What is important to you in a tub? Maybe it's a long soak in water that never gets cold. Maybe you would prefer some therapeutic jets and chromatherapy. Or perhaps you just need a tub and shower combo that's easy to clean for washing your dog.
Although there is a trend to forego tubs in master baths in favor of a spacious tricked-out shower, every home still needs at least one tub. Even if you never soak in a tub yourself, most families with young children value them and not having one can affect resale value. The most economical choice for this is a skirted alcove tub.
1 PEDESTAL TUB | 2 3-HANDLE DECK MOUNT TUB FAUCET | 3 TUB + SHOWER FAUCET | 4 FIXED FREESTANDING TUB FAUCET | 5 WATERFALL WALL FAUCET | 6 CLAW-FOOT TUB | 7 UNDER MOUNT/ DROP-IN TUB| 8 ROMAN TUB FILLER
HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR TUB
If, however, you DO want a tub to soak in, there are some important questions to ask yourself.
- How will I make sure the water stays hot?
- Will it be easy to get in and out of the tub?
- Will it be comfortable to lie in?
- What sort of extras (massage jets, color, sound) do I need?
- How long will it last?
MAXIMIZE HOT WATER
There are two factors involved here - how much hot water you need to fill the tub, and how long your tub will keep that water hot.
There are several steps involved in getting hot water into you tub. The hot water heater, the size of the pipes the water travels through, the design of your faucet/ tub filler, and the tub itself all impact your results. Let's take a closer look at each step.
STORAGE HOT WATER HEATER
Hot water heaters come in 2 basic flavors - storage (with tank) and tankless. Although tankless heaters have a die hard fan base, storage heaters are still more common.
To know if you have enough hot water to fill your bath, you need to know the water capacity of your tub and of your heater. Try to find the volume of the tub online - many manufacturer's provide this information. It can range from 30 gallons for a small shallow tub to over 80 for a larger soaking or whirlpool tub.
Your storage water heater should have a capacity of about 80% of the volume of your tub. That's because you won't be using pure hot water in your tub (I hope!), you will be mixing it with some cold water. So if your tub holds 55 gallons of water, your heater should hold 44. Also, you will displace some water. A typical person displaces 15-20 gallons of water, so you can subtract that number from your water heater as well.
TANKLESS HOT WATER HEATER
If you are using a tankless water heater you want to look at the maximum gallons per minute (GPM). This is how many gallons your heater can heat in one minute. This affects how quickly you can fill your tub.
Tankless heaters heat the water a certain number of degrees. This means that the temperature the water starts at is important. If you live in an area with cold ground water, your flow rate will be reduced.
The difference between your ground water temperature and the water temperature you want is the temperature rise. Some companies provide a temperature chart sharing this information.
FAUCET/ TUB FILLER
These affect how quickly you can fill your tub. Look at the flow rate for your faucet. High flow faucets can fill your tub as quickly as 18 gallons per minute. That means that your 85 gallon tub would fill up in about 5 minutes. Much better than 17 minutes at a 5 GPM flow rate.
HOWEVER, if you have a tankless heater, you will be constricted by the rate at which you can actually heat water. In addition, there will be a bit of a lag time between turning on the faucet and getting hot water as the water travels through the pipes from the heater to your tub.
NOTE: If you live in California or New York your ability to purchase high flow faucets may be restricted.
After you figure out how to get enough hot water into your tub, you need to know how long it will stay hot. Different materials have different heat retention properties. Also, a material that doesn't hold heat well on it's own can be improved with insulation.
Stone retains heat the best but is too expensive and heavy to be practical for many. Cast iron also retains heat well. The problem is that the iron will actually cool the water entering the tub until it reaches the same temperature as the water. This means that a bath in a cast iron tub will often actually be warm but not hot.
Many composite materials are also quite good at retaining heat. There are a wide range of materials available, some of them proprietary to certain manufacturers. Check the reviews.
Drop-in and under-mount tub styles can easily be insulated to improve heat retention. This will also make a loud tub quieter.
The best way to know if a tub will be comfortable for you is to get into it. It is useful to travel to a showroom with many models on display, even if you plan to purchase your tub online. Tubs come in a wide range of lengths and depths. They have different lumbar angles, different degrees of curvature at the lip, and different arm rest configurations.
The material of the tub will affect the comfort level as well as the durability of your tub. Some people prefer acrylic and composite materials (solid surface/ cast polymer) that feel naturally warm to the touch. Fiberglass is the cheapest material but is not recommended as it is flimsy and cracks easily.
Others prefer the cool, smooth surface of porcelain-enameled steel and enamel coated cast iron. Although these materials feel similar, they have other substantial differences - the price and weight of cast iron are both greater than steel, but they also retain heat better and are more durable. Porcelain-enameled steel tends to chip over time because the steel bends more easily than the sturdier cast iron. This is hard to repair.
There is no one perfect bathtub material - each has pros and cons that must be weighed individually.
Do you love using your tub or do you just think of it as a pretty piece of sculpture? I'd love to know! Please share your thoughts in the comments. And don't forget to download your Bathtub Guide.