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Installing a New Walk-In Tub

Universal design isn’t just for large buildings and public gathering places. Those who want to age in place or those who have loved ones who cherish their independence often find themselves looking at ways to make their home safer for seniors. These safety elements in the home can take many forms, from railings along hallways to proper nighttime lighting to stair chair lifts and other mobility devices. 

But the star of the universal design show is often the walk-in tub. These tubs are exactly what they sound like – bathtubs that are designed with a leak proof door and a low threshold, making it very easy to step inside the tub. Why does this matter? In a typical tub, a person must lift their leg well more than a foot off the floor to move into the tub; for someone with mobility issues, this can mean loss of balance, trouble with coordination, and potentially a life-threatening fall.

In fact, the CDC reports that three million older adults are treated in emergency rooms each year for falls, and at least 300,000 older people are hospitalized with hip fractures each year. More than 95 percent of those hip fractures are caused by falling, usually by people falling sideways – the same way most would fall if they tripped over the high side of their bathtub.

Curious about how walk in tubs can make your senior family member safer – as well as contribute to the safety of the other members of your family as well? 

walk in tub

Different Types of Walk-In Tubs

Walk-in tubs are quite different from your typical tub in that they have a variety of safety features that help lower the risks of injury in the bathroom. All are constructed with a door that opens to reveal a very low threshold, thus allowing you to “walk into” the tub instead of lifting your legs to get into it. The door then closes firmly behind the occupant, creating a leak-proof seal that allows you to fill the tub with water without worry about making a mess of the bathroom floors!

 These tubs usually come standard with the following options:

  •   Sturdy grab bars
  •   Raised seat, possibly curved for comfort
  •   Slip-resistant floor
  •   Quick-fill spouts
  •   Quick-drain (some in 60 seconds or less)
  •   Anti-scald water temperature protection
  •   Detachable spray spout or showerhead
  •   Aromatherapy devices
  •   Hydro jets

There are several different types of walk in tubs to choose from. The one you choose depends upon medical conditions, what features you might like, and perhaps even the option that will allow for a wide range of use for a variety of family members. Here are some of the most common options:

  •   Bariatric tubs. Designed to accommodate larger individuals, these tubs are wider than the typical tubs and might have larger doors and seats as well. And though most walk in tubs are designed in a size that fits the space for a typical tub, bariatric tubs can be big enough to require some remodeling or construction in your bathroom during installation.
  •   Wheelchair-accessible tubs. These tubs are just what they sound like; they have outward-facing doors and lower tub seats that allow for easier transfer from a wheelchair to the tub. Some of these tubs can feature lifts and other safety features to make it even easier for those who are wheelchair-bound to enjoy a good soak without worry about injury.
  •   Soaker tubs. This is the typical tub you might think of when you picture a walk in tub. It’s a deep tub with grab bars, anti-slip floors, a raised seat, temperature protection, and other basics that you’d expect from a simple walk in tub. This is a great option to accommodate those who live in a family home, with several generations using the same tub; it works well for not only the elderly, but can be great for children, too.
  •   Lay-down tubs. If you want to get as close to a typical tub as possible, this is the option you might enjoy most. These tubs are longer than usual and might have a detachable seat, so you can lie down in them, just as you might in a typical tub. Though it does still have all the safety features, it also offers additional options, like adjustable head or arm rests.
  •   Hydrotherapy tubs. Much like a traditional jacuzzi, these tubs have jets that move the water around, either through gentle bubbles or at targeted areas. These tubs can be wonderful for relaxation, but they can also improve circulation and potentially target particular areas of the body, such as the back muscles to help those with chronic back pain. These might be a bit of a custom build, depending upon what you need.
  •   Bath/shower tubs. Think of a traditional bath-shower combo, and that’s what you’ll get – though the tub will be deeper and will have a door to step into it rather than having to lift your leg to climb in. These combo tubs offer all the same features as the usual walk in tub but will also have space at the top for a shower curtain, or even have shower doors. This might also be a custom build, depending upon the configuration of your bathroom and what you want the shower and tub combination to look like.

Walk-In Tub Costs and Insurance

A walk in-tub is not just a luxury – though some might say the deeper water level and the other amenities make it one – it’s also a way to help keep seniors safe in their home, allow them to keep their independence, and perhaps improve their overall health. Given that, you might wonder if insurance will pay for the tub and installation. 

Some insurance companies might cover a walk-in tub as a preventative care item, which allows a person to be in better health and avoid medical issues and hospitalizations as they age. And though many insurance companies pay for “durable medical equipment” they likely don’t include walk in tubs. The only way to know for sure what your insurance company would cover is to look over your policy very carefully and talk to your insurance representative.

When it comes to Medicare, it is possible that walk-in tubs could be covered. Medicare Advantage, which is run by private insurance companies and regulated by Medicare, offers extra benefits that cover things under the umbrella of “home modification” and “home safety devices.” Be sure to check with your particular Medicare Advantage plan to ensure what is covered and what is not. You can also explore other payment and insurance coverage options available that may cover your walk-in tub installation.

In many cases, you’ll have to pay out of pocket for your walk in tub. Prices vary just as widely as styles do, but there are some other considerations as well, such as how extensive the installation process might be. The most basic walk-in tub options, such as that of the soaking tub style, typically run between $2,000 and $5,000 for purchase and installation. Those with optional features, such as wheelchair accessible tubs or hydro jets, can run in the $5,000 to $10,000 range.

Finding the Right Contractor to Install Your Walk-In Tub

It’s important to find the right contractor to install your walk-in tub, or any other element of universal design that might mean the difference between safety or serious injury for your loved one. Walk-in tubs are definitely not a do-it-yourself kind of project; it’s a project you must entrust to someone who has worked with tub installation before and can handle the plumbing and electrical changes that go along with it, as well as any modifications for special features or size of tubs in the existing space.

Modernize connects you with local contractors who have a wealth of experience in a variety of remodeling and construction projects, and you’re sure to find one who has experience with universal design elements, such as walk-in showers and walk-in tubs. Let Modernize guide you through what questions to ask, what you need to know about the process, and most importantly, let us help you find the contractor who can make it all come together to create an attractive, useful, and safer bathroom.

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