A Consumer's Perspective
What to consider BEFORE you purchase your Walk-in Tub
Walk-In tubs are an attractive and safe solution to the problem of bathing when you do not have full mobility. For people who live alone, the Walk-In tubs can prolong independence. While in some cases, the immediacy/enormity of the situation is such that just being able to walk into a tub and bathe independently is enough. Nothing else matters. Do what you have to do. However, if you have the time to review all your options and are looking for something specific from your Walk-in Tub, then the information below may be of some help in making your decision.
I am the new owner of a new NW Bath Solutions Model 30 tub, manufactured by DC Industries. Because of my consumer ignorance regarding the "right questions to ask," (and how should I know what they were?), I am going to share details with you so you have all the facts and can ask the heretofore "unasked right questions" questions. And, just for comparison, I am 5'9" and 210 lbs and although I have back problems, I am ambulatory. I bought the tub and had it installed by a my local installer. My tub is surrounded by wall on three sides and has a right side door.
There are many factors to consider when purchasing a tub of this kind. First, there are many sizes, colors, widths and lengths and any number of combinations to fit your body, your space, your decorating scheme and your pocketbook. And, depending on all of these factors, there is a tub out there for you. For a tub that would typically replace a standard 60" pre-formed tub/shower, prices range from $4995 uninstalled to $14-16,000 which includes tub, surround and installation. Smaller walk-in tubs may start lower. I didn't price them.
I chose my tub because it came in off-white (almond/biscuit), was the longest, comfortably wide enough, had the largest standing area for stand-up showers, had an unobtrusive handle, had heated hot air hydrotherapy, is one of the heavier tubs available, could be delivered in approximately three weeks, and if there were any problems in the fiberglass shell, it could be fixed easily. I thought I had done all the research, read everything I could find on the web and either talked with or had presentations with several companies, I was sure I was making the right decision for me. A Walk-in Tub where I could either shower standing up or sitting down, and a form of spa tub where I could soak my aching muscles in a hygienic air powered hydrotherapy system. I even had home presentations by two major companies before I decided to go with a tub drop-shipped. One can't be too prepared. But, it seems, the details slip through the cracks. In some ways, I am delighted and in others, I am very disappointed.
I was so excited when I put my order in and couldn't wait until the tub arrived. It was beautiful. It took two weeks before the installer was available and it was loving put in place. Before the tiles were on the wall, I walked into my Walk-in Tub and sat down. I couldn't wait. I turned on the taps and waited for my tub to fill. By the time it hit the seat, the water was tepid. But I was determined to have my hydrotherapy. By the time the water reached a couple of inches over my seated thighs, I heard the water begin to leave through the outtake/overflow safety under the drain control. HUH????
Now the serious inspection of the situation that could only be done by someone who is using such a tub -- or at least trying to. Because the text (and images on the websites) is often misleading AND the sales people withhold critical information, it is important to know what questions to ask so you are prepared for the difference between reality and expectation.
First the good news. I now can take incredible showers - both standing and sitting. I went out and bought a different hand-held shower (DELTA) that has a slide bar so the shower head can be positioned for stand-up or sit-down showers; a "spa" pillow for my head, a non-side mat for the back and seat and a regular, clear shower curtain liner which I hung and trimmed to follow the contour of the inside of the tub. Now, I have to say, I have the greatest showers ever. First I shower for cleanliness, often using the repositioned head to massage my shoulders and then lower back. Then I reposition the shower-head one more time and sit down and let the water "rain" on me -- filling the tub area with moisture and steam. I have to say it is VERY relaxing. NOTE: I also installed a "heat light" to add to the area warmth.
The problems began when I realized that I could not fill the tub with hot water. I had to get a larger water-heater. In conversation and writing, I was told the tub held 40 gallons. I had a 40 gallon hot water tank. No problem. But, my hot water ran out BEFORE my tub filled. Upon inquiry, again in writing, I was told that if I had asked (And, why should I have to ask? ), I would have been told I needed a 50 gallon tank In fact, the tub, filled to the overflow outlet, holds 70 gallons (see Math below). Adjusting for partial cold water mix, I just bought a 60 gallon tank and it works fine. Oh. Details, details, details. And, finally, my original door leaked and the company sent me a replacement.
|The Reality of My Tub -- So You Can Check Yours|
What to look for, Ask about and Why
|My Walk-in Tub||Comments/Discussion||Your Notes|
|52" x 30" x 37" (at corners) & 35.25 along front.||While it may be 37'' at corners, the water height is limited by both the outtake/overflow height and the height of the lowest side. ASK if all sides are the same height.|
|Approx dimensions (interior): 47" x 25.5" at midpoints at edge of tub||Gives you a better idea of bathing area. My tub is generous and comfortable in size.|
|Approx dimensions of standing area: 27" x 25.5"||This was important to me so I wouldn't feel cramped during a stand-up shower. My tub is generous in this area and I do not feel cramped at all.|
|Seat width : 15" front to back||This only affects how far you can slide down to try to become immersed. The longer the seat, the further you can go to become horizontal.|
|Seat height : 15" above tub floor||The 17.5" high seats generally have sides 40" high|
Outtake/Overflow height: 25.5"
Key to Body Coverage
|Ask for this dimension. Gauging by all the images of people lounging in their tub up to their shoulders, I expected that I too would enjoy the deep water relaxation of this tub that was twice as deep as a regular tub. The truth is you have to subtract the seat height from the height of the outtake/overflow to find out just how high the water will reach on your body. In my case, the difference is 10.5" (25.5" - 15"). So, when I sit on the seat, the water ONLY rises 10.5" above the seat. It will be different for each tub style. You can't imagine how surprised I was when I realized that the water only covered up to my belly button. There was NO WAY I was going to be able to comfortably soak, submerged. My body just doesn't bend that way and I would have to add a second seat to support my lower body. Follow this link to separate fact from fiction -- visually.|
|Faucet sits 37" on tub corner||Ask about faucet location. If your faucet is not directly against a wall, it is much more difficult to tap into existing shower if you want to keep your standing shower.|
|Volume to outtake: 70 gal.||Ask about/figure the water volume to make sure your water tank can handle a fill.|
|Faucet at full force: 6.5 gal/min.||Do the math. It takes almost 10 minutes to fill the tub but it does empty faster. Have your towel ready when you are done. It takes almost as long to dry off as it does to empty the tub -- although the last few inches seem to take forever. And, trust me, you can't open the door until the tub empties.|
|Forced Air Hydrotherapy||ASK about one-way valves. I went with the Forced (heated) Air hydrotherapy system as opposed to the circulating water system. The main reason was that you have to CLEAN the tubes in the water system. An installation and care guide -- see page 7 for care of hydro massage system (circulating water)- http://www.homelivingsolutions.com/HLS_installation.pdf Note: (Regular Cleaning section 5): Reason for regular cleaning is to "remove body and bath oils, soap residue and other sources that can contribute to bacterial growth in the hydro massage system." A second source for this info http://www.keidel.com/resource/safety/s-whirlpools.htm Although my Walk-In tub came with the Air Hydrotherapy and, according the DC Enterprises Technical Support, the tubes are supposed to fill with water when I fill the tub. They blow out when I start the hydrotherapy and then fill up again when I turn the hydrotherapy off. The company's position is: "The factory [told me] that as long as the tub was filled and turned on once a week, there should be no problems with alge or fungas." Hmmm.. You can check any tub by initiating the air flow and see if any water comes into a dry tub. Or, take off the front cover and see if the tubes are clear and if not, if water rises in the tubes as the tub is filled.|
|Non-skid floor.||The non-skid floor so you don't fall while taking a stand-up shower, which I have. The non-skid seat (which I don't have) so you don't slide off the seat when you are trying to get your shoulders under water to take advantage of the hydrotherapy . See: Seat Width below|
|Doors, Handles and Faucets||Ask about the size of the door opening and check the shape. Mine is rectangular and wide. There are differences. Doors come in different widths and shapes, with and without towel bars. My door has a towel bar -- convenient to have a towel there when you open the door. Handles are varied. Whether or not they are convenient depends on your strength and ability. Mine is a form of tear drop and easy to operate without intruding into the tub area. My faucet is two handled and has a very easy diverter to the hand-held shower. However, I can not shut the shower OFF unless I turn the water OFF. In other words, if I want to switch from shower to tub fill, I have to turn the water off and then turn it on again. The diverter on the hardware that came with my tub only works in one direction. If you care, check it out.|
|Drains come in two varieties: stopper with a chain that fits into the drain or mechanical with a toggle that goes up and down and is combined with the outtake/overflow drain on the upper side of the tub. I have the mechanical toggle. If you get the stopper, make sure you'll be able to disengage under the water pressure and the chain is secured to the stopper. Remember, you leave the tub until the water has drained from your bath.|
|Add'l Key Information||Your Notes|
|Weight: 200 lbs||Ask: The heavier the tub, the better it survives transportation in tact.|
|Delivery: 2-3 weeks||Ask about reliability of delivery. Mine took three weeks. However, I was not notified when in was shipped -- something I asked for -- so I had to scramble to coordinate my installation team|
|Service and Support||Ask: Where do you get technical information? If there is something wrong with the Walk-In tub, how long will it take for the company to take responsibility for it? How long will it take for the company to fix/replace it? How good are the warrantees? for the door? for the seal? What kind of documentation is required? My tub was installed 11/11/2005 and several problems were reported. It took a while to get the attention of the company, but I did get a new door right after the new year.|
|Installation Pros/Cons||Walk-in Tubs have a great $$$ disparity between all inclusive packages (the company sells and installs), a company contractor, a company recommended contractor and a local contractor. I found my own local contractor and It cost me approximately $1500 for installation and I did my own tiling around the tub. I would have saved a second day of contractor costs if the installation package that came with the tub hardware had been complete. On the other hand, if it is available (and not all companies offer it) it may just be easier to have the company take care of installation - then it is one price no matter what.|
|IMPORTANT: If you purchase with a credit card, make sure your credit card company will stand behind you for 90-120 days. If you use a debit card, it is like using cash and there is generally no recourse. A word to the wise... because now I am much wiser and I want to share.|
|The Math||Your Calculations|
|Gallon/Minute||Get a stop watch/sweep second hand and time how long it takes you to fill a gallon container with your cold water turned totally on.|
|Number of gallons in filled tub||Lenght x Width x Height (to outtake/overflow) = cubic feet/ 7.5 approx. gallons/cubic foot|
|Time it takes to fill tub||(Number of gallons in filled tub) / (Gallons/Minute)|
|Additional Unanticipated Costs||Your Pricing|
All the information regarding contact between my vendors and me is documented in phone call notes, emails and images. Installation and operational issues have been verified by my contractor and/or my architect.
Questions? Or, if you have a documented consumer experience you would like to share that might help others navigate this industry, I'd be happy to post it.
Email me at info@CarolBluestein.com