Bathtub & shower design & product choices: this article discusses the types of bath tubs and tub/shower units, giving the pros and cons of each, including porcelain-enameled cast iron bath tubs, porcelain enameled steel bathtubs, fiberglass bath tubs and fiberglass shower enclosures, and acrylic bathtub and shower enclosures. Our page top photo shows the website editor bathing in a rustic bath tub [in 1944]. More modern, comfortable bathtub choices are available and are described here.
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Most units include integral soap dishes, ledges, grab bars, and other molded features that help bathers and also provide rigidity to the unit. For new construction, most units are one-piece, creating a seamless, leak-free bathing enclosure (see Figure 6-51).
On the other hand it is very heavy, cold to the touch, and available only in pretty basic shapes.
It does not easily mold into the body-hugging contours found on many of the plastic units.
Although the surface is the most durable for molded tubs, it is not indestructible. If homeowners use abrasive cleansers and pads, over time the finish will dull.
Our photo (left) illustrates an 1880's cast iron claw-foot tub installed by the editor (DF) during a renovation in Wappingers Falls, NY.
Porcelain enamed steel used to build a bath tub weighs less than cast-iron and feels less substantial, as the material has some give under the weight of water and bathers. It is also more prone to chip than cast iron.
Our photo (left) shows a porcelain enameled steel bath tub still in good condition in a 1960's home. [However some older porcelain on teel bath tubs we have inspected were prone to chip and then rust damage - Ed.]
A hybrid alternative is American Standard’s Americast, which is a porcelain enameled steel reinforced on the back with a cast polymer.
The material is stiffer and quieter than regular enameled steel, but it is half the weight of cast iron. The company literature claims that the surface is more durable and slip resistant than standard porcelain enamel and that the composite layer helps retain heat.
Our photo (left) illustrates the renovation of a badly-worn cast-iron porcelain lined bath tub in a 1920's home restored by the editor. The tub was re-lined using a modern plastic-type material that matches the profile and appearance of the original tub that was left in place beneath the liner.
New Fiberglass Shower or Bath Tub Properties
Also called FRP (fiberglass-reinforced plastic), or gel coat, this material is manufactured by spraying a thin coat of gel coat into a mold followed by several layers of polyester resin mixed with chopped fiberglass. Between coats, fabricators typically reinforce tub and shower walls and floors with blocks of wood or corrugated cardboard.
One of the premium manufacturers of fiberglass tubs, Aqua Glass, uses a layer of rigid polyurethane foam between fiberglass coats, creating a stiffer assembly that helps the tub retain heat and deadens sound.
The company also adds an antimicrobial compound to the gel coat to inhibit the growth of bacteria and mold. With any FRP tub, the thickness of the gel coat and thickness of the overall lay-up affect its strength and durability.
Our corner shower enclosure (photo at left) with a round gliding door provides ample bathing space in a small bathroom. Photo courtesy Galow Homes.
One way to assess quality is to look for tubs that conform to the voluntary standard ANSI Z-124, which requires that a random sampling of acrylic and gel-coat tubs undergo a variety of durability tests.
The thin gel coat can be damaged, but it is relatively easy to repair with gel-coat repair kits sold in marine and automotive stores. Color matching, however, can be difficult. Also if a chip is not repaired quickly, water can penetrate to the backing and cause the damage to spread.
Overall, a gel-coat surface is less scratch- and stain-resistant than acrylic. Abrasive cleansers must not be used. Many manufacturers recommend an auto wax or special fiberglass bath wax available from tub suppliers.
A proprietary FRP composite called Vikrell™ (Sterling/ Kohler), makes tubs from a mix of resin, color, and chopped fiberglass molded under compression.
The material has no gel coat or layers to chip or crack and has color all the way through. The manufacturer claims that the high gloss finish has the durability of acrylic and the ease of repair of fiberglass at roughly 40% less than the cost of acrylic.
See description (above), under sink materials. One interesting high-end product called Armacryl (Kallista/Kohler) uses a thick clear layer of acrylic over a second color layer.
Like other acrylic fixtures, it is reinforced
with a fiberglass backing. The result is a lustrous
and thick acrylic finish with excellent durability.
American Standard www.americanstandard-us.com
Aqua Glass Corp. www.aquaglass.com
Aquatic Industries www.aquaticwhirlpools.com
Bains Oceana Baths www.bainsoceaniabaths.com
Eljer Plumbingware www.eljer.com
Hydro Systems www.hydrosystem.com
Jacuzzi Whirlpool Baths www.jacuzzi.com
Kohler Co. www.kohler.com
Lasco Bathware www.lascobathware.com
MTI Whirlpools www.mtiwhirlpools.com
-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.
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