Winter is the perfect tub season. If you’re buying a new tub, it’s time to talk tubs. Here are some tips.
By Carol Brock
There’s nothing better than a hot soak on a wintry day. Whether taking a bath is a rare occurrence or a daily ritual, it’s the ideal way to melt stress and enjoy relaxing “me” time.
Many tub styles are available on today’s market. Before buying a tub, however, you’ll need to answer a few questions. “I always ask people, ‘How often do you use your tub?’” says Cindy Hellgren, operations manager for Thurston Kitchen + Bath in Boulder. “Then I ask what they use it for—bathing, reading, soaking, relaxing, washing kids or pets.”
“It’s important to think how your tub is going to be used,” agrees Kelli Walden, certified interior designer at Niwot Interiors—“and where your stuff will go.” For example, many people love quaint freestanding tubs, but they fail to consider where their accoutrements—reading materials, wineglass, candles and other necessities—will go. “You’ve created an island, which isn’t fun when you’re standing there dripping wet trying to reach something that’s across the room,” Walden says. On the other hand, freestanding tubs are nice in small bathrooms because they visually open up the space.
Other considerations include a tub’s weight, your subfloor’s construction, spatial constraints, tub materials, and first and foremost, comfort. “Take your shoes off and sit in a (showroom) tub to make sure it fits your body,” Hellgren advises. Different tub styles have different slopes, so you’ll want to make sure you’re absolutely comfortable.
Most homes can accommodate standard tubs, but older homes, like those built in the 1800s, may require reinforcement to handle a tub’s weight. “Find out the weight of the tub when it’s full of water,” Hellgren advises. You’ll also want to take measurements to be sure your tub will fit the bathroom and that it can be transported through doorways and up or down any stairs. “Measurements are key,” she says.
If you’re looking to replace an existing tub, you’ll most likely have to choose a similar model to fit your bathroom’s configuration. If you’re doing a remodel, you have more choices in terms of styles and materials. Fortunately, there are tubs for all tastes and budgets, but you’ll need to decide which works best for you.
“Health and wellness is a big trend right now,” says Jen Grant, design consultant at The KB Studio in Boulder. “So we’re seeing more interest in soaker tubs and hydrotherapy tubs that deliver aromatherapy, light therapy and heat therapy.”
Soaking or Japanese-style tubs are deep tubs with a bench for sitting and soaking. Soaking tubs are the ultimate in relaxation, similar to a hot tub experience, but because they’re so deep they often require a new water heater to heat the increased water volume, additional structural support to accommodate the weight, and an electronic warming feature to keep the water consistently warm. You also sit upright in a soaking tub; you don’t recline.
Whirlpool tubs have water jets like a hot tub, while air-jetted tubs have air jets. Water jets can retain water and harbor mold and bacteria; no water passes through air jets. Whirlpools’ forceful jets offer a massage function, while an air jet’s champagne-like bubbles are soothing but not massaging.
A newer technology called MicroSilk takes hydrotherapy a step further. It creates oxygen-rich molecules that penetrate deeper skin layers to detoxify and rejuvenate skin. “It’s more of an effervescent effect,” Grant says, “and it’s so deeply cleansing that you don’t even need soap. I know, people say, ‘What? Give up soap? That’s crazy!’ But MicroSilk is so deep cleansing and rejuvenating that people with skin issues like eczema and those who want to reverse aging love it.”
If you’re seeking just a basic bath, several tub styles can accommodate you. The standard alcove tub might be your best bet if you mainly use your tub to bathe children and pets. It’s not fancy, and it’s likely the tub you grew up with. An alcove or recessed tub is typically rectangular and sided by three walls, with a flat or contoured bottom.
- A platform or drop-in tub sits inside a built-up deck, usually made of tile or stone, with a rim that rests on top of the deck material. An undermount tub is essentially a drop-in tub with a rim flush to the deck.
- A freestanding tub sits on feet on the floor, like a claw-foot tub, but you’ll need to be OK with the exposed plumbing. A pedestal tub is essentially a freestanding tub with the bottom enclosed by tub material so there are no feet to see.
- A corner tub is typically five-sided and fits into a corner. The one side that’s not attached to the wall can be straight or curved. It requires more water to fill than a standard tub, as it’s designed to accommodate two bathers.
- A walk-in tub is ideal for elderly or physically challenged homeowners. Walk-ins have a door that you walk through instead of having to climb over an edge to access the tub. One drawback: You have to be in the tub before you fill it with water, and you must remain in the tub until it drains before you can exit the door.
Once you’re set on your tub style, you’ll need to pick a material. Depending on the material, the tub shape can be oval, square, oblong, rectangular, egg-shaped, triangular, free-form, elliptical or the more contemporary slipper-shaped.
- Acrylic is a top choice, as it’s lightweight, moderately priced, and comes in a variety of styles and shapes.
- Cast polymer has the look of stone, but it’s made of synthetic materials. It holds in heat, but the polyester gel coating is less durable than acrylic.
- Cultured marble is sleek and stylish, but you’ll pay for it. Volcanic limestone is similar to cultured marble, but can be made into free-form shapes. “It’s opened the door to many different shapes that weren’t available before,” Grant says. One caveat, she says: Volcanic limestone is heavy, so you may need to reinforce your subfloor.
- Enameled cast iron is durable, but it’s very heavy and also may require structural support. Less expensive than cast iron, enameled steel is scratch resistant, but can chip.
- Fiberglass is economical and lightweight and comes in a wide choice of styles and shapes, but it may not retain heat as well as other materials.
- Solid surface is a very durable engineered composite that can mimic the appearance of natural stone, wood or marble. It retains heat well and comes in a wide color palette.
- Poly-resin tubs are comfortable and lightweight and have a nice warm texture. They also come in glossy or matte finishes, whereas many other tub materials are only available in glossy. “In terms of aesthetics, there’s a trend to matte-finished tubs,” Walden says, adding that few materials provide that finish.
For folks who want a dramatic centerpiece tub, there are plenty of ways to elevate a tub to artwork by using marble, granite, brass, copper, wood and other natural materials. Though beautiful and functional, tubs made of natural materials are usually pricey and require specialized care. “Materials generally come down to personal choice and budget, but pick something that retains heat better,” Hellgren advises.
“You get what you pay for,” Walden adds. “But sometimes you can’t afford to start from scratch. There’s beauty in everything, though, and you just have to complement what’s already there.”