Like most old homes, ours did not come with a shower but did have a couple of nice old tubs, including a very vintage, cast iron claw foot tub. While the tub was great for soaking in, it wasn’t very practical for bathing in the morning before we headed off to work. Adding a shower to our master bathroom was one of our first remodeling projects.
Bathrooms that were retrofitted in middle class Victorian homes such as ours, weren’t known for being particular large. Back when these bathrooms were being carved out of low porches and walk in closets, the owners were thrilled with the mere idea of an indoor toilet and didn’t much care that their new bathroom wasn’t large enough to spin a cat. This sparsity of space may have worked for a tub, but provides a challenge to today’s homeowners who’d much rather have a shower.
Fortunately for those of us with a free standing claw foot tub and a small bathroom, converting a claw foot tub into a shower/tub combo is a relatively easy process. Old House plumbing restoration houses such as Mac the Antique Plumber and Renovator’s Supply House carry claw foot shower conversion kits, along with leg tub shower enclosures. The total cost of our conversion kit, which included a hand held shower and shower enclosure was around $900. This was considerably less than the cost of yanking out the tub, removing portions of the floor and plaster walls, and then installing a custom shower stall. The low cost is definitely one of the advantages of a claw foot to shower/tub conversion.
The pro or positive side to a tub to tub/shower conversion
Pro #1: In addition to the financial savings, a conversion kit avoids the need to replumb the entire bathroom. The shower fittings are attached to the tub faucets, and rise upwards to gently curve into the shower head. Since the fittings are external, there is no need to tear into walls. Converting a tub to a shower is an easy DIY project that does not require a plumber.
Pro #2: For people who love the look of an old fashioned bathroom, a claw foot conversion kit is a historical faithful method of retaining the character of an old bathroom. It is also completely reversible for a future owner.
Pro #3: Conservation of space is another positive feature for a claw foot tub conversion. In older bathrooms that have little floor space, a conversion kit allow you to have both a shower and deep tub in the same area.
Pro #4: Last but not least, reusing an existing tub is a very eco friendly of recycling perfectly good building materials.
The con or downside of a claw foot tub to tub/shower conversion
When the unit was first installed, we were quite thrilled at how well the shower worked. Seventeen years later, I’ve lost a little of my enthusiasm for the following 5 reasons.
Con #1: The rim of a clawfoot tub is approximately 23″ to the floor, which is a bit of a climb for an older person. While getting into the tub isn’t that much of problem, it’s getting out of the tub that worries me. Stepping out of a wet tub onto a wet floor from a height of nearly two feet is an accident waiting to happen. Once hubby and I hit our 70s, I can see the need for a goofy looking, non historically accurate handle bar being glued to the edge to keep us from hitting the ground and breaking a hip.
Con #2: The floor behind a claw foot shower combo gets amazingly dirty and hair & dust tend to travel where a mop can’t reach. Trying to wash the floor means laying down on one’s stomach and stretching an arm beneath the tub. By the time I hit my 80s, there is no way that space will ever see Spic N Span again.
Con #3: Claw foot shower enclosures consist of a circular rod that is suspended above the tub. To keep the water from spilling out of the tub, it is necessary to have a two shower curtain liners, one for the left side of the tub and one for the right. Even though these liners overlap at the ends, there seems to be an awfully lot of water hitting the floor after every shower.
Con #4: A claw foot shower conversion might not meet Building Code in your municipality, especially if the work is being done by a licensed plumber in conjunction with other restoration work. The Plumbing Inspector “red tagged” our conversion, and required our plumber make a dorky looking copper faucet that rose inelegantly some 12 inches about the bathtub.
Con #5: Claw foot tubs are elevated tubs that rise above the floor a good 8 inches and in a room with low ceilings, having enough clearance for a shower can be a challenge. For rooms with less than a 7 foot ceiling height, a conversion kit simply won’t work. Fitting the shower head into the space isn’t the problem, it’s the proximity of the ceiling to the warm moisture being generated by the shower which can damage both the paint and plaster.
While converting a claw foot bathtub into a tub & shower combo has mostly positive points, it does have some negative aspects as well. These pros and cons should help you decide if a claw foot tub conversion is the right choice for your old home before you start this project.