Bathrooms today serve more than a practical function. They are often created as a refuge from the stress and commotion of everyday life.
While the combination tub-shower is a practical solution when space is at a premium, the secret to a great tub is to have a separate shower. When the tub does not have to double as a shower, it can be more spectacular visually, as well as function better for that relaxing retreat.
Bathtubs today come in a variety of shapes and materials. The material used will affect the look, the feel and the cost. The original material was enameled cast iron. Sturdy and durable, the cost of this type of tub runs from $800-$1,000. In the 1950s, plastics were introduced into the bathtub market. Acrylic resin is strong, lightweight and attractive. Because it weighs less than enamel, it is a good choice for larger tubs. The cost for this variety ranges from $500-$1,000.
More elaborate materials include bright metals, such as stainless steel ($4,000-$7,000) and copper ($10,000-$60,000), stone, such as granite ($8,000-$10,000) and marble ($45,000-$80,000) and tile. Tile can be applied to any shape created out of concrete or wood covered with a rubber membrane. The cost depends on the size, complexity and the tile selected.
Tubs should be sized and selected to fit those who will use them. Ideally, you should be able to submerge your feet, knees and shoulders at the same time. This usually means a 6-foot tub as opposed to the standard size, which is 5 feet long.
Consider the tub's depth as well as length. Measure from the overflow valve to the bottom of the tub; this will be the actual water depth. Remember that large two-person tubs may need up to 90 gallons of water to fill them, so you will need an extra-large water heater, a three-quarter inch water supply line, and possibly extra structural support in your floor.
There are five basic shapes of tubs for you to consider:
• Freestanding tubs such as the classic claw-foot tub, which is in vogue again.
• Pedestal tub, a variation of the freestanding tub, which has a continuous base rather than individual feet.
• Drop-in tubs rest on a platform built by your contractor.
• Corner tubs are often built into a corner or an alcove (a niche created by three walls surrounding the tub). If there is a separate shower, the side walls can be half-height for a more open design.
• Soaking tubs are gaining in popularity. Based on a Japanese design, these tubs are up to 35 inches deep and are meant for sitting rather than lying down.
Your final decision is whether to have jets transform your bath into a whirlpool. Traditional technology uses nozzles that shoot a mixture of recirculated water and air. A newer technology has jets that only use air. Since there is no recirculation of the water through the system, this reduces the likelihood of bacterial growth in the pipes.
As the biggest investment in your bathroom, tubs deserve careful consideration before you select one. They are very permanent, so make sure you get what you want and need, since changing your mind later is not an option or at least a very expensive one.
If you already have a bathtub and you want to spruce it up without a complete remodel, look into changing the fixtures. Fixtures can be used with all kinds of tubs, regardless of the size, shape or style of the tub.
You may also want to consider replacing the bathtub surround. A bathtub surround, also known as a wall kit or tub wall, is a kind of a wall that is installed from the top of the tub to the ceiling. As the name suggests, surrounds encircle the tub on three sides, leaving one side from which to enter.
Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founding principals of Renovation Design Group, www.renovationdesigngroup.com, a local design firm specializing in home remodels.