Bathtub Liners vs Bathtub Reglazing

Two cost saving solutions to the ugliest bathroom problems

What can be done about old, worn and unattractive bathtubs?

Replacing a bathtub is an expensive proposition, not because a new bathtub is particularly costly itself, but because there is so much labor involved in removing the old and replacing it with the new.  Tubs are often set in corner or nook, and held secure by a drain, overflow and faucet plumping. Replacing the tub can make some sense if you are doing a full remodel of the bathroom, but otherwise there are other more practical and cost effective options.

There are two popular alternatives to replacing a bathtub or bathtub shower unit: bathtub liners and bathtub refinishing. Either method will save money and time over replacing an old bathtub, although refinishing is normally a lot cheaper. But which one should you choose? For price conscious apartment owners the cheapest method and the lowest estimate is the easy conclusion to this question which explains the popularity of refinishing in apartment buildings. Homeowners will often opt for what they feel looks best or will last the longest, and homeowners are the primary customers of the bathtub liner industry.  But surprisingly there ARE times an apartment owner should consider bathtub liners. And homeowners likewise should hesitate before assuming the more expensive solution is better for them.  So what are the pros and cons of these solutions, and is there a place for the tub liner for apartment owners?  Is a tub liner the right choice whenever money is not the primary concern?

Bathtub Liners

Here's how the bathtub liner process goes. The installer gets measurements and photos of the tub and sends these to their supplier. The model is identified and a prefabricated liner that is designed to fit the specific tub is shipped to the installer. The old tub is cleaned, the drain and overflow are removed and the liner is trimmed so it fits snugly in the old bathtub. A new drain and overflow, are installed and seams are caulked. Once the liner is delivered, in four to eight weeks, it is usually installed in one day. The homeowner can bathe in it that same evening.

Bathtub Refinishing

Reglazing, or refinishing, a worn-out bathtub is done entirely onsite. It can be started as soon as the technician has an opening in his schedule. There is usually no wait for materials. Processes vary in detail from one company to another, but there are some essential steps normally followed. First the area is masked off to protect surfaces not to be treated, then the bathtub is thoroughly cleaned, and often etched with an acid. Any chips or cracks are repaired and sanded smooth. Sometimes a bonding agent is used other times a primer coat is used. The surface is then sprayed with a coating that if successful will closely resemble a real porcelain finish. The surface can be used normally in 24 to 48 hours.

Which is for You?

Liners are certainly more durable than a refinished tub coating. But liners cost two or three times the price or more. I have heard customers say could have replaced the tub for the price they paid. But can be a considerable saving over replacing.

Refinishing a tub, on the other hand, costs $200 to $450. Although most customers want white, refinishing is available in virtually any color. This is compared with the five common colors (white, almond, biscuit, gray and black) that most liner companies offer.

There are some esthetic issues with liners. Some people like the clean, simple lines of the liner, but if you have an older tub with detail and character in the skirt for instance, liners hide these details. Liners are plastic so they look plastic. But a complaint we hear most is that when there is leakage around the liner water will get under it, which can make it squishy to walk on and smelly with mold. This is a difficult problem to solve.

Warranties vary. Refinishers usually offer 2 or 5 year warranties. Bathtub liners offer 3 to 10 year to lifetime warranties. Be skeptical of a company that has only been in business for a short time but is offering a lifetime guarantee. Read the warranty on your contract and find out if you need to prove your warranty coverage by producing a copy of your warranty. Most people lose track of warranty documents after a few years. Pacific Reglazing is one refinishing company that keeps records of all work performed so warranty coverage can be easily verified.

Most liner companies won't do jetted tubs, nor will they line claw-foot tubs. Chipped, dented or even rusted-through tubs are no problem, however, but be prepared to pay more if repairs are necessary. And here is where the Apartment Owner may find bathtub liners a tempting option. Pressed steal bathtubs that have rusted through are difficult or impossible to repair, and once the rust has set in enough to show through the tub, it is pretty much beyond repair and out of the realm of what can generally be refinished. A liner provides the alternative to replacing that rusted out old tub.

Picking the right company

The best advice is to act as you would hiring any contractor -- ask lots of questions. Get recommendations from friends and neighbors when you can. Ask how long the company has been in business. Check the status of their contractors license.

In California a specialty contractors license is required to operate as a bathtub refinisher or tub liner installer. Particularly in the refinishing industry, there are many illegal immigrants and other individuals who attempt to get work by offering cut rate services using cheap materials, by cutting corners, and by holding no insurances. These companies can be mostly identified very easily by simply looking for a license number in any ads you respond to. It is a requirement that all ads by licensed contractors display their contractor license number. You can check the status and legitimacy of a license by visiting the Contractors State Licensing Board website at www.cslb.ca.gov

If you are considering a bathtub liner, find out if the company has your exact tub model before you sign a contract.

Be skeptical of any claim that refinishing materials and solvents used are "safe." They are safe once they have dried, but make sure the refinisher has plenty of ventilation in the room being refinished while the work is being performed, and you should be asked or required to stay out until the fumes are gone.

Armed with this information you should be able to save money solving those difficult bathroom surface problems.


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