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What is an Alcove Tub: 2018 Beginners Guide to Alcove Tubs

by Badeloft | August 26, 2018

Searching for a new bathtub can be quite a daunting task with so many options for styles and customization available to you on the market. However, most of your choices will easily boil down to one question: How big is your bathroom? For those with a more space-conscience focus, an alcove bathtub is a popular choice due to its compact yet versatile design.

 

What is an Alcove Tub?

An alcove bathtub is not really a bathtub type but more the installation method for which it is installed. The term refers to the bathtub being installed into a recess in your bathroom, which means quite commonly they are installed with three joining walls or a pocket alcove in your bathroom, with some modern designs only having two walls or a large window to remove the confined nature of this installation method. A shower curtain or sliding door being added is quite typical as this installation method leaves an open space that doesn’t provide much privacy.

The History of the Alcove Bathtub

As you may know, the bathtub is quite an old invention, dating back to ancient rome. However, the built-in tub is a modern innovation, beginning in the early 1900’s with companies like Kohler integrating a bathtub design to suit people with space constraints that simply couldn’t fit a flat-footed tub into their bathroom. While the flat-footed bathtub was comforting and elegant, it was notoriously difficult and tedious to clean due to it’s high verticality. This would give rise to the built-in bathtub-made with one enclosed side, this bathtub was highly efficient as it could run flush with the entire bathroom wall, saving space and allowing for better access to it’s surfaces for easier maintenance. And while modern bathtubs have evolved in many forms, the alcove design is still widely prominent today, offering all the comforts of a normal bathtub in a small space.

Common Alcove Sizes

While it offers a lot of value in space saving for your bathroom, alcove bathtubs aren’t particularly flexible in terms of sizes. Your average size is around 48 inches long(4.5ft),25 inches wide(2ft) with roughly 16 inches of water depth(1.3ft). Larger sizes do exist, with a length of 72 inches(6ft), a width of 42 inches(3.5ft) and a water depth of 20 inches(1.6ft). In general, alcove bathtubs are a bit more limited in terms of sizes and designs, fitting a size spectrum between 4.5ft-6 feet ong, and a width of anywhere between 2.5 ft and 3.5ft. This is due to the way they are manufactured, which is to fit the size profile of almost any bathroom, meaning that if your bathroom is a bit more spacious, than the alcove might be a bit small for you.

Different Types of Alcove Tubs

As the alcove bathtub is seen as the mainstay or standard bathtub model, many are outfitted with a shower, blending the form and functionality of a shower with the compact nature of the alcove design. Even if you have just a normal alcove tub in your home, installation of a shower is quite simple and will add increased value to your home. But beyond just saving you space in your bathroom, alcove bathtubs come in a variety of different styles for a more therapeutic role-customizable and powered jets exist on a few models, ensuring a more relaxing bathing experience. While there are a few with a deeper water height, giving you a deeper soak which is useful for bathing with oils or muscle relaxation. The great thing about all of these types is that they all fall into the size range as discussed earlier, so you can retain the added benefit of higher end bathtubs even if your bathroom is of modest size.

Alcove Bathtub Materials

The primary materials for bathtubs in the alcove style are fiberglass, acrylic, cast iron and stone resin. Each have their advantages and disadvantages but ultimately your final decision will rely largely on your budget.

Fiberglass is constructed from forming layers of fiber-reinforced plastic then layering the plastic into sheets which become a mold coated with gel-coat resin. Fiberglass is always going to be your cheapest material option, but it is porous, meaning it will warp over time and become unstable, lowering it’s overall lifespan. It also can’t weather heavy impacts and will chip quite easily.

A step up from fiberglass is acrylic, which is constructed similarly to fiberglass bathtubs, but it is reinforced with vacuum sheets of acrylic, making the material tougher and lowering the water absorption rate, meaning it will not absorb water, making it a stable bathtub material. However, acrylic tends to discolor over time, and still cannot weather heavy impacts.

Cast iron is considered a higher end material, at least when compared to fiberglass and acrylic, improving on much of the drawbacks from both of these materials. Made from pouring molten iron into a mold, cast iron is incredibly durable, easy to clean and retains heat very well. The only drawback is that cast iron is a great deal heavier than acrylic or fiberglass which may cause some problems if your floor is not reinforced, in addition to heavier labor being required for installation. Cast iron also happens to be a great deal more expensive than both acrylic or fiberglass bathtubs.

Lastly is stone resin or solid stone, which is constructed from taking natural stone then binding them with a special resin. Stone resin is incredibly durable, has excellent heat retention, requires very little maintenance and can weather heavy impacts without noticeable scuffs or damages. The only real drawback to stone resin is that it is also a heavy material, which will require additional considerations in floor reinforcement and increased labor on install along with a similar price tag to cast iron.

Alcove bathtub average prices

Typical cost of an alcove style bathtub, not including installation fees fluctuate between $250-500. For the larger sizes with more advanced features like powered jets and deeper soaking, the price jumps to around $1,000-3,000. For installation, you are looking at anywhere between $7501,000 additional if you are hiring a contractor. If you plan on doing DIY installation however, the price typically ranges around $150-200 depending on the existing framework in your bathroom. Factors such as your existing tile, the state of your drywall and your pre-existing flooring will contribute greatly to your cost and the amount of work you may need to apply.

Drop-in vs Alcove tub

A drop-in bathtub is a bathtub that can be dropped anywhere, offering you greater freedom in installation options. These bathtubs are finished all the way around, meaning that their material will not poke out and is flush with your walls and surrounds though this means they have no active edge to place or support it. They do not require walls to be installed against it, which ultimately means they can be installed similar to a freestanding bathtub so long as a pre-existing foundation or platform is constructed ahead of time. Drop-in bathtubs also have greater flexibility in size as they aren’t limited by wall confines, which means they can be much, much bigger than alcove bathtubs meaning they have a greater water capacity which translates into greater water depth for longer soaking time. And because they do not need to be confined in size, drop-ins also have a greater variety of designs such as oval, round or rectangular where as alcoves are generally just rectangular. Generally, drop-in bathtubs are much more expensive than alcove tubs however.

Alcove vs skirted tubs

Quite similar to alcove bathtubs, skirted bathtubs are drop-in bathtubs that have a skirt or rim that covers the entire bathtub itself. The rim is flair outwards, providing a grip or edge for it to rest on top of, allowing for easier install. This means that you simply need to drop your skirted tub over the ingress or hole you wish to install it in, and seal it with caulk. The skirt or rim will rest easily on your material while being anchored by two walls. Overall, this means that the skirted bathtub is supported by it’s lip and the two walls, unlike a normal drop-in which requires an empty frame first before installation.

Alcove Installation

To install an alcove bathtub, you first need to measure your surface area for where you want to install your bathtub.

  1.  After you have measured out your bathtub, roll your bathtub into the space to begin measurements for your ledger board. A ledger board is a piece of board that serves as your support against the edges of the wall. Mark the top of the flange on the wall studs with a pencil.
  2. With your studs and rivets marked, you will need to take the height of your bathtub and measure that same distance below the reference line on each stud. This will serve as the mark for the top edge of the new stringers you will need to install. Cut some 2x4s the length of your new tub and use deck screws to fasten them to the studs on the new reference marks you made.
  3.  After your ledger board is installed, follow the manufacturer’s specs and assemble the shoe fitting which sits between your bathtub and waste pipe. Using a bit of plumber putty, wrap it around the new drain flange and screw it to the new threads. Now connect the overflow valve and position it behind the bathtub and attach the cover plate inside. Once you connect them to make an intersecting T formation, you are done.
  4. With the plumbing sorted, apply a 2-inch layer of mortar with a trowel then carefully move the bathtub into place. If done correctly your drain flange should rest on the stringer that was installed along the back wall. Make sure it is level after securing it, then apply finish touches by securing the flange with nails.

As the routine standard for most homes, alcove bathtubs are relatively easy to install, requiring a few hours and roughly $70-100 of equipment. If you are unsure of any step, please consult a professional before installing.

There are numerous choices of bathtubs out there, making it equally important to understand your price range and the amount of space you are working with. Although it may not be as glamorous or resplendent as other bathtubs on the market, an alcove bathtub is always a safe choice due to it’s inexpensive price point and the small space it takes, but ultimately the decision is yours.

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