Feb 26

Part Two; your bathroom

It’s been a long time since I last wrote this blog.  I started to write about bathroom renovations and got as far as commenting on toilets.  Perhaps our most intimate household fixture, but far from the most glamorous.

So now I’ll move on to sexier design choices in the bathroom. Probably the biggest change one can make to a bathroom is converting a tub to a shower.  Ten or twenty years ago your realtor would tell you that doing this was an absolute disaster for resale.  Not only should you leave the tub, but also you should install a whirlpool.  The thinking was that women loved taking baths, and having a tub in the master bedroom was a necessity.

That thinking seems to be changing dramatically.  The clients with whom I deal, if they’re thinking about improving their master bath, almost always want to take out the tub and build a big shower. (Of course the best option is a big tub and big shower, but few homes have enough space.)   I think the reason for this is simple.  Most people shower every day, and might take a bath once a month.  And anyone with more than one bathroom does have another tub.  And it’s so much nicer to step over four inches than twenty inches and to have room to move around in the shower.

Here’s what you have to know if you’re thinking about changing your tub to a shower.  First, there are basically three choices for the base.  The most economical is precast fiberglass.  These cost $200 to $500 depending on size and you can buy them at Home Depot.  You’re limited by the sizes offered, and most of them are only available in white.  Next, there are some vendors who make custom cultured marble bases.  These look nothing like traditional cheap and ugly cultured marble sinks.  There are probably fifty choices of colors and patterns, and you can order absolutely any size or shape you want.  These cost between $500 and $1,000 in general, depending on size and finish.  One nice advantage to these for the installer; they come with a lip that extends up from the base so it’s very easy to install tile in a way that virtually guarantees no leaks.  Finally, there’s the traditional site installed custom tile base.  The installer builds a wood frame around the shower base and fills it with concrete.  Tile is installed over the concrete. This technique is a lot more difficult than I’m making it sound.  Because there are a number of steps required both to install the base and to make the shower waterproof, a custom base costs thousands, not hundreds of dollars.  I can’t give you a range because there are too many variables, but this approach is the nicest and most expensive.  It’s also most prone to leaks and water problems if it’s not done perfectly.

Here’s the next thing you have to know about converting from a tub to a shower.  You have to change the plumbing in the wall.  Your tub usually has a valve located about 34 inches above the floor, a foot or so above the tub spout.  The water automatically comes out of the tub faucet until you pull up on the diverter and send it to the shower.  Once you get rid of the tub, you won’t feel like bending down to turn on the water, and the tub spout would look pretty stupid without a tub.  So one of the first steps we take when converting a tub to a shower is to open up the wall, take out the valve that’s in the wall, and remove the tub spout.  Then we put in a new valve.  And there’s more choices here.  Do you want just a showerhead or would you like two of them, so you and your partner can shower together?  Do you want  body sprays, a hand held wand, a rain shower head?  Do you want to install a steam unit? 

What kind of valve do you want?  There are two basic choices; thermostatic and pressure balanced.  Pressure balanced is what you normally think of when you picture a shower or tub control.  You turn it on and choose the temperature by moving it from cold to hot.  Thermostatic valves have two components.  You select the temperature and can leave the control set there.  When you turn on the water you’re only choosing the volume or water pressure.  If you choose to put in a number of different body sprays and showerheads, the thermostatic valve is the best choice, because you leave it constant and just turn the control for the water you want. 

I feel like a guest who’s overstayed his welcome.  My wife told me when I started writing these posts to limit them to one page.  So just call me at 312 543 6915 if you have questions about showers because I could easily write another five pages on the subject, and almost all of you would either not read it or be really bored if you did.

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