Fix my bathtub.


Got a chipped Victorian bathtub with leaky corroded valves? Picked one up at a garage sale? Dreaming of a hot soaker in a re-beautified one like this? Before you take the 'plunge' toward restoration some circumspection is in order.Old fashioned Victorian cast iron bathtubs sell between $500 and $1,500.

Restoring a freestanding enameled or ceramic-covered metal tub will involve hauling off for sandblasting, acid cleaning, repair of corroded spots (if feasible), maybe a rust preventive undercoat, return delivery, and installation within the bathroom, possibly with upgraded faucets and drain. Based on the few bids I saw, price for a recoating is in the $600 - $1,200 range; maybe more if drain replacement is needed.

A newer stamped-steel tub will be in the $250-$400 range. A fiberglass tub, usually sold with matching shower surround, will be similarly or lower priced. Add some for delivery and installation plus fixtures and the price laps over the lower end of the range for restoring your Victorian.

If your old metal tub's design has evolved far past the rounded Victorian style, abandoning the animist legs, and entered into the realm of angular, often pastel colored models made in the 1950's-70's, its probably up against a wall or in a corner, having been "surrounded" both above and below to serve as both bath and shower.

Replacement of a wall or corner mounted tub will likely be a messy operation: something you'll do as part of a much larger project. For this you might hire a local service to line, the tub and cover the tile surround with flexible polymer inserts. Arguments can be made on a cost and space basis for either full demolition and replacement versus relining the existing tub and surround. Just make sure plumbing performance and mold issues related to hidden plumbing or tile leaks are dealt with first. Here are some more issues with an environmental dimension.

Weight: -- You can't just pop a heavy cast iron tub into a bathroom built to carry the weight of a much lighter steel or fiberglass tub. You might be faced with having to add strength to the floor joists first: a job requiring demolition and consumption of additional materials.

Water conservation: -- If the refurbished or recovered tub is to serve as the main showering place, make certain it accomodates a water saving showerhead.

Temperature balancing: -- Modern temperature-balancing bath valves contribute to water conservation. You won't have to constantly re-adjust the flows to make it comfortable. Less water and energy is wasted as a result. There's less scalding risk too. Automatic temperature balancing valves generally are built into the wall. If the tub is free-standing and has built in faucets, common in some later Victorians, flow balancing might take some plugging and custom plumbing arrangements.

Scum issues: -- Modern soft soaps, shampoos, fatty acid containing conditioners, plus makeup residues, contribute to "scum" build up on the tub surround and walls. In some households, much salt and energy is consumed in "softening" water to help lower the rate of tub scum build up on tub and shower, among other things.

In the bath and/or shower, expensive cleaning agents and water are consumed in removing scum. Those with especially hard water have to do it frequently. If you hire a housecleaner, there goes some more money for "scum busting". Polymer surfaces seem to build up scum at a lower rate and seem to be more easily cleaned with non-abrasive materials than are ceramic or enameled surfaces. Because water chemistry is the other driving force on scum build up, you should validate this for the area you live.

What then is the ideal? What optimizes beauty, cost, convenience, and consumption of water, chemicals, and energy? I know you'll decide to restore your victorian tub mainly because you love it. Considering all the above points, though, I've worked out a dream bath setting.

Lets begin with a free-standing victorian and imagine some changes.

First I'd install near my tub a small polymer-surround, shower stall that's easy to clean. Cheap and light win over brick shithouse. The critical things are speed of use and cleaning, plus water saving. I'd get a small chromed brass shower head like the ones designed for use in submarines. They're the the best working and longest lasting ones around.

My dream bath has cleaning supplies and towels in a nearby storage cabinet. Towels and supplies can be loaded into that cabinet from a backdoor in the adjacent hall.

I'd mount a combination sky-light and vent fan near the shower door transom. The vent fan is high draw, ultra quiet, and the motor is mounted as far above the ceiling intake point as possible (for added quiet). The result is increased light and ventilation that reduce the potential for mold growth.

When the shower door opens, a door switch automatically activates local shower vent fan for 10 minutes or so, then automatically shuts it down, saving electricity.

Across the room, a free-standing Victorian bathtub is set away from the nearest wall, resting on a tile or polymer base-pan that extends well beyond the tub profile in all directions, and is flashed under the adjacent wall. This base-pan slopes to an under-tub drain that catches any accidental overspray or spillage.

Above the tub is a large skylight with a roof-mount reflecting device that catches the winter sun, spreading daylight directly onto the tub in winter months, and just grazing the nearest wall with direct light. The stone wall has stone ledges upon which sit many orchids, some set in pots, some hanging free-root. When its time to water the orchids, I spray them directly with the tub's attached hand held shower head. The runoff water flows down the wall, onto the base pan, and down the undertub drain.

:End of Dream:

Final factor is design life matching. Ask about design life (roughly reflected in any warrantee period) of any restoration coating or surround overlayment. If its less less than the age of the existing tub...well love is a powerful force.

by: John Laumer

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