Easy Access, Walk-In Bath Buyers Guide – Poshh Complete Guide

These days, walk-in baths are becoming increasingly popular.  This is because they offer a combination of luxury (stepping in and out of a bath via a door is so much more comfortable than having to get over the side) and partly for reasons of practicality (people with reduced mobility, such as older people, can navigate them more easily).  The increased popularity of walk-in baths has resulted in them becoming more widely available as well as more affordable, but since they are still investment pieces, it pays to do your homework before parting with your cash, so here is our buyer’s guide to walk-in baths, ten questions to ask before you make your final choice.

Can my bathroom actually support a walk-in bath?

Before you even get started on the process of choosing a walk-in bath, it’s probably a good idea to check whether or not your bathroom can actually support one.  In very simple terms, the plumbing for walk-in baths, particularly the sit-in variety, can be a whole lot more complex than the plumbing for standard baths.  If your bathroom is unable to support a walk-in bath in its current state, then you will need to take a decision between looking at adapting your current bath to offer greater accessibility, upgrading your plumbing or installing a shower.

Do I need assistance with financing?

If you are thinking of buying a walk-in bath because you have mobility issues (or on behalf of someone who does), then you may be able to get assistance from the government to help with the purchase, but this can be a lengthy process, so you may want to look into it right at the very start, rather than leaving it until you’re ready to commit.  When looking at the overall cost of a walk-in bath, remember that the fact that they can be more complex than standard baths means that you are more likely to benefit from hiring a professional plumber to do the installation for you (and you would do well to check that they have experience with walk-in baths specifically) or to have the supplier install the bath for you.  Although this is likely to be a minor cost in terms of the overall purchase, it still needs to be remembered.

Do I want a full-length bath or a sit-in bath?

Full-length, walk-in baths tend to be lower-priced than their sit-in counterparts and can often be easily fitted into the space currently occupied by a standard bath.  Being full-length baths, they give users the option of bathing either lying down or sitting up.  It should be noted however, that in and of themselves, full-length walk-in baths do nothing to help people who have problems lowering and raising themselves in the bath.  This means that either they need to be kept for people who have problems getting over the side of a standard bath, but are fine getting down and up once they are in it, or that some users at least will need extra assistance to bathe comfortably, such as a power-assisted bath chair.

Sit-in baths currently tend to be the more expensive option, but they are also more accessible to those with reduced mobility since they avoid the need for users to have to lower and raise themselves.  While sit-in baths are different from actual corner baths, they are inherently more space-saving than full-length baths, which opens up more flexibility when it comes to siting them.

For example, if you have space for a standard bath and a shower, you could opt to combine a sit-in bath with a shower, thereby keeping the standard bath for those who are able to enjoy it.  Alternatively, you may be able to site it in a bedroom, for example if you have an elderly relative to live with you in your own home.

Which way should the door open?

Inward-opening doors are more space-efficient in terms of overall bathroom design.  They also prevent the possibility of the door accidentally opening and spilling the contents of the bath.

On the other hand, however, they do (temporarily) limit the usable space inside the bath, which might prove to be an inconvenience for larger users.  More importantly, they can be difficult to open in an emergency, since the weight of the water in the bath will press against it and this should never be underestimated.  This consideration is arguably more serious in a full-length bath, where the bather is more likely to be at risk of slipping under the water, than in a sit-in bath, but still needs to be taken seriously.

Are the controls accessible?

As a minimum, this means the taps and the plug need to be easy for a user with restricted mobility to operate.  If baths have extra features, then these too need to be comfortably within reach.

Does the bath have thermostatic control?

Thermostatic control keeps the temperature regulated to your specifications.  It is a very desirable feature in both showers and walk-in baths since these are both situations where you are going to be in a flow of water, in this case, while the bath fills.  Additionally, users with limited mobility may find mixer taps inconvenient, whereas thermostatic controls can basically be set and left.

Do I want to incorporate a shower?

The answer to this question is almost certainly yes.  Remember you have to sit in a walk-in bath and wait for it to fill and also to empty.  Having a shower will help to keep the user warm as they wait for this to happen and is generally a substantial benefit even when the room has good heating.  Additionally the option of having a shower means that the user has extra options when it comes to personal hygiene and can also be a bonus when a bathroom is shared.  You can simply add a shower to a walk-in bath in the same way as to a standard bath or, if you are going for a full-length bath, you could opt for what is known as a “P-shaped” bath, to create extra space for showerers.

If I need a shower anyway, should I just go for a shower?

That may actually be a reasonable enough idea, but again you want to take the time to give the question some proper thought. A standard shower will get you clean, but that’s basically all it will do for you.  These days, however, you can get hydrotherapy showers (with massage jets) and/or steam showers (some showers have both massage jets and steam), which offer many more health benefits.

They take up less floor space than a standard bath and are often easier to install (and possibly cheaper) than sit-in baths.  They also have an even lower step into them, which is a plus in terms of accessibility.  On the other hand, while you can enjoy a long, luxurious shower, it still has to be remembered that soaking in hot water has a lot of health benefits too and you can add to them by choosing a walk-in bath with hydrotherapy jets, essentially a whirlpool bath with a door.  There’s also the option to add bath products such as mineral salts, to improve the experience even further.  You need to weigh up the pros and cons of each of these options in the light of your own situation.

What about a standard bath with lifting aids?

 In terms of accessibility there are two parts to using a bath.  The first part is actually getting into the bath and the second is getting into a suitable bathing position (and out of it again).  If you have enough mobility to get into and out of a bath, but simply need help lowering yourself into a bathing position and raising yourself up then there are quite a number of aids on the market, which could potentially help you.  At a very basic level, there are bath boards and seats, which basically allow you to enter and exit your bath in stages.  They do require the user to have a fairly high degree of mobility, but provide some extra support.  Power-assisted aids provide far more assistance.  These come in various forms from belts to bath cushions to bath seats and each of these forms has its advantages and disadvantages (and its own price).  If, however, you need help actually getting in and out of the bath itself then at this point in time realistically your only option is a bath hoist and leaving aside the expense of purchasing one and the space they take up, there is also the reality of the very different user experience.

First of all cheaper hoists generally require a second person to operate them (this may change over time, but at the moment this is usually the case) and secondly (and arguably far more importantly) being the hoisted party is often both uncomfortable and undignified.  Walk-in baths, by contrast, offer far more convenience and dignity.  It should also be noted that by the time you start looking at the combined costs of hoists and powered bath seats, you may find yourself getting close to the cost of a sit-in, walk-in bath anyway.  If, however, cost is an issue, then getting a high-quality shower may be the better option.

Is a whirlpool bath (also known as a spa bath) worth the extra cost?

The first step in deciding this is to work out what, exactly, the extra cost will be.  There are two steps to this.  First of all you need to price up the cost of baths with and without hydromassage jets and secondly, you need to get an estimate from an electrician regarding the cost of undertaking the necessary electrical installation.

NB: If you opt for a whirlpool bath you must have the relevant electronics installed by a qualified electrician.  This is a legal requirement and probably a requirement of your home insurance.

This will give you a ballpark idea of the difference in price for walk-in baths with and without hydrotherapy jets.  There are also slightly higher running costs, but these are negligible.

The next, and key, question, is whether or not the extra money is worth it.  Whirlpool baths do still have a bit of an image as being luxuries, but their alternative name of spa baths does give a hint as to their medical properties.  Some people find them very beneficial for aches and pains, both joint-related and muscular.  In this situation, however, we would say that their main benefit is the fact that the massage stimulates the body’s systems, essentially giving it a very light workout.  Given that people with restricted mobility are probably going to find it challenging to take exercise (other than possibly swimming), the addition of hydromassage jets could be a very valuable investment in a person’s wellbeing.

A final point

As bathrooms have changed from being purely functional rooms, to being our own, private sanctuaries, the range of bathroom products has extended, bringing both more choice and more challenges.  As you navigate your way through your purchase, remember the old saying “you get what you pay for”.  If two baths (walk-in or otherwise) have a similar feature set and yet very different prices, the clue is probably in the construction and, in particular, in the materials used.  The defining characteristic of walk-in baths is the fact that they have a door and that door needs to be very robust since it has to withstand the weight of a lot of water without leaking (or opening).  Because of this, high-quality walk-in baths are made out of material, which has been chosen for its strength over the long term and, in particular, they may use glass-reinforced plastic (often called fibreglass), instead of the more common acrylic.  This is somewhat more expensive, but is also far more likely to withstand the demands on it, especially with regards to the door function.  For the record, there are many high-quality standard baths and shower trays made out of acrylic.  It is the fact that walk-in baths have doors, which makes the difference.

Andrew Ellis is the 'hands-on' webmaster, content curator and Captain of the good ship Poshh Living Father of one and master of none. Fitness, health and of course home improvement are Andrew's key areas of expertise. Andrew has worked in many roles, from product designer to purchaser, for spa products, garden furniture and tech. Andrew is a really well-respected voice within these business circles.

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