Installing a Walk-In Tub? Here's Everything You Need to Know

by Team eLocal
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Walk-in tubs provide all the creature comforts of your average bath, but they’re also easy to access for senior adults and folks with mobility issues. What’s not to love?

If you’re considering a walk-in tub, you should know that it’s a big change from a traditional tub. That said, it comes with several benefits — especially if getting into a regular tub is challenging for you or a loved one. Understanding how walk-in bathtubs work can help you decide if you want one and prepare for the installation.

What Is a Walk-In Tub?

A walk-in tub is a more vertical tub with a watertight door on the side. You step up slightly to get into the tub, but it's a much lower threshold than regular tubs. This type of bathtub typically has a built-in seat, so you don't have to sit on the bottom to bathe.

Who May Benefit From a Walk-In Tub?

People with mobility issues often benefit from having a walk-in tub. This could include senior adults and people with disabilities. It may be difficult for people with certain mobility issues to lift their legs over the side of a traditional tub or lower themselves into the basin. With a walk-in model, you still have to step into the tub, but it's a much lower step than climbing into a conventional tub. Once you’re in, you can sit on the built-in seat, so you don’t have to worry about lowering yourself in or pulling yourself back up. You also typically get railings and grab bars for added security.

What Are the Pros and Cons of a Walk-In Tub?

If you're considering a walk-in bathtub, looking at the pros and cons can help you decide if it's a good choice for your bathroom.

Pros

  • Easy entry: The lower step into the tub makes it easier to get into.
  • Safety features: Built-in safety features, including rails and nonslip surfaces, increase safety during bathing when slips can happen.
  • Water depth: The more upright design of a walk-in bathtub gives you a deeper bath, which helps submerge more of your body.
  • Extra features: Many walk-in tubs have extra features, such as jets and heated backrests, for additional relaxation and pain relief.

Cons

  • Water temperature adjustment: You have to get into the tub and close the door firmly before you can fill the tub, so you can't climb directly into a tub that you already know is the perfect temperature. If the water is too cold or too hot, it can take some time to adjust. Having an anti-scald device on the tub can help prevent burns.
  • Long drain time: You also have to wait in the tub until all the water drains before you can open the door. This means you'll spend extra time in the tub and have to wait to dry off, which can get chilly.
  • Complicated installation: Walk-in bathtubs are more complicated to install than traditional tubs, and they are often more costly — both for the tub and the installation.
  • Increased water usage: Because the tub is deeper, it takes more water to fill, which can increase your water bill significantly.

The cons can be annoying, but the pros often outweigh the cons for those who have few other options when it comes to independence when bathing.

What Is the Installation Process Like?

The installation process for a walk-in tub is similar to a regular tub, but some models require electrical service. The installation process takes several hours in total. The general process includes these steps:

  • Remove the old tub.
  • Prepare the subfloor and supports.
  • Move the new tub into place.
  • Connect it to plumbing lines and electricity if required. 
  • Test the tub to make sure it's level, the door seals tightly and the tub fills correctly.

How Much Does It Cost to Install One?

According to Fixr, the average price to have a walk-in tub installed — including the tub itself and labor costs — is between $5,000 and $8,500. On the low end, you might be able to get one completely installed for $3,500, or you could spend $20,000 or more on a high-end walk-in tub.

The labor costs typically range from $1,000 to $2,000 for a standard walk-in bathtub. For tubs with extra features, such as jets, the installation cost can range from $2,000 to $5,000. Your installation costs will be on the higher side if you need to move plumbing lines or make other major changes plumbing-wise.

Does Medicare, Medicaid or Insurance Cover the Cost?

Medicare typically doesn't cover the cost of a walk-in bathtub because it's not considered to be “durable medical equipment.” You can sometimes receive reimbursement from Medicare if you have a medical diagnosis that would make the tub medically necessary and you have a prescription for the tub from your doctor. You might be limited when it comes to the type of tub you can get based on your diagnosis. For example, it might not cover a tub with jets or heated seats if those features aren't medically necessary.

Medicaid also doesn't consider a walk-in tub to be durable medical equipment. However, this program is run by the state, so the benefits and qualifications can vary based on where you live. Some states have financial assistance programs through Medicaid that cover improvements that make your home more accessible.

Private health insurance doesn't typically cover the cost of a walk-in tub, either. However, you might be able to find a community organization that can help cover costs.

Can You Do the Installation Yourself?

Installing a walk-in tub is a complicated process that requires at least some handyman experience. It involves plumbing, carpentry and electrical work. For most homeowners, having the tub professionally installed by a licensed plumber and electrician is best. This ensures everything gets connected correctly, so the tub doesn't leak or have issues, and it prevents possible dangers that come with mixing water and electricity.

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