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If you're an American who's ever stepped into a British or European bathtub, you're not alone in wondering: why exactly are their bathtubs so much higher than in the United States?
The good news is it's not just your imagination. Most bathtubs do sit a few inches higher throughout the continent—and there is a good reason why.
European bathtubs are deeper by design
As with many conventions, what is considered 'normal' for bath tub depth differs depending on which part of the world you're in.
For example, a standard American bath tub is just 14 to 17 inches in depth. A European style bathtub, however, is 18 inches deep, and a Japanese style is 22 or more inches!
I am actually from the UK originally, so I was equally surprised when I moved to the US to find that American bathtubs were so shallow.
European bathtubs are usually raised
The bottom of a standard American bathtub will sit flush with the floor:
This doesn't happen with European bathtubs; the base of the average European tub is slightly raised, either on ornate feet in high-end styles, or more commonly just on a frame covered by a side panel.
European bathtubs can be raised anywhere from 4" to 6" off the floor, adding even more height to an already deeper tub.
They can also be a bit longer on average. So if you're tall, enjoy being able to stretch out an extra few inches—but expect it to be just a little bit more difficult to get in and out of a European bathtub due to the increased height.
Why is there space under European bathtubs?
The reason for this is actually historical, and it largely comes down to when and how properties were built.
The average American house is a lot newer than the average European house. In fact, there are places throughout Europe where it isn't that uncommon to find people living in homes that are many centuries old.
But what does this have to do with bathtub height?
Bathtubs need to be drained
Older homes were not designed with plumbing in mind. When these houses were first occupied, people would have bailed out their bathtubs with buckets and carried the water outside to be emptied.
With no original plumbing built into a house, there often isn't a convenient way to retrofit drainage pipework. The solution? Tubs were raised a few inches so the pipework and a U-bend could be installed underneath the tub.
As you can probably guess, while there are some older American homes that weren't built with plumbing in mind, the majority of them don't have this problem.
Most American bathrooms have a hole in the floor designed to be connected directly to the bathtub. The rest of the plumbing will be under the floor, and thus the bathtub can sit right on top of it.
What about modern European houses?
Of course, new European homes do not have the problem of not being able to put the pipework under the flooring, but it's still rare to find American-style bathtubs there. Why? Well, those earlier raised bathtubs simply became the convention.
So today, the most popular option is still a bathtub that has been designed to be raised off of the floor—whether it's necessary anymore or not.
Does the height of the tub make a difference in practice?
Outside of bathtubs being a little easier to climb in and out of when they are lower, there isn't really much practical difference between the two.
In European bathrooms, the plumbing is still not going to be exposed. And in American bathtubs, they're generally still deep enough to enjoy a long, deep soak.
Plus, it's also possible to get deeper tubs in the US too, if you want to get fancy of course: