How to Choose a Bathtub: The 6 Things You Need to Consider
Looking to add a bit more color and depth to your bathroom? Well, an easy way to spruce up any bathroom is replacing an old and outdated bathtub. Here’s what you should consider when choosing a new bathtub:
When it comes to bathtubs, there are quite a few styles to accommodate just about any bathroom with each style placing an emphasis on two key factors: space and material. The amount of space you have will largely influence what style is right for you while you may be inclined to an oval shaped freestanding bathtub, you might only have space enough for a round bathtub. Complimentary to space, the material will also influence the style as some materials are only made with a specific style such as copper and natural stone.
Possibly one of the most popular styles of bathtubs are freestanding and it’s not difficult to see why. Freestanding bathtubs can freely fit just about any space and don’t require connecting walls to be installed. They also provide a more vibrant centerpiece for your bathroom aesthetically compared to most drop-in tubs and are priced quite evenly to the other options on the market.
The classic look that has existed since the early 1800s and is widely popular, the normal design pr ‘clawfoot’ has been changed today with more of a modern flair, taking away the pegged claws on the base and replacing it with a more sleek, uniform look. Though if you wished, the clawfoot design is still being made today if you prefer that style instead. These are traditionally longer and rectangular in shape, requiring more space than the alternatives.
Contrary to the more classic design of the clawfoot is the oval bathtub. These bathtubs are round in shape and symmetrical, quite similar to a water basin. Quite popular in apartments or smaller homes where space is a premium, these bathtubs have a more modern look that contrasts well against the sharper corners and edges of the rest of your bathroom.
Finally, for those with who want something a bit different from the angled or normal design, there’s the angled style. An angled bathtub is slopped slightly higher on one side, with the idea of providing support for your back and neck during the bath. Highly flexible in size, these can be equivalent to an oval bathtub in size or be found larger than both the oval and normal freestanding styles.
The traditional bathtub style, a clawfoot is a freestanding bathtub that is supported by four ‘claws’ or legs on the bottom. This design dates back to early Victorian era bathrooms and is still widely popular today.
Alcove or recessed tubs are tubs that are installed in a recess of three connecting walls with one finished side. These bathtubs are generally found in apartments or smaller homes as they don’t take up a lot of space and many can be combined into a shower combo.
Similar to an alcove, but much larger is the corner tub. These are bathtubs that are much wider than the typical alcove bathtub, but the space they fill is similar. Alcove bathtubs are usually installed adjacent to three connecting walls, usually a window. More for relaxation and therapy, these bathtubs are more similar to hot tubs than normal tubs.
Undermount bathtubs are installed underneath the surrounding deck or ingress, so it looks more uniform to your bathroom as the rim is hidden. Drop-ins are installed by dropping them in a carved out area then sealed in, so the rim is more visible. Beyond the visual aspects, there isn’t much difference between an undermount and drop-in bathtub. They both save space, they both come in many different styles and material and many of them can be fitted with powered jets for a more relaxing bath experience or combined with a shower for multipurpose use.
A soaking bathtub or ‘Japanese’ style is a bathtub that is typically either oval or circular in shape. Generally a fair bit taller than normal bathtubs, the purpose of these is to sit comfortably in place to allow yourself to soak. These bathtubs also tend to run a wide spectrum of sizes as there are the longer, more elegant styles for larger homes and of course, the much more compact ones for smaller homes. The smaller size is generally more popular as an apartment bathtub.
A walk-in bathtub is a bathtub that is fitted to allow the user to walk in and sit down without fear of slipping. There are grooves and notches along the insides of the tub to provide walking grip and generally there is also hand holds to assist balance and stability. These are most prominent in homes that have elderly folk as these will allow them to bathe without further assistance.
A whirlpool tub is a bathtub that houses self-contained jets. These jets are either air or water jets, but their primary function is to massage the user for both relaxation and health purposes. Air jet whirlpools contain dozens of small jets that pump warm air through to create air bubbles while water jet whirlpool have fewer but larger jets that push water at high speeds. The primary advantage of a whirlpool tub is that it creates a deeper massage sensation than any other tub on the market.
An air tub is a bathtub that is equipped with multiple small jets that blow heated air into the bath water to create a massaging sensation. Although they are quite similar to water whirlpool baths, air tubs use their jets to create a bubbling sensation rather than a deep, massaging sensation. This results in a bathtub that doesn’t require frequent cleaning, unlike whirlpools. Conversely, air tubs do not retain heat for as long as whirlpool tubs and are more designed for those that want a quick massage rather than a long soak.
There are two factors in choosing the right material for your bathtub, namely price and comfort. Every material feels different to the touch, so you should test out which is the most comfortable to you as you will be spending a significant time in your bathtub and your comfort is important to enjoy it. However, the most comfortable material may also be quite pricey and quite a tad bit heavier, so you should do research on what your bathroom can handle before purchasing.
The cheapest bathtub material, fiberglass is constructed from reinforced plastic sheets which are eventually molded into the shape of a bathtub. The material is quite durable although prone to chipping from heavy impacts and it carries the unfortunate trait of being porous. Porous meaning it will absorb water regularly, eventually resulting in the material warping over time and becoming increasingly unstable.
Porcelain is constructed by layering cast iron or stamped steel with a layer of porcelain enamel-a mixture of powdered glass and substrate heated into a durable coating. As a result, these bathtubs are quite durable, and are non-porous, making it so they will not warp or deteriorate over time. The porcelain coating, however, is quite delicate to heavy impacts, so take care not to drop anything on it or you will leave some very noticeable blemishes on its surface.
Similar to fiberglass, acrylic is formed by taking a solid sheet of petrochemicals, stabilizers, resin and appropriate dye, heating it then molding the result into a bathtub shape which is then reinforced with fiberglass. Lightweight and available in many styles and sizes, acrylic is a popular choice for both drop-in and freestanding bathtubs. Although it looks and feels quite similar to fiberglass, the material is non-porous, making its durability much higher than fiberglass. It is also resistant to chipping and heavy impacts, though typically you should still refrain from throwing things at your bathtub.
Ceramic bathtubs are formed by molding numerous ceramic tiles together until it hardens. The benefit of this method of construction is that ceramic is quite similar to clay, meaning it comes in many different styles and sizes, more than any material on the market. The drawback to this is that ceramic must be continually maintained or it will eventually deteriorate and crumble.
Stone resin is a material composing of crushed natural stone bounded together with adhesive to give you a composite material that has the look and feel of natural stone without the additional weight and added cost. A popular choice as it is a solid middle ground between cost and quality, stone resin offers excellent durability and heat retention while also being non-porous and quite affordable. The only limiting factor with stone resin is that there aren’t a lot of style choices compared to other materials on market.
Made from crushed limestone and resin, this material is as classic as ancient Rome. It retains heat very well and is quite durable while carrying an excellent pearlescent shine. However, the numerous cons of this material keeps it from being very popular. An expensive material, with a starting price tag of $700, cultured marble is also quite heavy, adding more hassle to install. Finally, if regular maintenance is not kept on cultured marble, it will start to discolor and stain.
Constructed from pure copper, copper bathtubs are custom made and are the cusp of what is considered a luxury bathtub. This material is incredibly durable, holds heat, requires absolutely no additional maintenance other than consistent water use and is aesthetically brilliant. It is also, 2-3x more expensive than any bathtub material on the market, putting you down an average price tag of $2,000.
Similar to copper, wood is a bathtub material that is very rustic and aesthetically pleasing. Constructed from natural wood then sealed with water resistant wax, these bathtubs are also highly priced at around $2,000. The wax will hold for several years, but over time these bathtubs will tend to break down with consistent use and are not seen as a lasting investment compared to the similarly priced copper bathtubs.
Another important consideration is the size of your bathtub. Size is an important factor as your home may not need a larger bathtub if a smaller bathtub size will do. Generally, if your home can support it and you have the space for it, a larger tub is recommended. In the case of freestanding and corner bathtubs, if you have the requisite space, then by all means, choose those styles. But, if your space is more limited, alcove, drop-in, and soaking might be more suitable for you. While it looks visually more appealing, a larger bathtub will also require a heftier water bill as it will require more water to fill completely compared to a smaller size. Smaller sizes also come in more useful variants like the Japanese soaking style, which allows you to sit comfortably and soak. The counter to this is that smaller bathtubs are also not for everyone and some may feel the more compact size of them to be cramped compared to a large sized tub. To measure out your home and discover which size is more appropriate for your bathroom, you may look at our guide here.
When purchasing a tub, weight is a crucial factor to consider. Similar to size, the weight of your tub will determine where you can place your bathtub. If the material of the tub is too heavy, your floor and house may not be able to support it when it is filled with water. This can be tricky as some of the more quality materials such as Cast Iron, Natural Stone and Copper are highly desirable, but are often too heavy for many homes. A common solution for this problem is to reinforce your floor so that it can handle the increased weight. Additionally,materials like Stone Resin and Acrylic strike a happy medium, providing a durable material that is relatively lightweight and compatible with many homes.
Installing your bathtub can be a bit of a hassle depending on the size and shape of your tub, so it’s important to know which style is the easiest and which is a bit more complicated to install. In general, alcove and drop-ins are easier to install than freestanding and corner tubs respectively, though this may change depending on the material used and the overall weight of the bathtub you are trying to install. If it seems too heavy, it is best advised to hire a professional to install it for you.
An added benefit of a freestanding bathtub is that it can be installed almost anywhere in your home so long as you have a working drain and water source. A freestanding tub is self-sufficient in this case as it doesn’t require adjacent walls or a carved out ingress like most other bathtub styles. However, while it may be easy to place anywhere, these bathtubs tend to be the largest in size and, depending on the material used, these also tend to be the heaviest overall. Their design means they hold a large volume of water weight, so be careful that your floor can handle the additional weight.
Drop in bathtubs are perhaps the easiest to install compared to other bathtubs on the market. Their namesake says it all-they drop in. These bathtubs are usually placed in an ingress or carved out space, which you simply need to connect the requisite plumbing before placing it down.
Similar to drop-in tubs, an alcove bathtub is installed against three walls with one finished side. Typically, you would have an ingress or an alcove space ready, which you would simply place your bathtub in, which after you’d connect the requisite plumbing and you’re done. Also, due to the size of these tubs, they are quite manageable to install with just 1-2 people.
Perhaps the most difficult to install by yourself, corner bathtubs have a few more moving parts compared to other bathtubs on the market. Their wider design also means this type of bathtub will need a larger area to be installed compared to any other bathtub and you may need additional help placing it. Corner bathtubs also have additional water settings that you perhaps may need to hire a professional to sort out if you are unfamiliar with the plumbing.
As discussed previously, the price for a bathtub is determined by the quality of the material used and your style choice. As a general rule, smaller bathtubs will always be cheaper than larger ones, but that in no way means there is a quality difference between a larger and smaller bathtub. The material is the primary concern here.
Price per Material
As a general average, a normal freestanding bathtub is roughly anywhere from $500-2000 depending on the cost of the material used. Fiberglass is the cheapest, therefore the price range runs on average anywhere from $200-500. Acrylic is next, with a more normalized price range which is around $500 starting. Porcelain carries a wider spectrum with some starting bathtubs around $300, but some can run up to $1500. Generally, fiberglass, acrylic, and porcelain are seen as more affordable materials on the market with an average price range of $300-500.
On the higher end, you have materials like cast iron, steel, and copper. As a material considerably more durable than fiberglass, acrylic or porcelain, the starting price for a cast iron tub is around $500 but can easily climb to around $2,000. After cast iron is steel, which is considerably cheaper with a starting point of $300, but that’s mostly because the material is quite heavy. The additional weight usually offsets the more affordable aspects of it, so if your home can handle it, the weight isn’t much of a negative, but consider that you do get what you pay for. Copper is last, with a price range quite similar to wood, which is around $1500 starting because these bathtubs are all custom-made. Of course, you can find cheaper ones on the market, but these tend to not be as strong quality wise compared to their more expensive counterparts.
Price per Style
Style also informs your price as each style is priced differently based mostly on their size. Freestanding bathtubs run an average price range of about $600-3000+, not including installation. Alcove bathtubs on average are between $400-800, not including installation which is a bit more complicated as the ‘alcove’ space needs to be measured and prepped, running an additional $300-400 if you don’t DIY it yourself. Drop-ins are more simplistic, running anywhere from $300-900, and there is considerably less prep as most of these can be easily installed yourself. Lastly, we have the corner bathtub which is a bit more pricey as these tend to have more features similar to a hot tub. These will typically run at a starting price of about $700.
Another important consideration when buying a new bathtub concerns the people actually using it. A strange statement, but you should consider all the needs of the people using your bathtub. For instance, if you choose a taller bathtub that allows for longer soak sessions, this may prove problematic for younger children to enter and exit without assistance. This same rule also applies to the elderly. For the elderly, the Japanese style or round bathtubs are very popular, or if you want to invest a little more money, many bathtubs can be installed with a walk-in door, allowing the occupant to sit comfortably while they bathe while also containing grips to prevent slipping. Keep in mind a user’s height and physical shortcomings when choosing a bathtub as there are many style options for disabled or handicapped persons out there to choose from.
There are many factors to consider in choosing the correct bathtub for you, whether it be size, price or comfort, it would be best to do your research before buying. Measure your space, consider the needs of the people in your home and without a doubt, you will find the right bathtub for your home.
Additional Considerations When Choosing a Bathtub in 2021:
- Installation during Covid -19 – With the ever increasing reality of COVID-19, certain safety precautions should be taken before hiring professional assistance. Contractors and other professionals will usually take steps to ensure their own safety on a job, but it is equally important that you still be careful.
- Piping placement – Your plumbing and pipe placement will determine your overall layout for your home. It is because of this that you understand how your pipes are laid out so that you may better plan your installation layout to avoid future headaches. In addition to your tub installation, this will also determine the ease of installing new fixtures such as sinks and toilets.
- Accessibility and safety- Who uses your bathtub and bathrooms is important. For young children not under supervision and physically challenged, your bathroom will require steps, handrails, and wheelchair accessibility is always a plus. To prevent any accidents, or just for ease of use, your bathroom should be safe and easy to access for all individuals.
- Bathtub placement-Bathtub placement is important depending on the style of bathtub you choose. For freestanding bathtubs, you have a great deal of freedom to place the bathtub where you please. For drop-in bathtubs, your bathtub needs to be installed near walls or against corners to ensure stability. As discussed previously, your bathtub placement also affects safety and accessibility. With bathtubs installed near the wall or corner, it is much easier to access for young children or the elderly. For freestanding bathtubs, we recommend steps or a safety rail to ensure no accidents can occur.