Install a Bathtub Surround, Part 1

A bathtub surround, prior to installation.
  • 6-10 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 500-1,000
What You'll Need
Bathtub surround kitCaulking gunAdhesiveCaulkCarpenter's levelTape measureUtility knifePower drill and spade bitsAllen wrenchesPliers, screwdriverGreen drywall (optional)Drywall compound (optional)
What You'll Need
Bathtub surround kitCaulking gunAdhesiveCaulkCarpenter's levelTape measureUtility knifePower drill and spade bitsAllen wrenchesPliers, screwdriverGreen drywall (optional)Drywall compound (optional)

Upgrading a bathroom is one of the best ways you can add value to your home. However, after you have checked out the costs of having a contractor come in to redo your bathroom, you might be looking for a less expensive alternative.

While certainly not the same as completely renovating your bathroom, installing a new bathtub/shower surround can give your bathroom a clean, new look at a price you can afford, generally ranging from $150 to $500. You can even install it one day and be showering the next.

Choosing a Bathtub Surround

Bathtub surrounds are readily available at your local home improvement stores. They're made from lots of different materials, including ABS or PVC plastic, thick thermal plastic, and fiberglass, to name just a few options. Any tub surround will do a good job of protecting your walls from water. The thicker the wall panels, the easier the kit is to work with (and of course the more expensive it is).

However, since the top-priced kits cost around $500, opting for the more expensive, heavy-duty unit will make your life easier, since it's more stable and easier to install. You are also more likely to get some extra molded add-ons like preformed soap dishes or corner shelves in these models.

Another consideration when choosing your kit is the number of pieces to install. Bathtub surrounds come in either three- or five-piece kits. While a three-piece kit does require less work to install, the three-piece kits don't readily accommodate bathroom walls that aren't square and plumb. So, if your walls aren't plumb (and most of them aren't), a five-piece kit is more adjustable and should give you a better fit. Five-piece kits contain a back wall or center piece, two corner pieces and two end pieces. The extra two pieces give you more opportunity to make allowance for out-of-square corners or out-of-plumb walls.

Finally, choose a kit that is easy to keep clean. A smooth, low-gloss surface that will wipe off easily and won't show water spots or soap scum is good choice.


If your existing walls are solid, you don't need to do anything special to prepare them. A tub surround can go over virtually any wall that is solid, including drywall, plaster, or tile (just give your ceramic tile a good cleaning and a light sanding to help the glue bond to the tiles). However, if your bathtub walls are spongy or soft, you need to repair them before you install the surround.

Take off the existing plumbing fixtures in your tub. The faucet handles will likely have a cap in the center that can be pried up to reveal a screw holding it on. Simply take out the screw and pull the handle off. The tub spout itself may be held on with a small Allen screw or simply be screwed on. Feel around the underside of the spout for a small opening for the Allen screw; if you find it, insert an Allen key and undo the screw, then slide off the spout. If there is no opening, the spout is probably screwed on. Insert the handle of a pair of pliers, or a screwdriver into the mouth of the spout, and turn it counterclockwise to unscrew it.

Remove any loose or damaged tiles and cut out any damp or wet drywall. Replace with "green" drywall designed for use in bathrooms and damp environments. After replacing any drywall, finish it and paint it with a latex primer. The underlying surface for the tub surround needs to be level. Be sure there are no gaps or missing spaces where tiles used to be. Depending on the condition of your existing walls, you might be better off actually removing the existing walls completely and replacing them with new "green" drywall.

Continue to Part 2: Installing the Tub Surround >

Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer with articles published in both the United States and Canada. He has written on a wide range of topics, but specializes in home maintenance and how to's.