Q. I want to convert my bathtub into a walk-in shower in my apartment. How hard is that, and is it a good idea?
A. If you have just one bathroom in your apartment, losing a tub is probably not good for resale value.
Most buyers will look for a full bathroom with a tub/shower combination, and as a result your apartment’s marketability could be affected. Without a bathtub, your unit also wouldn’t be as child-friendly.
If you have a second full bath however, that is the perfect scenario for installing a large walk-in shower.
“We do this in many, many master bathrooms in Manhattan apartments," says New York City architect Gordon Kahn of GK Associates.
But like most other renovation decisions, if you plan on living in your apartment for the long haul, and you feel that selling isn’t in the cards for many years, your personal desires may trump any future buyer’s.
If you're planning to convert, consult your contractor and architect early on in the process.
Things to think about include the amount of demolition necessary to remove the tub (this will vary if you have a built-in tub vs. a freestanding ball-and-claw tub), the weight of said tub and transporting it (heavy tubs will need to be broken into pieces to be carried out of the building), plus "the condition of the walls and floor after the tub is out," says architectural designer Gary Eisner of BuiltIn Studio.
If the building’s board requires that branch lines --the lines that branch off the main riser--be replaced all the way back to the riser (the line that connects to the sprinkler head), "that of course turns things into a bigger and more expensive job," says Eisner.
(More on costs below.)
You may also need to make the bathroom handicap accessible.
If you change a fixture--meaning the-tub, toilet, or sink because they are fixed or permanently attached--in a bathroom in New York City, the bathroom must be made handicapped adaptable and comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Kahn says.
This isn’t as much of an issue if your bathroom's footprint is larger than a typical 5’ X 8’ New York apartment bathroom. But if the bath has the typical smaller pre-war layout, you probably won’t have enough space for the shower or be able to meet code.
Moreover, many if not most buildings won't allow you to expand a bathroom over spaces that are not ‘wet’ to avoid creating so-called 'wet over dry' conditions. That often makes it “almost impossible to comply with ADA requirements and building rules when changing fixtures in a bathroom," says Kahn.
In this situation, you’ll need to forgo the large walk-in shower and any layout change, sticking with the original footprint of the bath.
Think about space
Your shower will occupy the exact same space (unless you are able to reconfigure your bathroom), and it will not have a curtain, but be enclosed in glass instead.
“If your existing tub is not very wide, the new shower will probably feel a little smaller, but the bathroom as a whole might feel larger with the glass enclosure," says Eisner.
Frosted glass is an option if you're sharing the single bathroom and require privacy, but the glass options for a custom shower enclosure are many, so explore the potential choices.
For details like this and general design decisions, it's best to hire a bath designer or an architect who specializes in bathroom renovations to avoid major and costly errors, especially when working within such tight quarters.
Dealing with the co-op board
“To my knowledge, the properties I manage have no issue with a resident replacing an existing tub with a walk-in shower,” says Barry Benami, property manager with Argo Real Estate. Provided a licensed plumber performs the work and shows all the necessary documentation, he says, “I don’t see an issue with granting approval."
To be safe, check with your managing agent about approvals. Rules may differ from building to building.
However, both the building code and your board will require the drain to be replaced.
“A bathtub is typically installed with a 1 1/2” drain, while a shower is required by code to have a 2” diameter drain,” says Eisner. "They will also make sure the contractor is installing new waterproofing to the ceiling of the shower enclosure, and installing a lead pan with curb."
Your building may require a water test to be certain the newly installed shower is leak-free.
Allow about three-to-four weeks, or possibly longer depending on the circumstances as mentioned above, for the entire demo and renovation process. Figure on more time than you need and know that complications tend to happen during renovations. Count on one month being the best possible scenario and then you’ll be prepared.
What it costs
On average, “costs should be $8,000-$12,000,” says Eisner. Factors affecting the price involve the amount of demo needed to remove the existing tub, and the condition of the walls and floor after the tub has been taken out.
“If the building board requires branch lines to be replaced back to the riser, that of course turns things into a bigger and more expensive job,” he says. In this case, the bath would be a complete gut and renovation costs could easily double.
Costs can also increase depending on the type of glass enclosure. Expect to pay about $3000 and up for a custom glass surround for your walk-in shower, and an additional ten percent plus for frosted or obscured glass. The glass cost will increase if you prefer low iron or ultra-clear glass, which is of higher quality.
Tile and fixture selections will also impact the final number, so if you’re on a tight budget -- you should be crafty with your picks.
But if your materials budget is bigger, you’ll have a wider variety of tile choices and patterns to choose from, as well as the option of installing that rainfall shower head you’ve been dreaming about.
Tracy Kaler was a designer, decorator and renovator in her last life. Before working as a freelance writer, she held several furniture sales jobs in the Big Apple and purchased a new wardrobe. Now she works in her pajamas and commutes two feet to her desk each day. This is one of the few advantages of living in a New York apartment, and well, so much for that wardrobe.