Bathtubs, those relaxing havens within our homes, vary in shapes, sizes, and styles. Yet, one that dominates the landscape is the alcove tub – a common 60-inch, 5-foot structure, approximately 30 to 32 inches wide, and standing 14 to 18 inches tall. Often nestled within three walls, this alcove tub, complete with its flange, forms the bedrock of many bathrooms. However, when it’s time to replace such a tub, it’s typically part of a larger bathroom renovation endeavor. Here’s why: the meticulous installation behind tiles on all three sides demands careful removal and precise replacement.
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Bathtubs come in many different shapes, sizes, and styles, but the most common one by far is one just like this: 60 inches (5 feet) long, 30 or 32 inches wide, and 14, 16, or 18 inches tall. This is called an alcove tub because it’s installed with walls, known as the bath surround, on three sides. When it’s time to replace a tub like this, it’s usually part of a much bigger bathroom renovation. Here’s why: see this flange right here? This is designed to prevent water from leaking down behind the wall. However, for it to work properly, it must be installed behind the tile on all three sides. So, to remove the tub, you’ll need to remove the tiles, usually down to the studs.
Remove tiles down to the studs. Once the tub surround is completely removed, you can disconnect the plumbing. Use a screwdriver to remove the drain and disconnect the water and plumbing screen. Then, you can use a special tub drain wrench to remove the drain plug.
Next, remove the overflow plate and the stopper assembly. If you don’t have access to the drain connections from an unfinished room below, you’ll need to cut through the walls or ceiling to expose the drain lines. Once you have access, remove the drain and the overflow by cutting through the pipes or unscrewing the threaded connections.
Now we’re ready to remove the bathtub. This tub is cast iron, which makes it very heavy. To remove it, we’re going to use a sledgehammer to break it into pieces. Be sure to wear safety glasses, and you could cover the tub with a drop cloth to prevent flying debris.
If you have an acrylic or fiberglass tub, you should be able to cut it up with a reciprocating saw. Porcelain enamel steel tubs should be removed in one piece. Some tubs are meant to be installed in a bed of mortar. The mortar will help support the tub to prevent flex when you step into it and also help level the tub perfectly. However, it’s always important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
The tub we’re installing doesn’t require a mortar bed. It has a reinforced foundation, so all you need is a firm, level subfloor. For this installation, we decided to add new plywood on top of the original subfloor to bring it to the correct height and make it perfectly level.
Next, we placed the new acrylic bathtub in the opening and confirmed that it was level. We pre-drilled the flange and secured the tub to the studs using 2-inch exterior pan head screws. You may need to add shims between the flange and the stud.
The next step is to install the new tub’s plumbing waste and overflow. Hold the overflow against the back of the tub and then insert the stopper linkage into the overflow.
Attach the faceplate with the provided screws. From below, attach the bath tee to the overflow pipe and then install the bath shoe into the bath tee, ensuring it aligns exactly with the hole in the tub. Don’t forget the gaskets that go between the tub and the bath shoe. Install a p-trap to the bath waste and overflow, and then make the connections to the existing drain line.
The last step is to create a watertight connection between the tub and the tub shoe. For this installation, we’re using silicone caulking. Just tighten it up with your tub drain wrench and attach the cover plate.
Replacing a bathtub can be complicated, and every installation is different. Even if you know all the steps, you may still want to work with a licensed plumber to ensure that your project meets all local building codes. Once the new tub is in place and plumbed correctly, you’ll be well on your way to a new and improved bathroom.