Make Your Bathroom Safer with a Walk-In Tub

By Tara Seboldt
Therapy tub. Galvanic bath tub. Electrotherapy.

When your parents begin to age, it’s natural to want to do everything you can to keep them safe at home for as long as possible. As the mobility of your loved ones becomes more restricted, you may begin to worry about falls. Rightfully so, as one in four Americans over the age of 65 fall each year, according to the National Council on Aging.

If you’re considering ways to help your parents age at home or getting ready to move them into your home, you are probably looking for ways to make the house safer. The bathroom is a common place to start. Learn more about installing a walk-in tub and how it can make your or your parents’ home safer as they age.

What is a walk-in tub?

A walk-in bathtub is a type of tub that has a low threshold and watertight door. This allows you to step over the low edge and close the door for bathing. After the bath, the user drains the water from the tub and opens the door to step out. The lower threshold makes getting in and out of the tub much easier and safer, much like a curbless shower.

Benefits of a walk-in bathtub

Walk-in bathtubs, such as the Safe Step walk-in tub, feature a variety of health and safety benefits for seniors. If you’re thinking about adding in a walk-in bath to your home or your parents’ home, consider these important impacts on health and safety.

Health benefits of a walk-In bath

Hydrotherapy, or the use of water to help with physical rehabilitation, has been used since Ancient Greece. Walk-in tubs provide many health benefits of hydrotherapy for seniors with a spa-like experience right at home. Check out some of the most important health benefits of a walk-in tub:

  • Reduce muscle and joint pain: With or without a jet system, a walk-in tub allows you to sit in deeper water than a normal bathtub. This allows you to soak in warm water, which can help relax muscles and release endorphins. This can be especially beneficial for people who suffer from arthritis.
  • Benefits for those with diabetes: Soaking in a warm bath is known to increase blood flow and reduce stress, both of which can lead to lower blood sugar levels.
  • Heart health: The increased blood flow from a warm bath can help lower blood pressure similar to performing light exercise, without the stress on your joints.
  • Sleep disorders: If you or your parents find it difficult to sleep at night, soaking in a warm walk-in tub can help relax your body enough for a deeper, more restful sleep.

Safety features of a walk-in tub

Safety is one of the main reasons senior citizens choose to install a walk-in bathtub in their bathrooms. As we age, our mobility will often begin to decline, even with following a simple exercise routine. Declining mobility is one reason falls are more common in seniors than other adults. A walk-in tub can help you feel more secure when getting in and out of the tub by including several safety features.

  • Handrails and grab bars: The National Council on Aging suggests adding handrails and grab bars by the bath and toilet for increased fall prevention. Many models of walk-in tubs are designed for seniors and come with built-in grab bars.
  • Seating: While a shower chair and handheld showerhead can help you stay safe while in the bath, shower chairs are not as stable as a walk-in tub, which has the seat built into the design. This gives you a secure place to sit while you bath without worrying about it tipping as you enter or exit the bath.
  • Anti-slip flooring: Anti-slip mats for your shower or bathtub give your feet a firm surface to grip while showering or bathing. Walk-in tubs usually come with a textured, slip-resistant floor.
  • Low entrance: The biggest safety feature of a walk-in bathtub is the low threshold for entering and exiting. Instead of stepping up an over the side of a bathtub that is a foot or more in height, you only need to step up a couple of inches. This keeps your center of gravity low and balanced.

Disadvantages of a walk-in tub

Apart from these benefits, there are a few downsides to installing a walk-in tub in your home, including:

  • Cost: The cost of a walk-in bath can be prohibitive to seniors who can’t afford the purchase and installation, especially if you choose a more expensive Jacuzzi whirlpool tub.
  • Time: Due to the design of a walk-in tub, you must enter the tub and sit while the tub fills and drains. This can add a long time to your bathroom routine.
  • Water too hot: After entering your tub and turning on the water so it can fill, you will have to adjust your temperature settings while in the water. This can leave you with water that gets too hot, which can cause skin irritation or burns.
  • Water too cold: As the water drains, you must sit in the tub so that it doesn’t leak from the door. Draining can take almost as long as filling. You may notice you get chilled while waiting for the water to drain so you can get out and dry off.

What to consider when shopping for a walk-in tub

Overall, a walk-in tub can be worth it for the peace of mind that comes with increased safety. Whether you’re installing the tub in your home for your aging parents or they’re aging at home and need more mobility options, a walk-in bathtub can help seniors avoid falls. Before you purchase a walk-in tub, however, consider these final notes:

  • Will a walk-in tub increase my home value? Although the cost is high, installing a walk-in tub can actually increase the value of your home.
  • What features do I need for my tub? Due to the high expense, you’ll need to carefully consider if features like hydrotherapy jets are worth the increased cost.
  • How quickly does the tub fill and drain? Some walk-in tub models have quick-fill and quick-draining features that make wait times shorter.

Cost of a walk-in tub

Installing a walk-in tub in your home or your parents’ home can quickly add up. Most generic tubs without hydrotherapy jets can range from $2,000–$5,000. Additional health and safety features will also increase the cost. What’s more, these prices don’t include the cost of installation. The chart below outlines some of the common types of walk-in tubs and their cost.

Type of Tub Cost Range
Walk-in tub with soaking capabilities (basic walk-in tub) $2,000–$5,000
Walk-in tub with shower enclosure $2,500–$6,000
Tubs with hydrotherapy jets or features $5,000–$7,000
Bariatric tubs or handicap accessible tubs $5,000–$10,000

Are walk-in tubs tax deductible?

Generally, walk-in tubs aren’t tax deductible. However, if a walk-in tub is purchased for medical safety reasons, it can be deducted at tax time. If you’re caring for your senior parents in your home and a walk-in tub is deemed a medical necessity for safety, you may be able to deduct the cost from your taxes.

To be declared a medical expense, you or your parents must get a prescription from your doctor stating that it is a medical necessity for your safety. This is the only way to be reimbursed for your walk-in tub purchase.

Is a walk-in bathtub covered by Medicare?

Medicare doesn’t consider walk-in tubs to be durable medical equipment (DME), or medical devices that are ordered by your doctor for extended use. This means that you won’t be able to reduce the cost of your walk-in tub using Medicare coverage.

However, in extreme cases, Medicare may cover a portion of a walk-in tub purchase. These circumstances are usually reserved for people suffering from serious spine injuries. Some Medicare plans will cover a portion of the tub purchase as reimbursement if you can provide extensive details on the medical necessity of the tub. This reimbursement is given after you have paid for the purchase and installation of the bathtub.

Close up of bathroom and water tap installation.

Walk-in bath installation

In addition to the cost to purchase the tub, walk-in tubs require a lengthy installation process. Installing a simple walk-in soaking tub typically takes between 6–8 hours, much like a normal bathtub installation. Depending on the type of tub you install, your costs can greatly increase due to electricity needs or plumbing upgrades.

Walk-in tub installation cost

The size, shape, and added features of your tub influence how much it costs to install. The normal hourly rate for technicians to install a bathtub is $45–$65 an hour, with an average installation cost around $700. Tubs with added hydrotherapy elements can cost upwards of $1,500. This covers the cost of setting up the motor safely and connecting the necessary electrical wiring.

Other costs that can add to the total price of installation include:

  • Upgrading water heater: $1,500–$2,000 for a tankless water heater, $600–$800 for an average 50-gallon water heater
  • Upgrading pipes to fill faster: $4,000–$6,000
  • Electrical upgrades: $65–$85 an hour for a certified electrician

How to choose a walk-in bathtub

When choosing which manufacturer to purchase a walk-in tub from, take the time to ask these important questions:

  • What is the warranty on the walk-in tub? You’ll want to know how much coverage your manufacturer’s warranty offers, such as a warranty from American Standard or other popular brands.
  • Are installation costs covered? Some walk-in tub companies will cover basic installation costs as a part of the purchase of the tub.
  • Can you make payments? With the high cost of a walk-in tub, see if the tub company offers a payment plan or low-interest financing.

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