Walk-in bathtubs – What you must know before shopping around.
Walk-in bathtubs have become hugely popular. Many people, especially boomers, are determined to age in their homes as long as possible. In order to do that, they must remodel their homes to accommodate changing physical needs. One of those needs is the ability to bathe comfortably and safely without help from others. The standard tub is dangerous and difficult to enter and exit. If a person loses mobility, they will need an easy access bathtub.
A walk-in bathtub, sometimes referred to as a safety tub, can solve that problem because it has a door and a seat that is the height of a standard chair. There is a slight step to enter the tub, but a person who uses a walker should have no problem. This is a tub you should try out before buying. Visit a local showroom and get into the tub, close and open the door, and get out. Some designs allow easier entry because of a lower threshold and have a curved door to clear your knees. Walk-in bathtubs are available with a door that swings in or out. Because the door must be water tight, the door that swings in is better from a design standpoint. The pressure from the water reinforces the seal.
If a walk-in tub will not fit in the bathroom or the home has only one bathroom, it can be installed anywhere there is access to plumbing like a laundry room or closet because it is free standing and does not have to be attached to a wall.
Some claim that you can use a walk-in tub for a shower as well but this is not feasible in my opinion. The ledges around the tub are not designed to drain water back into the tub so you would need a 360 degree shower curtain to divert the water properly. You can, however, add a personal hand-held shower to complete the bath.
All walk-in bathtubs are not created equal:
Recently, many new companies have started to manufacture walk-in tubs. Some are quality tubs and some are not. There are many aspects that make up a well-engineered tub. The shell is usually made of fiberglass or acrylic. Acrylic is the better of the two. Acrylic is a very tough and durable man-made plastic. Corian countertops are made of acrylic, as are airplane windshields, skylights, and outdoor signs. Acrylic tubs are made by vacuum forming a sheet of acrylic over a fiberglass reinforced mold. The finished surface is high gloss, non-porous, and chip, peel and stain resistant. The color runs throughout the acrylic so it is color-fast and will not fade.
These tubs are designed to stand alone and therefore must be self-supported. The tub and plumbing components should be supported by a heavy metal frame. This frame should also have hand-holds that will make carrying and installing the tub easier.
The plumbing fixtures are critical. The tub must drain fast enough so the bather is not sitting in the tub for a long period of time waiting for the water to drain. The faucet should be a recognizable brand so parts are readily available. It must be able to handle enough volume to fill the tub as quickly as possible so the water does not cool as you are filling it. Obviously, the door must have a good water tight seal.
Walk-in bathtub prices vary greatly. Options such as a therapeutic whirlpool, air bath or heater will add to the cost. Some tubs are made in this country while others are made in China. Before purchasing, do your homework. You will want to work with a company that makes a quality product with a proven track record and offers a good warranty.
Before you buy:
The most important considerations when planning for a walk-in tub are available space and access. Walk-in tubs come in different lengths, heights and widths. They are designed to fit in the same space as a regular tub. Check your doorways and hallways to make sure you have enough room to get the tub into the bathroom. Since the standard bathroom door is only 24” wide, the doorway would have to be widened or removed to get the tub in and then be replaced. If you are not comfortable measuring, enlist the help of a carpenter.
The tub specifications will tell you how much water the tub will hold. Ask your plumber if your current water heater will be able to supply enough hot water. You may want to replace your hot water heater with a larger and more efficient model. There would be nothing worse than to go through the process of buying and installing a beautiful walk-in tub only to find you don’t have enough hot water.
If you choose to add whirlpool jets or an inline heater, consult with your electrician regarding your electrical service. You may have to add new circuits. If your service panel is filled to capacity, you will have to upgrade your electrical panel.
Buying a tub:
There are four options for purchasing a walk-in bathtub:
• Buy it and install it yourself. You should know enough about carpentry to make the necessary modifications to get the tub in the room and install it. This is a two person job so you’ll need a helper. A plumber and possibly an electrician will need to be subcontracted. You’ll be responsible for a correct installation in order to protect the warranty.
• Have a general contractor purchase and install it. You should make sure the contractor supplies a good quality tub, is familiar with the installation process and is willing to manage and service the warranty process should you need it. Ask if you will have to pay for service calls if there is a warranty issue. A contractor with little experience with this product is probably not a good choice.
• Buy the tub from a marketing company. These companies market mostly through newspapers and magazines. They do not have a local store. If you do purchase a tub through a marketing company you will be responsible for receiving the tub and installing it. If they do offer installation, it would be through a subcontract network. If you have a warranty issue it will be up to you to get it resolved; the subcontractor has no responsibility past the installation. Buyer beware!
• Buy from a franchised bathroom remodeling company. These companies furnish AND install so you deal with one company that specializes in the product and the installation. Franchised companies are held to certain standards to assure their customers of a good job. Typically, their installers are employees that have passed drug and background checks. The companies are required to have the proper licenses and insurance. Best of all, if you do have a problem, one call will take care of it.
Questions to ask before you hire a company:
1. How long have you been in business?
2. How many walk-in tubs have you installed?
3. Do you have a showroom where I can see the product before I purchase it?
4. Does your product have IAPMO, UPC, UL, ANSI certifications? These are independent testing organizations that assure the products meet safety and mechanical standards.
5. What licenses do you have? (Business, contractor, plumbing, electrical, etc.)
6. Will you furnish me with a Certificate of Insurance? (This assures you the company has Liability and Workmen’s Compensation insurance).
7. Check their rating with the Better Business Bureau.
8. Do you have references from customers who have purchased this type of product?
9. What is your warranty on the product as well as the installation?