Want to bath safer, increase accessibility, and eliminate the need to step over a tub? This may have led you to consider a walk-in tub.
This is the #1 thing I am called to consult on in my Home Accessibility and Home Safety consulting company. Grandparent had a fall, wants to soak, and is looking at installing a $5K-10K tub. They believe installation can add safety and comfort with features such as fast fill/drain, jets, and a door that lets you walk directly in.
We get pulled in by the idea that we can have a tub that submerges our whole body with temperature controls, and water jets, and we can sit up comfortably. YES, this is great, for some people, but for many, it's a shiny object that doesn't maximize your money.
Often, these tubs are great at first. Then a change in medical history occurs. Then the feature we bought the tub for, becomes the very thing that keeps us from showering.
Let's dive in to figure out why this popular Home Modification suggestion may actually be a waste of money.
Fill and Draining:
The truth is, Fast Fill and Quick Drain only work if your water pressure, hot water heater, and pipes support them.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2017, the average age of homes is approaching 37 years old, with some as old as 55+.
This means that unless there has been a major overhaul of the home, the pipes are more than likely not made to handle the level of water exchange that is necessary for a tub install to be successful forever.
When you can't drain the tub fast, you end up sitting in the cold air, because the tub doors won't open until the draining process has been completed. Some people combat this by installing heated lamps, and this could work for you!
For our seniors or people with conditions that can be exacerbated by temperature differences, the pipe issue can leave them sitting in less-than-ideal temperatures either before or after a bath.
This can lead to a lot of discomfort and even dangerous situations. So while the features are amazing selling features, they may not be practical for your actual home.
Additionally, if your water heater can't handle the sheer number of gallons you are asking it to fill, you could end up with lukewarm water temperatures. Quickly, your spa-like experience may leave you wanting more.
Often we get drawn in with the idea that these tubs increase our accessibility options, no more stepping over a tub, a door we can have a swing in/out pending our preference, and the ability to sit. The truth is, even the sitting option brings some less-than-ideal situations!
The doors of most walk-in tubs aren't wide enough to accommodate mobility devices even crutches can be cumbersome. While some brands are widening the doors to correct this, I have found that as mobility issues increase, these "accessible" features of these tubs decrease someone's independence.
Wheelchair users have options, but not many for doors that open in a way that allows them to complete transfers in the way they are used to. Often the tub seats are significantly higher than their wheelchair, making sliding transfers difficult.
For future consideration: these tubs make it VERY difficult for a personal care attendant to assist with bathing in any way. The care attendant can not reach over the side easily to help wash hair/back, and they can get in with you (without taking a bath themselves.) This can lead to major barriers to someone's care.
Options to sit:
The idea of sitting when bathing, with water jets and warm water soaking your skin, sounds like heaven. Sign. Me. Up.
But think about when you soak in a hot tub, do you float just a little? While the able-bodied individual may find this sensation welcome and part of the whole experience; someone with mobility issues, lacking full use of their legs, or an individual with a history of a stroke (leaving one side of the body weaker than the other,) this can cause some stress.
Additionally, the materials used to make these tubs can be slippery. In order to have them drain/dry properly to avoid molding, the seats usually angle ever so slightly. In my experience, a lot of clients call me because they slipped off the seat, or they feel like they are going to and would like help "fixing" the problem.
Again, the person who needs to sit to shower may also be the person who can't control their trunk enough to maintain their seat during the fill/drain process. When I am called in to troubleshoot this, it can range from adding materials to the seats, or the solution becomes to not fill the tub to its highest options, This goes against the reason you wanted to purchase the tub originally!
If this is a feature you want to include in your house, consider all positives and negatives, and it may be helpful to have a Home Accessibility and Home Safety Consultant, with a rehab background such as Occupational Therapy, evaluate you and the space first. Or check out this blog post for alternatives.
They can look at how you move, and why you are looking to purchase to compare that to the possible progression of your conditions before purchasing.
Costs are high, and an investment into your home should be one that is lasting.