Scrub-a-dub-dub! Here's what homeowners need to know about tubs

A professional contractor shares the 6 options homeowners have for replacing an old bathtub

Although seated showers have become the go-to option for bathroom remodels, there’s still room for homeowners who enjoy the simple luxury of taking a bath at the end of a long day.

There are plenty of bathtub options, ranging from durable fiberglass and acrylic to high-style cultured marble, but before choosing one of the options below, 45-year home contracting veteran Steve Seay of Double Eagle Construction says homeowners need to consider two important things: the size of their hot water tank and the bathroom’s flooring.

“How big the tub is [in terms of the gallons of water it can hold] will determine what size hot water tank you’ll need,” Seay said. “Another thing you’ll need to consider is whether your tub is on a concrete slab floor or if you’re putting it on a subfloor with wooden joists.”

The latter scenario is likely if the home has a crawl space beneath the bathroom or the bathroom is located on the second floor. “In that case, you’d want to use a fiberglass or acrylic-style tub because of the weight,” Seay added. “If you’re trying to put a heavier tub on a joisted floor, then the weight becomes a factor.”

Fiberglass and acrylic

According to Seay, fiberglass and acrylic tubs are the most popular bathtub options, due to their lightweight frame, durability and cost-effectiveness. These two materials last roughly 20 years and cost anywhere from $200 to $3,000. The wide price range accounts for upgrades such as jets, Seay noted.

The one downside to fiberglass and acrylic is that they’re more prone to surface cracks with everyday use. Luckily, the cracks are relatively easy to fix with refinishing that costs around $300.

“[The resurfacing material] smells really strong, so make sure you have a vented window or something to suck that smell out,” Seay said as a word of caution. “Otherwise, it’ll run you out of the house. You might have to stay in a hotel for the night because the smell is so strong.”

Cast iron tub covered in enamel | Photo credit: Dominik Eckelt / Getty Images

Cast iron

Although fiberglass and acrylic are the most common, Seay personally prefers cast iron tubs thanks to their 50-year plus lifespan. Furthermore, cast iron tubs are great for retaining temperature, so a homeowner doesn’t have to keep rewarming the bath water.

The price ranges from $1,400 for an alcove tub (a tub where three of the sides are enclosed by a wall) and $1,500 for a stand-alone option.

The only downside for Seay is the tub’s weight, which can easily top a few hundred pounds. He says cast iron tubs are best placed in a bathroom located on the main floor, to avoid worries about the tub falling through the ceiling. Even if you place it on the main floor, Seay says you still may need reinforcements, especially if the floor is constructed with wooden joists.

Cultured marble bathtub | Photo credit: zxvisual / Getty Images

Cultured marble and ceramic tile

The next options include cultured marble and ceramic tile, both of which aren’t as common due to the cost, durability and upkeep. Both options can last around 15 years, but are prone to cracks and are extremely difficult to repair.

“They don’t last as long, and if it cracks, you have to replace the whole tub,” Seay told Inman. “The color also fades over time.”

“When it comes to ceramic tile, if the tile cracks, you’ll have to call a tile installer to come and fix it,” Seay added. “If you have extra tile pieces, it’ll be no problem [to fix]. If you don’t have the extra tile pieces, you’ll have to replace the whole tub.”

Both options start around the $2,000 to $2,500 mark and are better suited for high-style, custom bathrooms. Unlike fiberglass or acrylic, which only comes in a standard size, Seay says you can easily build a larger size cultured marble tub.

“Cultured marble is a great material if you’re trying get a custom size,” he noted. “The standard tub is 60 inches long and 30 inches deep, but if your opening is bigger than that, a standard tub won’t fit.”

“It’s not so much about the size of the actual tub that you get down into, but the deck (top of the tub) and the skirt (front of the tub),” he explained. “You can make those two parts longer and deeper with cultured marble.”

Much like cultured marble, ceramic tile tubs offer homeowners more options for customization and creative color options. You can cover the entire tub in tile, but Seay says the most common installation method is building a wooden frame around the tub, covering it in an adhesive called “Durarock” and placing the tile over that.

“You don’t see ceramic tile tubs that often, I think there’s only a couple I’ve seen in my whole life,” he said.

Porcelain on steel tub | Photo credit: Hikesterson / Getty Images

Porcelain on steel

The last option is porcelain on steel, which as its name suggests, involves covering a steel tub with a porcelain enamel. Seay says this option is about as durable as cast iron and is just as heavy, coming in about 200 pounds.

The price range is $200 to $700, which accounts for any upgrades a homeowner wants to make.

“The enamel coating lasts for a long time and is an cost-effective option,” Seay said, while noting this is a choice that offers durability without the high-cost of cast iron.

Email Marian McPherson.