Bathing Beauty

Tired of your ugly tub or old shower? Don't yank them out. Just cover them up.



When your home was first built, the porcelain tub gleamed, the ceramic tiles glistened, and the whole bathroom looked spic-and-span. Over the years, though, porcelain can scratch or chip, revealing the rusty cast-iron tub beneath, tile can age and crack, and the bathroom can quickly become an eyesore.

Repairs aren't easy. Installing hundreds of ceramic tiles — even if you are lucky enough to match the original color — is tedious, and replacing an entire bathtub can be one of the most difficult chores a homeowner can face, especially if it's an older home with a tub that's no longer a standard size.

Another solution might be to just cover up the old with the new, and that's what a company called Bath Fitter does — create a durable acrylic shell that completely covers your tub, shower, and the surrounding walls. While they are at it, they can add new glass doors, handrails, shower seats, shelves, and brand-new faucets and fixtures.

With prices starting at about $1,000, "We are certainly not the cheapest solution," says Mike Mothersell, general manager of the Memphis office, one of 165 franchises around the country. "But I think we are the best, and I make no apology for our pricing because we work hard to do everything right."

Mothersell explains that tired, chipped bathtubs can be repainted or reglazed, but that's usually a temporary solution. "That porcelain was originally baked on the tub when it was first manufactured," he says. "Porcelain repairs just don't have that same durability."

Customers can first visit the Bath Fitter website (www.bathfitter.com) to ponder various options and colors. The company then sends an estimator to discuss the specific needs — a new tub, new walls, or sometimes even a conversion from tub to shower — and takes precise measurements. Bath Fitter has computer profiles of just about every bathtub in existence, and for older homes, they will even bring out a molded form to drop in place and make sure of the shape before they begin work.

The next step is for their manufacturing plant in Springfield, Tennessee, to mold the various components. One of the company's selling points is that the walls around the tub are made in one piece, so there's no caulking that might result in leaks. Four to six weeks later, an installer comes to the customer's house, and within a day the customer has a new bathtub or shower — actually a tight-fitting high-quality acrylic shell that molds perfectly to the existing fixtures.

"We don't put in sinks, and we don't do toilets," says Mothersell. "Our guys only do tubs and showers, so they definitely know what they are doing."

Tubs are available in more than a dozen different styles (the most popular is the "Empress" with a sculpted front and reclining backrest), and the company produces everything in four basic colors: white, white marble, pearl, and ivory marble.

"Over the years, developers put lots of odd colors into houses — things like gold and avocado that were only popular for a few years," says Mothersell. "We came up with four colors that will go with any bathroom scheme, no matter what other colors may be in there. Our work is designed to accent, not clash, with the rest of the room."

Mothersell is especially proud of the attention to detail. "We custom-bend all corners so there are no seams. The walls are attached with special Butyl rubber compound, which expands and contracts with the heat of the water so it stays in place. The acrylic is high-gloss and non-porous, so it won't stain easily."

Bath Fitter installers even remove their shoes when they enter the house and lay down runners to protect floors while they work.

The company opened its Memphis franchise in January 2006. Since then, Mothersell estimates they have completed more than 800 bathroom projects, including 57 bathrooms in the dorms at Christian Brothers University.

The cost can range anywhere from about $1,000 for "a simple tub job" to $6,000 for more elaborate installations, depending on the type and quality of fittings and accessories. All work comes with a lifetime warranty.

Bath Fitter actually started more than 20 years ago in Quebec, before branching out to the States. "We use Delta faucets, which are manufactured in Jackson, and all of our products come from our plant outside Nashville," says Mothersell. "So even though we got our start in Canada I like to think we are actually a Tennessee company." 

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