Pros and cons of 9 bathtub materials

Some keep water hot for longer, but convenience comes at a price

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 17, 2012

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Some keep water hot for longer, but convenience comes at a price

Paul Bianchina
Inman News®

Last month, we discussed some of the many options available when replacing a bathtub or a tub/shower combo.

But what we didn't look at were the many different material choices you have, and since that time I've gotten several questions from homeowners looking change out their bathtub, all with a similar dilemma -- "I'm not sure what material it should be constructed of."

Let's look at some of the different choices, and try to clear up a bit of the confusion.

To begin with, you might be surprised to find that you have more options than you would have thought. Which one you ultimately choose is going to come down to a combination of looks, comfort, ease of maintenance, and, of course, cost. Let's start with some of the more common options:

Fiberglass

Also known as FRP, or fiberglass-reinforced plastic, this is typically going to be the least expensive bathtub material. A fiberglass bathtub is made by forming layers of fiberglass into the desired shape, then coating it with Gelcoat resin.

The advantages are low cost, light weight, ease of installation, and a finish that can be repaired. On the negative side, fiberglass tubs are thin; they flex and don't have a stable feel; they're not very durable; and the finish is prone to fading, scratching and cracking. Personally, it's one of my least favorite materials.

Porcelain on steel

Also sometimes called enameled steel, this is another inexpensive and very common bathtub material. The tub is stamped from a thin sheet of steel, then finished with a layer of porcelain enamel. These tubs are durable and easy to clean. The finish is resistant to most common chemicals, and retains its gloss for a long time. They're also especially useful when replacing fiberglass or acrylic tub/shower units, as they fit in the same 5-foot opening and can be finished off nicely with a ceramic tile surround.

On the downside, they're heavier than fiberglass or acrylic; the surface can rust and chip under impact; and you're very limited in the number of shapes and sizes available.

Acrylic

Acrylic tubs use fiberglass sheets for reinforcement underneath vacuum-formed sheets of colored acrylic. The advantages are pretty much the same as for fiberglass, although acrylic tubs are more expensive.

Disadvantages are that the finish can scratch or discolor over time, although the better grades of tub finishes have now reduced that problem to a minimum. You also have a lot of choices of shapes, sizes and colors.

Acrylic is a good all-around choice, although it may lack a certain high-end appeal for some people.

Cast iron

If you're looking for a material that will last, this would be it. Cast iron tubs are made by pouring molten iron into a mold of the desired shape, then smoothing it and coating it with a thick layer of enamel.

It's probably the most durable tub available, and the finish is resistant to chipping, scratching and denting, as well as most types of chemicals. There are a number of different colors available, and there's a richness to cast iron that's hard to match. The heavy material also tends to retain the water's heat.

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