Replacing an existing tub can be a pricey venture. Even if you choose a moderately priced replacement bathtub, there probably will be a minimum of $1,000 in labor and other costs to remove the old fixture and install the new one. That cost is an estimate for putting the same type of new tub in the same place as an old one -- it will be higher if you want the tub in a different spot and will need new plumbing installed, or if you want to upgrade your tub to a deeper or otherwise differently-sized model.
However, if all you want to do is replace an old bathtub, keep in mind that some tubs can be resurfaced or refinished. The cost of refinishing an existing enamel-coated steel, iron or fiberglass tub starts at around $300, which, if you consider installation costs, is a huge savings over buying new. If you have the ability, you can even do the refinishing yourself, although you might be happier with professional results. Many fans of vintage and antique items buy beat up old tubs and have them refinished, either to sell at a profit or to add character to their own homes. If you do opt for refinishing, your old tub can be painted virtually any color you want.
Resurfacing can often be done in one day, although the tub may need a few additional days to cure. Also, the chemicals used for refinishing are caustic and noxious, so you'll want to plan for your project to be done when you can open the widows. Contractors will usually bring some kind of ventilation equipment to will pump the fumes outside. Acrylic tubs are usually not appropriate for refinishing because some of the acids used in the resurfacing process can dissolve acrylic, so replacing or buying a liner for an acrylic tub may be your only option for that type of material.
Having an acrylic tub liner installed over an existing tub is another option for most types of alcove-style bathtubs. There are a number of vendors that specialize in this type of tub redo, supplying both the liner and the labor, and they can offer services from a very basic liner placed over the tub, to full bath/shower liner combos. They even offer many options for upgraded features like built-in shelves, arm or back supports, or other organizational or comfort touches. One caveat: you are limited to keeping the tub in the same spot. This is merely a cover that goes over your existing tub, there are no options for moving it to a different location.
You can also purchase a liner from a retailer and find a local installer. Replacing a tub liner is not a job that most experts recommend tackling as a do-it-yourselfer as it requires a great deal of care and skill to be sure a tight seal is achieved. Most tub liner retailers, if they don't handle installation themselves, work with or can recommend local installers.
An acrylic liner will last longer than a refinished tub, but it's more expensive, and the process is more time-consuming. A professional will photograph and precisely measure your tub, then send that information to the liner manufacturer (some have hundreds of sizes and shapes on hand, but there's a possibility you'll need to have one custom-made). About four to six weeks later, the liner will arrive and the professional will install it over the old tub. The acrylic liner will be about a quarter-inch thick and weigh about 35 pounds -- there's a possibility that you'll need plumbing work to extend the drain. Simpler jobs take only one day, others may require two days of work. After the job is done, maintenance is identical to a standard acrylic bathtub.
If you do opt to use a professional for either of these types of bathtub rejuvenation, be sure to ask for local references, consult friends and acquaintances that have had similar work done, or read online reviews. You should also find out what type of warranty coverage is provided -- three years to five years is standard on tub liners with professional installation.
Elsewhere in this Buyer's Guide: