Drop-in to walk-in: tubs that make a splash

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | October 6, 2016

For centuries, western civilization thought that bathing was at best a frivolous waste of time and at worst, dangerous to one's health. By the 19th century, however, bathing caught on and now, especially in the U.S., it is unusual to find a newer home that doesn't have multiple bathrooms. Some luxury homes have even more bathrooms than bedrooms.

While some may argue that Americans in particular are obsessed with cleanliness, the most likely reason we bathe daily is that it feels so comfortable to be clean. And even better than a quick shower before work, a warm bath after a long, stressful day becomes a relaxing ritual.

If you are planning to add a bath remodel or even another bathroom to your list of must-have home improvements, choosing a tub can make your head spin: bathtub styles have multiplied dramatically in recent years, although basic types of tubs haven't changed a whole lot.

Types of tubs: something for everyone

modern bathtub
Spotted recently at a home improvement show, this modern freestanding tub is sleek and elegant.

No matter what your bath-time needs, there are tubs designed for you. Bad back? An ergonomically designed soaking tub offers lumbar support, and the newer jetted tubs feature air technology for a therapeutic massage. Having trouble getting in and out of the bath? A walk-in tub eliminates stepping over the tub side. Want a light show? Underwater music? There are tubs with these amenities, as well. And if it's a candlelit soak with a glass of wine you are longing for, nothing sets the mood quite like the dramatic beauty of a freestanding tub.

Here's a rundown of the most popular tub types:

  • Drop-in tub, rimmed or under-mount: While this sounds like a sunken tub, the top of the tub may or may not be level with the floor. All that "drop-in" means is that the tub is "dropped" into a cut-out in an enclosed frame, or into a tiled floor, and supported from below. The tub may have a rim that rests on top of the waterproof decking, or it can be an undermount installation -- attached from beneath a solid surface deck so that the top edge of the tub is flush with the flooring or decking of the enclosure.
  • Alcove tub, three-wall or corner: One of the most common types of tub installations, the only part of the three-wall alcove tub installation that faces out is the apron on the front side. The other three sides of the tub are surrounded by walls. These tubs most often include a wall-mounted shower head, so they can double as a tub and shower. The corner tub is surrounded on two perpendicular sides of what is essentially a triangular tub, but often has a total of five sides. Two sides of the tub are surrounded by the corner walls, while the other three form the apron that faces into the room. Corner tubs can be large enough for more than one bather at a time.
  • Freestanding tub, with or without base or feet: A freestanding tub requires neither an enclosure, deck, nor an alcove for installation. It can stand away from the wall, as long as you can plumb water lines and a drain pipe to it. The drain pipe may be hidden in a base in some of the new freestanding tubs. On the ever-popular claw foot tub, all plumbing, including the drain pipe, is external.
  • Walk-in tub: If just reading about these tubs has you worried how you'd get into or out of them, a walk-in tub has a door and a very low threshold to make entering and exiting the bath easy and safe. The door seals shut to fill the tub and stays shut as it empties. Quick draining features are available. Most models have molded seats and grab bars. Options include jets and color therapy.
  • Jetted or whirlpool tub: Any type of tub may come with jets, not just the alcove or drop-in types. In recent years air jets have replaced water jets in popularity.

Some pros and cons to keep in mind

  • Undermount drop-in tubs may provide a little larger area to sit when entering the tub. Some rimmed tubs may encroach on the decking and leave no comfortable place to sit as you enter the tub. A high rim also adds more height to step over when getting out.
  • Alcove tubs, while not very exciting, are easiest to install, especially if you are just swapping out one for another and keeping the existing plumbing to save money.
  • Jetted tubs provide relaxing and therapeutic massage but are not as popular as they used to be, partly because older models were large and took up a lot of floor space. Water jets also proved too difficult to keep clean. Air jets provide a new, easy-to-clean technology and allow for use of bath oils and salts, which often clogged older models.
  • Freestanding tubs are designed to be the focal point of the bathroom and can be located anywhere in the room, even in the middle of the floor. However, they usually require major plumbing changes, a sizable expense.

Finally, because freestanding tubs are so elegant, the temptation is to make the bath remodel look surprisingly unlike a bathroom. Remember that the floor is going to get wet no matter how chic the tub looks when it's not in use. Choose safety in the form of slip-resistant flooring to make bathing the stress-free experience you are dreaming it will be.

Photo credit to Iris Price

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.