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Choosing and Fitting... Baths

Choosing

When I look at a bath I see the most important part of a bathroom suite. I agree that basins and toilets shape and design makes a bathroom look special but a good quality bath makes your suite last, the only other part of a suite which varies massively in its day to day performance is the toilet seat. Both the bath and toilet seat need to be well designed and strong enough for constant use.

Why do I say the above? Even the most basic basins, toilets and taps will work perfectly adequately, as long as they are from a reputable branded maker, and our water regulations ensure British made products are by far and away the best. Even imported bathroom products which are carefully sourced by the merchant or retailer will perform extremely well, but may not last as long as their home grown counterparts. However when comparing baths sourced from all over the world the best British made ones take a lot of beating, with all reputable bath manufacturers being CE approved

The qualities I look for in a bath are:

  1. That the bath is manufactured with the surface being acrylic sheet, (brand names are Perspex, Lucite or Plexiglas), these are always better than any sprayed or surface coated, as the colour is right through the material and does not wear off or easily discolour through staining. The acrylic sheet is either vacuum formed or pressed in a mould with reinforcing added to it. If you are looking for a bath with unusual but beautiful curves to create a special design even the thickest acrylic will not be able to create the sharp curving required and because of this it is important to look at the next criteria, the reinforcement, as well.
  2. The reinforcing of the underneath of the bath, by a combination of fiberglass and support framing. This is often where bath walls are quoted as 10mm thick, (don’t be mislead if the thickness quoted is where the baseboard is fitted, the side walls are where it matters!). The fiberglass is sprayed on the underside of the acrylic with a baseboard sandwiched underneath the bottom (encapsulation), to provide a strong support for the bottom of the bath. Some baths even use a triple reinforcement process to add to the strength of the bath.
  3. The installation by a trustworthy plumber, who will ensure that the bath is inspected before he (or she) even fits the legs, and properly anchored to the wall and floor. The wall fixing is one thing a particularly experienced and careful plumber I know paid a lot of attention to, as he would fit a timber lathe along all wall sides of the bath directly underneath the bath edge. This was because almost all baths will flex under the weight of a full bath of water unless supported in this way.

Panels for baths vary enormously in strength and many of the standard bath types have options of different qualities available. All of them are designed to be fixed to a frame, (usually timber), which your plumber will construct to support the panel. It is worth considering buying an upgraded panel as these tend to last longer and look better too!

When you are looking at the design of your bathroom give a little thought to proportion, as a standard size bath may look lost inside a large bathroom. This can be just as bad as buying a bath which is too big and dominates a smaller room.

One obvious point when choosing a large bath to remember is check that the bath can be carried through halls and up the stairs! Also in these days where water metering is either a possibility or actually being done, remember to consider the water you will be using and whether your hot water tank provides enough water to have a hot bath.

Fitting

When your bath is being fitted, make sure that the edges against walls are well sealed, usually with silicone. However tile trims can supplement or increase the effectiveness and neatness of the finished job.

Another lesson learnt by experience is that, no matter how well installed, always allow access so that should anything go wrong you can easily rectify any future problems. This is particularly important when tiling around a bath, one should always create an access panel close to the tap and waste end, or sometimes centre of the bath. This is usually best achieved by making a ‘trap door’, which is a plywood board tiled matching its size and shape, fixed with a peglock or roller catch to the bath support framework. This will allow it to be removed by merely cutting the grouted or siliconed edges and pulling off the catch with a suction cup. All of this care is even more important if you are buying a spa or whirlpool bath as you should always be able to access the motor and pump.

Another tip we’ve found in advice from plumbers is always use flexible connection pipes between taps and the mains water supply (particularly when taps are in inaccessible positions, such as at the rear of centre tap hole baths), it is much easier to fit and maintain.

When you are looking at the design of your bathroom give a little thought to proportion, as a standard size bath may look lost inside a large bathroom. This can be just as bad as buying a bath which is too big and dominates a smaller room.

A bath need not just be a simple tub to hold the water whilst you soak the cares of the day away. Whirlpools and spa baths add to the relaxing effect and are recognized as having a therapeutic benefit, particularly with bad backs, aches and pains. They also add a luxurious feel to a bathroom which no other single item can.

When you clean your bath use none abrasive cleaners like ‘Cif’ as they will ensure that the surface continues to gleam for many years as it did when new.

One very important thing to take account of is to never allow extremely hot water to enter the bath without mixing cold water with it. I was always told that one should run the cold tap first, this was to minimize the steam in the bathroom. It is actually more to stop ‘heat shock’, as the very hot water hitting the cold surface of the bath causes rapid expansion, possibly leading to future problems of crazing or discolouration, (this is actually an even bigger problem with a cast iron bath).

Cast iron baths are really hard wearing and some versions will greatly enhance any bathroom with a period styling. Cast iron is obviously extremely strong and rigid and the enamel surface coating will last for years with the correct care and attention. However they do have the drawback that they are colder and take quite a lot of water to heat them up, (but once heated up they retain they heat so that you can have a long luxuriant and relaxing soak), and they can be slippery, (acrylic is less so).

There are a huge variety of sizes of bath available, the most common size is a 1700mm x 700mm, but you should be able to find a bath to suit any size of room. Don’t only think of rectangular designs, you can get baths which are free standing, corner designs, versions made to attach to the wall at the tap end and even circular. You can also source baths which are designed for a shower screen to be fitted to them, these are usually a ‘P’ or ‘L’ design.

If you are fitting a shower screen to a bath ensure it is fully sealed where it fits against the wall with a good quality silicone, (on the outside to allow water to drain into the bath), and in any holes which are drilled through it into the wall. Remember that most screens are cantilevered from the wall and you do need strong fixings to cope with this. Also look for a bath where the outside edge of the bath allows water to run back into it and not over the side onto your new bathroom carpet!

Freestanding baths are beautiful focal points in any bathroom, but it is important to look for a bath which is strong enough to be self supporting. Obviously cast iron is a material ideally suited to this type of bath, however nowadays good quality acrylic coated baths have additional reinforcement, (some with triple layering), to compete with their cast iron cousins. This type of bath is not restricted to older type designs, you can now get beautiful modern and futuristic styled versions, some of which require a dedicated panel. It pays to think about the rigidity of the panel and accessibility for maintenance when choosing a bath with this type of cover


Published on in Baths, Choosing and Fitting by James

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