Bathtub choices are limited only by logistics and budget

The bathtub market encompasses a wide range of shapes, sizes, colors, styles and construction materials. Cost varies widely as well. A new bathtub can be had for as little as $200 or for more than $5,000. But that doesn't include the cost of the tub's installation, which can add $2,000 to $3,500 to the bill. And if you're renovating an existing bathroom, the price tag can run even higher if you choose to relocate plumbing fixtures. Knowing this, it's easy to see why it's important to do your homework when choosing the best bathtub for your home.

For people renovating a bathroom, many will find their bathtub choices are limited from the get-go -- walls may dictate similar style and size as the old tub, usually 5 to 6 feet long (interior and exterior, respectively) by 30 to 36 inches deep. For most people, that may mean a recessed tub (enclosed by three walls), a corner tub (walls on two sides) or a drop-in tub contained in a frame and perhaps hugging just one wall. If the home is old, the existing bathtub may be free-standing, such as a clawfoot tub. Those remain popular today, but there are also modern-style freestanding bathtubs, some of which sit atop a platform. Soaking tubs -- also called Japanese, Asian or Greek tubs -- are usually shorter and deeper than conventional tubs and well suited to persons who enjoy immersing themselves. If you have frequent muscle or joint pain, or just enjoy the luxury of a spa, you may want to consider a whirlpool tub, and those come in as many shapes and sizes as standard tubs. If you have mobility problems, a walk-in tub may be your answer.

All of the aforementioned bathtub types are constructed with a variety of materials: Acrylic, fiberglass, enamel-coated steel or cast iron are the most common, but bathtubs are also made from copper, stone and composite materials and wood. Of course, you may not need a new tub at all -- most conventional tubs can be refinished, or an acrylic tub liner can be installed over the old tub surface. Both are usually jobs for professionals, but they are much cheaper options than a new tub.

Types of Bathtubs

Conventional $200 to $5,000
  • Durable
  • Easy to maintain
  • Variety of sizes, colors, shapes, materials
  • Expensive to install
  • Some models may be too heavy for floor
  • Choice often dictated by bathroom layout
Conventional built-in and freestanding bathtubs usually offer about 5 feet of interior length for stretching out. Most conventional bathtubs --though not some freestanding tubs --are designed to accommodate shower fixtures. Acrylic, fiberglass and enamel-covered steel and cast iron are the most common materials, but cheaper plastics and more expensive metals and stone are also available.
Soaking Tubs $1,400 to $6,000
  • Smaller footprint than conventional tub
  • Deeper than traditional tubs
  • Some have whirlpool features
  • Very expensive
  • You can't lie down
  • Some users find them uncomfortable
Soaking tubs are usually shorter and deeper than conventional bathtubs and are good for small rooms or for people who like to be immersed in water. Also known as Japanese, Asian or Greek tubs, soaking tubs are usually at least 26 to 34 inches deep and about 4 feet long, although in the United States you can find some that are as long as conventional tubs. Soaking tubs may be square, rectangular, circular or round.
Whirlpool $600 to $8,000
  • Can relieve stress, soothe muscles
  • Variety of shapes, sizes
  • Expensive to operate
  • Water jets attract mold, bacteria
  • They can leak
Whirlpool tubs come in various shapes, sizes and materials (often plastic but sometimes enamel-coated cast iron). The tubs use jets driven by a pump to agitate the water, and may require a separate water heater. Whirlpool tubs may also require a reinforced floor for support and a dedicated electrical outlet as well.
Walk-in Bathtubs $1,000 to $10,000
  • Good for those with limited mobility
  • Variety of shapes, sizes, designs
  • Some have spa features
  • Expensive
  • Must enter, exit while empty
If you or a loved one have limited mobility, stepping over the side of a conventional bathtub (typically 14 to 16 inches high) can be difficult. Walk-in tubs reduce that hurdle to about 4 inches, but you'll need to get into the tub and close the watertight door before filling it with water, and let it drain before getting out. Basic tubs sell for about $1,000 (plus installation) while spa-like models may cost as much as $10,000.
$300 to $1,000
  • Cheaper than replacing the tub
  • Durable
  • Installation faster than replacing a tub
  • Same tub, same spot
  • Liners feel like plastic
  • Installation sometimes tricky
Installation costs far exceed the price of most new bathtubs, and you can save thousands of dollars by either having your old bathtub refinished or having an acrylic tub liner fitted over the old tub. These are generally not something most do-it-yourselfers can handle. Anyone can claim expertise, though, so ask the contractor for local references.
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