High-end fixtures in the bath make remodels more rejuvenating for consumers.

Hydrotherapy. A loose translation of this word is "rejuvenation by water." Over the past few years, residential remodeling - and even some new construction - has seen a move towards high-end sanctuary-like baths that include many of the amenities of an expensive professional spa. Blame it on the fast pace of today's world, but American consumers are returning home after a hard day's work to vertical showers, deep soak tubs, steam baths -now all at a touch of a button.

Today, consumers want it all: fashion, uniqueness and usefulness.

"We are definitely seeing a 'cocooning' effect in bathroom remodels," says sales and showroom manager Bryan Zolfo of Insignia Kitchen and Bath Design Group Ltd., a contractor owned kitchen and bath showroom in Barrington, Ill. "Consumers are placing a higher value on their home, and especially the bath. They want something truly unique in terms of design, but they also want the utility of it as well."

The bathroom is more than a place to wash and go; it is becoming multifunctional. It is becoming a space for overall "wellness," from therapeutic whirlpools to exercise equipment stations. "Clients don't want to go to the gym for these appliances," says Zolfo. "They want the steamer down the hall, they want the stationary bike in their master suite." And this trend toward bath luxury will continue, according to a recent survey of 2,000 members of the International Furnishings and Design Association (IFDA).

Future Of Baths

The survey, "20/20: IFDA's Vision for the Future," predicts multifunctional and other specialty rooms will be more prevalent, with an emphasis on convenience. Nearly 41 percent of respondents said bed and bath spaces of the future will be larger and more luxurious, and incorporate a greater variety of equipment and health activities.

High-end opulence will continue, according to the survey, with 76 percent saying spa showers and whirlpool tubs will become an integral part of the bathroom, and 31 percent expect saunas to become a common feature in the house of 2020.

Electronics also will play a role in the bathing experience, with more clients requesting television sets in the bathroom (63 percent), and installed audio reception (58 percent). About 82 percent anticipate exercise equipment or health centers will be incorporated into the bathroom.

If you've visited any of this year's trade shows, the survey seems to hold water, so to speak. Bath fixtures are indeed more luxurious and pampering than ever. Showers are now shower systems, baths are hydrotherapeutic retreats. So what products do clients request when they decide to remodel a bath?

"About 80 percent of my clients are asking for vertical whirlpools," says Susan Waters, bath specialist for Insignia. "And the norm has become seats and handhelds in the shower." In fact, handshowers are the No.1 request of women, according to the designers. Body jets and steam features also are items consumers are splurging on. Showers in general, for a while now, have been surpassing the tub as the most needed fixture in the bathroom. But with the onslaught of new air tubs that are easier to maintain and offer a healthier massage than conventional water-jetted tubs, the soaking tub is making a comeback.

Older whirlpools usually were powered by large water jets, which swished and swirled the water around the bather. They were loud, and the force of the jets sometimes had bathers moving away from them in the tub, rather than using them for massage. Also, because of the recirculation of water through the jets, nothing could be added to the tub to enhance the bathing experience.

Today's air jets work with several smaller jets around the tub, usually placed strategically to hit the body for optimal pressure for relieving tension and stress. And because there is no recirculation, bathers can enjoy aromatherapy and essential oils while they soak.

Jetted tubs are just the beginning, though. Below is a spotlight on a few other spa appliances in homes right now. Each offering everything the body needs to pamper, relieve and revive.

Deep Soak

Kohler Co. has "reincarnated" the bathing ritual with its new sôk overflowing bath. Chin-high water and air jets ease body and mind while the bather sits eye-level with a plane of water that drops off the rim's horizon. The 75-inch long tub with 24 1/2-inch deep basin submerges weary clients from shoulder to toes in water that remains a constant temperature and height.

A sheet of water continuously spills over the rim into a trough and is recirculated back into the tub. A 1.5-kilowatt heater and a quiet 1/3-horsepower, 230-volt pump sends water through 11 air jets, creating tiny bubbles that break on the skin - the truest form of hydrotherapy.

Vertical Whirlpools

Several companies now are marketing their little versions of heaven. Vertical whirlpools, body jets and rainbaths all have turned ordinary shower stalls into shower systems.

Moen Inc.'s vertical spa experience delivers the water coverage, force and flow clients desire at a consistent temperature. You can create a personal shower design by combining body sprays, single or multifunction showerheads, handshowers, multifunction transfer valves, and more, all in numerous finish options and two of Moen's popular styles - the Asceri Collection and Monticello.

According to Moen, to achieve the maximum spa experience, the right water temperature is the key (see "Temperature, Temperature" sidebar). Its ExactTempT pressure-balanced thermostatic valve dials up a personalized water temperature. No surges of cold or hot water, the valve's "smart" technology maintains a pre-set temperature, even as water volume in a water heater decreases.

Up to four body sprays in either large or small sizes can be installed on the shower wall at the client's desired height. Three- and five-function transfer valves allow users to switch effortlessly from body sprays to showerhead, to handshower, to tub spout - or to two functions combined.

Kohler also delivers shower power with its WaterHavenT and BodySpaT fixtures. Both offer hydro-massage treatments that energize and invigorate the body.

The WaterHaven is a shower tower with seven adjustable water ports: a handshower, two arched, telescoping showerheads, and four body sprays that slide up and down the tower.

BodySpa combines the best of whirlpool bathing with the ease of a shower. Featuring a recirculation system, it produces up to 80 gallons of water per minute without running up the water bill. Luxuries include a waterfall of cascading water, up to 10 body jets directed at key points of the body, and a foot soak option. An electronic touch pad allows bathers to adjust the intensity and direction of the water flow for optimal massaging action.

The modular six-jet BodySpa is designed to retrofit a 5- or 6-ft. alcove, which maximizes minimal space when upgrading a standard bath.

Custom-Fit Luxury

The Electronic Shower System from Interbath Inc.'s Ondine lets bathers program a shower that's uniquely theirs. The ESS engineers admit using electronics in the shower is not new, but increasing technology now allows users to record an entire shower sequence for as many as three different members of the household.

No valving needs to be installed. The technology is hidden where servicing is easier and more accessible. The ESS consists of three modules: the Control Panel (made of brass and available in any of Ondine's decorator finishes); the Electronic Module (placed outside the "wet room" and up to 65 ft. away from the controls); and the TMV Module (including a thermostatic mixing valve and manifold containing solenoid valves and extensions).

The revamped ESS-2 now offers a steam feature, another item on clients' wish lists.

"Within a minute from the press of a button, the steam will be up to the right temperature," says Interbath engineer Le Bui. "The wall-mounted controls save shower duration, temperature and pulsation preferences" Temperatures range from 68 degrees F to 113 degrees F. Time settings range from five to 55 minutes in length. Showerhead massage options go from 1/2-second to four-second pulses. With the remote control, clients can wake up, press a single button, and start their shower with ease.

Body Benefits

You don't need to break down walls and add space to create a bathing haven for clients. Today's market features spa fixtures for every pocketbook.

"Clients are sometimes amazed that a small area can still incorporate spa style," says Waters. Upgraded handshowers offer a variety of spray options and patterns that help create an inexpensive bathing experience with invigorating results.

Delta Faucet Co.'s personal handshower features four massage spray patterns and a water saver/pause mode. A flexible 69-inch metal hose increases reach, and a slide mechanism adjusts to the height of any user.

Ondine's InTouch RainmakerT lets bathers choose a sprinkle, a downpour or anything in between with the feeling of showering in the rain. The InTouch II offers 10 settings including Full Cone Flood, Slow Massage, Narrow or Wide Spray, and 2 Trickle. Both are available in showerhead and handshower styles, with a variety of accessories and finishes to choose from.

Whatever a client's "hot button" - a deep soaking tub, multiple showerheads or steam - the plumbing fixtures market will continue to offer affordable luxury with the look of high-end. Transforming an unremarkable bathroom space into a home spa not only gives clients the uniqueness they desire, but the ease and utility of the fixtures provides a retreat in their own homes, and a chance at ultimate relaxation.

Temperature, Temperature

    The key to getting the most out of your showering or bathing experience is proper water temperature. Follow the suggestions below (or pass them on to clients) to achieve the ultimate spa sensations:

  • For increased perspiration and breathing rate, and elimination of toxins, hot baths do the trick - usually somewhere between 100-104 degrees F. Don't soak too long, though. A 10-15 minute shower is all that's needed; overexposure can dehydrate you and dry out the skin.

  • A warm bath - 81-93 degrees F - lets bathers indulge in a relaxing soak from 20 minutes to an hour. Add essential oils or salts to the bath to revive the senses with aromatherapy. Lavender and eucalyptus scents alleviate the stresses of the day.

  • To decrease fatigue, improve breathing and muscle tone, and for a better skin tone, try a cold bath in water about 70-80 degrees F for two to five minutes. A quick dip in and out of cool water even helps relieve constipation.