Installation of the tub will cost around $800 to $15,000. As we’ve mentioned, jet tubs are generally the most expensive, so the tub and the installation cost will always be closer to the highest range.
You’ll also have to budget for new tiles for the floor and wall to replace the removed ones. Most contractors recommend using ceramic tiles, which will cost around $10-$20 on average. You may choose to use wood on the floor as these are as cheap as $5 to $8 per square foot. However, you need to consider the possible long term disadvantages of going with wood instead of tiles before deciding.
A cost you should be aware of is the expense of a possible water heater replacement. Sometimes, the one you have for your walk-in shower won’t be powerful enough to work with the bathtub. This is because tubs require that the water tank should be 70% of its size.
If yours is smaller, you’ll either have to get a new heater of the appropriate size installed or buy a smaller one to complement the existing system. A water heater compatible with bathtubs will cost between $600 and $1200.
External Factors That Can Affect the Cost of Conversion
Some external factors can affect the overall cost you’ll pay for converting a walk-in shower to a bathtub. First, you’ll need a permit for this project, and the fee you have to pay will vary from one place to another.
Secondly, your location will also influence the price quotes you’ll get from the contractors around you. A higher cost of living often translates to higher prices. You should also expect to pay a bit more for materials for the same reasons.
You should also keep in mind that you may have to pay money to reinforce your bathroom floor if it isn’t strong enough to carry a bathtub’s weight. Bathtubs typically weigh more than walk-in showers, so they’ll exert more pressure on the floor—especially if the installation isn’t on the ground floor.
How To Choose the Right Contractor When Converting a Walk-In Shower to a Tub
As we have seen above, converting your walk-in shower to a tub is a capital intensive project which you can’t afford to get wrong. Choosing the right contractor for the project ensures you can be confident of getting value for money. The tips below assume you’ll be choosing a general contractor instead of sub-hiring different contractors needed for the project, like plumbers and electricians (although they can also work in that scenario).
Look for Specialists
It’s always a good idea to go with a contractor experienced in carrying out bathroom conversions. A general contractor that has never done a bathroom remodeling project will not deliver on a project as well as a bathroom specialist would. Take a look at the contractor’s website to see what they do.
A conversion project such as this is more difficult to complete because the remodeler has to work around the existing structure. It is not the same as building the bathroom from the ground up. While a general contractor may be able to do the job, a specialist with lots of remodeling and conversion experience will most likely deliver better value for money.
Go With Recommendations
The best way to find the right contractor for your conversion is to talk to people that have completed such a remodel in recent times. So if any of your neighbors, friends, relatives, or colleagues have just finished such a project with a contractor and had a good experience, you can go with their recommendations.
Investigate the Contractors
After you have gathered some recommendations, the next step is to go behind the scenes and research the contractor. You should find out what licenses they hold.
The best contractors will have the licenses required at both the local municipality and state levels. They will also have designations from professional associations related to their industry, such as from the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB), the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), or the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI).
Such certifications show that the contractor has undergone coursework and passed through a testing process to highlight their capabilities. However, don’t get conned by certifications that don’t mean much. The best certifications have a national reach and won’t be managed by an obscure body.
Talk With the Contractors
When you have a list of contractors you’re considering, it is time to talk with them over the phone or in face-to-face meetings. You should talk to 2-3 contractors. With more contractors, you may find it harder to decide on who to choose.
During your discussion with the contractor, pay attention to the chemistry. Does the contractor feel confident in their ability to deliver on your project? Have they done enough to listen to you and communicate clearly how they intend to carry out your walk-in shower conversion?
Check the Portfolio
If the contractor has worked on projects similar to yours in the past, you should request a look. From the pictures of the project, you can decide if the contractor can bring your ideas to life. The best contractors will have no problems with showing you projects they completed in verifiable addresses.
After you have spoken to a couple of contractors, you should have an idea of who you’re likely to go with on the project. To finally decide, you should look at the quotes you have received from each one and compare them to the conversations you had earlier.
Going with the contractor that provided the lowest price may not always be the best option, so maintain a holistic view during your comparison. Of course, you shouldn’t go with a contractor if their price is excessively high compared to similar contractors from the same region.
Get Everything in Writing
Once you’ve chosen a contractor that is the right fit for the job, you should look at the contract they’ll provide for the job and make sure every detail is covered in writing. The agreement should include details such as the following:
- The quote and the schedule of payment
- A clear order of events
- The clause for potential order changes
- The clause about resolving disputes
- Lien prevention (to ensure subcontractors won’t hold you liable if the contractor defaults)
- The warranty on the project
Once you’re satisfied with everything, you can sign the contract and get started on your conversion project.
Walk-in showers and bathtubs have their unique pros and cons, but if you’ve decided to go with a tub instead, you should take the time to plan properly. The conversion project requires careful planning because it is capital intensive. You don’t want to quit halfway into the project or leave the bathroom unfinished.
When you’ve covered all bases with the planning and budgeting, you should take the time to work with a professional contractor that ticks all the right boxes. This way, you can get the perfect conversion and make your bath times more relaxing.
- Networx: How Much Does a Bathtub Replacement or Shower Remodel Cost?
- How Much: How Much Does It Cost To Install Or Replace A Bathtub?
- Garretty Glass: Shower Vs. Bathtub
- House Beautiful: Tub Or Shower? Here’s Which Bathroom Upgrade Is Actually Worthwhile
- Home Smart Ind: Reasons to Choose a Shower to Tub Conversion by Home Smart Industries
- Hunker: How to Change a Shower Into a Tub
- Bath Planet: Shower to Tub Conversion
- Contractor Quotes: Shower Tub Conversion
- GBC Kitchen and Bath: Tips for Choosing a Contractor for Bathroom Remodeling
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