Pros and Cons of Freestanding and Built-In Bathtubs

Before you commit yourself to that big bathroom renovation, a critical decision needs to be made: freestanding tub vs. built-in? We’re talking, of course, about bathtubs.

Some feel that freestanding bathtubs are more lust-worthy; they certainly appeal to everything from modern to vintage designs. They’ve been really popular in recent years because not only are they gorgeous, but most are actually designed for people who want to enjoy a bath. Many incorporate them in their spa-like bathroom renovations. They make a strong design statement in a room, and they come in an incredible variety of shapes and sizes, allowing you to customize your bathroom’s style to a tee.

On the other hand, there are some practical advantages to built-in bathtubs, especially in the smaller spaces many of us now live in. They just fit better in most bathrooms, and they are often easier to use and clean.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of both choices. Here at Laurysen, we’re fans of both styles, as they both have advantages and disadvantages. But each is not for everyone and not for every bathroom. It’s important to consider your space and think about what will fit the best. Our guide will give you everything you need to know to make the right decision.

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Freestanding Tubs

Ah, the delicious freestanding tub. It’s hard to get past it—these tubs look so very chic.

Freestanding Tub

What Is a Freestanding Bathtub?

A freestanding tub is a bathtub with all four sides exposed that sits directly on your bathroom floor. Often, they attract attention and serve as a focal point, instantly grabbing your eye when you enter the bathroom.

They can be a little impractical in some cases, but fans of freestanding baths will forgive all else just for the look.

Pros

  • Choice. A freestanding tub can fit any style. From the classic clawfoot tub to modern egg shape soaking tubs, there is no limit to the variability of freestanding tubs. They aren’t limited by the need to fit between walls or into tile, so their designers are able to be more creative with the shape.

  • Look. Most people who pick a freestanding tub do so because of the look. It’s unique, and it makes a statement that is often associated with luxury—most high-end spas will utilize freestanding tubs.

  • Installation. Compared to a built-in tub, a freestanding tub is painless to install. Instead of a decorator and a contractor, you’ll likely just need a plumber.

  • Placement. Freestanding bathtubs allow you to use your space more creatively. Want a tub directly under a skylight in the middle of the room? Why not! While built-in tubs may need two or more walls for their installation, with freestanding tubs, anything goes!

Cons of Freestanding Tubs

Cons

  • Price. Freestanding tubs are generally more expensive than built-in tubs, even when installation is considered. This is because they are more complex to build and have more design flourishes.

  • Weight. Many freestanding tubs can be extremely heavy, often requiring floor reinforcement. This is undoubtedly the case for cast iron tubs. It’s true that you can buy fibreglass models, but these are less common and can be more expensive. They are also generally larger, and that means they weigh more when full of water.

  • Showerless. If you want to combine a shower enclosure with a tub, a built-in bath is the way to go. It is possible to mount a shower to a freestanding tub, but it tends to look ungainly and requires a wrap-around curtain. Some come with a small hand-held unit for rinsing off, so if you’re content with that, you’ll be OK.

  • Storage. Freestanding tubs have fewer options in terms of accessible storage than do built-ins. There is simply no ledge or deck on a freestanding tub to put your shampoo or your candles. However, you can mitigate this problem by purchasing a rolling caddie or bathtub trays.

  • Size. You might have difficulty getting in and out of some of the swimming-pool-sized beauties we’ve seen. Plus, some are also way too tall to lean over the edge, which is a problem whether you’re cleaning or giving a child or pet a bath.

Built-In Tubs

The old reliable – but for good reason!

Pros of a Built-In Tub

What is a Built-in Bathtub?

A built-in bathtub is installed against your bathroom walls and can be tucked into corners or alcoves. Frequently, built-ins are tub and shower combos because their design makes it easy to keep the water well contained.

The built-in bathtub continues to be a favourite of many due to its practicality and sensibility. We’re not knocking its looks either: with the right design, a built-in tub can have every bit as much beauty as a freestanding tub.

Pros

  • Price. Despite the increased availability of cheaper freestanding tubs, built-in tubs are generally the more affordable option. This, of course, depends on the cost of the surround (if your built-in tub requires it).

  • Space savings. Built-in tubs are going to be more space-economical. They sit flush with a wall, so they’re usually tucked out of the way. Freestanding tubs will generally require space around them. If you have a small bathroom with less space, you may want to go with a built-in tub or an alcove tub (a bath with walls on three sides) that also incorporates a shower.

  • Storage. 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, something a drop in or undermount tub provides, you’ll be able to use the edge of the tub itself for storage.

  • Plumbing. Plumbing for freestanding tubs can be a little complex and usually requires running new piping, whereas many bathrooms will already have plumbing for built-in tubs installed. In addition, plumbing for freestanding tubs is difficult to conceal and can be somewhat unsightly. With built-in tubs, the plumbing is tucked away under the tub itself and out of sight.

  • Easier to Clean. Built-in tubs are smaller, and they usually don’t have as many cracks and crevices to clean within. Clawfoot tubs might be pretty to look at, but dust gathers underneath the tub and around the feet, making your bathroom harder to keep clean. With a built-in tub, you only have to clean the inside of the tub, rather than the outside and the bottom.

Cons of Built-In Bathtubs

Cons

  • Flexibility. Of course, placement isn’t as flexible as it is with freestanding tubs. Built-in tubs are going to be relegated to the sides of the room, and many will need to be placed in a corner.

  • Choice. There simply are not as many options for built-in tubs. This means that built-in tubs must rely on their surround for their style, their unique look. Though there is some creativity in the built-in tub space, there is far less than with freestanding tubs.

  • Installation. Despite the possible need for new plumbing, freestanding tubs still make for an easier installation than do built-ins. Built-in tubs require sealing, mounting, and often the creation of a surround. Freestanding tubs require none of those things.

  • Look. While it comes really comes down to personal taste, there is something about a freestanding tub that outshines even the most stylish of built-ins. There is nothing in the built-in tub space that compares to the design statement that freestanding tubs can make.

It’s All About You

Ultimately the choice is personal. If you have the space and like the look of a freestanding tub, you’ll be willing to overlook the disadvantages and go for the more stylish option. If you want the practicality and simplicity of a built-in tub, don’t despair. There is a lot of variety out there, and you can find something that will work for the look you’re going for.

If you’re trying to determine what will add the most value to your home, it’s a tough call. Our advice is to do some research, so you choose the right bathtub for your bathroom renovation. A bathroom that works well together is going to have the most value.

We hope that the list above has given you something to think about, but the choice is ultimately yours to make.

Can’t decide between freestanding or built-in? Visit our bathroom design gallery or talk to the design pros at Laurysen! Combining efforts with our team of experts can confirm which tub is right for you.

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