What are freestanding tubs and built-in tubs?

Built-in tubs, sometimes called alcove tubs, are enclosed by walls on two or three sides. Their plumbing is behind one of the walls, and the walls need waterproofing, usually with tile. Built-ins commonly have a shower head over the tub, so they can act as bath or shower, Some built-ins are “drop-in” tubs, set into a surrounding box or enclosure, but still positioned against a wall or in a corner.

Freestanding tubs are exposed on all four sides. You can place these tubs anywhere you can get plumbing run to them. The plumbing must come up from the floor beneath the tub (in some cases, from overhead). Freestanding tubs range from old-fashioned cast iron “clawfoot” tubs–picture the deep tub on four feet that you’d see at a Victorian B&B–to modern, sleek tubs of acrylic, fiberglass, stone or steel, set directly on the floor without feet, or set on a pedestal.

If long, soaking baths are a priority, a freestanding tub is a great addition to your bathroom remodel. If you prefer showers to baths, a built-in is better, unless you have space for a freestanding tub plus a separate shower. You can install a shower head in a freestanding tub, but you’ll need an extra pipe, a shower rod suspended over the tub, and a shower curtain. All those additions can defeat the sleek look of a freestanding tub.

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Freestanding tubs are simpler to install. Built-ins have the advantage of using existing plumbing inside the walls, but they also require more labor and materials, because the surrounding walls need tiling and sealing. Freestanding tubs only require your plumber to run a pipe from the floor up to the tub.

Materials matter, though. If your freestanding tub is weighty, you might need to reinforce the floor. Some high-end tubs are marble or cast iron and, with the added weight of water and a bather, become extremely heavy. Consult with an expert on your Bath Tune-Up team to ensure your tub fits the space and doesn’t overburden the floor.


Some freestanding tubs come in colors or have paintable surfaces, letting you coordinate the tub with a bathroom’s color scheme. For homeowners wanting a specific look–like a modern, spa-like bathroom, or at the other end of the scale, a rustic, country aesthetic–freestanding tubs can complete those designs.

Built-ins have their own aesthetic options. The tile surround is a canvas for endless choices of colors and patterns, and you can dress the tub’s “apron”–the visible side that faces the bathroom–in everything from wood paneling to more tile.


In the competition for “easiest to clean,” built-in tubs win. Most have shower heads, which helps with cleaning the tub below. Built-ins aren’t as deep as freestanding tubs so it’s easier to scrub the bottoms. Freestanding tubs are exposed on all sides so you need to maintain all their surfaces, inside and outside. Freestanding tubs on feet are elevated, so you need to clean the floor under them, too. That’s not a problem with a built-in tub.

Which Is Right for You?

Your bathroom’s size and your family’s needs might nix a freestanding tub. Most freestanding tubs require four feet of space around them (less, if one side is next to a wall or window).

If your bathroom remodel uses the same footprint as your existing bathroom, you likely will stick with a built-in if one is already in place. But if your bathroom design starts from scratch, consider installing a freestanding tub if you love a good soak. See your local Bath Tune-Up today to learn what they can do to create the bathroom of your dreams.