Pros and cons of replacing, restoring or relining your yucky bathtub

Long, hot baths and showers are among life's little, inexpensive luxuries. But a sybaritic soak doesn't feel so luxurious when your tub is looking dingy and stained.

When that's the case, you can't help but ponder whether to pitch the thing and invest in a new one, have your old tub restored to its previous luster, or install a custom liner.

How much of a dent will each of these projects put in your budget? If you decide to do a tub fixer-upper, how long will the tub be out of commission?

For some answers, we talked to Ken Perrin of Artistic Renovations in Seven Hills; Tom Horvath of Tom Horvath Custom Reglazing, in North Royalton; Andrew Gorski of Miracle Method Surface Restoration, in Parma; and John Fronek, operations manager at Bath Doctor in Cuyahoga Heights. Bath Doctor is a division of Cleveland Design & Remodeling.

Angie's List, with whom Horvath is listed, also contributed.

Demolition and replacement It's almost certain that neither a hired contractor nor you and your buddies will be able to haul an intact tub from a second-floor bathroom and hoist it into a truck. Even if the tub is on the first floor, maneuvering a tub through doorways could be a nightmare.

But the price of a new tub can make buying one tempting. At big-box stores, tubs can start as low as $200 and climb into the thousands, depending on the size and features, such as jets.

Replacing a bathtub involves demolishing the old one on-site with a sledgehammer or similar equipment. You'll probably have to remove and replace the old fixtures and plumbing, remove some or all of the tile around the tub, and possibly replace or tweak the flooring. There will be pounding, caulking, drywalling and dust involved.

Another consideration, says Horvath, is the quality of your old tub versus what's available today. Even with stains and chips, your old tub might be a keeper and worthy of a refinish.

"Sometimes what you're throwing away is better than what you're bringing in," he says.

Cost of demolition and replacement: With materials and labor, the price tag can climb to about $3,000, depending on the price of the new tub that you select.

Still, the price tag can be worth it to a homeowner yearning for a brand-new bathroom, gleaming tub and all.

Refinishing the old tub Cast-iron, steel and fiberglass tubs (and shower stalls) can all be refinished.

The terms refinishing, reglazing and resurfacing are often used interchangeably.

The process usually involves a deep cleaning and sanding of the bathtub, making repairs to any chips or cracks, and, finally, applying a durable coating.

Pros and cons of replacing, restoring or relining your yucky bathtub

It's important to note that all refinishing is not the same. Companies use different types of coatings and different ways to get that coating to stick to the bathtub.

Some companies use an acid to etch the porcelain for good adhesion. Others, like Miracle Method Surface Restoration, have developed an acid-free approach to chemically bond the coating to the surface.

The coating can either match the original color or change it completely. This is great when you would like to update the colors in your bathroom on a budget.

The final step involves wet sanding, buffing and polishing the bathtub. That ensures a smooth, glossy finish. Not all refinishers do high-gloss polishing, so ask your contractor.

The downtime for the bathtub depends on the coatings used. It ranges from one day to three.

DIY kits are available, but usually frowned upon by professionals, says Gorski, of Miracle Method Surface Restoration. The coatings are usually an epoxy product, are not durable enough to last for long, and generally get applied with a roller or brush. This gives a very "painted" look to the tub. If it doesn't come out the way you expected, you might have the additional cost of having a professional properly finish the tub.

"You can really do more harm than good if you don't know what you're doing," says Perrin, of Artistic Renovations.

There are a lot of refinishing companies out there, so looking to the Better Business Bureau or Angie's List for a quality contractor is a good starting point, says Gorski. Be wary of contractors who do not have an actual business location, or a company that cannot provide samples and references. Some, like Miracle Method, have showrooms where you can see and feel their work.

Cost to refinish a tub: From $300 to about $1,000.

Relining another optionAnother option for sprucing up a bathtub that has become an eyesore is to have it relined with a custom-fitted acrylic liner. Fiberglass and acrylic tubs can't be relined due to the structure of the tubs' materials, says Fronek, of Bath Doctor, which also installs new tubs for customers. Free-standing tubs that don't have walls around them can't be relined, either.

Cast-iron and steel tubs can be lined. Tubs that are bound by only two walls -- the faucet wall and the back wall (with no wall at one end) -- also are candidates for relining.

Prep work for relining involves a thorough cleaning. A series of pictures and measurements of the existing tub are taken. That information is sent to the acrylic company that makes the tub. The company heats a sheet of acrylic over a tub that is the same model as the tub being relined.

When the liner is ready to be fitted on, the old tub is primed for adherence. The liner has a layer of butyl tape that adheres to the bottom of the liner and existing tub. The liner comes with a skid-resistant bottom.

"Once it makes contact with the surface, it doesn't come off," says Fronek.

One common complaint about tub liners is that over time, moisture can get between the liner and the tub, causing mold and mildew. Says Fronek, "If the job is done right, that shouldn't happen." Fronek says a device called a snorkel boot is installed at the overflow, and a new drain is installed and sealed. That keeps water from escaping into the tight space between the liner and the tub.

Approximate cost for a custom-fitted liner: $1,100 to $1,400, depending on the color chosen and skirt design.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: rwashington@plaind.com, 216-999-4427

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