Plumbing Trends: Mixing Air & Water
Last year, it was hinted that an emerging trend in the shower market would be the addition of air to shower systems. Hansgrohe recently has patented just such a technology to offer clients a shower experience like no other.
The company is proposing to the North American market that by infusing air within each water drop, getting wet in the shower feels more like, well, natural water.
“Instead of a spaghetti stream of water, these water drops are lighter and softer on the body, like millions of rain drops on the skin,” says Lars Christensen, product manager for Hansgrohe North America.
This air injection technology started in Germany two and a half years ago. It was first introduced at the ISH fair, and included a handshower, which Hansgrohe hopes to deliver to the U.S. market next year.
The air is pulled from the ambient air and into the showerhead. Components for the technology have increasingly gotten smaller and more streamlined, says Christensen, and this has added to the minimalist styling, a trend that has finally become popular on this side of the ocean.
The 24-inch drop-in Downpour Air Rainmaker is oval in shape, chrome, and lies flush with the ceiling. “It's an incredible look,” says Christensen. The 350 air channels can be manually functioned to include three whirl-air massage jets, or regular spray modes. Users can alter from 12 inches of coverage to the full 24 inches with a switch of control.
To keep each spray channel clean, Hansgrohe's Rubit self-cleaning system is incorporated. The channels are silicone based that resist calcium and lime scale build-up. This flexibility also makes it so a simple “rub” of the channels will clear the sprays of any debris.
Another new product from Hansgrohe, the Downpour Air Royale is a new take on its predecessor - the Downpour Air showerhead. This year's model features the air injection technology in a 14-inch, 225-spray channel, ultra-flat metal spray disc. It can be mounted to the wall with an 18 1/2-inch shower arm, or attached to the ceiling with a 4-inch vertical connector.
Like the Rainmaker, it's available in chrome (98 percent of the European market), but the company hopes to include the popular American finish of brushed nickel in the next year.
What Consumers Want“People are moving away from traditional whirlpools. They just don't have the time. They're spending their money on the bigger shower with the added features, where they know they'll get more use,” Christensen says.
Usually the thought of exposing the body to air in the shower would produce goose bumps. But that isn't the case with air injection technology. “There's less splashing with air than without, and the warmth from the air is pulled to the body,” says Christensen. “The air massages the body. It's a much more pleasant feeling.”
The large display at this year's Kitchen and Bath Industry Show let visitors experience the new showerheads and systems. Showroom managers and K&B dealers were quick to make special orders on these new products, to showcase for consumers the air option.
For installers, the system does require a bit of modification, since plumbing would need to be diverted to the ceiling. But a three-way diverter includes regular and traditional valving of thermostatic and volume control. The air technology components are designed into the showerheads themselves, so no additional work is needed to incorporate the equipment.
In the near future, manufacturers will continue to “play” with water in the shower to produce varying experiences for the user - more whirling, more spinning, more droplets. But Christensen thinks we'll see more of a movement toward air from the competition to enhance the bathing experience.
“It really is a system that plays with the senses.”
More Than Just Scented AirAromatherapy uses natural aromatic extracts from plants to promote improved health for the body and mind. Inhaling different aromatic extracts can lead to different desired effects. Lavender, for example, can relax. Eucalyptus can clear sinuses. Peppermint can rejuvenate.
We saw a couple of different ways plumbing manufacturers are using aromatherapy to arouse the senses in the tub and shower:
MTI Whirlpools: “We're always looking for ways to promote wellness and make the bathroom more of a spa,” says Michael Kornowa, MTI's director of marketing.
The company introduced a new diffusion system on many of its models that actually releases the essential oils through millions of tiny air bubbles. A small deck-mounted well houses a removable canister that contains felt pads moistened with the bather's choice of aromatics.
When the thermo-air massage system is activated, the warm air produced by the blower passes through the canister. The scent is then carried by millions of air bubbles through the water to the surface of the bath water, where the bubbles pop and release the aroma.
“The scent fills the air, not the bath,” Kornowa adds, “and leaves behind no oil residue in the tub.”
MTI has teamed up with Aromaland, a manufacturer of premium aromatherapy products for the commercial spa industry for 20 years. Extra canister sets from Aromaland can be easily purchased online through MTI's Web site.
MAAX Corp.: Consumers looking to add spa-like luxuries to their shower systems also can enjoy pleasantly scented air through aromatherapy emitters.
The Steamax system from MAAX Corp. is an option for several of the company's shower models. It features a 100 ft3 capacity steam generator with a programmable electronic time and temperature control module. The steam nozzle has a cup-like essential oil reservoir (shown) available in chrome, polished brass or brushed nickel finishes.
“Scent is the most enduring of our senses,” says MAAX's Sebastien Bouchard. “Aromatic vapors are liberated throughout the shower for the ultimate spa-like experience.”