After 32 years of assisting consumers choose bathtubs, experience has led us to identify five basic rules that will help YOU find and purchase the RIGHT bath —one that will fit you perfectly and be used and enjoyed for years to come.
RULE 1. First determine the exact dimensions of the space where the tub will be placed and then consider the types of installations that could fit into that area.
“Pull out that measuring tape.”
You can avoid wasting time or being disappointed by carefully measuring the area available for a tub before you begin shopping for baths. Consider how you would like the bath to be installed within that area. Will it be an alcove style tub, free-standing, undermounted, or drop-in, etc? Will you want to leave space around the bath for a tiled ledge ?
RULE 2. Investigate the advantages and disadvantages of commonly used bathtub materials to determine which will work best for you.
“Don’t trust your grandpa who says enameled cast iron is the only way to go.”
Choosing the best surface material for a bathtub can be confusing as your choices have never been greater. Here are some of the materials currently being offered and their advantages and disadvantages:
- Of all possible surfaces, acrylic has become the material of choice in the bathing world due to its natural warmth, ease of maintenance, resilience, and ability to be formed into soft contours. In particular, Lucite® Perspex® acrylic has proven to be a long-term, super-durable material for baths. It is well-known for its deep and lasting colors, superb high-gloss surface finish and texture, exceptional strength and durability, biocidal action, and design flexibility.
- Acrylic can be maintained with little more than regular cleanings using a mild, non-abrasive cleaner. Water lines can easily be wiped off with a soft cloth. If the surface becomes scratched, it can easily be restored by light sanding using extra-fine grit wet and dry sandpaper After years of wear, the finish on an acrylic bath can still be buffed to a high sheen—something that cannot be done on dulled enamel cast iron or fiberglass.
- Acrylic is both strong and light weight. It is also more forgiving should you slip and fall. And, if you select the right manufacturer, there will be absolutely no flexing in the floor or sides of the bath. It stands up to high temperatures and ultraviolet light, resists thermal cracking, and is highly resistant to chemicals and mildew.
- In addition, acrylic is moderately priced and affordable.
ENAMELED CAST IRON:
- Also known as porcelain, enameled cast iron tubs are quickly becoming the dinosaurs of the tub industry. These tubs are very strong and durable but also very heavy and may require extra support in the sub-floor.
- Their fired surface is high gloss and hues are rich, but abrasive cleansers used on the surface may permanently destroy the shine. The non-skid texture put on the bottom of many cast iron tubs can be particularly difficult to clean. The baked-on enamel surface resists scratches, cracks, and chips; however, if these do occur, they will require expensive professional attention to repair.
- Cast iron is initially cold to the touch. It warms by conducting heat out of the bathwater into the metal and then back out into the room—a cycle that requires hot water continually be added to the bath to maintain water temperature.
- Cast iron tubs are typically more expensive than acrylics and come in limited shapes and sizes.
- Gel-coated fiberglass bathtubs are inexpensive, strong, light-weight, and available in many sizes and shapes, but these tubs generally do not have long lives. The surface of fiberglass is susceptible to stains, mold, and mildew which can penetrate the surface and be difficult to remove. Gel-coated fiberglass baths have a tendency to flex, develop crazing and spider cracking, and to become chalky over time.
- Cultured marbled is essentially a blend of crushed limestone, fiberglass resins, and fillers coated with a clear gelcoat formulated to as produce—at least initially— a tough, durable, non-porous and shiny surface that is stain resistant and easy to maintain. However, once you wear through the thin gel-coat veneer, the porous body of the bath will be difficult to keep clean. If you are considering cultured marble or another other solid surface tub, look at the underside. If it is porous and full of bubbles, beware.
EUROPEAN STEEL ENAMEL:
- European steel enamel baths have wide usage, particularly in Europe, and are not to be confused with domestic steel tubs that are much thinner and quite prone to chipping. The advantage of European steel enamel is its glass-hard, non-porous surface which is easy-care and hygienic. It is resistant to scratches, impact, UV rays, chemicals, heat, and limescale. Steel enamel baths come in a multiplicity of sizes and shapes, including an array of narrow widths for use when space is at a premium. Newly introduced to America, European enameled steel baths are gaining popularity.
- For those seeking the bathtub to be the dramatic focal point of the room, baths can be created out of genuine marble, onyx, granite, glass, brass, copper, wood, and more. Many of these baths are truly works of fine art. While they are definitely made for bathing, they will require specialized care, depending upon the material, to maintain their beauty.
RULE 3. Find a bath that is a comfortable fit for the person who will use it the most. “Try it on” first.
“With tubs, one size doesn’t fit all — and bigger isn’t always better.”
Just who is going to use this tub? She may be five foot four, and he may be six foot two. She enjoys lounging in the bath a few nights each week, and he only showers. Why then buy an extra long bath that fits him rather than her? Extra large baths lose their appeal when users learn they require too much time to fill, are not necessarily comfortable, and may not be adequately full before the water heater runs out of hot water.
A few more points to ponder in this regard are:
- Consider the height and slope of the backrest.
- Some models have rounding backrests that cradle the back and caress the bather.
- Evaluate your ability to fully extend your legs while in a relaxed, reclined position.
- You may want your feet to reach the end of the tub before your head bubbles under.
- Molded armrests, if desired, are available in various models.
- Factory-installed grab bars will be an important safety feature for some bathers.
Find a dealer where you can go “tub hopping” until you discover a bath that you can snuggle down into—feeling relaxed, secure, and comfortable.
RULE 4. Consider quality first and price second.
“A ‘cheap’ tub may end up costing more in the long run.”
In a bath remodel, the replacement of the tub is a major expense. A bath that is tiled into an alcove cannot generally be removed without tearing out at least a couple of courses of tile. If the walls of the bath surround are granite or other solid surface material, changing the tub may involve removing, and probably breaking, expensive slabs. Deck-mounted, drop-in baths are easier to replace—if one can be located with the same height, width, and depth. With all of this in mind, it is wise to invest in as fine a bath as possible. Many a bathroom would not need remodeling if the bathtub itself were not in a state of unsanitary or unsightly disrepair.
Compare the features, quality, and warranty of various manufacturers to ensure you are getting the highest quality product for your money.
RULE 5. If you enjoy soaking, consider adding a massage system.
“Ahhhhh …there’s nothing like relaxing in hot bath to relieve the stresses of a hard day.”
The addition of a massage system can enhance the bathing experience, increase relaxation, and ease aching muscles and joints. There are basically two types of hydro-thermal massage systems for bathtubs—traditional jetted systems and air systems. Because of inherent hygiene problems with all traditional jetted systems, we no longer sell or recommend them to our customers. The following comparison of the two systems will show why:
- Traditional jetted systems utilize six, eight, or more jets and a pump that pulls in the bath water, aerates it, and sends the water back out at the bather. Jets are very visible along the sides of the bath. They offer direct massage to specific body areas where the jets are pointed.
- Jetted baths always leave a little of the last bather’s water somewhere in the piping of the system, leaving these tubs prone to infection with algae and bacteria and causing slime to blow out of the jets when activated. Disinfection can be difficult.
- Air systems draw in air, heat it, and inject it out through numerous air jets located all along the lower perimeter of the bath, creating millions of bubbles that vigorously agitate the water and create the massage. The air jets are small and barely visible.
- Air systems automatically dry themselves after each use, assuring that no water remains in the system. In addition, they can be programmed to dry themselves daily, whether or not the tub was used.
- Some air systems use the heated air to warm the backrest before exiting the jets.
- Air systems distribute pressure equally throughout the bath to provide a full-body massage—adjustable from gentle to energetic.
- Air systems allow the addition of bubble bath, essential oils, bath salts, and teas without damaging the turbine.
- Multi-level footrests found on some air bath models are designed to offer comfort to bathers both small and tall.
If you are curious whether or not an air system will suit your needs, make arrangements at a spa or showroom to experience its benefits.
IMPORTANT: With any massage system, insist that the contractor leaves an access to the motor in case repairs are needed.
DON’T TURN THE SELECTION OF SOMETHING AS PERSONAL AS A BATHTUB OVER TO SOMEONE ELSE:
It is our philosophy at Studio IL Bagno that selecting a bathtub is personal, and the final decision of the one “right” bathtub for you should be yours. Trust your contractor to help you determine what size tubs could work in your space and to give you ideas on installation. Trust your designer to assist you in finding the unique style and design to perfectly complement your decor. But only YOU—the one who will ultimately be relaxing in that bath—can determine which tub truly fits and will be comfortable through the thousands of baths in your future.
At Studio IL Bagno, our goal is to make “trying on” bathtubs as easy and as educational as possible.