One of the appeals of civilization since ancient days has been to step into a hot tub of water to relax and reflect. Back in Roman times, the proof that your city had arrived was a community bath house with tubs of inviting warm water. In today’s home, that luxury is often intimated by a master bath with a roman step down, or a Jacuzzi-type of tub.
Home inspectors have learned to be alerted to these units as a potential source of issues that need to be reported to the home buyer. The analysis will vary depending upon the tub’s type of construction, but one common issue that is frequently overlooked is access -- i.e., does a bather have a grab-bar for support when entering and exiting the tub?
Step-down concrete basin tubs, (lined with ceramic tile) are very often not waterproofed the same way a shower pan might be. Because the tub is below the finished floor line, during construction it doesn’t seem as important somehow. But, concrete is not waterproof, and about 4 out of 10 of these tubs leak.
Usually the water seeps into the earth, or drips into the crawl space with raised floor construction, but leaking plumbing fixtures are a reportable condition for a home inspector, even though repairing it may not be urgent. Of course, if the master bath is on the second floor, then 40 percent of the ceilings below that sunken tub will show signs of water damage.
Because the "sunken tub" is so expensive to construct, large tubs that sit on top of the floor have become popular in master bathrooms. The first issue for a home inspector to evaluate on these units is whether the base of the tub is properly supported. Fiberglass, and even steel tubs will flex when filled with the weight of water, and if the underside of the unit is not supported, this flexing can crack the finish.
Also important with large, raised soaking tubs is access. Very often the framing around the tub is more than 12 inches wide. If so, stepping over the edge to get into the tub can be dangerous. This means that a step needs to be installed -- and when the step is installed, almost inevitably, there is no support grab-bar installed for the bather to use while entering and exiting the tub. Under the category of "serviceability" and "safety" of the dwelling, the absence of a grab-bar is reportable by a home inspector.
If the soaking tub also has spa-type jets, there is electricity and a motor located some place for the home inspector to check. Although the inspector is typically not responsible for operating the tub jets, there are issues specific to this type of unit¹:
Once you have addressed these safety issues, enjoy the luxury of living in a civilized society -- one that has learned the Roman lesson of the importance of a long hot bath.
¹Source of the Standards noted above: The Uniform Home Inspector’s Code Book™