The bathroom could be considered the most valuable space in your house. It’s possibly used the most, so combining elegance and safety is key to your comfortability in the house. One increasingly popular feature for many bathroom updates is the walk-in tub, which allows users to step into and out of a bath with less risk of falling. Ideally suited for older bathers or people with mobility issues, walk-in bathtubs are available through Kohll’s Home Modifications located in Nebraska and Iowa. I’ll walk you through all the things you should consider before purchasing and plunging into your new walk-in bathtub.
Understanding Walk-In Tubs
What Are Walk-In Tubs?
A walk-in tub is exactly what it sounds like: a bathtub designed for users to be able to walk directly into. Unlike a standard bathtub, which requires users to climb over the side to enter, walk-in bathtubs have a low entry threshold and a door on the side with a waterproof seal to prevent leaks when the tub is full.
Walk-in entry is the defining feature of the category, but walk-in tubs usually have several other design elements that set them apart from a standard tub. For example, walk-in bathtubs frequently have a built-in seat, greater water depth, and safety features like handrails or an anti-slip surface. Some of the specific key features to look for will be discussed later in this guide.
One of the main benefits of walk-in tubs is that they are more comfortable, accessible, and safe for seniors, the disabled, and other individuals with mobility issues. However, a walk-in tub can be desirable for anyone seeking a safer, more comfortable bathtub experience.
When to Consider Buying a Walk-In Tub
For many people, a walk-in bathtub is more luxury than necessity, which makes the decision whether to buy a walk-in tub more difficult. These tubs have unique appeal compared to standard tubs and showers.
Here are three of the most common cases where people opt to purchase a walk-in tub:
- Disability: Sometimes the decision to buy a walk-in tub is thrust on a homeowner if they or a loved one use a wheelchair and need a tub that will more easily accommodate accessibility and mobility.
- Aging in place: One of the most common use cases for walk-in tubs is for older homeowners or those who wish to age in place. Walk-in bathtubs are safer for older people who face greater risks of harm from a fall. Features of walk-in tubs make it possible for seniors to live independently and self-sufficiently for longer.
- Adding home value: Even if you are not a senior, walk-in tubs can also be a good investment, especially if you own a home in a community popular with older residents. Whenever you choose to sell your home, having a unique bathroom feature like a walk-in tub—along with the functionality it provides for older and disabled individuals—can add to the home’s value.
The Pros & Cons of Walk-In Bathtubs
If you are thinking about purchasing and installing a walk-in tub, you should be fully aware of the benefits and drawbacks. Below are some of the top arguments for and against choosing a walk-in tub.
Pros: Benefits of Walk-In Tubs
- Accessibility: One of the main reasons people elect to install a walk-in tub is because they are easier to get into and out of, especially for older or disabled individuals. The lower threshold to enter and features like built-in seats or wheelchair access help improve accessibility for people who might have more difficulty with a standard tub design.
- Safety: Walk-in tubs are also designed to make slips and falls more infrequent. These tubs usually have built-in handrails or grippy, non-slip surfaces that keep users safer when getting in and out. With built-in seats in many models, users are kept in a more vertical position, which also reduces the risk that they might slip or fall when trying to stand up as they might in a lay-down tub.
- Comfort: Some walk-in tub features also make the bathing experience more comfortable for any user. One of the more comfortable features in many walk-in tubs is their elevated seats, which are easier on users’ knees. Walk-in tubs may also have other add-ons like water jets similar to a whirlpool tub.
Cons: Drawbacks of Walk-In Tubs
- Fill and drain time: Because users must be in the tub with the door sealed for the full time that a walk-in tub is filling and draining, bathers spend more time sitting and waiting at the beginning and end of their baths. Further, walk-in tubs that have a taller height to accommodate greater water depth may also take longer to fill and drain. Be sure to choose a walk-in-tub that makes adjustments to release the water a fast rate.
- Temperature control: Similarly, because users must sit in the tub as it fills and drains, they may be uncomfortable if water runs too hot or too cold when filling or if the temperature cools too quickly while draining. Some tubs do have features for temperature control when filling, especially to avoid scalding water.
- Inward facing doors: Some manufacturers only offer inward facing doors. This becomes a space issue for ease getting out and in the tub. It can also be a safety issue when trying to get out of the tub.
- Cost: Walk-in units and the associated expenses of installation can be very pricey compared to a regular tub, with thousands of dollars in costs even at the low end. This expense may be prohibitive for some individuals who might otherwise prefer to install a walk-in tub. There are significant differences between the same style of tub and installation between one supplier/brand and another. Be sure to get multiple quotes. Kohll’s highly regarded reputation qualifies them to get a quote for you. Higher price does not equate to better quality of the walk-in tub or the installed.
What to Look for When Comparing Walk-In Tubs
Most companies that sell walk-in bathtubs offer a variety of types with different features, designs, and price points to accommodate various desires within the market. It can be difficult to sort through all the different configurations and features—even before considering additional challenges you might face when installing the tub in your unique home setting or factors like the reputation of the company you purchase from.
This section of the guide will define many of the key terms and concepts you might encounter when comparing walk-in tubs, allowing you to make the best possible purchase for your needs.
Tub Type & Size
Like standard bathtubs, walk-in tubs come in different shapes, sizes, and designs to enable users’ comfort and meet homeowners’ personal preferences. For walk-in tubs, these differences can be especially important given that many people choose walk-in tubs as a way to manage certain health concerns or the challenges that come with aging.
Here are some of the key walk-in tub types that you might encounter in the market:
- Soaker: Many walk-in bathtubs are soaker style, which have higher vertical walls to allow users to submerge more of their body while sitting upright.
- Lay-down: In contrast to soaker tubs, lay-down walk-in tubs frequently have the same design as a standard bathtub (apart from the door), allowing the user to stretch out their legs and recline a little bit while sitting in the tub.
- Bariatric: One downside of some walk-in tub designs is that they run relatively narrow, which makes them less desirable for larger users. A bariatric tub serves large bathers by having a wider frame, door entrance, and seat. These tubs are typically targeted at users with weights of 300 lbs. or greater. Kohll’s carries bariatric tubs.
- Shower-tub combinations: Choosing a walk-in tub does not mean having to sacrifice the occasional shower. In fact, having showers built into a walk-in bathtub can help address concerns about the length of time it takes to bathe in a walk-in by offering a quicker, more convenient alternative. A walk-in shower-tub combination simply includes an overhead shower component along with the side door and occasionally higher walls that come with a walk-in tub.
- 2-person tubs: For those who want to bathe with a companion, some manufacturers provide walk-in tubs designed for multiple users. Typically, these configurations come in one of two styles: either the tub itself is wider and two seats are positioned next to one another, or two built-in seats face each other with the walk-in door in the middle.
Door Style & Accessibility
One of the distinguishing design features of the walk-in tub is the side door, but doors can be configured in multiple different ways with associated pros and cons. Here are key details about the walk-in tub door to consider when evaluating your options:
Walk-in bathtub with an inward-swinging U-shaped door
- Seal: One of the concerns that many users have about walk-in tubs in general is the possibility that they might leak or lead to flooding. Tub designs can address this in several ways. One is by using rubber or another impermeable material around the door, hinges, and other potential leak points to hold water in the tub, similar to what one might see around the door of a refrigerator or a car. This can be reinforced by latches or other reinforcements that hold the door in place against the weight of the bathwater.
- Inward vs. outward-swinging doors: Most walk-in tub doors are hinged, which means that they must either swing inward or outward as users open the tub to enter. The benefit of an outward-swinging door is that they take up less room in the tub, which means that there is more room for users to enter and get situated, but the downside is that this requires more space in the bathroom. An inward-swinging door offers the inverse: they are more compact when it comes to bathroom space, but offer less space in the tub itself.
- Door shape: Swinging walk-in tub doors frequently come in either a “U” or “L” shape. U-shaped doors are most common, suitable for most bathers, and can be configured to swing inward or outward or inserted. L-shaped doors look like an upside-down letter “L” and are designed so that wheelchair users can more easily slide to and from the tub seat.
- Wheelchair accessibility: One major benefit of walk-in tubs is their accessibility for those with mobility issues, including wheelchair users. Most wheelchair-friendly walk-in tubs have an L-shaped, outward-swinging door and a grab bar that allow the user to transfer from their wheelchair to the tub seat.
- Threshold height: If the threshold on a walk-in tub is too high for a user, some of the tub’s benefits for mobility and accessibility will be reduced. The lowest entry threshold for most walk-in tubs is around 3 inches, but they can frequently be higher, so users should check to see what they can step over comfortably to maximize the walk-in design.Walk-in bathtub with an L-shaped outward-swinging door
High on the list of reasons why someone might choose to install a walk-in tub is safety. Walk-in bathtubs are typically designed with safety in mind, with features that are well-suited to the needs of older or disabled users and that address the common risks associated with baths and showers.
These features include:
- Handrails: Installing grab bars in the tub or shower is one of the top recommendations from the National Institute on Aging for making homes safe and accessible for older residents. Likewise, the ADA recommends a number of features that help ensure a design’s safety and accessibility. For walk-in tubs, one important ADA component are handrails and grab bars. To be ADA compliant, these bars must be placed and installed in certain positions within the tub and be able to hold up to a certain weight load to provide users with adequate support. Some manufacturers will alternatively (or additionally) include ridges along the edges of the tub that allow users to have a secure grip when lowering or raising themselves.
- Floor: Anyone who has ever taken a bath knows the feeling of losing traction on the tub’s wet, smooth surface. To help maximize safety, manufacturers of both walk-in and traditional tubs have come up with different ways to make sure bathers don’t lose their footing while moving around in the tub. Some have a non-slip, textured surface on the floor of the tub, while others mold grooves or treads into the tub itself to create more traction.
- Seat height: A built-in seat is one of the features that helps promote safety in a walk-in tub. Because users do not have to lower themselves or climb out of the tub in the same way they would with a traditional lay-down tub, they are less likely to slip and fall with their bodies remaining upright and elevated. The Americans with Disabilities Act suggests a 17 inch seat height, and most manufacturers advertise seat heights between 17 and 20 inches.
Fill & Drain System
Fast filling and draining systems in a walk-in tub are not only a matter of convenience for the bather—they can also be an important safety feature to reduce the risk of scalding or chills and allow users to exit the tub quickly in the event of an emergency. Some other key fill and drain features include:
- Temperature controls: One of the main risks associated with a walk-in tub is having water that runs too hot or cold at the beginning of the bath and cools quickly at the end of the bath. Scald prevention valves or thermostatic control valves mix cooler water with hot water entering the tub to ensure that the tub doesn’t run too hot when filling.
- Dual drain: To speed up the process of draining a walk-in bathtub, some models include two separate, independent drains that effectively double how much water can drain out of the tub at one time compared to a single-drain configuration. These features can significantly speed up the amount of time it takes to drain a walk-in tub in full.
- Drain pump: Most drains rely on simple gravity to empty a tub, but manufacturers are increasingly incorporating pumps that can drain water at faster rates. Unlike dual drains, which are a standard design feature for some walk-in tub manufacturers, pump systems usually come with an extra cost.
Jets & Other Therapeutic Options
For users who want a full spa-like experience with their walk-in tub, many manufacturers have developed extra features that both make baths more comfortable and relaxing and enhance many of the holistic health benefits of bathing. Key features in this category include:
- Water jets: For targeted massages to certain parts of the body, walk-in tubs with water jets are a good option. These models usually place jets along where the user’s back or legs will sit in the tub and shoot warm water to deliver deep massages that release tension, stimulate blood flow, and reduce soreness in the muscles. Some models have adjustable jets, allowing an even more directed massage experience.
- Air jets: Walk-in tubs with air jets shoot warm air into the bath to create small bubbles that surround the body and stimulate muscle relaxation. Air jets provide a different type of massage experience than water jets, with a generally gentler sensation from the movement of bubbles in the water.
When choosing a walk-in tub, installation is a major factor to consider. You will want a model that not only meets your desired specifications but also fits the space you have available and the plumbing and electrical systems in your home. Even if you’re not planning a full bathroom remodel, walk-in tub installations can quickly become a complicated process involving multiple contractors upgrading different parts of your bathroom to accommodate the tub.
The first step is to consult with a Kohll’s Home Modification expert who can help you evaluate your bathroom space and plumbing and electrical systems to find a tub that will meet your needs.
Warranties are important for giving you peace of mind when it comes to your walk-in tub. With such a potentially costly and specialized bathroom fixture, the last thing you want is to find out that your product is faulty or defective in some way and be on the hook for the full cost of repairing or replacing it.
When you look for a walk-in tub, you want the reassurance that you are purchasing a high-quality, reliable product that delivers the features you want and that will be installed properly. If a tub is cheaply made or poorly installed, you could find yourself dealing with damage to your bathroom and plenty of other headaches. In contrast, companies that deliver high-quality fixtures will give you years of satisfaction and add value to your home.
Walk-In Bathtub Pricing & Costs
It’s hard to avoid the fact that compared to a standard bathtub, walk-in tubs can be very expensive to purchase and install. The prices for walk-in tubs are higher, as are the installation costs. For many walk-in tub buyers, the overall benefits of a walk-in setup outweigh the costs, but customers should make sure they understand all the potential costs before choosing a tub for their home.
How Much Do Walk-In Tubs Cost to Install?
If you are considering a walk-in bathtub, it is important to remember that the unit itself will not be the only major expense associated with the process. Installation is an important consideration in your budget as well, and you may find that the cost of taking out an old tub and putting in a new walk-in could be minimal or could exceed the cost of the tub. Check with Kohll’s Home
A Cheaper Alternative: Walk-In Tub Conversion Kits
For those who want a walk-in bathtub at a lower cost, one potential option is to convert an existing bathtub into a walk-in.
Kohll’s Home Modifications offer walk-in tub conversion kits that allows Kohll’s to cut out a portion of the side of a tub to lower the threshold for getting in and out and placing a frame over the cut area. Conversion kits frequently come in several different configurations, allowing users to simply leave their converted tub as a walk-in shower with an open entry, add a water-tight door, or install an insert to transition from walk-in shower to a full bath with ease.
Modifying an existing tub is much less expensive than installing a new unit for several reasons. For one, the kits themselves typically cost less than a walk-in unit—hundreds of dollars for a conversion versus thousands for a new walk-in tub. Further, installation is much simpler and straightforward because it is unlikely to require any related plumbing, electrical, or tiling work to install the kit.
One downside of this route is that many of the additional design features available in a walk-in unit will not be available in a standard tub configuration. If features like an elevated seat or taller walls are important to you for comfort or mobility reasons, converting a traditional tub will likely not address those needs.
Studies show that older Americans are more likely to live alone than those of any other nation. Moreover, many of these folks wish to remain in their home. When planned and installed carefully, a walk-in tub can be another way to prevent injuries in your home, not to mention that they’ll likely give you the most enjoyable baths of your life.