Bathtub Installation: What to Expect
By the time John Michael Kohler installed the first bathtub in 1883, plumbing technology already had 6,000 years behind it. The pedestal tub—a five-foot Grecian design wielded from pottery—was its closest predecessor. Towards the end of World War I, the Kohler Company began using the enamel finish we know and love today, but the modern world has developed an array of lightweight surfaces since then.
Fashion might have brought clawfoot tubs back into style, but installation techniques and materials have evolved to provide light, nonporous options that don’t scratch at the first sign of ammonia. Even so, installing a new tub is a serious undertaking. Let’s find out what you can expect.
Step one: choosing your tub
Homeowners must juggle a dizzying range of palettes and materials in their search for the perfect tub:
- Fiberglass is built from layers of reinforced plastic covered in resin. It’s affordable, but brittle and prone to cracks.
- Porcelain tubs are built from cast iron or steel. The porcelain layer is lustrous and scratch-resistant.
- Acrylic builds are made from reinforced resins and fillers. They’re nonporous, stain-resistant, and nonabsorptive.
- Ceramics are built from hardened clay. They’re affordable and can adapt to just about any tub size and shape.
- Stone resin is highly nonporous and durable. It resists scratches and stains, which is one of many reasons for its high price.
- Cast iron tubs are made from molten iron covered in an enamel layer. They’re one of the most durable tubs on the market.
Choosing your materials is only the first step. You’ll also need to take a critical look at your bathroom. Is your available floor space sufficient for a freestanding tub? Can your floor support a heavy product? What placement will suit your plumbing fixtures?
Step two: sourcing your products
Once you’ve found your perfect bathtub, your installation company will source your chosen product and provide a quote. If you’re working with an ethical company, you can expect full price transparency without hidden fees or “gotcha” charges. Still, it’s best to ask about unexpected expenses like door frame removal and upgraded water heaters that can support your tub’s new capacity.
Made-to-order tubs can take two or three weeks to manufacture, so if you’re waiting for a custom product, you’ll need to exercise some patience. If you’ve chosen a relatively simple tub from a local manufacturer, you shouldn’t need to wait more than six business days for your new tub to ship.
Step three: preparing your plumbing
This is it—installation day has arrived. Your construction professionals will turn off your water mains so that they can begin working with your plumbing infrastructure. They’ll unscrew extraneous fixtures like faucets and overflow drain covers once they’ve drained your lines. When they’ve removed your existing tub, they’ll disconnect the water lines. Finally, they’ll connect the drain to your new tub and place your other plumbing accessories. At this stage of your installation, you’ll have no water supply in your home, so prepare in advance.
Step four: preparing support structures
Second stories can’t always support the weight of a heavy tub, but if you have your heart set on a granite product, you have options. Your installer can double up your joists and place a leveling compound. They might also install a ledger board to make sure your bathtub fits into your alcove and has the support it needs. Some bathtub manufacturers also recommend a mortar layer to secure their products in place.
Step five: installing the tub
It’s finally time to put that sparkling new tub into position. Your faucets and other accessories will come next. Your team will level your new fixture and attach the studs and flanges. Next, they’ll caulk your tub and surrounding structures to keep them watertight.
How long does it take?
If you’ve hired a professional, you can expect the installation process to take a minimum of three hours. Still, every installation is unique. If your room needs to be re-tiled and re-floored, you’ll need to factor that into your schedule. Many installations take two days, even if additional work isn’t required. Plumbing modifications and complex alcoves are time-consuming, particularly if your installer doesn’t have a full staff complement.
Installing a new tub is a major undertaking, but it’ll inconvenience you less than you might think. Your water and bathroom will be out of action for a day, but the rewards will keep rolling in for years afterward. The benefits go well beyond mere esthetics. Your installation will raise your property value and improve your quality of life.