How to Convert a Tub to a Shower

Shower Stall

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A shower is a highly valued feature of any bathroom. Along with the sink, cabinet, and toilet, the shower is a centerpiece of your bathroom. Yet some homes' bathrooms have only a bathtub or may have a second bathroom with a tub.

Showers have a number of advantages over bathtubs. Showers command a higher resale value upon sale. If you do not take baths, the tub's large basin is completely unnecessary. The age-in-place movement, which stresses the dignity of remaining at home rather than moving to an assisted living facility, places importance on removing barriers to living. At 15 inches minimum, bathtub aprons can be too high to comfortably scale for many people.

A tub to shower conversion is a difficult project that touches on many facets of bathroom remodeling: demolition, plumbing, flooring, drywall, insulation, and general carpentry. While a complex task, a tub-to-shower conversion is one that pays itself off after the dust has settled.

What is a Prefabricated Shower Kit?

Assisting in the conversion process is an item called a prefabricated shower kit. Available in stock or by custom order at most home centers, this kit provides you with a shower pan (the floor), 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. One negative of prefab kits is that they tend to bring less resale value than custom well-tiled showers. But the positive for do-it-yourselfers is that prefab showers go up fast and easily.

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 7 days
  • Total Time: 10 days
  • Skill Level: Expert
  • Materials Cost: $750 to $1,500

Tools and Supplies You Will Need

  • Prefabricated shower kit
  • Shower faucet kit, including valve body, controls, trim, and showerhead
  • Prybar
  • Hammer
  • Eye and hearing protection
  • Oscillating multi-tool
  • Shop vacuum
  • PEX or copper pipe and related accessories to extend supply lines
  • Cordless drill
  • Basic plumbing tools

Instructions

Decide on a Shower Footprint

If you are removing a 60-inch by 30-inch bathtub, you may decide to choose a shower stall that is roughly the same size (usually 60 inches long but the width can vary from 30 inches to 36 inches) as a one-for-one size replacement. This avoids excessive repair work on the walls and the flooring since the shower pan and walls will cover the old footprint. If you decide on a shower with a square footprint (around 32 inches square), you will need to repair flooring and the walls. But the advantage is that your bathroom will gain about 9 square feet of floor space.

Secure Permits

In many municipalities, a tub-to-shower conversion may require permits since plumbing must be moved. Check with your local permitting agency for information.

Shut Down the Water Supply

If your bathtub has an intermediary shut-off valve, located in or 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 when working on this project.

Remove the Tub Surround

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 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 securing 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 drywall (next to the tub area) to accommodate one of the outer corners of the tub as it swings upward.

Clean the Area

Thoroughly clean the demolished area, removing nails and screws from studs.

Repair 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

Currently, the bathtub controls and 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 shower head centered 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.

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.