Soak In The Safety
The walk-in shower has long been a fixture in many homes, even in homes that don't require accessibility features. But there's just something about soaking in a nice hot bath that many seniors miss as they start to avoid their bathtubs.
The walk-in tub is a great safety option as you consider what accessibility products would make your home more comfortable and enjoyable as you Age In Place. In this month's accessibility Product Digest, we'll look at options, ballpark pricing, and pros/cons for walk-in bathtubs.
Features of a Walk-In Bathtub
As you might guess, a walk-in bathtub is one that features a door on the front or side that allows you to walk into the tub stepping over a minimal threshold - only 4 to 6 inches high. The door generally swings to the outside, but some models swing inside if you are dealing with limited space. Most doors create a 15-inch opening, but wider options are available depending upon your needs.
Because of the seat feature, most walk-in tubs are higher than standard tubs and require more water use. Most walk-in tubs are 36 or 40 inches high, but some models reach as high as 46 inches.
Walk-in tubs also include grab bars on both sides, non-skid surfaces that will ensure firm footing, even when wet. Tubs also include a seat, so you do not have to sink all the way to the floor level, and can include a headrest so you can lie back and enjoy soaking.The controls are usually in a very accessible location with easy to turn knobs/levers.
Most tubs require 50 gallons of water to fill to a comfortable level, but larger tubs require as much as 80 gallons - about double the amount of water used in a traditional tub.
Many tub models now come with heated seat areas and headrests so that you can remain warm during the filling and draining of the tub. Similarly, most tubs come with a hand-held spray nozzle that can be used while filling/draining so that you can keep warm. This nozzle also comes in very handy if you have a caregiver assisting in the bathing process.
Many manufacturers have found a way to make jets and other therapeutic water features reasonably affordable - so the average walk-in tub is closer to a whirlpool than it is to a generic tub. Features can range from basic whirlpool jets to therapeutic massaging features that target certain areas for a myriad of ailments.
The largest advantage of a walk-in tub is the fact that you can physically soak in a tub without worrying about the safety hazards of a traditional tub. Some people will always prefer a nice soak to a quick shower, so this solution makes it possible to safely bath. Soaking in hot water, with or without jets, can be a soothing relief to aching and painful muscles - people even report decreased used of pain medication when they take a daily hot bath.
Another advantage is that tub bathing is much easier for a caregiver than shower bathing. With the ability to remain outside of the water area, a caregiver can easily assist in the bathing process without having to dodge a shower spray nozzle.
What has always been the largest disadvantage of the walk-in tub is the fact that you're exposed while the tub fills up and drains. Traditionally you get into a tub after it has filled up for a couple minutes, and can wrap a towel around yourself as soon as you get out. The walk-in tub will require you to sit and wait for each process to be complete - filling time can range from 5-15 minutes depending on gallons required/water pressure, and draining time can be 5-10 minutes depending on if a fast-drain motor is included.
Another disadvantage of the walk-in tub is that they will never be as cheap as a regular tub. With low-end models averaging over $1,000, this option has to be seen as an investment rather than a quick-fix.
Costs of a walk-in bathtub vary greatly, depending upon the features and size. A basic soaker tub can go as low as around $1,500 up to $10,000 for a tub with therapeutic features.
Installation costs also will vary depending upon the features, location, existing bathroom/plumbing condition, etc.. Most tubs are sized to fit in with the location of an existing bathtub, so a basic installation can be as low as $1000. Tubs with jets will require the addition of electrical service to handle the motor.
Another often desired feature is a fast-filling, fast-draining function. These can require extra plumbing work, which will increase your installation cost. This fast-draining feature requires a motor that will also requires electrical service. Many walk-in tubs also can be fitted with a shower feature, which requires a surround, which can add about $1,000-$2,000 to the cost of the installation.
Costs are never easy to determine without the assistance of a trained professional as there are many hidden costs that might break your budget before even getting started.
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One question with any home improvement is: Does it add value to the house? If you live in a retirement community, a walk-in tub definitely could be considered a valuable add-on. In the general housing market, a walk-in tub is less likely to add much value, but it also is unlikely to detract value from your home.
The more important consideration though is how much value the walk-in tub can add to your time in your home. An injury from a fall in your existing bathtub could cost a great deal of money for hospitalization, plus it could detract greatly from your quality of life - a priceless commodity.
A decision about whether a walk-in bathtub is appropriate for your home and lifestyle definitely is a personal one. However, having complete information about all of the costs, benefits and features helps you make that decision with more confidence. Contact us for a free evaluation of your home and living situation to see if a walk-in bathtub is an accessibility product for you.