Bathing Made Simple

Bathing Made Simple

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You’ve seen the commercials on cable TV. You’ve probably noticed a product display at your big box home improvement store. But you’ve likely switched the channel or walked past. After all, “why would I want a walk-in bathtub?” you ask yourself.

It’s a fair question, considering that you may not be in the age demographic that these specialty tub makers are targeting. That would primarily be the over-65 crowd; three million of these folks are treated in emergency rooms every year for fall injuries, many of which occur in the bathroom, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But don’t dismiss the idea of simplified, fall-resistant bathing option too prematurely, say the experts. You, a member of your family, or even your home’s next owner could benefit from one before long.

A walk-in tub offers several advantages over a traditional tub. Seniors and those with mobility issues or special needs don’t have to step over a high tub wall to get in — you just open the tub door, walk inside and sit back on the contoured seat (commonly around 17 inches high). Once the door is closed, the faucet will work and you can fill up the tub, which, depending on the model, boasts approximately 48 inches of water depth. That means most of your body is immersed in water for a deep, comfortable clean without having to lie back as you do in a conventional tub.

Recommended safety and comfort features built into many walk-in tub models include anti-slip surfaces, grab bars, handrails, scald prevention valves, fast-filling and fast-draining capabilities, hydrotherapy jets, handshowers, heated seats, and a door that swings in (to prevent leakage).

“There’s a common misconception today that walk-in tubs are only for seniors, but this simply isn’t the case,” says Shon Marciano, project manager for A-List Builders in Sherman Oaks, California. “Anyone dealing with joint pain, those who enjoy lounging but just can’t get comfortable lying in the old school flat tubs, and families worried about the safety of their loved ones can find value in a walk-in tub.”

Additionally, “walk-in tubs bring great resale value to your home,” he notes. When you put your home up for sale, shoppers will appreciate the benefits of having one already installed.

But there are caveats. Walk-in tubs aren’t cheap: expect to pay anywhere from $2000 to $10,000 or more (depending on the built-in features) just for the tub, according to Heather Humphrey, interior designer with Park City, Utah-based Alder and Tweed. Installation costs can range from $500 to over $3,500.

In addition, walk-in tubs are designed to only fill up and drain when the attached swing door is closed; sitting naked in a tub waiting for water levels to rise or fall can lower body temperature and possibly lead to hypothermia – a risk that’s higher among seniors. A model with a heated seat and fast-filling and draining features can help, but this is still a concern.

Also, the doors on these tubs can possibly leak or fail over time. Considering that many walk-in tubs hold up to 50 gallons, that’s the potential for significant water damage in your home if something goes wrong.

“Most walk-in tub companies offer some type of warranty on their products, but they don’t always cover every part of the tub,” says Rebecca Graham, home services analyst for “Make sure your warranty covers the tub’s door seal, water pumps, heaters and faucets for at least 10 years.”

Choosing an experienced installer is equally important.

“Because this is a specialty project, you’ll want to work with an experienced professional plumber. Proper drainage not only prevents flooding but will allow the bather to keep comfortable,” says Humphrey.

Marciano cautions against installing a walk-in tub on an upper floor “because you want the tub to be accessible to anyone, especially those who may have a hard time walking up the stairs.”

Also, they’re best in a home with a raised foundation, Marciano adds; these tubs need a larger drain, so if your house is built on a slab, you may need expensive plumbing upgrades.

A good alternative to a walk-in tub is a door- and ledge-free roll-in shower with a built-in seat.

“If you choose a roll-in shower instead, make sure it’s installed with slip-resistant flooring and control valves with anti-scald protection,” Graham suggests.

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