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Business Advisor

A $3,000 Bathtub? It’s an Emotional Thing

Marketing green upgrades

"What's logic got to do with it?" (with apologies to Tina Turner)
Image Credit: Seth Tice-Lewis

I have a not-so-dirty secret. Every house I have built for the last three years (except one) has a bathtub that cost well upwards of $3,000.

What is the payback on a $3,000 bathtub? Is it more or less than the payback on a $6,000 solar water heater? Are either of these truly rational purchases?

What is the value of the enhancement to your equanimity and marital harmony from that iconic bathtub? Do I calculate the payback on that solar panel based on today’s energy cost or that in five or ten years? What about resale value?

Seriously, what has logic got to do with it? It’s an emotional thing.

People buy as much green as they can justify—but they work to justify as much as they can afford.

I can work with that.


  1. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #1

    Michael, do you promote or
    Michael, do you promote or dissuade the idea of a tub? We've had similar experience with fireplaces. We actively try to talk people out of tubs, which are generally rarely used, and fireplaces, which are energy-efficiency nightmares. If people have in their head that they want either of those items though, it's nearly impossible to talk them out of it. "Iconic" is a good description--for many people, a nice bathtub or a hole in the wall (I mean a fireplace) IS the symbol of what home means to them. A house is a machine for living, but it still needs a soul.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Rarely used?
    "Tubs are rarely used?" This is a cultural as well as an individual issue. In some cultures, notably those of Korea and Japan, tubs are certainly preferred to showers. Many Americans (including me) agree with the Korean and Japanese view.

    And I'm guessing you don't have kids. It's easier to wash small children in a tub than the kitchen sink.

  3. homedesign | | #3

    Resale Myth or Reality
    Michael C.,
    I have had clients from starter couples to McMansioneers tell me that they would never use the tub.
    Most decide to include the tub because their real estate agent or best friend tells them that they will never find a buyer for the house if they omit "THE TUB"
    I heard of a study concerning whirlpool tubs and the conclusion was that they were only used a handful of times during the entire service life...which may have included multiple owners.
    Anyway the myth becomes a reality and almost no-one will BUY a house without a tub in the Master.

    Michael M,
    I still don't get that fire thing myself.
    Why people want to burn sticks inside their homes is beyond me.
    Not to mention that the fireplace always demands the attention of all of the furniture and DRIVES the design of the living/family room.
    I would rather orient the furniture for conversation, a view to the outdoors or "the modern hearth".... the TV

  4. homedesign | | #4

    Japanese Tubs
    Body washing is usually done outside of the Japanese Tub.
    It is not unusual for the Japanese tub to be used by more than one person at a time and the water is not always discarded after the bath .. it is often covered and the water is used again.

  5. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #5

    rarely used
    True, I do not have kids. But a $3000 tub is not the same thing as a $300 tub, which is all you need if you have kids. I should have said, "several surveys I've read about in various magazines say that a luxury tub is rarely used more than a few times a year." Anecdotal research and personal experience supports that view.

    I know that other cultures tend to bathe while Americans tend to shower. Personally, someday I would love a deep Japanese-style soaking tub, and I have a moth-like attraction to the light of a fire as well, but I would prefer a well-sealed soapstone-lined woodstove to a drafty fireplace. It is a conundrum on most of my design jobs--the living area needs to simultaneously focus on the fireplace, the view, the tv (but don't let the tv be seen!), while remaining open to the kitchen and outdoors.... Like Michael Chandler says, what's logic got to do with it?!


    It's not about the tub guys
    My point here was that we shouldn't try to justify green building options to our customers based on logic because they want them from an emotional rather than logical rationale. As builders we should stop playing along with "pay-back calculations" and present green upgrades from the same emotional perspective that drives the decision to have a luxury bath tub, perhaps with the additional incentive of the future re-sale value. (Though I hate that argument too.)

    That said, I do encourage people to buy $3,000 bath tubs because I believe in living with exuberance. It is common knowledge that most of these are used less than six times a year. But they are iconic in that they represent far more than they embody. To some they mean "I've been schlepping the kids to school and practice for twelve years and now that they are all off to college I'm going to enjoy a long soak with a good book." To some they mean a commitment to put a new spark in their marriage. To some they are a soothing retreat from a stressful life, cheaper than therapy.

    But the really great thing about an iconic tub is that once youve had a couple good soaks just the sight of the tub is enough to trigger a relaxation response. It's bigger than what it is.

    Beth and I design a few of these iconic touch points into every house to tend to the emotional health of the family that will live there. We'll put a "family shrine" somewhere to hold photos that celebrate the family having fun and reaching milestones together. and yes a stone fireplace, with an air-tight RSF Opel fireplace insert with outside combustion air (often tied into the under-slab radon mitigation system.) and a vaulted wood ceiling in the master bedroom to heighten the experience of lying down for a good nights sleep. And we install solar water heaters so you can feel good about filling that eighty gallon tub with heat from the sun.

    It's not a machine for living, its a home. It's an emotional investment and the biggest purchase most of us will make. As we work to encourage our clients to make greener decisions we need to focus on that emotional benefit.

  7. homedesign | | #7

    Not so Brown
    Yep, Michael you do make a good point.
    We do not all have to live like the Amish or be as "green" as Robert Riversong.
    The Home is more than just a box to live in.
    If a bathtub or fire makes you smile then it is good for your health.
    My indulgence is a steam shower and my plasma tv.
    Never said I was Green .. maybe Not so Brown

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