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Walk-in tubs

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Before you jump in, know the basics of walk-in tubs

By Carole Howell

A long hot bath and water jet massage with less risk of falling sounds like a dream come true. A walk-in tub system that allows easy entry and exit, along with therapeutic jets, can be the best solution when traditional bathing is difficult. They’re designed for individuals with limited mobility, arthritis or chronic pain, or for anyone who wants a spa-like experience in a limited space.

A walk-in tub is simply a taller-than-average bathtub with a low step. To use a walk-in tub, a person enters and shuts the door behind them. They then fill the tub, which takes several minutes. After bathing, the person remains in the tub while the water drains. The door will not open as long as there is water in the tub.

Walk-in tubs come in a variety of styles and sizes. Special options include various types and upgrades of the water jet massage and quick fill and drain. Specialized tubs, such as bariatric tubs for larger individuals, and wheelchair accessible tubs, are available.

To find out if a walk-in tub is the right fit for you, educate yourself before you take the plunge.

THE COST:

Total costs with installation can easily exceed $10,000, and Medicare and Medicaid do not cover the cost except under very special circumstances. Your health insurance may or may not cover any part of the cost, so check your policy first.

THE INSTALLATION:

Professional installation is highly recommended, and most full service installers offer a complimentary home visit to help you determine what you’ll need for the tub’s intended purpose. A licensed contractor should be able to manage every aspect of the installation including demolition and reconstruction, and sub-contract for additional electrical or plumbing needs.

“To select a walk-in-tub franchise or a contractor, we encourage people to research the company online,” said Elizabeth Garcia, president of the North Alabama Better Business Bureau (BBB). “The BBB website also allows searches by zip code to help find a contractor and read consumer reviews. Get three estimates, and ask the company for two or three local references.”

THE CONTRACT:

Garcia advises buyers to get an itemized list of the costs, additional charges, shipping, installation, and return policies. Also, make sure that you have all the guarantees and warranties in writing so that you know beforehand how you will address problems and who will do the repairs. She adds that in Alabama, building and remodeling jobs of $10,000 or more require building permits and inspections.

Also make sure that the contract specifies the payment schedule. “Be suspicious if you’re asked to pay everything in advance,” said Garcia. “As protection, add a lien release clause so that sub-contractors cannot seek payment from you if the contractor fails to pay them.”

IS A WALK-IN TUB RIGHT FOR YOU?

David Lisenby, president of Lisenby Construction, Inc. of Montgomery, is a Certified Aging in Place specialist and a Certified Graduate Remodeler. He says he talks to many people who are thinking of retrofitting their bathrooms or installing a walk-in tub during new construction.

“While these tubs can be great for people who need them for therapy, they’re not recommended for people with dementia, especially if they’re unsupervised,” said Lisenby. “And they don’t work really well as a shower. The water tends to get out around the curtain, causing a wet floor and a slipping hazard.”

As an alternative that’s more versatile and less expensive, he often recommends replacing a traditional tub and shower with a low-threshold, full size shower with grab bars. A removable shower chair, along with a handheld showerhead should be all you need for safe bathing. When others want to use the shower, simply remove the chair.

The features and upgrades you choose simply depend on your needs and budget, and thousands of people have been pleased with their decision install a walk-in tub. The choice is yours. Do your homework before you buy, so you can truly relax as you soak.