Saturday, March 25, 2006

Should I Restore and Refinish My Antique Tub and Faucets?

I received this question today:

Hi Allan,

I have a dilemma concerning my antique tubs. The first tub - the wall mounted tub, from all the information I've received is an Ahrens & Ott 1913, 5 1/2 foot Clarion tub. All original plumbing was in the wall - including the standing waste valve. Both of my tubs have a low bell spout tub filler. We only have bits and pieces of the original plumbing for both tubs. The other tub is 5 feet in length, not sure of the manufacturer or date, but it has a 5" flat-rolled rim. As you can see it also has a standing waste valve and all the fixtures came up through the rim of the tub. Should I spend the money to refinish these and get them in working order? I've done quite a bit of research and everyone wants at least $2,000 to rebuild the faucets, not counting refinishing the tubs. Would they be considered rare or of historic value? I really love them and want to keep them with the 1900 house were are renovating since they were original, but I'm not sure about spending that much. Any help or advice you could give me would be so so appreciated!!

My reply:

I don't have any specific information about Ahrens and Ott so I can't appraise the items for you. I think the bigger questions to ask yourself is “what are these vintage items worth to me?” and “how hard will I be using them?”

Let’s consider the following:

Durability: Restored faucets and refinished clawfoot tubs require more care and thoughtful use than their new counterparts. The restored faucets will, at a minimum, need new washers over time. You will need to be careful using the faucets so you don’t break items like porcelain handles and the more fragile interior components. Of course, if you do break the faucet, you will be paying top dollar to get parts and have the item repaired. Refinished tubs are usually only warranted for 1-5 years because most refinishing materials just don’t stand up over time – especially under heavy use. You also have to be very careful when cleaning a refinished tub as harsh chemicals will destroy the finish.

Value: Things to think about here are “Are these items original to the house?” “Do these items have any inherent value?” “Do these items have any sentimental value?” Let’s say you live in a Frank Lloyd Wright home and you want the house to be as close as possible to original condition. In this case, the value of the home might make having the restoration work worthwhile. If you live in a post-war ranch, then these items will seem out of place.

Use: Will these items get heavy or light use? Will my 6 kids be using this tub or is it for a guest or master bath? The easier you will be on the items, the longer they will last and the more value you will get out of them.

Code: Before investing a lot of money in getting your antique plumbing refinished and restored, you will definitely want to check to make certain that it will meet the plumbing code in your area. Tubs with built-in spouts near the drain will almost never pass code unless some sort of backflow prevention device is installed in your supply lines. Even then, some municipalities will not pass it. Check first.

The facts in your specific case are:

  • You are restoring a 1900 home
  • You have two tubs, a toilet, and several sinks with faucets
  • You really love the fixtures
  • The cost is $2,000 for the restored faucets and an additional $1,200 (my guess) for the tub refinishing

Let’s assume the home will be restored to its former glory and that you are trying to keep it as close to original as possible. I would do the following:

Check the local plumbing code to see if you can use the tubs. If not, buy a tub (either a new one or a good-condition antique clawfoot tub with the original porcelain intact.). Buying a refinished tub does not make a lot of sense to me when you can buy a new clawfoot tub with a lifetime warranty for under $1,000.

Next, consider how you will be using the tub and fixtures. Avoid the refinishing /restoration if they are used daily (especially if kids are involved – they are murder on refinishing). Again, go with new or original porcelain with no rust or cast iron showing through the interior finish.

Finally, determine how much you really love the fixtures. If you really, really dig them, then get ‘em done because you won’t be able to look at your finished bathroom without thinking to yourself that you should have kept the antique items.

One last note: You could keep some of the items and sell off the lesser pieces. The toilet looks neat as well as one of the pedestal sinks. Perhaps you keep those two items and match them up with a new or original tub in one of the bathrooms.

I hope this helps you make a decision about your antique items.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:45 AM

    Ahrens and Ott were Louisville, Ky plumbers in the 1800's.
    Theodore Ahrens went on to found The American Standard-Radiator Corporation based on patents he developed at Ahrens and Ott.
    Want more? email