Shower Systems 101: How to Assemble Your Dream Shower

Shower systems offer spa-like luxury, from multi-functional showerheads to a steam shower and chromotherapy

shower systems(Above) Leslie’s renovation with Sweeten resulted in a separate room for a full shower system including a steam shower, rain showerheads and jet sprays

Americans have become highly sophisticated about their renovation choices and preferences. And nowhere is this more evident than in the bath. Homeowners count on their bathrooms to help them rev up in the morning and wind down in the evening. Manufacturers now create elaborate shower systems that provide a luxurious shower experience. Here, Sweeten’s guide to modern shower systems outlines popular features and add-ons, with tips on adding one into your bathroom remodel plans.

Design to go with the flow

Let’s 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 ready if you include a steam shower or body jets. (These features often operate at the same time as the shower.) Ensure your contractor evaluates the drain so it evacuates all that water quickly. Next, you’ll want to plan your shower system features!

Luxury shower system options

Luxury shower systems in the home go way beyond simple showerheads, even one with diverse spray patterns. The typical luxury shower system is a combination of individual features that come as a unit in a panel, or those you choose individually. You’ll 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 a preset degree. This means you don’t have to fiddle with it each time you turn it on.

Shower panels

For a few hundred dollars, you can find an all-in-one shower panel at a box store such as Home Depot. (This is at least half of what you would spend on a shower system of individual components.) The panel includes a showerhead, two to eight body jets, and an adjustable hand shower. Advantageously, a shower panel provides 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 simultaneously. If not, your contractor should make adjustments before installation.

Rain shower heads

An increasingly popular type of luxury shower head is the rain shower head. Rain shower heads are preferred for the soothing effect that its name indicates. These luxury-type shower heads 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. Grohe and Kohler also offer digital controls with their rain shower systems. These controls allow you to preset your favorite spray pattern with your preferred water temperature. You simply push a button to start your shower and enter your specific experience. Kohler developed 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 splurge, 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.

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(Above) A rain showerhead in Andrew & Cory’s L.A. bathroom remodel with Sweeten

Body sprays

These components allow 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. You can find these sprays in the classic faucet and showerhead finishes—chrome, nickel, bronze, polished or brushed—and in square or round shapes from most major manufacturers including American Standard, Kohler, Hansgrohe, Grohe, Delta, and Moen.


Technological advances have made it possible to bring the coveted spa experience of steam into modern homes. The operation appears simple: steam is emitted by heads installed on the shower wall, and operated by a control pad programmed for temperature and session length. However, you will need to plan with your contractor to allow for several precautions. Don’t forget: steam showers generate more moisture and heat than a regular shower. As a result, 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 water doesn’t escape to create mildew on wallpaper and paint. The ceiling should be curved so that condensed vapor droplets run down the walls, instead of dripping on you.

For operation, a steam shower requires a generator and a ventilation unit. Both of these features are concealed from sight. Accordingly, 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 manufacturers like Kohler or Whirlpool, offer many choices. If you don’t want to go the custom route, a two-person unit will cost you about $2,000. If you are creating a custom steam shower, expect your costs to double, to about $4,000. For either route: work with a contractor to ensure properly-installed plumbing and electricity.

steam shower system with wooden bench and glass shower door

(Above) A steam shower system in Ilene and Neil’s West Village home remodel with Sweeten

Seating for shower systems

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 wintertime. 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 separate switch in the shower. Amazon sells chromotherapy bulbs in seven colors—orange, red, blue, aqua, indigo, green, and yellow. You can change them at will, or set them 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.

Adding music to your shower system

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 offer a shower head with a wireless speaker that you can connect to your phone with Bluetooth® technology. 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. 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.

Curious to learn more? See how Sweeten helps make dream bathroom renovations a reality.

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Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, and scope, helping until project completion. Follow the blog for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.

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