New trend: Take out the tub

Is the tub now taboo? In metropolitan real estate markets such as Philadelphia, that appears to be a new trend.

Is the tub now taboo? In metropolitan real estate markets such as Philadelphia, that appears to be a new trend.

Home renovators and developers are designing bathrooms without bathtubs. And in the market for city condominiums, with space at a premium, owners don't always expect a tub, local real estate observers say.

Many of those undertaking tub-to-shower conversions fall into two groups: Older homeowners who don't want a tub to step into or out of, and younger people who simply prefer showers. Removing the tub from a bathroom no longer diminishes a property's value in every case, real estate observers say.

In the broader market, a 2014 bathroom-trends study by Houzz Inc., the online design and remodeling resource (, showed that 4 in 10 of the 7,645 homeowners who shared information about their renovations are choosing to forgo bathtubs, even in the master suite.

Homeowners under 45 are choosing multiple or rain-shower heads, the study showed, while those over 55 prefer handheld showers and sliding bars.

Frameless glass shower doors are in. Glass blocks are out.

Typical of the trend, said Nick Meli Jr., owner of Nick Meli Jr. Contracting in Center City, is a renovation he did this year for a condo owner in Independence Place on Washington Square. Client Robin Cooper, who owns a one-bedroom unit, wanted to replace her 25-year-old tub with a sleek, all-glass walk-in shower.

"It used to be you never did that, especially if there was only one tub," said Meli.

"We're seeing much more demand for walk-in showers," he added. Millennials "don't take baths; they want to shower, get in and get out. Soaking in a tub? No way, their homes are a place to sleep and then leave for work. Older people don't want tubs because they're 20 inches from the floor; they can't step over them. So we're really doing this for everyone."

A typical bathroom is about 5 feet by 10 feet, and most tubs are about 60 inches long. In condos, Meli said, 90 percent of his shower conversions/renovation jobs involve removing tubs. "That's how much of a difference in demand we've seen lately," he noted.

Cooper recalled that when she moved into the building, Philadelphia Realtors such as Allan Domb had a warning for owners in her building and others: "He said, 'Don't take the tub out of a one-bedroom. It won't hold its resale value, and it won't be as popular' as other units."

She added, "In a one-bedroom, it was taboo to remove the tub. You didn't touch it. Now, that's not the case at all."

Things started changing in the last few years. "Now, I probably get three calls a week to change over a tub to a shower. I did three estimates just this week," Meli said.

Though the idea might not fly in suburban households with children, metro markets are seeing more tub-to-shower renovations. They can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $30,000; bathroom redos in this region average $14,685, according to Houzz's Real Remodeling Costs finder.

In her condo, Cooper was able to save some money by ordering supplies herself from Weinstein Bath and Kitchen. She splurged on $950 (plus installation) Fleurco sliding, tempered-glass door panels.

Patrick Melcher, owner of Access & Mobility Specialists, estimates a typical tub-to-shower conversion takes two to three days. His Downingtown firm recently did one for $8,500, in which the existing cast-iron tub, wall coverings, and fixtures were removed and replaced with a low-threshold modular shower system manufactured by Best-Bath systems.

Developers, too, are joining the trend. In 1616 Walnut St.'s recent renovation, most of the one-bedroom units were rebuilt with showers, not tubs. And at the new Toll Bros. development at 410 S. Front St., one-bedrooms have showers.

In Cooper's case, she was doing a full bathroom renovation, a project that took six weeks to complete.

In addition to the custom barn-style sliding shower doors, she installed quartz countertops and Porcelanosa floor tiles, which are porcelain but look like granite. She also had the old-fashioned wooden louvered doors to her bathroom linen closet removed.

Under her new bathroom mirrors now sit antique perfume bottles from her many travels, to such locales as Egypt, France and Spain.

Cooper, 53, has lived in the building 22 years and plans on staying through her golden years. She hopes the renovation will allow her to do that.

"I have the ease of stepping over a two-inch threshold instead of a tub," she said.