How to Choose a Bathtub

Consider factors like bathroom size and features when shopping for a tub for your remodel.


Photo Courtesy of Kohler

Photo Courtesy of Kohler

By: John Riha

A shower is the fastest way to get clean when you're on the go. But when you've got a bit more time, the bathtub can be a relaxing alternative. Bathtubs are more than a place to wash—they're a soothing reward, a meditative reprieve and a truly personal experience. Bathtub manufacturers understand this appeal and have produced a variety of styles, features and shapes to match any taste and budget.

Types of Tubs

Bathtubs have personalities. Freestanding and clawfoot types will boldly occupy a favored position in the bathroom. Alcove, drop-in and corner tubs often are nestled against walls and integrated into the overall scheme.

3-wall alcove tub-shower combinations are the most common tub type and are designed to maximize space. The unfinished ends usually get sandwiched between an exterior wall and a handy built-in storage cabinet. A wall-mounted shower is a typical accompaniment.

Drop-in tubs are the tub shell only. They're fitted inside a framed enclosure that's finished to match bathroom cabinets or tile. An enclosure is a separate item, so budget accordingly.

Undermounts are drop-ins destined for floor-level installation. Flooring, such as tile, covers the lip of the tub.

Corner tubs are variations on the alcove and drop-in designs. Their large, squarish proportions are conducive to dual bathing.

Freestanding tubs feature a sculpted bathing bowl on a solid base or a cradle.

Clawfoot tubs invoke images of a grand Elizabethan era of soaking. The signature legs support tubs that are especially deep. "Slipper"-type designs feature a high back for supporting the head and neck.

Cheap vs. Steep: Bathtubs

See All Photos

Cheap: Bathtub/Shower Combination

Installing a tub and shower combo will help you save both money and space in your bathroom. Image courtesy of Kohler Co.

Cheap: Updated Bathtub

Rather than installing a new tub, you can save money by refreshing your existing tub with new tile. Design by Eric Islas

Photo By: Copyright 2006 David Young-Wolff

Mid-Range: Deep Soaker Tub

Smaller yet deeper than the standard bathtub, soaker tubs provide a relaxing, spa-like retreat in your bathroom. Image courtesy of Toto USA

Mid-Range: Corner Soaker Tub

Enjoy the spa-like benefits of a soaker tub while also saving space in your bathroom by installing a corner soaker tub. Design by Eric Islas

Photo By: Copyright 2006 David Young-Wolff

Steep: Freestanding Metal Tub

A freestanding tub in copper or another metal makes a beautiful and luxurious focal point for a bathroom. Image courtesy of Native Trails

Photo By: Barry Goyette

Steep: Jetted Island Tub

A pricey upgrade from your basic bathtub, a jetted island tub transforms a bathroom into a spa-like retreat. Air jets emit warmth and bubbles for a relaxing experience. Image courtesy of Novellini Design

Features to Consider

Most tub manufacturers offer an array of options, especially for their top-of-the-line products. Equip your pleasure pond with accessories from the simple to the sublime.

Jets and bubbles. The whirlpool tub lives on, abetted by:

  • in-line heaters that warm water as it circulates, preventing heat loss
  • silent motor technology that greatly reduces the sound of the jets
  • multi-speed settings to adjust the vigor of the jets
  • foot massage jets mounted on underwater footrests
  • bubble-only jets providing warmed air throughout the tub
  • micro-bubble jets that fill the tub with champagne-like effervescence

Chromatherapy. Underwater LED lights change color to suit your mood. From peaceful pink to soothing blue, the choice is yours.

Music. Resonant speaker panels attached to the tub send sound through the water so you can feel the vibrations on your skin. Sync to the playlists you have on your computer.

Digital controls. Make it all happen with a built-in touch pad—control temperature, jet direction and flow, color and music.

ADA compliant. Common sense guidelines from the Americans with Disabilities Act make tubs safe for everyone. They include non-slip floor surfaces and wide edges for sitting and easing into the tub. Walk-in tubs are especially designed for those with limited mobility. A hinged door allows easy access, then seals shut while the tub fills.

Construction and Costs

Tubs are made from many different materials, and most are available in all styles. Prices are all over the map, depending on the features you choose. For example, a standard acrylic alcove tub go for about $700. Add lights, heated bubbles and digital controls to a drop-in acrylic unit and the price gets upwards of $18,000.

Acrylic and fiberglass. In general, these are the least expensive options, readily available at home improvement centers. Wide selection of colors. Price, most popular: $400 to $1,700. Top end: $18,000.

Cast-iron. Enamel finish offers many cool colors. Heavy cast-iron is a great heat sink, keeping bath water warm for long periods. Usually in the mid-price range, but you'll need a couple of stout deliverymen. Price, most popular: $400 to $1,200. Top end: $11,000.

Copper. The ultimate in fine bathroom couture. You'll invite people over just to look at your tub. Price: $4,000 to $50,000.

Enameled steel. Moderately priced tubs with a well-deserved reputation for toughness that includes resistance to scratching and staining. Color choices are usually limited. Prices, most popular: $350 to $1,000. Top end: $8,000.

Stone and wood. Yes, it's possible to have a tub carved from a block of travertine, limestone and other natural rocks. Or, fashioned of laminated walnut, pear, mahogany and others. Freestanding only to show off those amazing materials. Price: $15,000 to $25,000.

Don't Forget Plain Vanilla

While it's tempting to covet all the features, shapes and options of today's tubs, remember that some of your favorite bathing experiences probably happened as a kid, splashing around in an ordinary tub. And that's priceless.

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