Easy Bath Upgrades
Here are two projects you can do without knocking out walls or going bankrupt.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your checkbooks. The neighbors' recently completed bath remodel you so admire cost them $8,000 to $10,000. If that's a little steep for you, consider a cosmetic makeover that will make your bath current without knocking down walls and relocating plumbing fixtures.
A great place to start is your tub shower, with its moldy curtain and ineffective shower-head. If the color of the tub is acceptable and the finish still sparkles, the two projects that we detail here are ideal: adding a porcelain soap dish to the wall and attaching an adjustable slide-bar showerhead. They require only a modest investment of time and money, and you can do the work yourself.
Once you have all the tools and supplies together, it should take you about two days to complete the projects, at a total cost of less than $800. You don't have to both of the jobs. They can be done independently.
Adding a porcelain soap dish.
Adding a Porcelain Soap Dish
Most tub-shower soap dishes catch water and reduce bars of soap to handfuls of mush. This age-old problem isn't caused by the soap dish itself but rather usually by the position of the dish—low on the wall near the tub, for example, where it absorbs a direct hit from the water coming out of the showerhead.
To put an end to soggy soap, install a new soap dish high—and dry—on the wall, just below and a little to the side of the showerhead. If your shower walls are covered with a fiberglass or acrylic surround, buy an accessory soap dish that can be glued right to the wall. Just be sure to use the recommended adhesive or you'll permanently damage the surround.
For tiled walls, you'll need a porcelain soap dish. Two sizes are commonly available at home centers: 4 X 4 inches ($5) and 4 X 6 inches ($7). To install a new soap dish, you'll have to remove some wall tile. We installed the smaller soap dish because it required prying off only one 4 X 4 tile. If you decide to go with the larger dish, you'll have to remove one and a half tiles.
As with wall tile, porcelain soap dishes come in a variety of colors and in glossy and matte finishes. Be sure to buy a dish that matches both the color and finish of the wall tile. While at the store, pick up some tile adhesive and tile grout, too.
To start, choose a spot on the wall for the new dish that's four or five tiles below the showerhead—about 16 to 20 inches—and two or three tiles to the right or left. Next, wearing appropriate eye protection, scratch out the grout from around the tile with a grout saw or awl. Then, use a hammer and nailset to punch a series of divots across the face of the tile in an 5 pattern. Using those small craters as starting points, bore through the tile but not the wall behind it with a 1/4-inch-diameter masonry drill bit (photo 1).
While still wearing your eye protection, carefully crack the tile into pieces using a 1/4-inch-wide cold chisel and hammer (photo 2). Pry out the fractured shards of tile and scrape the wall surface clean of any old mortar or leftover adhesive.
Spread a thin coat of tile adhesive onto the wall with a putty knife (photo 3). Smear some of the adhesive onto the back of the soap dish, too. Firmly press the dish into place and secure it with two or three strips of masking tape (photo 4). Check to be certain the dish is level. Wait 24 hours, then fill all the joints around the soap dish with grout. Allow the grout to dry overnight before using the shower.
Installing a glass tub enclosure.
Attaching a Slide-bar Showerhead
Most baths are equipped with either a fixed showerhead or a movable, handheld sprayer. In this bath, we installed a new slide-bar showerhead from Kohler that combines the convenience and flexibility of both fixed and handheld models.
The Kohler MasterShower unit consists of a 2-foot-long vertical bar that's equipped with an adjustable slide-lock mechanism. The showerhead clips into the slide-lock and is connected to the water-supply pipe with a flexible steel hose. The slide-lock allows the showerhead to be positioned anywhere up and down the bar to accommodate bathers of different heights. It can also be lifted off and used as a handheld sprayer to wash the kids' hair, rinse off feet or bathe the dog.
We chose the Master-Shower ($188), which has a polished-chrome finish, to match the existing bath fixtures; it also comes in white ($268) and polished brass ($296).
First, remove the existing showerhead with a pipe wrench (photo 1). Next, thread a 1/2-inch-diameter X 1 1/2-inch-long brass nipple, which costs about $1.50 at any hardware store, into the stubout in the wall (photo 2). Leave about 9/16 inch of nipple protruding from the wall. Carefully thread the chrome-plated wall supply elbow onto the nipple (photo 3), then tighten it with the pipe wrench. Cover the supply elbow with a soft cloth or use a strap wrench so the wrench jaws don't damage the finish.
Press a mounting bracket onto each end of the slide bar. Hold the bar against the wall and check it for plumb with a level. After verifying that the bar is plumb, outline the screw holes in the brackets on the wall.
There's no hard-and-fast rule about where to mount the bar, but it generally works best when placed 4 to 6 inches to the side of the wall supply elbow; the lowest end of the bar should be about 52 inches above the tub bottom. That placement allows you to adjust the showerhead anywhere from 52 to 76 inches high, which should accommodate most anyone using the shower.
Then use a hammer and nailset to start the screw holes; follow with a drill and a 3/16-inch-diameter bit. If you hit a stud as you drill, attach the slide bar with the stainless-steel screws that are provided. If the hole falls into the space between two studs, enlarge the hole and use a hollow-wall anchor. We used Toggler toggle bolts (photo 4), enlarging the original hole with a 1/2-inch-diameter bit. With the Toggler anchors, you slide the retainer ring tight to the wall and snap off the plastic straps. Then you can attach the slide bar to the wall with 1/4-20 machine screws (photo 5). You conceal the screws by sliding the chrome-finished end caps over the mounting brackets (photo 6).