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I have a large Jacuzzi / whirlpool tub in my master bedroom suite which currently has an all wood surround. As part of a renovation I want to get rid of the wood surround (at last partially), waterproof all around it and tile it.

While I could waterproof/tile around it with it in place- there is very little clearance between the tub and the walls so I'm afraid I'll have a hard time getting in there and I would like to potentially replace the piping, jets, pump, etc. as they are all 30 years old or so and I would hate to have to tear everything up in case of a leak down the line (is that a legitimate concern?).

  • Is it possible and would it be worth it to remove the tub, do waterproofing/tiling and then reinstall it? I know during installation there is some type of cement poured underneath to help seat it better and prevent vibration - would this need to all be redone or can it just be placed right back on top of the existing poured material?

  • If it's best to leave the tub in place: should I be concerned about the jets/piping not accessible from the front access panel leaking at some point in the future?

  • If it's best to leave the tub in place: the tub is currently sitting on top of the "decorative" horizontal wood pieces (see photos) - would I just attach backer board to those, waterproof and tile on top of that OR should I cut them out somehow and replace with backerboard? In this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVgCGy7N63s they seem to be attaching the backer board directly to the framing.

The tub Clearance leftClearance rightClearance topClearance measure

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    That's more than enough room to tile, but it sounds like you have other motivations for removing the tub. It's really a matter of preference. Why ask us? – isherwood Sep 23 at 19:15
  • @isherwood I ultimately want to know if it's possible to remove and reinstall (without risk of damage) and/or if just the best approach is to leave the tub in place - is it okay to mount the backer board on top of the perimeter trim (which the tub is sitting on top of). – Yev Sep 23 at 21:39
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As I mentioned in a comment, this is largely a matter of personal preference, available resources, etc. What I would want to do is remove the tub. I can't say if that's what I'd end up doing. My reasoning:

  • Deck tile should really extend underneath the tub flange. It won't look great if you have to fit tile around it and grout to it, even if you caulk. A clean overlapping edge looks best.
  • Therefore, the backer should also extend underneath the tub flange, and the solid wood decking should be removed.
  • As you stated, the rather old plumbing should be upgraded. This is best done with the tub out and the connections and space more accessible.
  • The tub is less prone to damage during tiling if it's out of the way. You could certainly protect it with cardboard and blankets, but even then scratches and chips are possible.

Note that the tub doesn't actually rest on its flange. It's not designed to carry weight. You'll need to plan well and possibly shim up the tub base to meet the height of your tile.

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With the bathroom so old, if you're going to do anything, it'd be best to remove everything and start from clean slate. Reusing the existing tub is probably OK but you have to actually look at it closely from all angles and decide once it's out. You may, for example, decide that you don't want that style of a tub anymore - such decisions are much easier to make when there's a mental clean slate backed by a physical clean slate.

The gap between the tub's flange and the vertical walls is extremely tough to caulk properly and to maintain. You either want no gap at all, and the vertical wall to interface with the horizontal surface of the flange, or to have a flat area outside the flange wide enough to be useful for something else than just as a place for water to pool and potentially leak and cause damage. Caulking such narrow gaps requires a custom spout for the caulk tube - either a piece of semi-rigid tubing or a 3D printed part. It's not possible to do a good job just using the straight spout off a caulk cartridge.

Given the age of the tub and next to no water damage to the wood, I'd say that either this tub saw very little use, or the people using it spent dozens of hours of their life (in total, accumulated over decades) removing water and grime from the gap: a laudable effort, but one certainly worth examining in light of the corollary of having to spend irreplaceable hours of life on such a task. Some people enjoy keeping stuff clean and it can well be relaxing, too, so I'm far from issuing general admonitions - but it is something to think about for sure and make a conscious decision about.

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