Know before you go

  • Try it before you buy it. Don't be shy. Regardless of what type of bathtub you are considering, go to a showroom, get inside the tub and consider whether it's a good fit for your body type and whether the surface appeals to you (plastic feels like plastic; fiberglass can have too much "give" underneath).
  • Measure the bathtub. Unless you are doing a full-scale renovation of the bathroom, you'll need a tub that's the same size as the old one. Even if you're ripping apart the room, your plumbing costs will be less if fixtures are installed where the old ones stood and, in that case, the same measurements are important. This includes noting and measuring faucet and handle placement as well. Even a small variation can add time, money and frustration to the tub installation process.
  • Think about hot water. If you are considering an extra-large bathtub, such as a soaking tub, make sure your water heater is powerful enough to supply all the hot water required. If you will need a new hot water heater, or a secondary heater, options are discussed in our separate hot water heater report.
  • Consider weight. Unless the tub is on the ground floor with a concrete-slab foundation underneath, you'll need to find out whether the floor can support the weight of the bathtub. A plastic tub may weigh as little as 60 pounds unfilled (a gallon of water weighs about 8.3 pounds and most people use between 12 to 20 gallons in an average bathtub), while a cast-iron whirlpool tub may weigh 350 to 500 pounds even without a drop of water in it. Your floor may need reinforcement to handle such weight, especially if it's a large whirlpool tub filled with 40 to 50 gallons.
  • Materials costs.  Really cheap tubs in acrylic or porcelain on steel can be found for less than $200, while better quality tubs generally run $300 to $400. Cast iron tubs are a little pricier, $500 and up for an alcove model, for example Tubs made of premium materials like stone or copper can cost thousands of dollars.
  • Look at the construction. The support under the tub may range from steel ribs to Styrofoam under cheap plastic tubs. Your main objection to a cheaper construction likely will be how the tub feels underneath you while sit on it or step in it; it may not feel solid enough.
  • Durability is important. Most conventional tubs will last at least 15 years. Acrylic tub surfaces are more durable than fiberglass, but fewer refinishers will work on them. Enamel-coated steel or cast iron can be easily refinished by a professional.
  • Check the warranty. Some cheaper tubs come with one-year warranties, although you can find tubs with five-year and even lifetime warranties. But length of the warranty is not the only factor -- almost all bathtub warranties are "limited" and you need to find out what's actually covered during that time period.
  • Know your drain placement. You'll need to know whether you need the spout and drain to the right or left (or in the middle).
  • Consider the rim. If you like keeping soap, shampoo, toiletries or rubber duckies on the side of the tub, make sure the tub side has room for them. Many freestanding tubs lack any kind of ledge.
  • Can you refinish or reline your tub? Replacing an old bathtub is usually a pricey option that requires quite a bit of an uproar (and money) to install. Refinishing or relining the tub is a more affordable option that will be available for most types of tubs. The downside is that the tub must stay in the same spot. The upside is the savings in time and money.  
  • Want a shower, too? Many, but not all standard tubs accommodate shower fittings and doors. Many freestanding tubs won't. Check before you buy.