Did you know it is possible to have an opening cut in the front wall of your bathtub and convert your existing tub into a walk-in shower? It is and the technique to do so is called a “Tub Cut” (aka Tub Conversion, Bathtub Cut-Out, & Step Through Insert).
How Does a Tub Cut Work?
A contractor uses a saw to cut a piece out of the front wall of your bathtub and then refinishes the tub walls, thereby creating a doorway in the sidewall of the tub. After the tub to shower conversion has been completed, a few inch threshold will still remain at the bottom of the opening. The remaining threshold combined with a shower curtain will work together to keep the water inside, effectively turning your bathtub into a walk-in shower stall.
“If” others in your household still wish to use the tub for soaking, a door-insert can optionally be added. Door inserts are equipped with a hinged door allowing the user to step in and out through the opening. When the door is closed, it is designed to seal the opening in the tub wall allowing members of the household who wish to take a soaking bath to do so.
Who Would Benefit From a Tub Cut?
- have difficulty stepping over the bathtub wall.
- have the ability to step over a few inch threshold at the entrance.
Or, persons who…
- slide sideways from their wheelchair to a bath seat positioned inside the tub and find it difficult to lift their legs over the bathtub wall.
Options for Refinishing the Exposed Tub Walls
Once an opening has been cut in the tub wall, the exposed edges of the tub walls need to be refinished. Two options for refinishing the edges are described below.
- Tub Cap: A Tub Cap is a prefabricated part that is shaped like an upside down “U”. It gets fixed in place on top of the exposed edges, creating a smooth, finished surface. Tub caps come in pre-fixed sizes, therefore, it is important to cut the opening in the tub wall to exactly match the cap size selected. Be aware, the tub cap does protrude a little bit above the top of the tub wall and outwards from the face of the tub wall (much like a doorframe does around a doorway). As far as we are aware, tub caps are only available in white.
- Custom Panels: Some manufactures offer panels that can be custom-cut to exactly match the size of the opening and width of the walls. The panels are secured in place and the edges around the panels are refinished creating a smooth, flush appearance that mimics the look of the existing tub wall. The color of the panels and tub walls can be made to match one another.
FAQ’s About Tub Cuts
1. Can a Tub Cut be performed on all types of tubs?
In most cases, the answer is yes, unless you have a particularly unusual tub, in which case you will need to consult with a contractor regarding whether it is feasible to do so or not. Tub cuts can be performed on tubs made from porcelain, steel, acrylic, fiberglass and cast iron and on many different types of tubs including whirlpool tubs, deck-mounted, and tiled-in tubs.
2. How long does it take to complete a Tub Cut?
A Tub Cut can be completed in less than a day and in many cases in as little as 2-4 hours. A tub made from fiberglass or acrylic usually takes the least amount of time, while tubs made from cast iron or steel will take longer; both because these materials are harder to cut and because the entire bathroom must be carefully taped off first to prevent splintered iron or steel fragments from getting embedded in the walls where they would later cause rust spots. Once the tub cut has been completed, it usually takes about 24 hours for the re-surfacing materials to dry, making it possible to enjoy a shower on the following day.
3. Can the threshold be completely eliminated?
No. The interior floor of a bathtub does not rest flush against the ground, so it is not possible to eliminate the threshold all together. At a minimum, the threshold must meet the height of the interior tub floor and then extend a little bit above this to keep the water from running out the opening.
4. How high will the threshold be after the Tub Cut is complete?
Typically, the remaining threshold will be a minimum of 4 inches high. This takes into consideration the height the interior bathtub floor is suspended above the bathroom floor combined with leaving a few inches of wall intact above the height of the tub’s interior floor in order to contain the water inside the tub.
5. When a Tub Cut is performed, can the entire front tub wall be removed?
This will depend on the material the tub is made out of. It may be possible to remove all, or most, of the front wall if the bathtub is made from cast iron. For a fiberglass tub, it is typically not recommended to remove more than a 2 foot wide portion from the wall to prevent damaging the tub’s structural integrity. A two-foot wide opening is usually plenty adequate for most people to step in and out through.
6. When a Tub Cut is performed, does the opening have to be centered?
No. The opening can be positioned in the middle of the tub wall or off-center to one side or the other. If the tub is made from fiberglass or acrylic it is best to avoid cutting the opening in the curved part on either end of the tub wall in order to prevent damaging the structural integrity of the tub walls.
7. What is the ideal location to cut the opening in the tub wall?
Ideally, the opening should be cut in the tub wall in a place that allows a user to step directly in and out. Or, if the user plans to sit on a portable bath chair while inside the tub, the opening should be positioned in front of the seat, so the person can easily step through the opening, turn, and sit down on the chair. The structural integrity of the tub wall must also be taken into consideration when choosing the ideal location. (See #5 & #6 above for more details.)
8. Can a bath board be used with a Tub Cut?
A bath board is a board that is designed to rest on top of the tub walls, creating a seat. Whether or not the remaining tub wall will be structurally strong enough to support a bath board (occupied by a person), needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis. It will depend on both the material the tub wall is made out of and the weight of the person(s) who will be using it. Consult with your contractor in regards to whether it will be safe for you to use one or not. To learn more about bath boards, read our guide Bath Boards: The Basics.
9. How will a Tub Cut affect your home’s resale value?
Some installers claim they can reinsert the piece that was cut out of the tub wall and restore the tub back to it’s original appearance – in which case it shouldn’t impact the resale value at all. Whether or not the piece can be reinserted will depend on the material the tub is made out of and the technique the contractor uses.
If the piece cannot be reinserted, the affect on your home’s resale value will depend on the general condition of the bathroom. If you have a modern bathroom with new fixtures, cutting a hole in the side of the tub is clearly not going to increase your home’s value. If your bathroom fixtures are old and worn out, then it is probably safe to assume the next buyer will be planning to rip the fixtures out and replace them anyway, so it is probably not going to make much difference in the home’s resale value.
10. How much does a Tub Cut cost?
On average, having your tub modified via a Tub Cut will cost you between $450-$2,000. Prices will vary based on the material your tub is made out of, the method used for refinishing the exposed tub walls, the geographic location where you live, and the professional skill level of the person you hire to do the work.
11. Is a Tub Cut cheaper than installing a walk-in shower?
In most cases having a doorway cut in the side of your bathtub’s wall will be cheaper than installing a new shower stall. However, in some cases the cost can be quite similar, so it is definitely worth doing a price comparison.
When doing price comparisons, it is helpful to be aware that there are two types of showers, which include: models with a threshold and models without a threshold at the entrance. The ones that have a small threshold present at the entrance are the ones that can sometimes be similar in cost to modifying the existing bathtub with a Tub Cut. On average, having a prefabricated shower stall installed that has a small threshold will cost $1,500-$5,000 and this type of shower can often be installed in less than a day. To learn more about prefab shower stalls, read Tips for Picking a Prefab Accessible Shower.
The prefabricated shower stalls with no threshold (aka curbless shower or roll-in shower) are the easiest to access and one of the most future-proof options. However, this type will normally cost more and take longer to install because the floor underneath the shower usually needs to be modified in order to create a flush transition between the inside of the shower and the bathroom floor outside. Cost to install a curbless shower will vary based on whether a prefabricated shower stall is installed or the shower is custom-built by the contractor. Curbless-style showers will typically cost a minimum of $4,000 and up to as much as $10,000, or more, to install.
The Homeability Advice™
If you are experiencing trouble getting in and out of your tub, in many cases a simple portable-style bath seat, such as a bathtub bench or a bathtub board may be sufficient to help you successfully get in and out of the tub. Bathtub benches and bathtub boards help to create a bridge between the inside and outside of the tub, making it possible for you to back up and sit down on the seat while both feet are still positioned outside the tub. Then, once you are safely seated you can lift one leg at a time over the tub wall.
In the event a simple portable-style bath bench won’t work for your tub or needs, or you feel you won’t be able to lift your legs over the tub wall from a seated position, then modifying the tub via a “Tub Cut” is a good consideration. If you do have a Tub Cut performed, it is important to be aware that you will still have to step in and out over a threshold that is a minimum of 4” high, so you may want to additionally consider having a contractor install one or more grab bars on the shower wall to help make it easier and safer when you are stepping in and out.
Adding a “tub door insert” to the opening created in the tub wall (as described in the guide above), will provide others in the household with the option to soak in the bath. However, if you don’t have a family member who is adamant about being able to soak in the bathtub, then we recommend against adding a tub-door insert. It creates one more barrier you must contend with when getting in and out. It requires you to bend down low to latch and unlatch the door, step through the opening, and then maneuver awkwardly around the door in order to close it when standing inside. Whereas, if a door-insert is not used, you can simply step in and out through the opening.
A Tub Cut is one of many options for making a bathtub more accessible. To learn about other alternatives, read: Getting In & Out of the Tub: Benches, Lifts, & Transfer Chairs.
More Topics You May Be Interested In:
- The Truth About Home Modification Funding
- Bathtub Boards: The Basics
- How to Pick a Prefabricated Accessible Shower
- Buying a Walk-in Tub – Your Biggest Mistake?
- Invest in Your Independence