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Ask the Architect

Getting rid of the bathtubs?


Q. Our bathrooms need a serious remodel and we don’t really need bathtubs anymore, so we want to do all-new showers, possibly with a built-in seat in each one. Will our taxes go up? Will we need a permit? And what do you think of using pre-fab instead of tile showers?

A. You touched on many questions. First, would you ever consider a humorous remodel instead of a serious one? Some jurisdictions allow direct replacement of bathrooms without a permit, but qualify that with keeping the same fixtures. Once you’re doing plumbing work to replace fixtures, most require a building permit to show the bathrooms before your plumber applies for the plumbing permit.
I wouldn’t recommend eliminating all bathtubs from the house, for many reasons. The resale value goes down for people who need one for bathing children or an elderly adult, and some people still have the time to fill a tub and relax. A tub is best for washing down the pet you swore you’d never have or for a guest who needs to soak for medical reasons. I remember my great-grandmother’s house in Cleveland when, to my surprise (and disgust) as a 5-year-old, I walked in to find a large carp swimming back and forth, waiting to be turned into gefilte fish for the holidays. For whatever reason that people will use a bathtub in a pinch, having the large vessel comes in pretty handy. When we were looking for our first home, my wife and I were even shown a house with a motorcycle in the living room, parts spread out everywhere and some soaking in the tub, so there’s no accounting for the endless ways a tub can be used, I guess.
The issue of using pre-fabricated bathroom tub and shower units is one of the most common discussions I have when addressing the number of ways to remodel. The only reasons I would ever recommend using tiles and grout is for customization, whether it’s to increase the number of choices of finishes, since there are thousands upon thousands of combinations of tiles to choose from, as opposed to the limited selection of tub and shower surrounds, and you can readily vary the shape of the shower to almost anything with tile.

The difference is maintenance. You probably don’t realize that the bathrooms in most hotel rooms, even upscale ones, are generally prefabricated, and more and more are built off-site, in factory settings, before being flat-bedded to the job site. The materials for those bathrooms have been tested for durability so they can last longer and take greater stress from people who don’t care if they pull too hard on a towel rod. Waterproofing is another really important reason to make sure that tub platforms, shower surrounds and floors get either special attention during installation or are fabricated to prevent leaking. And last, have you ever seen taxes go down? Good luck!

© 2019 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.