Tub in new home is backward, with inaccessible faucet and drain

13 Replies

I am in the process of buying a new-construction home. We had a home inspector look at it today. Many of the problems are minor -- typical of a home just built -- but there are a few that seem important and hard to solve. I am looking for advice to help negotiate with the builder during an option period that allows me to cancel the contract at a minimal cost. Of course, I hope to find solutions and keep the deal.

The most difficult problem is that the tub in the master bathroom is installed essentially backward. As you can seen in the photos, the faucet and drain are at the far end of an alcove, so it's impossible to move the drain stopper or turn the water on and off without being in the tub. In addition, there is no access panel to allow maintenance of the plumbing, which the inspector says is required. A cosmetic related problem is that the tub is not centered in the tiled deck; it's much closer to the far wall than it is to the front of the tub where a person would have to enter. Also, because the sloped end of the tub is at the end allowing access, there is very little space for a person to enter the tub and step on the level surface.

The obvious solution is to reverse the direction of the tub, putting the sloped end toward the far wall and the plumbing at the open end. That's not simple, because there is no basement or crawl space; the tub is installed over a cable-tension slab.

One possible solution I thought of would be to take out the tub, reverse it and install it a little higher, with a slightly sloped, essentially horizontal pipe running under the tub from the drain to the existing trap, a distance of maybe 45 to 48 inches. I have read that that's not a good approach, though, and apparently would not meet code.

Do you see any reasonable way to approach this?

Another significant but easier-to-solve problem is that the back door opens outward. I have never seen that before. Aside from aesthetics and possible trouble with wind blowing the door, I've read that this is a security issue because, in the absence of special hinges, it's easy for a burglar to enter the home by removing the hinge pins. I'm interested in your experience or opinions on an exterior door that swings outward.

Wow that must be embarrassing for the builder. The plumbing for that tub should be on the other side, with an easy access panel right there at the base of your 1st photo.

As for the hinges you could drill a small screw into the hinge pin and then strip the head so it can't be removed, but that is not the kind of answer you want on a new construction home.

@Bob H. the builder has to fix the tub - not an option. Concrete can be jack-hammered, new drain can be installed. No, it is not an easy fix but why force residents to deal with a bad design in perpetuity that can be remedied within a matter of days and dollars. I find it hard to believe that even passes code. 

As far as the back door: I have noticed on TV shows that homes in Florida and Texas, etc. often have doors that open out. The only thing I can think of is that it has to do with hurricanes or something (being from Colorado I don't know much about this). But again - a door can be reversed. I have done this more than once with interior doors in houses. 

@Wayne Brooks . RE: "Well, you can’t jack hammer/cut thru a post tensioned slab".

YES - you can! I've seen builders do it on numerous occasions to correct an error. Probability of having a cable in a specific SF of concrete is minimal.

They sell burglar proof hinges. The hinge pins are non-removable, so that’s an easy fix.

Cutting into pre-tensioned slabs is doable, but usually requires an x-ray or ultrasound inspection to find the cables to ensure they aren’t damaged. That would be a mess, and I can’t imagine the builder agree to it without a fight. How much are you willing to fight it?

@Teri S., we'll ask, but I think the builder will refuse to reverse the tub. Before making an offer, we asked about something else, and the builder representative said, "The home is sold as shown," which is a polite way of saying, "Take it or leave it." Yesterday I met some neighbors who had the same kind of tub and asked the builder about it. As the neighbor recalled, the builder said, "No way!" Like many people who have tubs in bathrooms with separate showers, he and his wife never use the tub. He put a board over it to hold plants or something.

The builder apparently continued to build more homes with this kind of tub after the problem had been pointed out. The city building official said the city inspects for code compliance but not bad design -- hardly reassuring in light of the municipal fees that drive up home costs everywhere.

@Mike McCarthy is right about the feasibility of cutting through a post-tensioned slab, as long as the tendons are located first, but no one wants to incur this expense and the builder can find another buyer.

My wife and I have been considering a "light" fix: By cutting access panels into the bedroom wall to the left of the tub, we could move the faucet to the front and replace the narrow strip of tile where the faucet is now. Then it might be possible to install a remote-control drain with a button at the front of the tub; I've seen one model and there are others, but it might be hard to get enough access through the side wall to install the control mechanism below the tub.

Listen, if you want the home and have found no other major issues with it, then buy it. If the tub is that big of an issue for your particular needs, then you may have to pass on the house. If it was a tub and shower combo, this would be a much bigger deal, but I suspect your use of the tub will be far inferior to your use of the shower anyway. I get what the builder is saying... they WILL find another buyer who doesn't care. 

As far as the access panel goes, well, you're rather unlikely to have any issue there over the duration of your ownership unless you live there for 10 or more years. IF you had a problem and needed to get to it, THEN you could reconsider this entire conversation. 

A thought; have you measured the depth of the surround relative to the depth of the tub? I believe these tubs are designed to not require a mud bed under them these days; they primarily displace their load around the edges instead. You may find that the base has enough room for the drain to flow the other way... there's also a trap under that drain that's not in the concrete mind you... it would only take an inch or two of extra space to be able to turn it to flow from the other side. As for the feeds, pex lines make that an easy easy fix. 

And finally, if they used a traditional P trap, you could buy yourself the extra room for appropriate slope with a low profile P trap. Perhaps they're still building these homes and you could talk to the plumber?? Chances are they're using a traditional P trap since anything different cost more. Get out your tape measure, try and figure out the distance from the bottom of the tub to the slab under it and compare to the types of low profile P traps you see online.

Originally posted by @Max T. :

As for the hinges you could drill a small screw into the hinge pin and then strip the head so it can't be removed, but that is not the kind of answer you want on a new construction home.

Rather than stripping the screw head, you could probably do that on a part of the hinge that is only accessible if the door is already open.

I think I would be inclined to walk away from a home with a builder who does this kind of poor workmanship.

What other things havent you found?

The door swinging outward imo is unacceptable.  And the tub is bizarre, although I wouldnt worry about an access panel.  I could be wrong, but I dont think that is code.  And if you ended up with an issue, they would just go in thru the drywall like you suggested.

Originally posted by :

My wife and I have been considering a "light" fix: By cutting access panels into the bedroom wall to the left of the tub, we could move the faucet to the front and replace the narrow strip of tile where the faucet is now. Then it might be possible to install a remote-control drain with a button at the front of the tub; I've seen one model and there are others, but it might be hard to get enough access through the side wall to install the control mechanism below the tub.

 Another possible 'light' fix re: access panel. I've seen plumbers access plumbing on setups like yours by going in from the outside of the house. Below the window on the outside, carefully removing siding, etc, doing the work, putting it back when done. If you want to be proactive, set up an access panel from the get-go so that when something breaks a plumber isn't rushing around with creating an access point, since you have a panel that was set up at a leisurely pace X years prior (no guarantee that your plumber will be all that great at putting siding back).

Never ever cut in to a post tensioned slab without x-raying it first for PT cables. IF you hit one, the intense pressure they are under can release and severely damage the concrete, or worse, hurt or kill the saw operator. X-ray first. Safety first.

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