When you walk into a home bathroom, it’s quite likely you will see a bathtub that is tucked against a wall, enclosed on three sides. This is known as an alcove bathtub, and it’s by far the most popular tub option among homeowners in the United States. Here’s what you need to know about alcove tubs if you are considering installing or replacing one in your bathroom.
What is an Alcove Bathtub?
The definition of an alcove is “a small, recessed section of a room.” An alcove bathtub fits into an alcove in the bathroom, which is why you will often see this type of bathtub tucked under a window, in a corner, or against a wall, with three sides of the tub enclosed.
This is certainly one of the most common bathtubs you’ll find in homes across the United States.
Below we will take a look at alcove tubs in more detail and help you decide if this type of bathtub is right for your bathroom space and personal needs.
Sizes of Alcove Tubs
Alcove tubs are meant to fit into a typical bathroom of almost any size. They are enclosed on three sides, so they tend to have a standard size.
The alcove tub comes in fairly standard dimensions because it is designed to fit into a typical bathroom’s size, without much construction to minimize or expand the alcove area. To that end, the sizes are rather standard across the industry.
Alcove Tub Materials
You will have your choice of several popular materials when it comes time to choose your new bathtub. Different materials vary in terms of cost, durability, weight, and more.
The alcove tubs you might be more familiar with are often fiberglass or acrylic. But there are other materials that can make this tub more suitable for your particular needs. These are the most popular materials for alcove tubs.
Cast iron alcove tubs are some of the most common in older homes. These are heavy tubs, made of molten iron that is poured into a mold, then covered with a porcelain coating. This finish is incredibly resistant to scratches, stains, and chipping. Cleaning cast iron can be quite easy, as it stands up to any chemical cleaner you might want to use. Cast iron alcove tubs are so durable that they can easily outlive the homeowner! This material is a more expensive option given the longevity and the extra effort needed for installation.
These tubs are made of a steel base and can look quite like cast iron, though they are much lighter. The trade-off is that they don’t retain heat as well as cast iron does.
Enameled steel is just what it sounds like – that steel base covered in an enamel coating. Porcelain enamel resists scratching, staining, chipping, and harsh chemicals. These tubs can last quite a long time, though perhaps not as long as cast iron can. They come in at a lower price point than cast iron, but a bit more expensive than fiberglass or acrylic.
Acrylic or Fiberglass
These are by far the most common materials for alcove bathtubs. Fiberglass is the foundation of each, but acrylic tubs feature hardened acrylic layered over the fiberglass. This provides a smooth surface that is more resistant to scratches and dings than fiberglass.
Both acrylic and fiberglass are very lightweight, which makes them easy to install, but neither hold onto heat like the other options do. However, the price tag on these tubs is quite nice for those who are sticking to a tight budget.
This material is made of real stone, which is crushed up and mixed with a special resin polymer. The resulting stone casting is coated with a very durable finish, usually one that mimics the color of the original stone. This material is very resistant to scratches and other damage, holds in heat well and is very easy to clean. However, it is quite heavy – similar to cast iron. It might require additional bracing underneath to handle the weight. Expect to pay a similar price to cast iron for this high-end material.
Styles of Alcove Tubs
Alcove tubs are incredibly popular, and as such they are often combined with a shower to create one cohesive unit for the bathroom. Installing a shower with an alcove tub is quite easy and is so popular that it’s often the standard for new construction. This means your alcove tub might need a curtain or sliding glass doors to keep the water in and maintain privacy while showering.
Alcove tubs can be customized to create the kind of bathing experience you want. You can find models with powered jets, providing a whirlpool effect. You can also find tubs that are a bit deeper than usual, which allows for in-depth soaking. All of the tubs fall within basic dimensions for an alcove tub. This means you can still fit even the higher-end models into a smaller bathroom.
Alcove vs. Drop in Tubs
Alcove tubs fit into a space that encloses the tub on three sides. An alcove tub is always tucked away in an alcove in the bathroom. A drop in tub might fit elsewhere, where more than one side needs to be finished. For instance, a drop in tub might be found atop a few steps in the center of a luxurious bathroom. In that case, all sides would be finished.
An alcove tub is great for times when you have a smaller bathroom and space is at a premium. Drop-in tubs can be used in areas where you have a bit more space and more flexible design options.
When it comes to maintenance, the more open surface area around a drop-in tub makes it a bit more tedious to clean than an alcove tub. But if the materials remain the same, you are simply looking at a bit more time, not more effort.
How Much Do Alcove Bathtubs Cost?
The most common and basic type of bathtub found in U.S. homes
Can include built-in shower, including sliding glass doors or shower curtain
Most affordable type of bathtub
Sits against bathroom wall
Alcove bathtubs tend to be quite affordable, ranging from $295 to $650 for a lower-end yet solid tub that will last for many years. Of course, adding on bells and whistles or increasing the size makes it more expensive. An alcove tub with a shower built-in might run at the high end of that range, close to $650. Those that have jets or other amenities can cost $1,000 and up.
Installation and labor will add to the total cost of the project. You can expect about $70 per hour of work your contractor spends installing the new bathtub. Most contractors will spend about 4 hours, but the timeline can vary depending on your space.
Also keep in mind that a contractor might come across problems with water damage during your bathroom remodel, especially in a home where you are replacing a much older tub. They might also need to add in additional plumbing, bracing for a heavier tub (such as a cast iron model), or fix any problems they might find to get the bathroom up to code. For this reason, it’s very important that you review a full project estimate with your contractor before getting started on the installation.
Other Popular Bathtub Options
There are other options for bathtubs that might make sense in your bathroom, depending on the size and your personal preference. Design options are abound with the below tub options.
- Freestanding tub. This tub is exactly what it sounds like; a claw-foot tub might be the first freestanding option that comes to mind. Freestanding tubs often have plumbing that comes up from below, or they are installed close to a wall to make use of existing wall plumbing.
- Shower/tub combo. The combo unit a quite common configuration for either an alcove or freestanding tub. The showerhead can be fixed into the wall, or it can be affixed to the tub itself (for a freestanding model). The shower can of course be highly customized, with different massage options and handheld wands.
- Massage bathtub. The massage tub offers jets throughout the sides and bottom. Most of the time these jets can be adjusted to target certain muscle groups of the body, making this a comfortable therapeutic option.
- Garden tub. This is a much larger alcove bathtub than most, one that is wider – practically built for two. It has jets that make the tub feel like a whirlpool.
- Soaking tub. This type of tub can hold up to 250 gallons of water and is designed for a deep, relaxing soak. To give you a basis of comparison, a soaking tub can hold 200 gallons of water more than an alcove tub!
Most homeowners will opt for an alcove tub to take advantage of the convenience of having a shower and bathtub in one space. However, if you plan to use your bathtub as only a tub, you may want to look into shower options as well. Some homeowners choose to install both an alcove tub and freestanding shower.
Installing an Alcove Bathtub
When you are ready to move forward with installing your alcove tub, move as much as you can out of your bathroom. Things are going to get messy for a while, and the contractor needs ample space to work. Consider hanging thick plastic sheeting over the door of the bathroom to help keep the dust to a minimum. Turn off the heating and cooling to that room (simply closing off the registers might be sufficient).
When ordering your alcove tub, you will need to choose between a left-hand drain and a right-hand drain. This is based on the location of the current tub in your bathroom, assuming you are going to use the same plumbing. Your contractor will be able to tell you which one you need.
To find that contractor, let Modernize introduce you. We can connect you with bathroom remodeling contractors in your local area who can guide you through the installation process, help you choose the right tub to purchase, and give you tips on things you might not have considered for a bathroom remodel.