J.D. NORRIS’ HOW DO I: Convert my tub into a walk-through unit?
The question was asked if I could take a standard tub and make it so that a homeowner could walk through the front skirt of the tub rather than high step over it. The answer is yes, it can be done. The best-case scenario is not always possible for everyone. It is very expensive to remove an existing tub and shower unit and install a walk-in tub with new wall surrounds, finishing details, etc.
When the budget won’t allow for the Cadillac model and our knees demand assistance in getting in and out of the tub, there is an economical way to solve the problem. If the tub is made of Fiberglas or even steel, the front skirt can be cut, and a step-through kit can be installed to lower the threshold of the tub.
Keep in mind for every positive, there is a negative. Before committing to alter your tub, think it through carefully because, once it is done, there is no turning back. A tub can be filled with an ample supply of warm water for a relaxing bath, but once the threshold has been lowered to allow for an easier entrance, it will no longer hold as much water as it did before, preventing you from submerging yourself in a soothing bath relieving yourself from the stress of the day.
You will be, in effect, converting the tub into somewhat of a shower. However, sometimes we have to make certain trade-offs. So if this is what you need to do, there are two ways you can go about doing it. You can hire it to be done or you can choose to do it yourself. Since this article is directed at do-it-yourselfers, I will give the steps you need to take to perform this task (those of you that are not do-it-yourselfers, you can call me).
There is a company called “Best Bath Inc” that sells the step-through kit. You measure the thickness and height of your tub skirt and order the kit that best fits your tub. Once it arrives, you can read the instructions to see how to install it. That’s all there is to it. Just kidding, that would make for a short and boring article. Even though you can read and follow the instructions when they arrive, I will explain the process so this article will be more fun, fulfilling and enjoyable to read.
Use the template in the kit to mark a cut line around the template onto the surface of the tub skirt. Carefully cut this line using several saw options. Two that will work well is a reciprocating saw and/or a jig saw. It helps to tape the surface of the tub first before tracing a line around the template. This helps reduce the chance of any unintended scratches from the base of the saw.
These two saw options work well on Fiberglas tubs, but for steel tubs the reciprocating saw can prove to be too difficult. The jig saw will work on steel tubs with the right saw blade. Cast iron tubs usually prove too difficult to accomplish this task.
Once the section of the tub skirt is cut away, the result is you can see the hollow section between the two surfaces of the tub all the way down to the floor. This hollow section needs to be filled with wood supports, mainly for the Fiberglas tubs. The side walls of the tub skirt need the re-enforcement to stabilize the tub and the step needs the support to hold the direct weight of someone standing on the step.
Pre-drill some holes around the perimeter of the cutout to prevent the Fiberglas from cracking as you insert screws to secure the wooden support to the tub walls. 2x4 blocks work well for this support.
Once the blocks of wood are secured in place, you simply slide the plastic step into the cutout and rest it firmly down onto the wooden block supports. Use adhesive caulk on the top side of the wooden blocking to adhere to the bottom of the plastic step and apply a bead of white silicone around the perimeter of the plastic step flange to seal it from water and finesse it to the surface of the tub. After the silicone dries, the tub is ready for use. This process can be performed in three to four hours.
This can only work with a shower curtain rather than a glass enclosure, and the curtain needs to be lowered to pass below the step. The step now allows approximately 3 to 4 inches of water in the bottom of the tub so in essence the tub is now a shower. As far as resale value is concerned, this is not a recommended procedure if that is a concern of yours.
If you would like for me to address a do-it-yourself project you plan to tackle, send your inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
JD Norris is the owner/operator of DreamMaker Bath&Kitchen and a certified S.C. Master Builder, certified “Aging in Place” Specialist and certified Green Professional.