Restoration Guide: Kitchen and Baths Tubs and Showers

Susanne Clemenz

Editor's Note: This is article 7 of 8 in Chapter 6: The Kitchen and Baths Guide of Old House Web Restoration Guide. This guide was developed and edited for old homes from original materials in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Rehab Guide.


Section 1--Repairing Different Types of Tub and Shower Surfaces

The flood of water, soap, shampoos, bath oils, and cleaning agents that tubs and showers are exposed to create more wear than any other bathroom fixtures. Repairs depend upon the tub or shower's materials and the way it's made.

1.1: Types of Tub and Shower Repairs and Tools

  1. Fiberglass repairs: The polyester gel-coat surface of a fiberglass-backed bathing fixture is what gets damaged. Hire a professional repair person. PRO: Easy and inexpensive to repair. CONS: Other finishes are more durable.
  2. Acrylic fixtures: For a tougher finish and all-the-way-through color, acrylic or ABS tubs, bases, and enclosures are easy to renovate. Sand and buff or using an automotive rubbing compound, and then a non-grain paste wax for shine. PROS: Tub, enclosure, and base may be purchased separately. CONS: Styles may be limited.
  3. Cultured stone fixtures: Made of stone chips bonded in polyester resin, minor gel coat scratches can be buffed away. Ongoing thermal shock may make small fractures near the drain. A porcelain repair specialist should handle chips and deep scratches. PROS: Tons of designs and colors. CONS: Color matching repairs is difficult.
  4. Replacement liners: If surface flaws are unrepairable, a custom-made liner of acrylic, PVC, or plastic that fits snugly over existing fixtures is a great solution. The tub, shower, or base is measured, then cast. Installation is very quick--often a day or less. PROS: Replacing the fixture is more costly. CONS: Needs a manufacturer-approved installer. Few color choices.
  5. Enameled steel tub: Surprisingly, the smooth steel surface underlying these tubs lessens the enamel bond and makes denting easier than a cast-iron base. Repair rust stains with muriatic acid, naval jelly, or diluted phosphoric acid. Touch-up paints and epoxies may be visible. PROS: Less expensive originally. CONS: Patched areas may be visible. Chips more easily than cast iron tubs. Professional refinishing isn't cost-effective.
  6. Enameled cast iron: Less easily damaged than enameled steel tubs. Use non-abrasive cleaners for surface dirt, mild abrasives for stubborn grime, and muriatic acid, naval jelly, or diluted phosphoric acid for rust stains. Chip repair is a multi-step process best done by professionals. PROS: Strong, durable, not easily chipped. CONS: Cast iron tubs cool water more quickly than plastic-like materials. Refinishing is costly.
  7. Solid surface base and enclosure: Colors and patterns permeate these synthetic-based fixtures, and sometimes have mineral fillers for durability. Scouring pads, 320 - 400 grit sandpaper, or steel wool remove most scars. Worse ones need a solid surface specialist. Seams between shower base and enclosure are invisible and prevent seepage. Use manufacturer-authorized technicians for installation and bigger repairs. PROS: Seamless joints are a benefit. Choose from many colors and custom shapes. CONS: Costlier than alternatives.
  8. Ceramic tile and grout: Tile resists chips or cracks. Moisture and bacteria penetrating grout and substrate are bigger concerns. Break up damaged tiles with a cold chisel, not a hammer, and replace. On walls, support tile with tape until thinset dries. Damaged grout requires a grout saw and regrouting. Choose professionally-installed epoxy-based grout for maximum imperviousness and stain resistance compared to other types. Apply penetrating or surface silicone cleaner to grout for stain resistance. Don't clean with acid, bleach, or vinegar. PROS: Chip resistant. Easily repaired. CONS: Grouts are hard to match. Use a manual grout saw or diamond-blade power grinder to avoid damaging adjacent tiles.
  9. Stone repairs: Repair cracks or chips professionally with a mortar-like compound that will be ground and polished when cured. For the best bond, hire a professional stone fabricator for repairs. PROS: Repairs are less noticeable with the aggregate compound. Use an epoxy-based filler on wet surfaces. CONS: Yellowing is a problem with epoxy.
  10. Marble: Use it elsewhere--not in showers or baths where it may pit, rust, discolor, or delaminate. Sealers do not help these problems.

Section 2--Moisture Control

"Mold" is the four-letter word of home restoration, and rotted walls, missing tiles, mildew, and crumbling grout are its close companions. Bathrooms are ripe for such damage because of excessive moisture and possible lack of adequate ventilation. Moisture migrates through wallboard, creeps in around fixtures, and pools below cool surfaces. Cosmetic repairs are insufficient--the cause must also be corrected.

2.1: Methods for Moisture Control

  1. Improve ventilation: An old house often lacks bathroom air exhausts. Calculate the cubic feet per minute (cfm) by multiplying the room's length, width, and height times 8 changer/hour for 60 minutes. That's the exhaust fan rating you need. Ducts to the outside should be short, and a return air duct is desirable. A timed fan control can shut off the fan after about 20 minutes. A cooling/dehumidifying whole house system is advisable in humid and hot climates. PROS: Moisture and odors are extracted. CONS: Avoid long, bending duct work. Install return-air source.
  2. Recessed lights moisture: Keep moisture from recessed lights out of attics by building an airtight box around the lightboxes or installing them in a dropped soffit with a ceiling air barrier. PROS: Keeps moisture from creating problems in attic and walls. CONS: Double-sealing recessed lights increases labor, though not long-term costs.
  3. That sneaky grout: Even small water seepage through grout can soak cement backer board and furring strips. This works against old house preservation, so tiles, and even the backer board, to the end of visible damage, must be removed. Once completely dried by sun and fans, apply a non-emitting interior-rated air barrier, new furring strips, and cement backer board (no, not even water-resistant "green board"). Replace tile using epoxy grout and sealant. PROS: Substrate and structure are sound. CONS: This approach may require further reading for procedures and reasons.

Section 3--Bathrooms for All Users

Old house remodeling is the perfect time to plan for new layouts, fixtures, and safety measures for present and future householders of every age, size, and capability.

3.1: Tools and and Techniques for Bathroom Safety and Accessibility

  1. Anti-scalding devices: There are several types of devices for preventing scalding from water faucets. One type, installed under the cover plate of the faucet, turns off water when the owner-set limit is reached. Reset buttons purge scalding water and restart the device. Another system balances and mixes water flows to prevent pressure-related temperature changes. PROS: Fits existing systems. CONS: Efficiency deteriorates with time.
  2. Water control access: Controls closer to the entry side of a shower or tub facilitate testing water before entering. Existing wall-mounted controls can be moved 6 inches toward the entry side if replacing a tub or shower surround. Tub controls 17 to 30 inches above the floor, and shower controls 48 inches high are preferable. PROS: Improves safety. CONS: Existing controls must be replaced or moved.
  3. Built-in bathing transfer seat: A permanent, tiled, built-in seat inside a shower or overlapping the tub flange makes access to bathing safer and easier. Make it 18 inches high and slope it gently toward the tub or shower base. Provide grab bars as needed. Slope seat. Tile should overlap tub flange and slope down seat front. Seat should support 300 pounds or more. PROS: Safer access. CONS: Glass doors may need to be customized. Shower rods and curtains should cover seat.
  4. Grab bars: Horizontal and vertical grab bars on all bath or tub walls and at entry points add safety when changing bathing positions. They must attach to studs or known blocking. Alternately, an external, waterproofed bar can be attached to studs and the grab bars can be fastened to it. PROS: Reduces accidents and improves access. CONS: Safety may require future changes.
  5. Level-entry showers: Custom solid surface or manufactured curbless shower bases are a boon to handicapped access. Any curbless base must slope 1/4 inch per foot toward the drain. For tile showers, extend a waterproof membrane under the base and into the room to mitigate standing water problems. Set base in mud, not grout and thinset. PROS: Easier maintenance and access. Improved safety. CONS: Direct showerhead away from entry for best leak protection.

Section 4--Water Waste Wisdom

Preservation of water resources can be part of home renovation. Water-saving showerheads can reduce usage significantly, as can repairing leaking faucets and showerheads.

4.1: Preventing Water Waste

  1. Corroded fittings: Minerals and debris accumulate in showerhead controls and spray heads, causing leaks and clogs. Remove controls and showerheads, clean out debris and minerals, and install a new washer and/or repair kit. Still malfunctioning? Buy a water-conserving showerhead or new controls. PROS: Inexpensive repairs. CONS: Stubborn problems require a plumber.
  2. Low-flow showerheads: Showerheads with 60 psi water pressure compensate for low water flow. Some restrictors installed behind the existing showerhead permit selecting the amount of flow reduction. PROS: No change to plumbing lines is needed. CONS: Low-flow showerheads increase scalding risk.

About the Author
Suzanne Clemenz designed her passive solar home and interacted with the contractors every day of the 6-month project. She started drawing floor plans and making models in the early '70s after purchasing several building lots. Recently she expanded and remodelled her newly-purchased home, working with contractors on the floorplan, electrical changes, painting, installation of wood laminate flooring, flood prevention walls and stonework, major drainage issues, an irrigation system and a landscaping. Researching and keeping up on issues and products related to home design and maintenance is an ongoing avocation.

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