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Bathroom Showers and Tubs

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Bathtub and shower materials, sizes, styles and more

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As you consider a bathroom remodel, one of the first places people start is the bathroom tub or shower. Whether you're getting rid of that 80's pink-and-brass look, or the tub or shower is just beyond help, bathroom showers and tubs make a huge impact on any bathroom remodel.

In today's bathrooms, bathing ranges from standing in a utilitarian shower stall to luxuriating in a deep whirlpool bath with multiple hydromassage jets pulsating over your body. Bathing can take place in an antique clawfoot tub or in a spacious shower for two with multiple faucets arranged on opposite walls. And, of course, there's the ubiquitous shower-tub combination. Whatever your desires, you should be able to easily find something to fit your needs.

Once you find a shower or tub you like, use ImproveNet to find the best bathroom contractors near you.


Over the centuries, bathtubs have ranged from simple wooden tubs to carved marble behemoths. Now there are wide choices in size, color, and material, with something to fit every style and budget.

Bathtubs are commonly made out of steel, iron, cast polymers, and man-made plastics. Before getting into details on the different tubs, it's worth taking a moment to understand some of the processes used in tub manufacture.

Bathtub Materials

Steel tubs are generally formed by pressing and drawing them in forms to the desired shape. The tub is then sprayed with an enamel coating and fired in a furnace. Steel tubs outwardly appear much like enameled cast-iron tubs, but there are important differences. First, the lighter steel flexes more than the cast iron, and as a result the enamel chips more easily. Second, they are noisy when used with a shower combination. And because steel also transfers heat easily, the water cools rather quickly. They are, however, light, easily maneuverable, and among the least expensive of tubs.

Cast-iron tubs are formed by pouring molten iron into molds. When cool, the iron is smoothed and then an enamel powder is sprayed on and fired to provide the finished layer. Because iron is heavier and more rigid than steel, it resists chipping and cracking, and that bright enameled surface is easy to clean. Because of its weight, however, a cast-iron tub is difficult to maneuver, particularly up a long flight of stairs to a second-story bathroom.

Cast polymers include such standbys as cultured marble, cultured onyx, and cultured granite. They are formed by molding a mixture of ground marble, onyx, or granite and polyester resin into the desired shape, such as tub, sink, or shower. Cultured onyx is translucent, while cultured marble and granite are opaque. Because these products can be made in small shops anywhere in the country, quality can vary significantly. Check that they meet quality standards specified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which permits them to be certified by the Cultured Marble Institute (CMI).

Man-made plastics are widely used in larger bathtubs because the plastic can be easily molded into a great variety of sizes and shapes. Acrylic is among the most commonly used thermo-formed materials. In this process, sheets of acrylic are heated until pliable, then shaped around forms to create whirlpool tubs and spas. Tubs commonly referred to as fiberglass are actually either surfaced with acrylic or a less durable polyester gel; the fiberglass is used as reinforcement backing for these tubs.

Bathtub Sizes

A standard tub is five feet long, 14 inches high, and three feet wide. These tubs were originally designed to fit in the small bathrooms that prevailed when indoor plumbing became standard in the early 1900s. Tubs of all styles, including steel, cast iron, and acrylic, are commonly made in this size to meet remodeling requirements.

Six-foot-long tubs provide an added sense of luxury in a bathroom. If you are constructing a new bathroom, it can be designed to accommodate this longer tub. But replacing a standard tub with this longer variety may well require extensive construction changes. Additionally, consider who will be using a larger tub; smaller people sometimes feel as if they are floating away.

Whirlpool bathtubs are generally constructed from the manufacturer's proprietary plastic or cast polymer materials and weigh less than cast-iron tubs. They are generally five or six feet long but may be four or five feet wide, particularly if designed for two people. There are several factors to consider before purchasing a whirlpool bathtub, as explained in detail below.

Shower and Tub Styles

Recessed tubs have three open sides and only the exposed front, or apron, is finished. They are designed to fit into a recessed space, with walls on three sides. Such tubs, made from enameled iron, steel, or proprietary materials, have lips around the three sides for wall materials to fit over and to help prevent leaks behind the walls. For such tubs, you need to specify whether you want a left or right drain, depending on where your existing drainpipe is located. (Left or right is based on a person standing in front of the tub, about to enter it.)

Bathtub/shower combinations are tubs with either custom-built surrounding walls or prefabricated shower surrounds. For new construction installation, a tub and surround are usually purchased as a single unit. For replacement or remodeling work, the surrounds are separate so the unit will fit through doorways. For custom shower or bath walls, the wall underlayment must be of waterproof material, and special care must be taken to ensure that water does not penetrate the surround, particularly through grout.

Corner tubs are good choices for smaller bathrooms where they can fit into a corner. Two sides are usually open and fit against the walls. The exposed area may be straight, curved, or a three-sided angle. These tubs generally cover about 5 feet along one wall, 4 feet along the other, and extend 3 to 5 feet out into the room.

Free-standing tubs, such as the Victorian clawfoot, can be placed anywhere desired, from the center of a bathroom to your bedroom. One homeowner did just that after workmen placed it there temporarily while remodeling her bathroom. She liked it so much she had them leave it and run plumbing to it.

Platform tubs are open on all four sides and are placed in a prepared platform, with the tub rim resting on the finished platform. If one or more sides are against a wall and the tub is also used for showering, care must be taken to clean up water that will collect between the tub rim and the wall. Platform tubs also should have a wide and comfortable area around the tub for people to sit on while entering or exiting the tub. Steps up to the tub should be avoided because of added fall risk. Platforms should be constructed with an access panel to the tub's plumbing.

Whirlpool bathtubs, with several strategically located hydromassage water jets, add luxury to any bathroom. These tubs, often constructed from cast polymers or man-made plastics, require several accompanying elements to function, including a pump, on/off switches requiring electrical wiring, and a service panel for access to the pump when the tub is in a platform.

Before ordering a whirlpool tub, consider some of the following installation needs:

  • These tubs, usually larger and deeper than standard tubs, will be heavier than others when filled with water and one or two people. A standard floor is designed to support 40 pounds per square foot. Knowing that water weighs 8.3 pounds per gallon and 7.5 gallons occupies 1 cubic foot, you can calculate the weight and amount of water required to fill the tub. Add to that the people and the weight of the unit to see if your floor will need additional supports.
  • Because of their size, these tubs require more water, which in turn may cool significantly just while filling the tub. So water has to arrive faster. That means instead of a standard 1/2-inch pipe to bring water to the tub, you'll need to use 3/4-inch pipe.
  • With that much hot water going into your tub, you will likely need a larger hot water heater, a tankless water heater, or a water heater dedicated just to the tub.
  • An access panel to the supporting platform must be added for maintenance on the pump and plumbing under the tub.
  • Finally, if the whirlpool is going into a new house, framing will be built around it. If adding a large whirlpool tub to your bathroom, make sure it will fit down the hallways and through the doorways.


Has anyone really improved on the shower since early man and woman stood under a warm waterfall? Designers are working on it. Today's showers, whether single units or custom built, can be prepared in a great variety of sizes, colors, and materials to complement any décor.

Showers range from simple prefabricated stalls constructed from man-made plastics and reinforced with fiberglass to spacious custom-built showers lined with expensive stone material. Available shower stalls include standard square, rectangular, and corner designs. Custom showers may range from installing some new tile in an existing shower stall to building a granite-sided room with a shower system that features multiple water functions.

The bathtub and shower combination is common where both children and adults must coexist in one or two bathrooms. A nice variation on the combination unit, without taking much more room, is a shower stall located next to the bathtub.

Shower Construction

Custom-built showers start with the shower pan, which may be prefabricated or built from scratch. Constructing a shower pan requires expert knowledge and skills because a pan must be waterproofed with hot roofing tar, the drain placed at the exact height depending on the finish material, and the pan sloped precisely to the drain.

Walls adjoining showers and baths must be waterproof. For custom showers, this normally begins with a layer of water-resistant drywall over the studs. This is covered with waterproof cement board and then the finish material is installed, which may be anything from ceramic tile to slate, granite, marble, or other stone material.

Simpler showers can be constructed by using shower surrounds, such as plastic or polymer panels, which lap over a molded shower pan and are then caulked and attached to a waterproofed wall. All joints in the surround should be well caulked. Prefabricated shower pans are available in molded plastic or acrylic or poured masonry. Masonry pans often have attractive marble or stone chips throughout the material. Other pan materials are solid surface, plastic, and cast polymer. Walls are commonly available from the same material.

If buying a shower pan for a new or replacement shower, make sure that you select one with a drain opening that will match your existing drainpipe location. Pans also come with an entrance threshold while the other three sides have a raised lip so the underlayment will lap over the interior of the pan and prevent leakage.


In planning a shower, consider the following factors:

  • Wall-mounted showerheads should be installed at a height most convenient to the users.
  • Hand-held showers allow the bather more freedom of movement and are useful for people of different heights, especially children.
  • Overhead showers, sometimes called the shampoo shower, extend directly from the ceiling.
  • Body spray showers incorporate multiple showerheads positioned at different heights on opposite walls.
  • Body mist showers are similar to the spray showers but instead produce a gentle mist. Both the spray and mist showers permit showering without getting the hair wet. Both use diverter valves so all showerheads need not be used at once.

Flow ratings on shower heads are currently limited by law to a maximum of 2.5 gallons per minute, and some heads can be adjusted down to 1.7 gallons per minute. But very low flow showerheads may allow water to cool noticeably as it emerges and some bathers find them unsatisfactory.

Spray patterns are an important consideration also. Most prefer the spray adjuster to be on the side of the showerhead rather than in the center, which requires reaching into the spray itself. More effective spray patterns utilize holes in the center and the perimeter of the showerhead, rather than just the perimeter.

Higher quality showerheads will also allow the user to choose water flows from fine spray to coarse as well as different pulsation levels for a water massage.

Scald Hazards

Scald hazard is more common in showers than many might assume. This often occurs when someone turns on one or more faucets elsewhere in the house, which causes a drop in the cold water pressure and a corresponding increase in hot water. Children and the elderly, with thinner skins, are more prone to scalding than adults. Fortunately, this problem can be eliminated with one of the four types of scald control devices on the market:

  • Pressure balancing valve, which adjusts the temperature according to the pressure changes in the mixing valve. If the cold water pressure drops, it will lower the hot water pressure accordingly.
  • Thermostatic valve, which similarly adjusts flow according to temperature changes in the water.
  • Combination valve, which uses both pressure and thermostatic controls to maintain even temperatures.
  • Temperature-llimiting valve, which has a high-temperature maximum setting controlled by family members.

Shower and Bathtub Doors

Shower and bathtub doors may be hinged, sliding, pivoted, or accordion folding. If it swings, determine which way you want the door to open (always out from the shower or tub) before making your selection.

Shower doors commonly swing open, fold back accordion style, or pivot open. In some areas, codes do not permit use of pivot doors on grounds that the door portion that extends into the shower when it is pivoted open may block access to an injured or ill bather in the shower.

Some doors are encased in a metal frame, while others are hinged directly to the shower entrance. Framed doors are generally either anodized aluminum or brass, with colored epoxy-coated frames increasingly available. Doors may be glass or plastic, with glass being the higher-end choice. Glass doors are always made from tempered glass, which shatters into thousands of small, dull-edged pieces if broken. Glass choices include frosted, clear, mirrored, or patterned. Clear doors make the space look most open, but they must be carefully cleaned after each use to prevent mineral buildups.

To turn an existing shower into a steam shower, a matching panel can be added above shower doors to completely encase the area. A conventional shower can be converted by the addition of a steam generator.

Bathtub doors are most commonly used in conjunction with shower and bath combinations. Sliding bypass doors, made from glass or plastic, are a common choice. While practical, there are some drawbacks: When the doors are open, half the tub is still blocked, which makes it difficult to bathe small children. Also, the track on the tub is not easy to keep clean.

One alternative to sliding doors is a swinging door mounted on the shower side. The door extends half the length of the tub and prevents water from splashing out onto the floor. It can be opened for complete access to the tub. If selecting such a door, check to see that it has a track along the bottom to prevent water from dripping on the floor when opened.

Accordion doors are another good choice for better access to the tub and are also available for showers.

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