Design Decisions: The Pros and Cons of Built-In Versus Freestanding Bathtubs

published May 24, 2016
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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

All this week we’re talking about bathroom renovations, starting with Ashley’s recent remodel, and following up with tons of helpful posts about the process!

There’s just something about soaking in a huge, luxurious tub to melt away all the stress of the day. When remodeling, the question is what kind of tub should you get: built-in or freestanding?

(Image credit: Chris Stout-Hazard)

Freestanding Tub Pro: they’re beautiful & reserved for relaxing

We’ve all seen them: pictures of large, sunny bathrooms featuring a beautiful clawfoot tub just begging you to pop some bubbly and draw a bath.

There’s just no getting around it, freestanding tubs are beautiful. And sometimes they even look like their very own room – exactly what you need when you’re escaping to a bath to relax.

Since you’re not using your tub daily to shower, you don’t need to have a shower curtain hung around your tub and you don’t need to clean your tub before taking that relaxing bath in it.

Additionally, the fact that these tubs can take any design or material you want (within reason), they can become a focal point of your bathroom. Truly, these tubs can become sculptural works of art.

(Image credit: Lana Kenney)

Freestanding tub con: they’re big & sometimes have big costs

Both good and bad news: freestanding tubs are larger than standard tubs. While that can be awesome and luxurious, it can be a problem if your bathroom doesn’t have the space to accommodate that beautiful clawfoot tub.

Because of the variety of design materials, freestanding tubs are sometimes heavier than built-ins: you can get a concrete tub, a marble tub, and so on. These materials may require extra reinforcement that could end up costing more.

One solution: Try an Ofuro tub. The precursor to tubs as we now know them, these Japanese tubs are small but deep. Historically made of wood, they also add a cool twist to your bathroom. Personally, I think these are great because I prefer to sit and not lay in a tub — all the better for enjoying a nice view out of your window while you soak!

(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

Built-in tub pro: They can be more efficient…

While not a guarantee, a built-in tub can be more space efficient, simply for the fact that they’re built into the walls of your bathroom.

They also function very well as a shower and bathtub combination if you’re dealing with space constraints. To maintain openness with this option that you would normally get from a freestanding tub, just choose a glass encasing as opposed to a shower curtain.

(Image credit: Heather Keeling)

Built-in tub con: …but not always

If you pimp out your built-in tub too much, it could end up taking up as much room as a freestanding tub.

Built-in tubs can be outfitted with jets, LED lights, and sound systems. If you have the room and this is up your alley, then the built-in could be the tub for you! If not, you can still benefit from the potential to add more storage around the tub. While not as sculpturally pleasing, a built-in tub is a good option for the practical-minded renovator.

Built-in tubs being used as a shower and bathtub combination can also be a bit harder to keep clean, something to consider when thinking of efficiency.

(Image credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion)

Built-in tub pro and con: benefits depend on the tub type

Built in tubs can actually mean three different styles, either undermount, drop-in, or an apron tub:

Undermount: An undermount tub can be installed to be able to accommodate draining water from a shower above, since the tub actually sits underneath a horizontal surface of either stone or tile, but the installation can sometimes get tricky. It may end up being a bit more expensive since you’d likely be buying a slab of stone of some sort to have for the deck, though tile is also an option.

Drop-In: A drop-in tub can be more cost-efficient because of install and materials, these tubs are often acrylic and not cast iron. Because it sits atop the horizontal deck, it comes with a lip that sits atop the horizontal surface to prevent water from overflowing – though some people don’t like this look. A shower over a drop-in tub would not be ideal, since the tub lip blocks the water on the deck from draining into the tub.

Apron: If you’re looking for something in between, you can always count on apron tubs. These are the tubs that are in most homes, with tiled walls on three sides and the tub material continuing down to the floor — like an apron. Since these tubs have a finished wall, they strike a good balance between the architectural beauty of a freestanding tub and the practicality of a built-in tub.

Apron tubs are also more affordable. Since the whole tub is one unit, there’s no need to install a surface over the tub or in front, which is good for your budget.

Ultimately, choose what’s best for you!

No matter what you choose, make sure you strike a healthy balance between luxury, durability, and budget. Hopefully this will be a tub you use and love for decades to come!