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How to convert a bathtub into a walk-in shower

Updated February 21, 2017

Turning an unused bathtub into a walk-in shower can have several benefits for homeowners. A shower has less barrier to entry, aiding users who have difficulty climbing in and out of a tub. You can personalise your bathroom with the addition of a hand-held shower head, seat or decorative shower floor tile.

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  1. Measure your existing area. The vast majority of old bathtubs are 60 inches long by 30 inches wide, although there can be variations from home to home. Include space for tile and backerboard by measuring the current tub and adding approximately 1 inch to the length and 1/2 inch to the width.

  2. Determine if this will be the final size of the shower, or if you need additional space and will be moving walls. The final size of the shower to come is important for laying out the tile, plumbing and shower drain, so determine the approximate size now to save time later.

  3. Prepare to remove the old bathtub, the tile around it and at least part of the old plumbing. The bathtub is installed before any tile goes into the room, so you may need to remove part of the bathroom floor. You can cover this by a shower threshold, the curb that delineates the shower area. You must completely replace wall tile that is disturbed when removing the tub. If the shower will be enlarged, this is the time to do it by removing old walls along with old tile backing for the entire shower.

  4. Remove all the old material from the bathtub and surround; clean, prep and ready the area for the plumbing. If you will use only a showerhead in the new shower, remove the old valve along with the tub spout and replace it with a single-function shower valve. As an alternative, keep the old valve and install a hand shower to facilitate cleaning the new shower. The old valve will have a diverter built into it that directs water from one outlet to another; keeping it requires a second water outlet.

  5. Assemble a shower floor pan and drain. You can order ready-made acrylic pans that fit into the space of an old tub; this allows you to use the current location of the drain and immediately install wall tile. If you want a tiled floor, install either a ready-made fibreglass pan, already pitched toward the current or new drain site, or a copper pan. If using a copper pan, purchase the largest size possible and gently build up the floor so it has a pitch toward the drain of 1/4 inch per foot. Cut the pan to size and place it over the pitched floor. During the installation of any type of pan or acrylic shower floor, you should add a three-piece shower drain.

  6. Cover the walls of the shower with a tile backer, like cement board. It attaches to the studs and can be easily cut to allow for the shower valve, head and hand shower if applicable. If installing a grab bar in the shower, place additional bracing on the studs of the wall before covering the wall in with cement board.

  7. Tile the shower floor before moving to the walls. Tile on a shower floor should be 2 inches or smaller in size to accommodate the pitch of the floor toward the drain, and to provide a skid-free surface for standing.

  8. Install the shower wall tile, and the finish pieces of the plumbing, such as the valve cover and shower head. Use finish tile on the edges, such as bullnose, and use a latex-additive caulk in the same colour as the grout at every 90-degree tile joint in the shower.

  9. Tip

    If using glass tile in the shower, install a flexible membrane behind it to help the tile to move with the settling of the house. If the entire length of the shower is unneeded, install a shower bench at one end. Build it out of plywood and tile it with the wall tile -- or use a piece of granite as the seat. Install niches in the shower walls before covering them with cement board by placing a preformed niche between the studs.


    If the existing shower valve is old or showing signs of wear, always replace it, even if also adding a hand shower. Wherever the shower drain is located, the floor must pitch toward it to ensure even draining of the water. If using a light-coloured stone or marble on the shower pan, help prevent tile discoloaration by installing a waterproofing membrane beneath it.

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About the Author

Sarabeth Asaff has worked in and has written about the home improvement industry since 1995. She has written numerous articles on art, interior design and home improvements, specializing in kitchen and bathroom design. A member in good standing with the National Kitchen and Bath Association, Asaff has working knowledge of all areas of home design.

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