Rub-A-Dub-Dub: The Skinny On Bath Tubs

I am working on several bathrooms for clients right now and one of the biggest elements in a bathroom is often the bath tub. A glance into the world of tubs reveals a plethora of configurations, sizes, and choices which can be a bit overwhelming. I'll try to break down some of the more common issues and terminology...

Undermount Tub

This term refers to a tub whose edge or lip is under the tub deck or surrounding surface on the top. As you can see in the images below, the deck is over the tub itself. This look is clean and streamlined and allows for more of the deck material to be seen, whether you choose marble, granite, or quartz.

Drop-in Tubs

On the other hand, drop-in tubs are literally dropped into the tub deck and the edge sits on top of the surround. The first image below is of a luxurious drop-in jetted whirlpool tub by Jason International I designed for a client (previously here). Depending on how large the tub surround is, much of the deck material (a gorgeous grey and white Letoon marble from Turkey in this case) is still seen. We designed this one with enough room to set down a book or glass of wine.

Alcove Tub

Also referred to as a skirted tub, or what is called an "apron," this tub fits into an alcove, as seen below. Walls at the head and foot of the tub create an alcove. This is commonly seen in smaller homes and apartments since it saves on space. The face, side, or apron can come in different shapes and configurations as well. Another thing to look for when looking at an alcove tub is which way the drain is oriented. You want to make sure you are replacing your old tub with a model that will fit with your current drain position since moving plumbing lines can be a very expensive prospect. The first photo below is a right hand facing drain and the next is, as you can guess, a left hand facing drain.

Free Standing Tub

A free standing tub is quite classical, even in a modern design. Such tubs now have beautiful swooping sides, dramatic sizes, or contemporary, design-forward sensibilities like the half-egg shape below. But unlike alcove tubs, free standing tubs generally require space to look good. They don't want to be crowded.

Clawfoot Tub

What could be more traditional than a clawfoot bath tub?

This design is based on the clawfoot leg on furniture, a version of which can be found as far back as the Renaissance. But the style really became popular when Thomas Chippendale, a British cabinet maker and furniture designer created the claw and ball foot. As its name implies, the terminus of such a leg features an animal claw over a ball. And you can see that very design in the claw foot tub below. But a clawfoot leg or a tub does not have to have a ball, as seen in the second image.

Jetted Whirlpool Tub

Some people call a jetted tub a "spa" and there are a few different types. The most common one is the jetted whirlpool type which recirculates water and forces it out in jets. Jacuzzi is a company that pioneered the creation and manufacture of these tubs and is a brand name, not a generic overall name. However it has become synonymous with any type of jetted water tub; in this way it is much like people using a Q-tip (a cotton swab) or a Kleenex (a tissue): companies love it when their name becomes the name of the product!

Just like regular soaking tubs, whirlpool tubs are made in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. The jets themselves come in many different configurations as well with some featuring more jets at the bather's back, or jets all around including the leg and foot area!

Here is a drop-in jetted whirlpool tub by Jason International that I did for a client (previously here) to a relaxing fireplace!

As you can see below, water shoots out of a set of jets but because of the nature of the mechanism, there are a few challenges that come with this type of tub. It requires electricity to power the motor needed to pump the water. An access panel to service the motor must be built into either the foot of the tub, the side (or apron), or outside on an exterior wall, as is the case with the tub I designed above.

Another consideration is the cleaning and upkeep. You can see in the photo below how water exits the jets. It feels wonderful to relax in such a tub but there should be regular maintenance as water tends to settle and remain in the pipes after a bath. Mildew and mold can collect, as with any tub or shower in a bathroom, and your whirlpool tub should be cleaned, disinfected, and flushed. How often? Well, that depends on  how much you use it. If you are using the jets nearly every day, clean the system at least once a month.

Jetted Air Tub

Much like a whirplool, this kind of tub uses jets but instead of water, it forces out air. Some of the jets are larger, like a whirlpool, but some tubs have very small holes all along the bottom or sides so air streams out, making the water feel almost carbonated! The fizziness and bubbliness is delightful.

This underwater view shows a lot more air, as opposed to the photo of a water jet in the last section.

And finally, a word about size: tubs come in differing widths, lengths, and depths. The best way to understand tub size is to go to a showroom or warehouse and "test drive" as many sizes as you can. Tubs come as small as 20" wide (which, in my opinion, is way too tight) up to as much 50" or more! A comfortable width is generally around 36" or 38" for a single person. Now, you will want to pay attention to whether these numbers are total dimensions or dimensions of the basin, or in other words, from outside to outside (exterior) vs. the opening in which you will be sitting (interior).

The length will depend upon how much space you have and how tall the bathers are (another vbery important consideration).

And some other dimensions that can be confusing are the depth not only of the tub from floor to top (a 24" high tub is about normal but I wouldn't want to go higher or much lower) but of the bathing depth which is measured from the bottom of the inside of the tub to the top of the overflow, the maximum depth of water. I had a client with an existing tub whose bathing depth was only 9"--that was not a bath, that was just sitting in a puddle! If you want a good soak, try to get the interior depth as deep as you can!

I hope this helped to solve some of the more perplexing questions about bath tubs. If you need more help with a tub or a bathroom remodel, feel free to contact me!

Happy designing!