Deep Soak: Freestanding or Built-in Bathtubs

Among the many decisions to make when designing your dream bathroom, one of the biggest—literally—is whether to have a bathtub, and if so, choosing between freestanding or built-in. Recently, people have been ripping out bathtubs in favor of walk-in showers, but most real estate agents will still advise that for young families, tubs are key. And if that young family includes a mom on the go, chances are she’ll need a little me time too. So since you’re going to have a bathtub anyway, figure out which style works for you.

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of each style to gain some insight about which is the best fit for your bathroom.

Freestanding Tubs

Freestanding tubs instantly demand attention, grabbing your eye as soon as you enter the bathroom—they are the focal point of the space. They come in a variety of styles, from vintage clawfoot to more modern shapes done in pure white porcelain.

If you’re considering one, you’ll need to focus first on placement.  Do you love to gaze out the window while you’re soaking? As long as plumbing is adjacent, freestanding tubs offer the opportunity to use your space more creatively, while built-ins usually require a contractor and two or more walls for their installation.

On the con side, freestanding tubs are typically larger than standard tubs which could be a problem if you’re working with limited space in your bathroom. Also, the variety of materials used for freestanding tubs can make them much heavier than built-ins which could require extra reinforcement in the floor. Think concrete or marble tubs. Freestanding tubs can also be more expensive due to the upscale materials and design elements used.

If your bathroom space is limited, and you need a shower for those busy work mornings, you would need to mount a shower rod and curtain to your tub. In addition to taking away from the look and aesthetic, it is not very practical as water is more apt to get on the floor due to the curtain surrounding the entire tub. One common option, if space and budget will allow, is to have a freestanding tub with a separate glassed-in shower stall.

Built-In Tubs

The built-in tub continues to be popular due to its practicality and efficiency. While it’s gotten a bad rap for appearing dated, with the right design and materials, a built-in tub can be both stylish and design forward.

Generally speaking, built-in tubs will be less expensive than most freestanding options. However, if your built-in has a surround, the design and materials used (as well as the fixtures) can definitely make it as, if not more, expensive than a freestanding tub.
Built-ins are always going to more economical with the available space in your bathroom. They sit flush with a wall and are usually in a corner, whereas a freestanding tub requires space around it. Also, because built-in tubs are mounted flush with walls, they will offer many more options in terms of storage. For example, shelves can be mounted on the walls beside built-in tubs for bath and shower products. Furthermore, if you have a sizable surround, you’ll be able to use the edge of the tub itself for storage.

Most homes already have plumbing for built-in tubs that are typically out of sight. While freestanding tubs have more options of where they can be placed in the bathroom, it can become complex (and expensive) if new piping is necessary.

For many, there is just something about a freestanding tub that makes it a design statement that built-ins just can’t match. A built-in tub can blend into the existing bathroom, while a freestanding tub will stand on its own design statement. There are also not as many options for built-in tubs. A built-in tub will often rely on the design and materials of its surround for a style statement.

Ultimately the choice between a freestanding and built-in tub comes down to a balance of personal taste and style, combined with the real space and functionality. This makes it difficult to choose based only upon what will add the most value to your home. Just be sure your bathroom works for you so you will enjoy it every day!