How to Shower When You Only Have a Bathtub

Learn how to convert your tub only bathroom into a wonderful showering experience


Go from a tub only to a functional, refreshing shower without a complete renovation!

Showers or baths? Wherever you fall, chances are you have the opportunity to enjoy either, since a good majority of American homes have a tub/shower combination in one of their bathrooms. But what if you're one of the unlucky ones, a shower-er with no shower? As ubiquitous as showering is in American culture, there do exist homes with only a tub: no showerhead, no handshower... just... a tub. With a spout. For baths.

Yes, there are those who swear by their baths. Likewise, there are those that can't stand them. Maybe you've found an almost-perfect home, but can't picture yourself taking baths for the foreseeable future. Maybe you've been living a lie, yearning for a quick, refreshing shower and settling for a lukewarm soak. Or maybe you're just bothered by the idea of using 40+ gallons of water each time you bathe. Whatever the case, your future happiness is not lost: there are a couple of ways to supplement an old tub with a shower, saving water and time. Whether your upgrade will be easy and inexpensive or costly and involved depends on the tub, the room, and the type of shower you want.


Making Your Bathroom Splash-Proof

If a shower is installed, water will splash. Everywhere. While most of it will find its way to the drain, some won't. "It's fine, I have tiled walls", you might say. Well, it's time to burst that bubble - tile is not waterproof, and neither is grout, even when sealed. It looks pretty, and helps to keep some water out of the wall, but that's it. When a bathroom is constructed, special backerboards and waterproofing membranes are installed behind the walls to protect the structure itself from water damage. With showerless tubs, there's no reason to extend this waterproofing much beyond the tub itself. So if you really want to add a shower, you'll need to determine just how you're going to protect those walls.

The simplest, cheapest protection comes from a shower curtain. Provided you have proper ventilation, a good curtain on a rod that surrounds the entire unit should adequately capture escaping moisture. Typically hung from the ceiling or attached to a freestanding shower structure, this is often the most elegant solution for clawfoot or freestanding bathtubs, and may be the only solution for renters. Those with tubs against a wall can use a "D" style rod to keep that wall dry.

If for some reason a curtain just won't cut it, you'll need to start seriously considering costs and time required to convert your bathroom into a suitable place for showering. On top of whatever shower you get, you'll need to put up prefabricated shower walls (aka surrounds), or a new wall altogether, along with a door (typically mounted along the rim of the tub). Depending on the shower you choose, you could easily be looking at four figures when all is said and done.

If you're serious about wanting to completely get rid of the tub, but can't or don't want to completely renovate your bathroom, we offer a unique solution - a cast iron enameled shower pan that can be installed almost anywhere and works great with a shower curtain to avoid having to do extensive waterproofing for your walls. A key feature of this shower pan is the anti-slip bottom. Whatever setup you choose, keep in mind that bathtubs weren't meant for standing. When adding a shower to your existing tub, apply a non-slip material to the tub floor. Many kinds of mats, adhesive decals, and sprays are available, and easy to apply.

Have a window above the tub? Replace wooden frames with a waterproof material, and seal any cracks or openings with silicone caulking to keep water out of your walls. Popular replacement options include vinyl windows and glass blocks.

Choosing Your Shower

The quickest and most basic way to add a shower is a slip-on attachment. These can be used with any type of tub, and feature plastic or rubber connectors that fit over your existing spout, redirecting water through an attached hose to a handshower; nothing gets opened up or removed. Seemingly convenient, these types of connections often leak or fail altogether, and are not recommended.

You would be much better off with an "Add-a-Shower" Diverter Tub Spout. These replace the existing spout, and allow you to securely connect a showerhead using a hose. Select the perfect handshower, then find a bracket and/or wall bar to create a one-of-a-kind shower. We also offer complete kits in a variety of styles.

Another way to avoid getting into the wall is the exposed shower (example shown above with the cast iron shower pan). Installation of these units is a bit more involved, but these elegant sets can transform a bathroom. Generally available as a wall mounted unit, many include both a handshower and regular showerhead for the ultimate in convenience; some even include a tub spout just in case. Choose between classic two-handled units, or thermostatic models that maintain a pre-set temperature for safety.

If an exposed shower appeals to you, you'll want to be sure you can use one before ordering. To do so, you'll need to remove your existing tub handle(s) to expose the supply lines, and measure the distance between the centers of each hole (or the centers of each pipe). That measurement will determine which valve, if any, will work for you. Most of the showers we offer have centers from 3-3/8" to 8".

For those who have clawfoot or freestanding bathtubs, or have a deck mounted tub faucet, you may be able to install a tub/shower combination faucet with very little hassle. These units typically come with a tub filler, a riser rod for the shower portion, and a shower head. Some are even equipped with a shower curtain to surround your tub area and a handshower attachment.


With any luck, one of these options will be open to you, and you'll soon be on your way to a convenient, water-saving shower. If not, you'll need to decide if it's worth it to get behind the wall to install new plumbing. Be aware that you might also be responsible for bringing any other out-of-date plumbing up to code as it's discovered, which could be a cost concern with an older home. Even if you can't easily (or cheaply) add a shower to your tub, it may be prudent to at least price it out, especially if you live in drier, desert climates or drought-prone areas like California. As fines and other penalties become more common for water-wasters, your 50 gallon tub may prove a money pit over the coming months and years if it pushes your water use over the line. You could take fewer baths (something that usually doesn't go over well!), but adding a low-flow showerhead might be cost-effective in the long-term, even with the cost of installation.


Ready to get started converting your tub to a shower?




You may also be interested in these related items:



return to top ↑

Copyright© 1995-2018 PlumbingSupply.com.
All Rights Reserved.