Before purchasing a tub for a remodeled bath or a new one, consider what tubs are made of these days.
With hundreds of shapes and sizes to choose from, buying a tub can be overwhelming. Even for the standard 32- x 60-inch bathtub, you have several choices of materials. And the material you select determines the tub's price, durability, and cleanability. Because it involves walls, floors, plumbing lines -- and your back -- ripping out and replacing a tub isn't something you'll want to do again for a long, long time. Here are your choices.
Plastic, either fiberglass or acrylic, offers the greatest design flexibility because it can be molded into many shapes. It's warm to the touch and insulates well, too, so water doesn't cool as fast as in enameled steel or cast iron tubs. Plastic is also the lightest tub, weighing in between 60 and 70 pounds. Although it doesn't chip easily, abrasive cleaners will damage the surface.
Enameled steel, formed steel with a porcelain enamel coating, is the least expensive tub. But the material brings drawbacks: Steel conducts heat, meaning tub water cools quickly; the surface is prone to chipping; and it weighs about twice as much as plastic.
Cast iron tubs, like steel, are coated with enamel. However, they don't chip as easily as steel because the enamel coating is thicker than on steel tubs, and cast iron is more durable and resistant to impacts. At first, a cast iron tub will pull heat from water, but once it heats up, it will keep water warm for a long time. Cast iron's main drawback is its weight, 350 to 500 pounds, which may complicate upstairs installations.
Cast polymer tubs traditionally replicate the look of marble, granite, or onyx, and are now available in a range of solid colors. Cast polymer costs a little more than acrylic; however, its surface doesn't stand up as well. With time, the gel-coat finish on cast polymer tubs can become brittle and expose the material underneath, leading to cracks. If cast polymer provides the look you want, shop for brands certified by the Cultured Marble Institute or approved by the Institute of Associated Plumbing and Mechanical Officials.
Proprietary composites, relatively new entrants to the bathtub marketplace, include American Standard's Americast and Briggs' UltraTuff materials. Heavy-gauge steel, porcelain enamel, and resins combine to create a tub that offers all the benefits of cast iron with half the weight.
Enameled steel tubs start at $100 and can go as high as $300. Cast iron versions are more moderately priced at $82 to $170. The least expensive option -- plastic -- starts at less than $100 and can sell for $130.
Of the plastic tubs, acrylic is a better buy. It's more expensive than fiberglass, but more durable, more resistant to staining and fading, and easier to repair and clean.
Maybe your old tub's character -- or the daunting task of ripping it out -- doesn't justify replacement. Refinishing or lining your tub is a great way to take care of unsightly chips and stains. Some companies can refinish your tub with a polyurethane coating that gives it a hard, high-gloss surface. Other companies can outfit your tub with an acrylic liner molded exactly to its size, shape, and style. Look in the Yellow Pages under "Bathroom Remodeling" or "Bathtubs, Sinks-Repair and Refinish."
Your bath remodeling may include a little pampering, such as exchanging a standard tub for a whirlpool model. Enameled cast iron, acrylic, and proprietary composites are the top materials for whirlpool tubs. Besides choosing which material is best for you, you'll need to consider some other planning points.
1. Where will the whirlpool pump be located? Many pumps fit within the tub unit, but some manufacturers have remote-location pumps that can be placed up to 5 feet from the tub and hidden in a closet or vanity cabinet. Whichever location, make sure the pump can be reached easily for service.
2. Where will the air switch and electric timer be located? The air switch, which is nonelectric, may be located on the tub unit. Plan on installing the electric timer a safe distance -- at least 5 feet -- away from the tub to satisfy code requirements.
3. Can your water heater supply enough hot water? Whirlpool tubs vary in size, holding 25 to 150 gallons of water. Make sure your water heater is large enough to fill about two-thirds of your tub with warm water.
4. Ask yourself whether you'll really use the whirlpool tub. Its expense, combined with ongoing maintenance costs, may outweigh its value.
Want a bathtub? Download our Bathroom Remodeling Guide for tips and advice from professionals BEFORE you begin a renovation.