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Published: Sunday, 8/29/2004

Bath-update alternative: Use of acrylic spreads beyond tub-lining

Mike Sheehy, of Budget Bathtub liners, positions the sheet of acrylic at the faucet end of a tub in a Toledo house. Mike Sheehy, of Budget Bathtub liners, positions the sheet of acrylic at the faucet end of a tub in a Toledo house.

Susan Grombacher said the new shower stall in her utility room "improved that room 10,000 percent" when it was put in recently in her West Toledo home.

But what she likes even more than the appearance is that it was installed in only two days and cost less than half the $5,000 that she had been quoted for a traditional shower.

"I wish I had done this when all my boys were living at home, because we used it so much," said Mrs. Grombacher. "It's so much nicer, so clean compared to what we had in there."

She is not alone in her appreciation of the work. Whereas liners that fit over existing bathtubs have been around for a while, the concept is catching on for showers and the walls surrounding bathtubs.

The liners are made in a variety of colors and in patterns that look like granite, marble, and even Corian.

The liner concept is increasingly being chosen as a cheaper, quicker-to-install alternative to more traditional bathroom renovations.

Conventional upgrades often require knocking out walls and tearing out bathtubs and showers, which can create chaos for several days.

The newly installed acrylic liner contrasts with the old tile wall. The newly installed acrylic liner contrasts with the old tile wall.

"If you hire a contractor to do a traditional remodel, the average it's going to run you is between $8,000 and $12,000. This is about a third to half the cost," said Jacob Roig, owner of Budget Bathub Liners of Ohio in Toledo, who said his business has steadily increased since he opened almost five years ago.

The price comparisons are for similar upgrades of bathtubs, showers, and vanities.

Installers of the acrylic products said they look as good and last as well as more traditional materials, a claim that is backed up by David Hahn, a traditional kitchen and bathroom remodeler who has been in business more than three decades.

But Mr. Hahn, owner of David Hahn Fine Kitchens and Baths in Toledo, said he decided against acquiring a franchise to do the liners because he said they can be viewed as concealing problems that could worsen.

"There's a chance that the things behind the walls are bad, but once you cover it all up, you don't know what's behind it," he said, noting especially the condition of the pipes in the wall, which a traditional upgrade would check out.

"You're covering up a lot of sins."

Simply put, the lining process works as follows: Photos and measurements of the shower or bathtub are sent to a factory where a sheet of acrylic is placed over a mold that has the same measurements.

Then, a quarter-inch of acrylic is heated on top of the mold and a vacuum system takes over, forming the acrylic into the shape of the shower or bathtub.

Manufacturers have hundreds of molds on hand and are able to offer colors and patterns so bathrooms can have a feel similar to ones that underwent major renovations.

"They have come out with a ton of products, so it's not all institutional-looking," said Paul Volmar, owner of Toledo Re-Bath & Kitchen in Toledo.

He said choosing the right contractor can help too, particularly in getting a better analysis of any plumbing, mold, or other problems that would be covered up by the liners.

One part of the liner industry that is growing rapidly is showers especially designed for the elderly and outfitted with grab bars and seats.

John Clark, owner of All-American Tub Masters in Toledo, estimated that he handles one or two such jobs a week, compared with a handful a year just three years ago.

"By putting in a new shower base system, you don't have to tear out the existing walls and, if you already have good plumbing fixtures, you don't even have to do the plumbing," he said.

"We're talking you can do this for $3,000 or $4,000."

Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at mmclaughlin@theblade.com or 419-724-6199.

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