For those with limited mobility, a traditional step-in bathtub can often be a challenge, or even a safety hazard. Luckily there are solutions for those who want to be able to take a warm bath but for whom a standard tub is no longer a safe option. These solutions include tub cut-outs and walk-in bathtubs. While these both achieve the basic goal of making a bathtub accessible, they differ greatly in features and cost.
A tub cut-out is a quick and economical option for converting a standard step-in tub into a walk-in shower or bathtub. During this process, a portion of the sidewall of an existing bathtub is removed and a watertight composite insert cap is placed over the cut out. This reduces the height of the sidewall to approximately 6 to 6 ½ inches, allowing for easier access to the tub. However, if you’d like to continue to bathe after a tub cut is completed, you’ll need to choose a tub cut with a watertight door or convertible door option. The user can still shower using a standard shower curtain to contain water.
As noted, a tub cut out is an affordable and quick option with a starting cost of around $1,495 for a convertible door model with installation. It can typically be completed in one day.
While this can be a good solution, there are several drawbacks.
- While transfer from a wheelchair is possible, it is not ideal.
- The user will need to lower themselves into standard tub depth to bathe, so grab bars or mechanical bath lift are recommended.
- To avoid spillage, the user will need to be in the tub while it fills with water and drains.
- A tub cut out cannot be used with whirlpool jets or lined bathtubs.
You may have seen walk-in tubs in television commercials or print ads. They are heavy duty replacement tubs for your standard shower/bathtub combo. They have a watertight door that typically swings out and a seat built into the design. Most walk-in tubs come with therapeutic whirlpool jet options and other features such as handrails and an adjustable shower head for seated showering.
They are the safer bathing option since they have a sturdy design and a low threshold, and the user does not need to lower themselves to standard tub depth. Jetted tubs also have great therapeutic advantages over non-jetted tubs for those with arthritis, circulation issues, or general aches and pains.
As with a tub cut out, there are also some drawbacks to a walk-in bathtub.
- It is a significant modification that often requires a permit. The project can take a week, especially if plumbing must be altered.
- Walk-in tubs can be expensive. Buyers can expect to spend up to $10,000 or more for a tub with installation depending on the make, model, and features you choose.
- Like a tub cut out, the user must be seated in the tub during the filling and draining process to avoid spillage. However, unlike tub cuts, fast filling and draining features are available from many manufacturers.
If you are on a limited budget or need a quick turnaround, a tub cut may be the right solution for you. Keep in mind that the ideal user should have ample mobility and upper body strength to comfortably use this solution for bathing.
While the costlier option, walk-in bathtubs are typically safer and offer more therapeutic benefits than a tub cut. If you feel that a walk-in tub is the right solution but it’s not within your budget, check to see if you qualify for third-party funding such as Medicaid waivers. Many providers also offer consumer financing which might make sense for you.