For most residential baths, the design options can be divided into two types of tubs: drop-in and skirted tubs. These two types of bathtubs are different in design and installation, so your choice may be limited to the size of your bathroom and the existing plumbing. A bathtub is more than just a vessel used to get clean. It's a place to relax and wash away the stresses of the day, so choosing one that works well for your space can help you create the perfect bathroom for your home.
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Drop-In and Skirted Tub Design
Drop-in tubs aren't finished on the outside. They're designed to drop into and sit inside a frame or a platform that conceals the subflooring and plumbing as well as the unfinished sides of the tub. This frame or deck is then finished, often in tile. They're common in larger bathrooms that also have a separate shower.
Skirted tubs, also called alcove tubs, are installed against three walls and are finished on the exposed side. Called a skirt, the finished surface typically fits the entire length of the tub and is installed on the side from the top edge to the floor to finish it, hiding the plumbing and subfloor beneath. The skirt can be smooth or feature integrated designs. Typically, a skirted tub is rectangular, while drop-in tubs may be a variety of shapes, such as round or oval, offering more choice in your overall design scheme.
Drop-In and Skirted Tub Installation
Drop-in and skirted tub installation is slightly different and might affect your decision. Installing a drop-in tub requires more work and possibly more expense than a skirted tub because it has to be dropped into an existing frame or platform. This means a deck must be built to fit around the tub so that the tub can be dropped into it. The tub is supported by the subfloor and not the tub ledges, and the gaps are caulked with silicone.
Skirted tubs require only support for the back and the ends of the tub. There is no need to build a full structure on all sides because the skirt provides a finished decorative edge along the exposed front portion.
Faucets and Surrounds
When choosing between drop-in and skirted tubs, understanding the faucet and surround options can help you decide if it creates the look you want. Skirted tubs butt against a wall on three sides and often have wall-mounted tub faucets. Tub surrounds are easily installed with skirted tubs so that you can incorporate a shower as well.
With a drop-in bathtub, the faucets are either installed on the platform or frame, or there is a faucet ledge built into the tub for this installation. Unless your surround is built against a wall, a shower is not usually incorporated into this type of tub installation, although it is possible to do so.
Considerations for Choosing a Tub
The skirted tub design is often the most affordable. Drop-in tubs can become expensive not only to purchase, but for the materials and labor involved to build the frame. When buying a skirted tub, it's important to know whether the drain is located on the right or left side of the tub. In most cases, it cannot be moved to accommodate the tub.
Drop-in tubs are more versatile. Some may have a center drain. Because you're dropping the tub into a finished platform, you can usually turn it to locate the drain wherever it needs to be.
If you're replacing an old bathtub and major renovations aren't possible, then you're limited to whatever framing the old bathtub allows. If this is a new installation where you're building a new home or you're overhauling an old bathroom completely, you have more flexibility to choose the option you want.