by Dennis DeLoy
In recent years, an increasing number of my bathroom
remodeling customers have been requesting whirlpool tubs, which
require more careful planning to install than standard tubs.
Most whirlpools are larger than a standard tub, and many have
to have a site-built skirt. Extra care is required to avoid
damaging the pump and hoses, and the work needs to be
coordinated with an electrician.
Choosing a Tub
There are two types of whirlpool installations: island and
alcove. Although the photos of island (or drop-in)
installations look great in manufacturers' brochures, few of
the bathrooms I work in are spacious enough to accommodate an
island tub (see Figure 1). In any case, since most customers
want to be able to shower in their tub, they usually choose an
1. Tubs designed for island installation are
self-rimming, which means they lack a tiling flange.
Self-rimming tubs, like this model from Aker Plastics,
require a site-built skirt.
The simplest type of alcove installation is a one-piece
tub-shower unit, and several manufacturers offer tub-shower
whirlpools (Figure 2). My customers usually request a tiled
surround, so I typically install a fiberglass tub unit with a
tiling flange on three sides (Figure 3). Acrylic tubs are often
very attractive, but they cost considerably more than
fiberglass tubs. Although cast-iron whirlpool tubs are
available, they are expensive, awkward to install, and
available in a limited number of colors.
2. Several manufacturers offer tub-shower units
with whirlpool features. This Ensemble model from
Sterling Plumbing has modular surround components,
making it easier to install where access is
3. Tubs designed for alcove installation have a
tiling flange. This Aker model includes a factory skirt
with a built-in step.
Careful Inspection Pays
It isn't unusual for a fiberglass tub to be damaged during
shipping. I can't afford to schedule a remodeling job that
falls through at the last minute because of a damaged tub, so I
always make a point to inspect my whirlpool tubs at the
supplier's warehouse a few days before the work is scheduled. I
can't perform a water test there, but I give the tub a visual
inspection for interior finish problems or damage to the pump,
hoses, and jets. If any problems turn up, I have enough time to
reschedule the job.
Once the tub is delivered to the job site, I test the tub
outdoors, so that any problems can be identified before it's
roughed in. I block the drain hole with a flat rubber sink
stopper, fill the tub with a hose, and run the pump for 15
minutes. Any leakage problems should show up in that time. If
there is any chance of freezing weather, I make sure that we
can move the tub to a warm environment immediately after the
test, since some residual water will stay in the
I’m careful to carry the tub by its shell and base to
avoid any strain on the pump and hoses, and I apply duct tape
to the edges of the rim to protect the gel coat from scratches.
Once the tub is inside, I put a mover’s blanket inside it
for further protection. If we have to work over the tub, I
apply several layers of duct tape to the top of the rim and
then place a piece of plywood on top.