By Philip Schmidt, Networx

If you’re wondering how much you should expect to pay to replace an old tub or shower, the short answer is: anywhere from about $1,500 to $5,000, with the national average running about $3,000. If that seems high, you’re probably ready to hear the long answer (provided by the rest of this article), which explains why there’s usually more to the project than you might expect. 


The problem with pricing a tub or shower project is that replacing a tub or shower is almost never just replacing a tub or shower. It’s not like swapping out a dead dishwasher or a cracked toilet or even an ugly, old sink. Most tubs and showers are more or less "built-in" fixtures, and taking them out results in a series of collateral work, such as replacing tile and other finishes, making plumbing connections (which are often hard to reach), dealing with sizing issues and considering additional changes that might make sense while you’re tearing everything up anyway.


In most cases, people aren’t replacing a tub or shower because it has failed or broken, but because it’s simply become outdated or too cruddy over the years, or it’s never quite fit their "dream bath" image. When the tub or shower looks bad enough to warrant replacement, chances are the surrounding walls and ceiling could use at least a facelift if not a complete renovation. Every aspect of the project affects the cost, and the price tag for each can vary widely, from the tub or shower unit itself to the surrounding finishes to any of those add-ons you might regret not doing in the long run.


The Low End

On the inexpensive side of things, relatively speaking, is a simple replacement of a tub or shower and minimal patching of the affected surfaces. If the new unit is the same size and configuration of the old one, and the existing plumbing is in good shape, you might even choose to hire a skilled handyman for the project. This can keep you in the area of $1,500, on average.


Keep in mind that most contractors will recommend not scrimping too much on the products, since much of the cost here is in the labor. In other words, it’s not worth it to save $100 on the cheapest tub or shower you can find if the savings is well under 10% of the total job cost.


The next step up on the renewal scale is to replace an old tub or shower with a fiberglass or plastic insert that includes integrated wall panels. According to Paul Nygren, of Nygren Remodeling, Inc., in Minneapolis, this type of job costs about $2,000 to $3,000. Inserts offer a quick and easy route to a new bathing area that’s low-maintenance and well waterproofed. But Nygren finds that when most people are considering a new tub or shower, they’re ready for a bigger change, which brings us to the next level of cost.


The Mid-Range Renewal

Much of Nygren’s business involves creating custom shower and/or tub spaces along with complete bathroom remodels. By his estimate, a typical job that includes replacing an old shower or tub with a custom shower pan, new wall tile, a glass surround and a custom glass door ranges in cost from about $4,000 to $5,000. Without the custom door, the price drops about $1,000.


Typically, a mid-range project yields clients a totally new bathing experience within their existing space and room configuration. It’s when you expand and move the tub or shower that the cost really take a big jump up. According to Nygren, moving a tub or shower alone can add 30% to the job cost, “because it’s almost never just moving the fixture,” says Nygren. “On top of the plumbing changes, there are new walls to build, and new wall and floor finishes.”


Nygren also offered some interesting insights into the question of moving fixtures: “Most people start out wanting to move things around. As a designer, I talk this over with them, and we look at what they’re really gaining. In the end, unless the project involves moving walls to expand the space, it’s very rare to move the plumbing. There’s just not enough benefit to justify the added cost.” Unless the room has some serious layout problems, he adds, chances are the fixtures are right where they should be, or close enough.


Moving Up the Scale

Jesse Medina, of Cress Kitchen & Bath, in Denver, gets a fair number of calls for mid-to-upper level tub and shower jobs. “It’s generally about the same price range for the average tub or shower replacement. If you’re replacing a tub with a tub or a shower with a shower and aren’t adding new features, the typical cost is about $3,000 to $5,000. This is when people want a new tub or shower environment, generally for a facelift.”


“Clients who want to do more might add a shower seat, expand their existing bathing space, add more showerheads or body sprays and other upgrades. Jobs including expansions tend to be in the $5,000 to $10,000 range,” says Medina.