Shower systems offer spa-like luxury, from multi-functional showerheads to a steam shower and chromotherapy
Leslie’s renovation resulted in a separate room for a full shower system including a steam shower, rain showerheads and jet sprays
When it comes to outfitting their homes, Americans have become highly sophisticated about their choices and preferences. And nowhere is this more evident than in the bath. The most personal of spaces is expected to answer our most particular preferences to rev up in the morning and wind down in the evening. Toward that goal, manufacturers have been working very hard to create elaborate shower systems with myriad ways to deliver water—shower head spray patterns, body jets, steam—to provide you with a custom experience. They’ve also been mindful of low-flow water-conserving features so you can enjoy that aqua therapy without going overboard for water usage and utility bills. Add lights and music (yes, you can have that too, now), and you’re ready for action. Here’s what to look for when crafting your own perfect experience.
Design to go with the flow
Begin with the layout. Shower systems should be isolated, almost like a room, and shouldn’t be part of a tub. While it doesn’t have to be big enough to fit two, there should be enough footage to move around and extend your arms fully. Simple materials and clean lines deliver the best aesthetic to convey a feeling of serenity. This means frameless glass doors and a floor-level shower tray. (Bonus: It’s fully accessible.) A built-in bench, particularly if the shower is clad in stone, adds another luxurious touch. Make sure you assess your plumbing capacity to be sure it can supply sufficient volume pressure. Your water heater must also be up to the task if you include a steam shower or body jets that you operate at the same time as the shower. With all this water, make certain your contractor evaluates the drain so it evacuates all that water quickly. Then you want to plan your showering features.
Shower system options
Luxury shower systems in the home go way beyond simple showerheads, even one with diverse spray patterns. The typical system is a combination of individual features that come as a unit in a panel or those you choose individually. You will want: a shower head with several spray patterns, a hand shower on a wall-mount slide bar, and several pairs of body jets (six to eight are common). This arrangement should come with a thermostatic diverter that controls the water temperature to the degree that you preset. This means you don’t have to fiddle with it each time you turn it on.
For a few hundred dollars (at least half of what you would spend on a shower system of individual components), you can find an all-in-one shower panel at a box store such as Home Depot. The panel includes a shower head, two to eight body jets, and an adjustable hand shower. The advantage of a shower panel is worth considering: quick installation at a price that fits most budgets. The disadvantage: the panel mounts to the wall, extending several inches into the shower space. If you want a sleeker look, you will need to go with individual components that recess into the wall. Either way, make sure that your plumbing provides sufficient water pressure for all the features to operate at the same time. If not, your contractor should make adjustments before installation.
As an alternative to classic shower heads, the rain shower is sought for the soothing effect that its name indicates. This fixture can be mounted to the wall and angled to drop directly down, or installed on the ceiling. Look for an extra-wide spray span, as much as 15 inches, and a choice of spray patterns, from gentle to drenching. Manufacturers like Grohe and Kohler also offer digital controls with their rain shower systems, which allow you to preset your favorite spray pattern with your preferred water temperature. Simply push a button to start your shower and enter your specific experience. Kohler goes a step further with a showering panel that simulates the varying sizes and angles of raindrops as they fall, for a fully sensory occurrence.
If you really want to go all out, you can get a shower panel installed in the ceiling that will shower you with several spray patterns simultaneously. This requires special framing for the ceiling, so you need to plan this feature before you start your renovation.
These components add power and pizzazz to the shower for water therapy that hits every inch of your body to soothe or stimulate. Surface-mounted or recessed, the sprays are typically installed in pairs. Pay careful attention to placement, particularly if people of varying heights will use the shower. Swivel body sprays can help for minor adjustments. The top-level jets target the shoulders, the middle, the waist or hips, and the lowest, the thighs or knees. Some jets pop out when in operation, then retract when the water is turned off. To match all your bathroom fittings, you can find these sprays in the classic faucet and showerhead finishes—chrome, nickel, bronze, polished or brushed—in square or round shapes from most major manufacturers including American Standard, Kohler, Hansgrohe, Grohe, Delta, and Moen.
From complete steam shower systems to equipment that adds steam capabilities to a conventional shower, technological advances have made it possible to bring this coveted spa experience into the home. The operation appears simple: steam is emitted by heads installed on the shower wall and operated by a control pad programmed for temperature and length of the session. However, you will need to plan with your contractor to allow for several precautions. Because a steam shower generates more moisture and heat than a regular shower, your contractor will first install vapor proofing material to prevent water vapor from seeping through the walls. The shower door should be airtight, too, so H20 doesn’t escape to create mildew on wallpaper and paint. The ceiling should be curved so that vapor, as it condenses into droplets, runs down the walls instead of dripping on you.
For operation, a steam shower requires a generator and a ventilation unit. Both are concealed from sight, and your contractor can help you to determine the best, most effective placement for each. Alternatively, you can buy a stand-alone steam shower, complete with rain shower, hand shower, massage jets, whirlpool tub, steam generator, and LED lighting. Companies that specialize in steam showers, as well as major bath fixture manufacturers like Kohler or Whirlpool, offer lots of choices. Sized big enough for two, this unit will cost you about $2,000 if you don’t want to go the custom route, in which case you can expect your cost to about double. You will still want to work with a contractor to make sure all the plumbing and electrical are hooked up properly.
When planning to introduce a steam shower to your bathroom, plan for it to be big enough for at least two people to use. Also, allow footage for a bench for lounging and even reclining.
We know that humans crave the healing power of light based on our innate need for sunlight and full-spectrum light in winter months. You can isolate the individual colors that make up full-spectrum for healing effects in the bath. This is called chromotherapy. You’ll want at least four lights installed in your shower ceiling for even illumination. You can find LED versions in primary colors, and connect them to a switch separate from regular lighting in the shower. Amazon sells chromotherapy bulbs in seven colors—orange, red, blue, aqua, indigo, green, yellow—that you can change at will or set to cycle through all the colors. Make sure your contractor adds a dimming capability. You can also choose a chromotherapy package made to go with a tub or steam shower enclosure from a manufacturer.
Once upon a time, you set your radio on the counter to listen to news and music. Kohler is among a handful of manufacturers that lets you bring music right into the shower. They’ve combined a shower head with a wireless speaker that you can connect to your phone with Bluetooth® technology to enjoy your playlist. The speaker docks in the center of the showerhead when in use, and is removable for recharging the battery, which lasts up to seven hours (though you probably shouldn’t shower that long!). The showerhead is available as a wall-mount or rain shower. Grohe also makes a rechargeable wireless speaker that attaches to the slide bar of the hand shower. For under $100, you can opt for wireless Bluetooth® speakers, compatible with most smartphones, that attach to the wall by suction cups.
When it comes to the bathroom, it makes sense that your shower should provide the personalized experience you seek. By adding one or all of the features described above, you can luxuriate in your favorite spa rituals every day without leaving home.
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