With seemingly endless options when it comes to style, finish and material, shopping for a bathtub can be overwhelming. What different styles are out there? What’s the difference between finishes? Why does price vary between bathtubs? We asked some of our Robinson Lighting & Bath Centre showroom experts these frequently asked questions and compiled this handy Bathtub Buyer’s Guide to help.
Jason Smith and Kyla Hazen from our Winnipeg showroom and Terri Pasitney from our Saskatoon showroom were able to come up with some helpful tips on to make an informed decision the next time you’re shopping for a bathtub.
What are the most common types of bathtubs?
Jason Smith: The most common style of tub that we sell is mainly the alcove style tub with three-wall surround. Sometimes this is tile, sometimes acrylic. There are many different quality levels for the acrylic, but if you get good quality acrylic, it’s easier to maintain. Tile will be a more expensive install, but can give your home a higher resale value.
Kyla Hazen: It depends on the room and the look you’re trying to achieve. A tub with shower surround is most popular in new builds where you’re trying to keep costs low. Although these units aren’t as stylish as tile, they are more cost effective than tile and they’re easy to maintain. Very practical for kid’s bathrooms.
Renovations tend to use an alcove style tub with tile. This has a much more appealing look although you do have the upkeep of grout maintenance.
Freestanding tubs are common in ensuite bathrooms, where you’re not planning to install a shower as they are not intended for a dual use such as the options above. Freestanding tubs come at a higher price than drop-in tubs, but you end up saving on the cost and labor of a tile deck for the drop-in.
Terri Pasitney: Freestanding tubs are very common. One added cost, though, is having to buy a freestanding tub filler faucet, which tends to be more expensive than an alcove tub faucet. However, a freestanding tub and faucet make a bold statement in an ensuite bathroom and there are many different choices for colours now.
Kyla Hazen: There are a lot of faucet options when it comes to tub fillers, so it’s important to pay special attention to the flow rate. If you have a standard size bathtub, this isn’t an issue. But if you have an oversized tub that has a capacity of 60+ gallons you’re going to want a filler with a flow rate of 6.5 GPM or higher so that it fills the tub in 10 minutes or less. Another thing to consider is the size of your hot water tank. If you’re wanting a larger tub, you have to keep in mind that the bath will likely use around 70%-80% hot water when you fill it. A 60 Gallon tub would require 42-48 gallons of hot water.
What are the most common finishes and material options for tubs?
Jason Smith: The most common finishes that we carry are going to be gelcoat, sometimes called fiberglass, and acrylic. They are mainly made of the same material, but the acrylic is a thicker sheet that is typically heat-molded to the unit whereas the gelcoat is a spray on finish and a lot thinner. This does make it a more cost effective option.
Kyla Hazen: The most common material for tubs is either acrylic or gelcoat. Acrylic is the better quality of the two due to its non-porous finish. It’s very easy to maintain with dish soap and warm water with a soft cloth. Gelcoat has the same recommendation for cleaning but it has a bit of an “orange peel” texture to it, so it’s more susceptible to build up if not properly maintained.
The only downside of acrylic is that they don’t retain water heat as well as resin and cast iron tubs.
The most common finish is white. There are some products that are available in other “standard” colors such as biscuit or bone, and others with some “wild” colour options, but we mostly see customers stick with white as it’s a timeless option.
Terri Pasitney: Acrylic is most popular with fiberglass coming in second. We do still sell cast iron, but mostly if someone is looking for either an old style claw-foot or for a specific colour. The benefit of acrylic is that it’s easy to clean and is uniform throughout. However, while fiberglass is not always as easy to clean, I’ve noticed that acrylic some units have a smooth gel that is as easy to clean as acrylic.
What should people do before looking for a bathtub in a new home?
Jason Smith: The most prevalent thing would be to measure first so you know what size you can look at. Then just looking at some pictures for ideas either online or in design books is a great place to start. Having a better idea of what you like will save you a lot of time down the road.
Kyla Hazen: The biggest thing to consider is the plumbing location — meaning drain and faucet placement — as well as the size of the tub. That information is usually predetermined and it’s important to ensure whatever you choose fits into those parameters. Sometimes you will have a little more flexibility with this when it comes to a new build as they can usually make adjustments to your floor plan prior to the framing stage.
Another thing to consider is if you would want any therapies such as air jets or chromatherapy (the use of coloured lights to affect mood). Your installer will need to know the electrical requirements.
Do you like to read in the tub? If so, you may want to consider arm rests, as it gives you a place to comfortably rest your elbows while holding onto a book or magazine. For freestanding tubs you can usually get add-ons with a book holder and a place to put your wine glass.
Terri Pasitney: Measurements are the number one consideration. It’s easy to fall in love with something, and then not have the space for it. Other considerations are the bathing experience you’re looking for and how many people will be using the bathroom. This will be the difference between something more relaxing with a lot of features and something more quick and practical.
Why are some tubs more expensive than others? Do you really get what you pay for?
Jason Smith: You most definitely get what you pay for. Quality is a major factor when looking at the price difference between gelcoat and taking the step up to acrylic. Then you will get another bump up in price going to a more designer style. The more “designer” styles tend to draw your eye more, and it isn’t just about the shape. These units also cost more because they put more time into finishing the product with a smoother finish.
Kyla Hazen: There are a lot of factors that go into pricing a tub. Sometimes you’re paying for a brand, but you get what you pay for. Material, finish, size, therapeutic options and installation type are all common factors that go into the price of a tub.
Usually, with most of our products, if it’s acrylic or gelcoat it’s going to typically be the same quality-wise. But the design and size can affect the price. For example, some freestanding bathtubs are usually created in two pieces (there’s a seam underneath where the skirt meets the actual tub), whereas some of the higher end ones are seamless. You’re going to pay a premium for seamless models because they are more work to produce and perfect.
There are other products on the market, such as WETSTYLE, who use an eco-friendly soy resin base or Victoria + Albert, who use a volcanic limestone resin. Tubs like these are also seamless and due to the solidity of the product, they do a better job of retaining water heat.
Kohler has cast iron tubs available as well, which offer a large colour selection. However, these require extra floor reinforcement to support the weight. All of these design and material factors determine the price.
Terri Pasitney: The price differences boil down to materials or systems. If you want whirlpool, air jet features, or chromatherapy, it’s important to ask yourself why you want those features and what your body needs, and choose a tub based on that. These features will come with an additional cost, however.
What are some special considerations when selecting a new tub during a renovation?
Jason Smith: The single biggest consideration is sizing, and getting things into your home. You can build around something in a new home with enough planning. During a renovation, you need to fit the items you want in the space provided or you may be increasing your renovation budget by a large margin.
Kyla Hazen: For a renovation, you’re working with an existing space so the size and plumbing location is going to be more crucial. Often, these things can’t easily be changed. We carry some products that have an “AFR: Above Floor Rough-in” to aid with the drain connections when they don’t line up perfectly. This gives your plumber 3” of space to work with between the drain of the tub and your sub-floor — but that’s it.
Depending on what kind of tub you’re installing you can also expect that the studs/framing for the tub may have to be altered.
Terri Pasitney: Number one for a renovation is measurement — not just the bathroom, but on doorways and stairways to make sure you can get the product in! They may want the look and ease of a one-piece tub/shower but they will not be able to get it into an existing home.
How would you recommend cleaning a tub without harming the finish?
Jason Smith: With an acrylic or gelcoat tub the best day-to-day cleaning is just warm water with a non-abrasive cleaner and a soft cloth. When this isn’t enough (say, after a few years) Gel-Gloss cleaner is probably the next step. This requires more work but will have your unit looking like new in no time.
Kyla Hazen: Each manufacturer will have their own separate recommendations, but rule of thumb is to avoid anything abrasive. A soft sponge or cloth usually work fine – I find that dish soap works really well, Dawn in particular. “Magic erasers” work wonders if you have any scuff marks or stubborn residue. We also carry a product called Gel Gloss, which a lot of my customers swear by when it comes to cleaning bathtubs. Remember that with any cleaner you do use, it’s best to rinse it down with water after.
Terri Pasitney: I always remind customers to never use anything abrasive whether it’s the cleaner or a cloth. Certain materials now require more special care. BainUltra has a velour finish now which needs to be cleaned with rubbing alcohol, so make sure you know your product’s specifications and ask an expert if you’re not sure.
There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a tub, and it’s important to think carefully about the size and features you need before making a decision. We hope this Bathtub Buyer’s Guide will be a helpful resource for getting started on your journey. If you have any questions, call your local Robinson Lighting & Bath Centre showroom to speak to one of our plumbing experts.