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Alcove or Freestanding: A Bathtub Buying Guide

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White, alcove tub under large window and next to half wall. On the other side of the half wall is a small shower. Hanging from the wall in front of the shower is a towel.

Homeowners who want to add a touch of luxury and relaxation to their bathroom often find themselves deciding between alcove and freestanding bathtubs. Each type offers unique attributes and benefits, but which is most suited to your bathroom and preferences?

Alcove bathtubs are designed to be installed against three surrounding walls, maximizing space in a smaller bathroom. Freestanding tubs stand as separate, elegant centerpieces in your bathroom.

Key Takeaways

  • Alcove and freestanding bathtubs cater to different design preferences and space constraints.
  • Material selection plays a crucial role in determining costs and overall aesthetics.
  • Installation and plumbing considerations are essential in deciding which bathtub style is the superior choice for your remodeling project.

Understanding Alcove vs Freestanding Bathtubs

White freestanding bathtub with a stone-look tiled accent around the tub

The bathtub you choose makes a significant difference in aesthetics and in how relaxing the bathroom can feel. Let’s explore alcove and freestanding bathtub options to help you make the right choice.

Alcove (aka Built-In) Bathtubs

Alcove bathtubs have many benefits and are designed to fit in a recessed area enclosed by three walls. These tubs are space-efficient and ideal for smaller bathrooms.

A typical alcove tub is rectangular and 12-18″ (30.4 – 45.7 cm) deep, 60″ (152.4 cm) long, and 32″ (81.2 cm) wide, making it perfect for a quick soak. These bathtubs are ideal for smaller bathrooms or for bathrooms that do not have room for a larger tub.

Freestanding Bathtubs

Freestanding bathtubs are a luxurious statement piece for any bathroom. They stand independently without needing walls for support.

These bathtubs can be much deeper than alcove tubs, with some providing a neck-deep soak while the bather sits upright. Freestanding bathtubs are available in multiple sizes, styles, and shapes to suit any bathroom large enough to accommodate this type of tub.

Popular Freestanding Bathtub Materials

White oval freestanding tub on a tiled floor with towels hanging over the side

Freestanding bathtub materials play a pivotal role in the durability, aesthetics, and overall experience of these tubs. The table below explores the various options available and the factors you should consider when selecting the perfect tub for your bathroom.

AcrylicPopular choice
Available in many different styles, shapes and colors
Low maintenance
Mold and mildew resistant
Retains heat
Surface damage is easy to repair
Prone to scratches
Limited life span
Material can flex
Long-lasting finish
Retains heat well
Scratch resistant
Very heavy
Difficult to install
Extra floor support may be required
Dents are difficult to repair
Retains heat well
Long lasting
Develops a unique patina over time
Bacteria resistant
Easy to clean
Corrosion resistant
Requires regular maintenance to prevent tarnishing
Scratches easily
Retains heat well
Scratch, chip, and stain resistant
Can be slippery when wet
Easy to install
Easy to clean
Cracks and scratches easily
Material can flex
Finish will fade over time
Susceptible to mold and mildew
Porcelain-Enameled SteelBudget-friendly
Easy to clean
Prone to chip and rust
Stone ResinModerately priced
Retains heat well
Modern look
Porcelain-Enameled Cast Iron
Chip and scratch resistant
Retains heat well
Quiet tub filling
Prone to cracking
Excellent heat retention
Unique aesthetic
High maintenance

Popular alcove Bathtub Materials

A bright bathroom with a cream colored cabinet, subway tile shower and bathtub, and a patterned tile floor.

Choosing the right material for your alcove bathtub is important. the material the bathtub is made from determines its cost, how difficult it is to install, how easy it is to maintain, and how long the tub will last.

The table below provides a concise comparison of different alcove bathtub materials, highlighting their advantages and disadvantages to help you make an informed decision when choosing the right material for your alcove bathtub.

AcrylicLightweight, long-lasting, easy to install, and affordable.Can scratch easily, and can discolor over time.
Porcelain-Enameled SteelEasy to clean and maintain, durable, with a classic look.Heavy, expensive, and difficult to install.
FiberglassLightweight, easy to install, affordable, and easy to maintain.Less durable than other materials, can discolor over time, and is not heat-resistant.
Cast IronDurable, long-lasting, easy to maintain, and easy to clean.Very heavy, and difficult to install.
Stone ResinDurable and scratch-resistant, easy to clean, available in many colors, and long-lasting.Heavy, and difficult to install.

Alcove Bathtubs: Pros and Cons

7 Pros of alcove bathtubs

Alcove bathtubs are ideal for certain homes, but it is important to understand all of the advantages of these bathtubs before deciding to install one.

Easy Installation

Alcove bathtubs often require less installation time compared to other types of tubs, as they are recessed into a wall.


Alcove bathtubs are usually more affordable than their freestanding counterparts.

Shower Compatibility

Alcove bathtubs are often combined with a wall surround, making them perfect for both bathing and showering.

Customizable Options

Alcove bathtubs can be tiled or feature a wall surround to match your bathroom’s design.

Good For Families

The recessed tub design provides a sense of security and stability, making it easier for children and elderly individuals to get in and out of the tub.

Wide Variety

Alcove bathtubs come in various sizes, materials, and styles to fit your bathroom’s needs.


Alcove tubs are energy efficient due to their compact size and enclosed design, which help minimize water usage and retain heat effectively.

7 Cons of alcove bathtubs

Alcove bathtubs are excellent for certain bathrooms, but these tubs do have some crucial drawbacks to consider as well.

Limited Design Options

Alcove bathtub design options are more limited than freestanding tubs due to their construction.

No Standalone Option

Unlike freestanding tubs, alcove bathtubs require a three-sided enclosure and cannot stand alone in your bathroom.

Difficult To Clean

The wall surround can make it challenging to clean behind and around the tub.

Not As Visually Striking

Alcove bathtubs often lack the visual impact that freestanding tubs can provide.

Possible Renovation Challenges

If you ever change your mind about your bathroom’s layout, removing or relocating an alcove tub can be more difficult than a freestanding one.

Less Lounging Space

Alcove bathtubs are smaller than freestanding tubs and do not offer as much space for lounging.

Less Focal Point Potential

Since they are recessed into the wall, alcove bathtubs do not have the same potential to be a focal point in your bathroom compared to a freestanding tub.

Freestanding Bathtubs: Pros and Cons

Compact Freestanding Tubs 01

7 Pros of Freestanding bathtubs

Freestanding bathtubs are a stunning addition to any bathroom, offering a unique and luxurious focal point. With their sleek design, they’re finished on all sides and add a touch of elegance to the room. Here are some pros to consider.


Being detached from walls, freestanding tubs can be placed anywhere in the bathroom, giving you more layout options.

Aesthetic appeal

These tubs are statement pieces, often featured in home design magazines, and enhance the overall bathroom ambiance.

Easy installation

Freestanding tubs require no enclosure, making their installation process simple.


Freestanding soaking tubs are deeper than alcove bathtubs, with heights ranging from 23″ to 44″, providing more space for a relaxing soak.

Variety of materials

Freestanding bathtubs come in a wide range of materials, such as acrylic, cast iron, stone resin, copper, and brass, offering diverse designs for customization.

Creates an open atmosphere

Freestanding tubs contribute to an airy, uncluttered bathroom space, as they are stand-alone units.

Easy cleaning

Cleaning freestanding bathtubs is easy, as they have no connected edges or walls.

7 Cons of Freestanding bathtubs

As wonderful as freestanding bathtubs may be, they have certain drawbacks. Here are the cons of these bathtubs you should be aware of.


These bathtubs are usually more expensive than alcove or drop-in tubs due to their design and material options.

Space requirement

Freestanding tubs take up more floor space than alcove tubs, the overall functionality of a smaller bathroom.

Water capacity

These tubs are deeper and hold more water, which can lead to higher water bills and a longer time to fill them up.

No built-in storage

Freestanding bathtubs don’t come with shower niches or shelves for your toiletries, necessitating additional storage solutions.

Lack of shower integration

It’s less common to find freestanding bathtubs with integrated shower fixtures, making it less practical if you’re looking to combine the two.

Limited flexibility

Once installed, moving or repositioning a freestanding tub might be challenging and time-consuming compared to other types of tubs.

Potential for water spillage

Water can easily spill over the edges onto the bathroom floor, unlike alcove tubs that have walls to contain splashes.

Considerations for Remodeling


When you’re planning a bathroom remodel, choosing between an alcove bathtub and a freestanding bathtub may seem like a daunting decision. Let’s examine the factors that can make your choice easier.

Space Constraints

Space constraints are important when choosing a bathtub. Freestanding tubs require more open floor space, as they can be placed anywhere in the bathroom. Alcove bathtubs only need to be fitted between three walls. If you have a smaller bathroom, an alcove bathtub might be the better option for you.

Bathroom Renovation Costs

An alcove bathtub is generally less expensive than a freestanding one, which decreases overall renovation costs. Both tub types have expenses to consider when renovating a bathroom, such as the cement base required for most freestanding tubs and the extra tiling costs associated with alcove tubs.

Resale Value

Upgrading your bathroom can increase the home value. A well-designed bathroom with a freestanding tub may impress potential buyers and add style points. If space is a concern, an alcove tub might be a safer option.


Finally, consider the long-term maintenance of your chosen bathtub. Alcove bathtubs are generally easier to clean, as their enclosed design prevents splashes and creates a barrier that keeps the area around them drier. Freestanding tubs may require more cleaning due to their open design.

Cost Analysis: Alcove Vs. Freestanding tubs

Modern bathroom with large vanity and single sink. Wall sconce is abouve mirror with frame. Alcove bathtub has a shower curtain.

The price can play a significant role in your decision-making process when choosing between freestanding and alcove bathtubs.

Alcove bathtubs are typically more affordable and budget-friendly. These tubs are usually made of materials such as fiberglass, acrylic, or cast stone, which are typically more affordable.

Freestanding bathtubs are considered the more luxurious and expensive option. They are made of various materials, including cast iron, stone, and copper, which can increase the overall price.

Average Cost Per Unit + Install

An average alcove bathtub costs between $250 and $2,000. According to Fixr.com, the national average to install an alcove tub is $3,000, with the average range around $1,500-$10,000. At the lower end of the scale, you could pay $800 to install a 5-foot acrylic alcove tub.

At the top end of the scale, expect to pay around $22,000 to install a 6-foot stone Japanese soaking tub. This price does include decking with a drop-in installation.

Keep in mind that these figures can vary depending on your choice of materials and geographical location.

Freestanding tubs can cost between $2,000 and $5,000, excluding plumbing. The overall installation cost for a freestanding tub is from $1,500 to $10,750, depending on the tub and its installation method. According to Homeguide.com, the national average for a freestanding tub installation is $5,500.00. This includes the tub, materials, and labor.

Installation prices are higher for these types of tubs, mainly because they require more intensive plumbing work and often need structural reinforcement to support the added weight.

are alcove or freestanding tubs your best choice?

Alcove and freestanding bathtubs have their pros and cons regarding installation and plumbing. Alcove bathtubs are ideal for small bathrooms and tight budgets. Freestanding tubs offer design flexibility and can serve as a focal point in your bathroom.

Always consult a professional contractor or plumber to help estimate the installation costs and accommodate the chosen bathtub’s plumbing needs. By considering these factors, you can make an informed decision on the perfect bathtub for your bathroom.

Tags: Alcove bathtubs, freestanding bathtubs

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