Are Small Free-Standing Tubs Comfortable?
Last week I posted about the possibility of doing a ‘wet room’ in our kids’ bath reno, with a freestanding tub inside a shower enclosure. My main areas of concern were would a small tub be comfy, and how much a wet room would add to costs. Then during the week two things happened. First, I went to a bath showroom and actually sat in the tubs that would fit our space. Second, I got the contractor and cabinetry quote for our kitchen and bath re-do. Getting that quote explains why I didn’t post again last week, because I was in a sadness spiral of how much a renovation costs.
Yes, all renovations are expensive. Yes, I am splurging on fancy appliances. BUT, not all renovations deal with replacing plumbing from the 1930s, replacing a rotting structural beam, and reinforcing the joists under the whole kitchen (which should’ve been done decades ago when the antique floors were torn up and replaced for who-knows-what reason, and modern heavy appliances put in the kitchen). Not all renovations deal with having no dead space in the walls to run plumbing and electrical. Not all renovations deal with the sheer amount of plaster and woodwork that’s in an antique home.
Guys, it is a bummer. The pain behind the before and after photos is real!
At least after sitting in some small freestanding tubs (56” long or less), I can now give a final verdict: They are not comfortable. I’m 5’4”, so not exactly tall, and am also pretty darn skinny. But most of these smaller freestanding tubs create issues by their slope. The full measurement may be 55” x 27”, but the key is to look at the actual measurements where your butt goes. Most of those are 16”-18” wide, and about 45” long. That is … just not reasonable. Heck, I find it a little tight in the butt area, and I’m relatively tiny. Basically, these tubs aren’t even comfortable for your average Kardashian, let alone your average American.
While visually I think this idea was great, and we do technically have the space – getting rid of the freestanding tub idea turns out to be an easy way to save some money. First, there’s the cost of the tub itself. A nice freestanding acrylic soaker tub runs between $1,300-$3,000 in the small sizes (less than 60”). Cast iron runs a bit more. A top of the line drop in or undermount soaking tub? Tops out around $1,300. So instead of paying separately a higher amount for a freestanding tub in addition to a tiled shower area, you pay one lower price for both.
Then, you also save on the fixtures. For a freestanding tub, you need a separate tub filler as well as a shower fixture. For a built in shower, you just need shower fixture and tub filler in one, which tend to be cheaper (especially if you want a spray attachment for either fixture). This saves about 50% on fixtures.
The real money saver though, is the labor. To do a freestanding tub and shower ‘wet room’, you need to pay for labor to install plumbing on separate wall for tub, tile larger square footage for the shower and around the tub, to mud and properly slope the wet room for drainage, and put in a threshold to the shower area. There’s also all those extra material costs built in. More plumbing parts, more tile, material for the threshold, installation of two drains instead of one, and of course if you put in a large glass door that adds a huge expense for material as well as for labor.
All-in-all, I figure that a built-in tub situation will save us a minimum of 40%. That makes me feel slightly better about the astronomical renovation costs. At least I can save somewhere!
The best thing about saving the money in this bathroom, though, is that after sitting in the small-scale tubs, I also feel like I am being practical and preventing future uncomfy butts. The WORST possible outcome is to pay more for something because you think it will look good only to discover it is horrible to live with.
To me, pretty much all the worst mistakes of design come down to “looks pretty, but isn’t practical.”
That said, if you are in the market for a small, freestanding tub, I found that the modern-style freestanding tubs were MUCH better. I’m sure this is why all the inspiration images you see here of small-space freestanding tubs are a very modern style, while the small-space cast iron images are a tub/shower combo. This is because the modern styles have a thinner profile and less slope. I sat in this bad boy and it was nice. I mean, tons of internal space, very high. I’m not a tub person but it was pretty great. Two caveats for me – it was STILL 2” too big for my space, and it was just not the right style for a house of our vintage. If I could have had it as a show piece on its own wall, modern could’ve worked. But crowded in the way it would’ve had to be, it would’ve stood out like a sore thumb, and not in a cool “modern things in old spaces” kind of way. Another problem? It’s priced at $2,963. Oof.
Now I’m searching for inspiration for built-in tubs I actually like. Because I have to admit, I haven’t seen many that look good to me! Time to get creative …