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Alcove, Drop-In and Freestanding Bathtubs

By: Kelly Burgess on September 26, 2017

In this report

Installation options for bathtubs

The first, and most important decision you need to make when shopping for a new tub is to determine where and how it's going to be installed. There are three installation options (which we cover in more detail below) -- alcove-style, drop-in, and freestanding. If you're just replacing an existing tub, particularly a standard-issue alcove style, it can be pretty easy to find a new one to fit the current space, and you may even be able to remove the old one and install the new one yourself if you're handy. However, it can get trickier from there, especially if you're replacing or installing a freestanding model or a custom-fit drop-in.

If you're replacing your tub or remodeling using a professional, work closely with your contractor to be sure not only that the tub itself will fit, but that the plumbing rough-ins or fixtures are in the proper location to fit with the chosen bathtub. Even a slight variation can quickly sink your budget. If you're trying to go it alone, you might be able to get some help from the tub retailer, but we suggest you measure carefully and be sure you can return the tub if it doesn't work in that particular space.

Alcove Bathtubs

These are found in the vast majority of American dwellings. Also known as recessed tubs or skirted tubs, they are placed in an alcove made by three supporting walls. Because of this, only one side of the tub is finished, or "skirted." Corner tubs are also considered alcove tubs, but are usually finished on two sides, although a few other options are available. Alcove bathtubs are most commonly about 5- to 6-feet long and 30 to 36 inches deep, although they come in a variety of sizes to fit different-sized bathrooms. They are the best choice for bath/shower combination units, assuming that the supporting walls are tiled or otherwise made waterproof. The open side can then be enclosed with a shower curtain, sliding doors or something similar.

Recessed tubs have fewer style and material options than other types of tubs, most are made from enameled cast iron, enameled steel, acrylic or fiberglass. Except for corner tubs, the standard shape is rectangular, though you can find rectangular corner tubs as well. In their most basic form alcove tubs are very affordable; however, you can get some upgrades in alcove tubs, such as arm rests, sloping sides, and neck or head rests for increased comfort. Whirlpool jets are also widely available in alcove tubs, but will add to the price. Extra-deep alcove tubs are considered soaking tubs, but tend to be a bit shallower than true soaker tubs.

Drop-In Tubs

Also known as platform tubs, these literally "drop in" to some type of a supportive frame with a rim, or a deck that is at the same level as the top of the tub. Another option is to sink the tub into the floor itself, so that it sits level (or nearly level) with it. Drop-in tubs sometimes will hug just one wall, or can be built to stand alone in some part of the bathroom. These tubs usually include a rim for a finished look and to keep the water from getting between the support unit and the tub. Undermount bathtubs are similar to drop-in tubs, except that its rim is covered by the supporting structure and it's supported by the floor. Drop-in tubs have infinite options for materials and customizations, as well as depth, size and spa options.

Freestanding Tubs

These stylish bathtubs are single-piece, self-supporting, fully-finished units that sit upon feet, a pedestal, or just on the floor with the plumbing hidden under a built-in recess. The style options for freestanding tubs are practically endless -- in materials, shapes and sizes. From small soaking tubs for very small bathrooms, to vintage clawfoot tubs, a freestanding tub can make a dramatic statement standing alone in a bathroom. Some freestanding tubs have more of a slope to the back (called a slipper tub), which can be more comfortable for a prolonged soak. There are also dual clawfoot tubs that are rounded at both ends, with fixtures along one side and a center drain, so two people can bathe at the same time with reasonable comfort. Many freestanding tubs are deep enough to be considered soaking tubs. You sometimes can acquire an older freestanding tub via a salvage or antique dealer and have it reconditioned. More modern freestanding tubs are available with whirlpool jets or other spa options.

The good news is that regardless of how a tub is installed, virtually all of them are available in a variety of styles and materials. For more detailed information on specific types of bathtubs, see our separate discussions of soaking bathtubs, whirlpool bathtubs and walk-in bathtubs.

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