There are long lists of pros and cons for both tubs and showers. A general rule of thumb is that you should have one of each: a basic tub—especially important for children and for resale—and a shower, perhaps in combination with your tub. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit. Your individual bath configuration is completely up to you.
To get your decision process started, do some self-inventory. “Your first consideration should be this: What do I do every day? Do I take baths, or do I shower?” says Joan Kohn, host of HGTV’s Kitchen Design and Bed & Bath Design and author of Joan Kohn’s It’s Your Bed and Bath: Hundreds of Beautiful Design Ideas. Ideally, your bathroom should match the way you live, Kohn says. One of the biggest mistakes homeowners make is focusing too much on what they think is important for resale. Ten years ago, elaborate whirlpool tubs were practically a must in new construction. Now, we’re seeing builders bring in large spa showers instead, says Mary Jo Peterson, CBD Certified Bathroom Designer and owner of Mary Jo Peterson Design. You can’t predict how the market will change, so it’s best to make decisions based upon your own needs and wants.
Every home should have at least one basic tub—but not necessarily a high-end spa tub. “People often use these tubs as an experience rather than for functionality,” Peterson says. A fancy soaking tub can be a wonderful retreat, but it’s rarely used for daily bathing. Plus, if it’s escape you’re after, you can get that in a shower. The bottom line: Only invest in this type of tub if you truly want it and will use it on a somewhat frequent basis.
Another thing to keep in mind is safety and ease of use. Tubs can be difficult to get into and out of, especially for older adults. “A shower is a safer entry because you can walk right in,” Peterson says. An even safer (and stylish) option that Peterson recommends is the no-threshold shower where you don’t have to step up or over to get into the shower. Thresholds keep water from pouring into the rest of the bathroom but with the no-threshold, the shower floor slopes toward the drain. No-threshold showers can make a small bath look bigger.
Working with Your Space
For many of us, space is a deciding factor. Your layout may dictate whether it makes more sense to have a tub or a shower, especially if it’s a small bathroom. “Follow the logic of the room,” Kohn says. Corners and boxy vertical spaces lend themselves to showers. Keep in mind that you need a minimum of 36 x 36 inches for a shower. Plus, it’s always good to have a place to sit down in a shower. For smaller showers, it could be a fold-up bench. Neo-angle showers—a corner shower with a base, wall surround and glass door—are good solutions for tight corners. Or, you can take the custom approach: Tile your entire room and integrate a completely tiled no-threshold shower.
Tubs can be problem-solvers as well. You need at least 30 by 60 inches for a standard tub, which can squeeze well into a long, narrow space. Spa and high-end tubs are lovely focal points and wonderful bathroom anchors, particularly if you can locate one beneath a window and build a deck around it. Standard tubs are about 15 inches deep, whereas soaking tubs are more like 30 inches deep (which can take a while to fill). “There is great therapeutic value to a tub,” Peterson says. “The deeper tubs really allow that element of soaking.” Plus, a tub can add character and style; for example, claw foot tubs introduce historical charm, whereas Japanese soaking tubs feel distinctly modern.
Expense must also be factored into your decision. If you go high-end, either a tub or a shower can easily cost a few months’ salary. Not only can you incorporate elaborate tile work, the variety of fixtures and features in showers—from light therapy to steam showers to individualized temperate controls that can be set into memory—is astounding. “Showers aren’t phone booths anymore,” Kohn says. You can also invest in custom glass shower doors.
There are more budget-friendly options such as complete shower kits which include the shower base, the doors and the wall. Since these kits come with a wall, it eliminates the need to tile. “These are fast and economical,” Kohn says. “However, if you can afford it, an architectural investment generally pays off in the long run.” Like everything else, it comes down to lifestyle and use.
Tubs run the gamut of price as well. You can get nearly anything you want in a tub—from seamlessly integrated plasma screen televisions to massaging jets. However, a standard enamel-coated steel tub is still relatively inexpensive, and you don’t have to worry about the expense of doors. As with showers, you can buy a complete tub kit, which includes the wall if you don’t want to tile. (Tiling will last longer, though.) The advantage of standard tubs is that you can still add a shower, and there are plenty of great-looking shower heads that can supplement either a standard tub or a claw-foot tub.
“Whichever you decide, tub or shower, don’t do it because you think the rest of the world values it,” Peterson says. Stick to your priorities—whether it’s budget, style or pure pleasure that’s motivating you—and create the bath that makes sense in your house.
Credit: Renovate with Tommy Mac