Replacing a bathtub with a shower is at the top of many homeowners' remodeling lists. And for good reason. A shower can take up less space and a bathroom remodel can yield a significant return on the investment at resale. The age-in-place movement, which stresses remaining at home rather than moving to an assisted living facility, places importance on removing barriers to living. At 15 inches minimum, many bathtub aprons (except for walk-in models) can be too high to comfortably scale for many people.
While this is a complex task that can take from three days to a week to complete, a tub-to-shower conversion is one that pays itself off after the dust has settled.
What's Involved With Replacing a Tub With a Shower?
Replacing a bathtub with a shower can go in either of two directions: augmenting with a showerhead or complete replacement.
Augmenting: Adding a Showerhead
Augmentation applies to bathtubs that have only a lower tub faucet and controls but no upper showerhead. The tub is not replaced by a shower pan. The bathtub remains in place and three walls of the bathtub surround are undisturbed.
The wall where the controls are located is broken into. Whether it is tile or a solid surround, the outer covering is removed to expose the bathtub controls.
Typically, the bathtub controls will be replaced with new controls. A copper or PEX pipe is attached to the top of the controls, and this extends to showerhead height. With new controls and showerhead in place, the wall is tiled again or the surround is replaced.
With the addition of a door or a curtain, the bathtub now can function as both a bathtub and a shower. Because the tub apron is in place, the tub might still be difficult for people who are disabled to access. This remodel more involves the rebuilding of the back wall than plumbing; the plumbing part is simple and should not take long to complete.
Bathtub stays in place
Surrounding walls' rot not addressed
Replacement: Completely New Shower
Completely replacing the bathtub with a shower means removing everything in that space—tub, walls, even the ceiling and flooring—and installing a shower pan, shower controls and faucet, walls, and door.
Complete replacement touches on many aspects of bathroom remodeling: demolition, plumbing, flooring, drywall, insulation, and general carpentry. But one element makes the project easier: a prefabricated shower kit.
Available in stock or by custom order at most home centers, this kit provides you with a shower pan, matching integral walls, and a door. Prefabricated (or prefab) shower kits save considerable time and flatten the learning curve by eliminating the tricky sub-project of tiling on vertical surfaces.
For do-it-yourselfers taking on this job, a prefab shower goes up faster and easier than if creating a shower pan by scratch on a wet mortar bed, plus tiling the walls.
Chance to fix surrounding problems
Better resale value
Equipment / Tools
- Cordless drill
- Eye and hearing protection
- Oscillating multi-tool
- Shop vacuum
- Basic plumbing tools
- Prefabricated shower kit
- Shower faucet kit, including valve body, controls, trim, and showerhead
- PEX or copper pipe and related accessories to extend supply lines
Plan the Shower Footprint
If you are removing a 60-inch by 30-inch bathtub, you may choose a shower stall that is the same size. Usually, this is 60 inches long but the width can vary from 30 inches to 36 inches. Keeping the old footprint in place will avoid excessive repair work on the walls and the flooring since the shower pan and walls will cover most of the old footprint.
Secure Remodeling Permits
In many municipalities, replacing a tub with a shower requires permits since plumbing must be moved. Check with your local permitting agency for information.
Shut Off the Water Supply
If your bathtub has an intermediary shut-off valve located near the bathtub, use this to shut off the water supply to the tub. Otherwise, shut off your home's main water shut-off valve before working on this project.
Remove the Tub Surround or Tile
With a pry bar and oscillating multi-tool, remove the bathtub surround from around the tub. Ceramic tile will require chipping with a hammer and a prybar. If the surround is plastic, you may have to strip it off of the studs, drywall, or cement board as it may have been glued to any of these substrate materials.
Remove the Bathtub
Remove any screws or nails that secure the bathtub lip to the wall. With an assistant, tip up one side of the bathtub to remove it. You may need to remove a small portion of the drywall next to the tub area to accommodate one of the outer corners of the tub as it swings upward. Thoroughly clean the demolished area, removing nails and screws from studs.
Repair the Studs and Flooring
Light carpentry work may be required to fix some of the studs, flooring, or joists exposed by the removed tub.
Rough-In the Shower Controls and Shower Head
At this point, the bathtub controls and the water outlet are vertically positioned for bathtub use. For showers, both should be positioned higher. Specific heights will vary according to the type of controls (single valve or double valve) and the manufacturer. Generally, the valve body should be centered 45 to 48 inches above the shower floor, with the showerhead centered at 78 inches. Existing copper supply lines can run directly into the new shower controls or you may wish to replace them with PEX.
Evaluate the Shower Drain
If the old bathtub drain is in the right spot for the new shower drain and is in good condition, there is no reason to move it, though it may need vertical adjustment with an extender.
Install the Shower Pan
Depending on your bathroom floor and on manufacturer requirements for the shower pan, you may need to create a mortar bed for the shower pan for a solid installation that does not flex. Some brands may not require this. Nail or screw the lip of the shower pan to the studs.
Install the Shower Surround Panels
With surround panels, the large back panel is installed first. Next, install the side that does not have the shower controls. Finish with the surround panel on the control side. Drill holes for the shower controls and shower head before putting the last surround in place. Nail directly to the studs and caulk between the seams.
Install the Shower Door
Install the shower door, whether slide- or swing-type, according to directions supplied by the manufacturer.
Install the Shower Controls and Head
With the shower rough-ins aligning with the holes you previously drilled in the surround panel, install the shower controls, shower head, and trim.
Turn on the Plumbing and Test the Shower
With controls in place and seams caulked, turn on the water supply and test the shower for leaks, both from water supply lines and from the drain.