Redoing/restoring 1929 tub surround and plumbing--stumped

lpinkmountainMarch 27, 2012

We want to do a simple redo on our bathroom tub area. We have very hard water and the plastic tub surround is just not cutting it, and our shower/tub plumbing has frozen into the shower postion. Prior to that I was replacing the tub faucet about every two years because it would start leaking and I would get water coming out of the faucet and shower head. It has a pull up stopper mechanism. We'd like to use both the shower and the tub faucet consistently, so our preference is a system with a lever instead of a stopper. But all the modern systems we see in the local showrooms use a stopper system, if that is how to describe it. Basically a stopper on the faucet to block the water from going into the tub, instead of a lever that closes a valve.

It's very hard to describe what we're up against so I am attaching photos. We want to keep the old cast iron tub, it works with the tiny space. We are removing the plastic tub surround and replacing it with ceramic tile. The tub is enclosed by two walls on two sides, but the side with the plumbing fixtures is weird. Looks like it was open at one time and an "L" shaped wall was constructed around it, and the shower was replumbed.

We don't know what to do--redo the weird "L" shaped wall and keep the plumbing there? If so, what type of plumbing options can we use? Or move the plumbing back to inside the tub, re-using the original holes. Not sure how good that would work either.

Has anyone had any experience with re-furbishing these old plumbing fixtures? Just not sure what parts we need and where to get them. I've looked at restoration hardware sites online and see tub fillers with an attachement for a shower, and what looks to be a valve, but not sure if that system works well, no experience with it. We'd like to keep the shower curtain rod and shower head and shower pole if possible. We will eventually reglaze the tub.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sort of what I'm envisioning, but I'm skeptical it would work

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Sophie Wheeler

That needs to be ripped out, not restored. It's already a leaky kludge that probably has water damage behind the walls. If you want a shower with that tub, then you need to look at the "hoop" shower curtain systems and valves. Check out for the right fixtures.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 6:33PM
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Yes, we are going to rip out that wall, but it is a real question about what to replace it with. The space between the toilet and tub is miniscule. The tub is square on the sides that are built into the wall, so I'm thinking it was made for an "L" shaped shower rod. But no matter, I'm really most interested in the tub/shower plumbing options. Something like what is pictured in your photo would not work with our tub, unless we just set the pipes outside the tub.

Yes, that short "L" shaped wall is hideous, but it does serve a useful function so not sure if it is entirely a terrible idea to have a half wall there of some sort.

Just can't decide whether to keep a system that is behind a low wall, or change to one that is exposed. We want to keep this as simple as possible. First thing is to rip out old wall and see what's behind it.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 10:45PM
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Here are two of my inspiration photos from my friend's house where they still have the original tubs and tiles from the 20's. This is the only place I have seen a tub even remotely resembling ours. They inspired me to keep the tub and do the surround with tile, but they are of no help with the plumbing since the first one doesn't have a shower, and the second has a set up that is in a different location and on the opposite side of the tub from what we have. So I'm wondering if anyone has experience with a shower tub faucet like these old fashioned style ones that I find online. Installing and daily using. We want to use the existing shower curtain rod and shower pole, we don't want a telephone style hand held shower.

For example, on this Restoration Hardware site they show tub wall mounted showers, "deck" mounted showers and floor mounted showers. The only plus about "deck" mounted for us would be that the main plumbing connections would be up above the toilet seat so easier to access for repair. But we would have to build a "deck" of some sort. The floor mounted tub faucet seems a little weird to me, having the faucet that high over the tub, seems like the water would cool off and splash as it hit the tub! But what do I know, that's why I'm asking! We basically could do any of the options but each one would require some finagling with the plumbing. So looking for advice from anyone who has done this kind of thing.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 11:33PM
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You might want to try doing a search for an exposed shower and tub faucet and see if anything looks like it would work. This one is from Signature Hardware

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 8:32PM
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That's an interesting setup. You have what our local salvage store calls a J-tub *link below. What's odd is that it would make more sense to have the fixtures at the short, straight end instead of the curved end. Is there any way you could retile the walls that meet at a right angle, keep the shower curtain rod, and move the plumbing to the squared off end (just continuing to ignore the original holes)? That's how they would have been originally installed in most cases. If you could put the plumbing on the squared wall, you could use any standard tub and shower set - either vintage $$$ or modern if you wanted to save money.

The alternative would be to treat this like a clawfoot tub and use the faucet that's mounted inside the tub, with an extension up to the shower. I have one of those, but with a hand shower instead of a shower head on a pole. The big drawback of a clawfoot tub is that you usually need a curtain surrounding all sides of the tub, and it's not so fun to take a shower in. I think you'd have far fewer issues if you get the plumbing out of the half wall, and put standard fixtures in the full height wall. (mongoct recommended Symmons Temptrol as a reliable kind of basic tub/shower unit).

Here is a link that might be useful: J-tub

    Bookmark   March 28, 2012 at 10:42PM
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Well Kmcg, you're not the first one to scratch their heads about this one! I had a local plumbing/bathroom remodler come over and take a look at it, and he also suggested redoing the plumbing. But in order to replumb we would have to take out the tub, redo the drain, etc. The estimate he gave me was 8K, but that was also to remove the tub and put in a new one. So yes, it WOULD be so much easier to have the plumbing on the square wall. But it's not, lol! If we go through the trouble to redo the plumbing, really makes no sense to keep the original tub. But it's size and configuration works for the tiny space.

I've had this house for 8 years and have been round and round about it. My neighbor had his tub torn out, no change in the location of the drain and water feeds, and had a built-in tub installed. But he also had the whole bathroom redone, including removal of the radiator to give more space in there. We just can't afford to do something that elaborate, nor do we really want to spend that much time and have the bathroom that torn up. We're not sure how much longer we'll be in the house, so we want to keep it as simple as possible. The plastic shower surround setup was not very well installed (I inherited it) and it is getting pretty gunky so we need to do something. We want something better than what we have but want to stick with the original tub, since its size and shape works with the current room set-up. BF is a great tiler and carpenter, but he's no lover of plumbing. It does baffle me why they set it up that way. I seem to recall talking to one of my neighbors who still has the original tub, and I think maybe she said there wasn't a shower originally. These are row houses so are all laid out the same, but there have been MANY changes to them over the years! I do know all of them are plumbed that weird way. The electrical wiring for the bathroom light is on the other side, with the switches outside the bathroom.

Here's a picture I found online, but as you can see, the more logical plumbing!
And here's a real life example:

But I'm sure there was some original logic to the way the tub was done.

BF thinks we will be sorry if we don't keep some kind of wall there. If we do have the wall, it will be very tastefully covered with ceramic tile. We may tear out the front of the low wall this weekend to get an idea of what is in there. Right now it is a mystery because the newer hot and cold water knobs on the low wall are located about 3 inches farther away than where they would be on the tub wall. We'd really rather do this job all in one big fast work session, rather than go without a shower for a couple of weeks. This is our only bathroom and we can only work in there on the weekends due to our real jobs. Whatever replica fixtures I get I will have to special order so trying to get an idea of what it will entail ahead of time. We have the tile ordered already, which was probably a mistake, its for the current set up. But when shopping for fixtures we realized we have to change what's going on with the "L" side in some way. We were anxious to get this underway!

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 8:39AM
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Oh, and Kmcg I just noticed that on the description for the shower fixture you posted, it says:
"Tub mount or wall mount applications. S-unions give faucet 3-3/8" - 12-3/8" centers." That might be a GREAT option for us to order, because then we could decide tub mount our wall mount once we get into it! If I'm understanding the specification correctly, that is.

Thanks again for the help and suggestions!

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 9:00AM
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Maybe the original builder got a really good deal on some backwards tubs!

The link you posted from VanDykes has the kind of faucet I have on my vintage clawfoot tub, and it is tub-mounted. I don't have the shower extension, but a handheld shower instead. It doesn't work as a shower for us, so we're going to replace it with a walk-in shower. But if I didn't have the money for a remodel, I'd buy the VanDykes faucet/shower combo.

For tub mounted faucets, the plumbing supply lines come up from the floor and are in plain view. Probably the most authentic rehab you could do would be to remove the wonky wall and go with the faucet mounted inside the tub, and supply lines outside. I think you could keep your current shower curtain rod, or get one of the all in one setups like you posted.

An alternative would be to improve the wonky wall so there's enough space to install the faucet properly. If you could take the wall all the way to the ceiling and have the shower plumbing inside the wall, that would be more conventional and modernized. But it might block too much light. I like the first option better because it emphasizes the vintage features.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 2:30PM
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I see it was Dekeoboe who recommended the shower unit. Thanks!!

"The wonky wall!" Yes Kmcg, that's what I call it too! I've hated it since day one and always figured that one of the first major renovations I'd do on my house was to tear out the old tub, since it had lost its finish and is a pain to clean, and redo the enclosure. But subsequent sticker shock, confusion on how to do it, what materials to use, and then losing my job and having a significant salary downgrade and becoming very busy working all kinds of odd jobs has made me want to keep it simple and reuse as much of what I have as possible. On the plus side, I met and fell in love with a wonderful carpenter who is now living with me and will do the work for lots of hugs and kisses! ;) The only downside to him living here is the shower gets twice the use and the wear and tear have gotten to the point that we have to do something. We just don't want to further add to the bathroom's wonkiness!

Some further photos of our tiny bathroom might be of help. Yes, I know the big space-hogging sink/cabinet unit is not period-authentic, it would have been a wall sink or pedestal, but this house is very skimpy on storage space and closets--the drawers, cabinet and vanity top are very useful so it's staying.

I think adding a full wall on the round side of the tub would make this small closed in bathroom even worse. BUT, as these photos also show, the space between the tub and toilet is very close. We are thinking the wonky wall provides some protection from water spraying over from the shower. If we tear out the wall, have to figure out a way to extend the shower curtain rod. And who knows what the plumbing looks like underneath there, maybe lots of replacement work. Also the space between the toilet and tub is so tight to work in, I can hear BF grousing already! Also would have to redo the vinyl tiling in that area. I may have a piece or two down in the bowels of the basement, but I dunno. Extending the wall all the way up makes the space tight and yes, darker.

As awkward as that shape is, it suits the way the bathroom is set up now perfectly. I'm toying with leaving just a half wall, replacing the awkward "L" shape. The wonky wall SHAPE is not as ugly as the wonky fixtures and finish and tub surround. But no use putting earrings on a pig.

Oh and I know what you mean about those hand-held showers Kmcg, I lived in an apartment with one for five year--quite useless for showering as you had to hold the showerhead with one hand and try to wash with the other. Was great when I just wanted to wash my hair over the tub, and for rinsing the tub after cleaning, but not much else! I ended up taking baths all the time. BF is a working man, so when he comes home he wants to take a quick, hassle free shower! A lot of the folks in these row houses have installed showers in the basement, but that's for another day!! :)

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 5:00PM
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