Even if you choose a moderately priced replacement bathtub, there probably will be $2,000 to $3,500 in labor and other costs to remove the old fixture and install the new one. (That cost will be higher if you want the tub in a different spot and new plumbing installed.) The cost of refinishing an existing enamel-coated steel, iron or fiberglass tub will run between $300 and $500 (not all refinishers will work on acrylic tubs because some of the acids used can dissolve acrylic). Having an acrylic tub liner installed over an existing tub probably will cost about $1,000. If you decide to restore your existing tub, it's probably not a do-it-yourself project. If you opt for refinishing, your old tub can be painted virtually any color you want.
Because installing a tub liner requires care and skill, even online vendors like Liners Direct will refer you to a local installer rather than try to market to do-it-yourselfers. Re-Bath says it has more than 700 premade liners in various shapes and sizes. Similarly, for refinishing there is a vast array of local craftspersons as well as franchised refinishers such as Miracle Method and Permaglaze. The most credible sources indicate no preference on which you should choose --rather, they indicate that you should ask for local references from any refinisher.
Resurfacing is the cheaper option and can be done in one day. The chemicals used for refinishing are caustic and noxious -- workers wear protective clothing and a respirator, and thoughtful contractors will bring some kind of ventilation device that will pump the fumes outside. Ask for references, and consult friends and acquaintances that have had similar work done. A Colorado refinisher told ThisOldHouse.com's Pete Goode that "anyone can say they're a refinisher" and that shoddy work by some has led to rumors that refinishing doesn't last very long. Goode notes that warranties can range from three years to five years and quotes one refinisher, who offers a five-year warranty, as saying good work should last 10 to 15 years if the tub is properly used and maintained.
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. You should be able to use the tub that night. Maintenance will be identical to a standard acrylic bathtub.