Preplumbed shower panels provide quick and easy solutions for homeowners' dreams of retreat.

VertiSpa from American Standard

Wanted: Homeowner seeks fashionable and functional shower system to spend long, relaxing evenings, or quick morning getaways. Steam optional, powerful body jets a must, but please conform to water conservation codes. If you're versatile and fun, you're the one for me.

An unanswerable want ad? Not anymore. Today's shower systems are designed to meet the needs of end users - and end users want it all.

American homeowners especially have placed improved shower systems high on their priority lists when deciding to build or remodel their bathrooms. In a recent Kitchen & Bath Design News report, adding a new luxurious shower system is right behind building a bigger bathroom on consumers' “key features” lists for their dream baths.

“People want more luxury and they want to use a lot of water,” says Lars Christensen, product manager for Hansgrohe. “They want practical systems for everyday, but then they also want to enjoy Saturday morning or weekends with lots of hot water.”

Making sure there's enough hot water available to satisfy a shower junkie is critical. And producing that water at the desired pressure is also key. The introduction of pressure balancing and thermostatic valves has revolutionized the shower industry, allowing manufacturers to design elaborate vertical whirlpools while maintaining safe temperatures, adequate pressures and still conforming to flow rates required by law.

“Thermostatic controls provide a much better flow of water for the user, and has changed the way manufacturers look at water delivery,” says Gary Uhl, a director of design at American Standard. Previously, a consumer would need a jetted tub or travel to health clubs or spas to get the hydrotherapy they sought. But with all these features now available in their own home, that retreat is just a few steps away. “The incorporating of thermostatic valves has made showers more popular, and you use a lot less water in a shower than you would filling a tub.”

Shower To The People

So now we know what consumers want as an end result of installing a shower system in their baths. But a homeowner's wish list doesn't end with feeling they own a private spa retreat. They also want it installed easier, faster, cheaper.

A recent trend in manufacturing is offering preplumbed shower panels, easy for retrofit applications but also great upgrades in new construction. The VertiSpa™ from American Standard packs a punch in its slimline construction. In a single shower tower it includes five body spray jets (three with a spiraling function) and an overhead shower for a drenching flow of water.

“Installing the VertiSpa is not a major job,” says James Walsh, product director of shower systems at American Standard. “It eliminates the behind-the-wall time a plumber or builder needs to install traditional shower systems, so it's perfect and an easy sell as an upgrade - even if the wall is finished.”

The Pharo Lift Showerpanel from Hansgrohe is also an “easy solution” for retrofitting existing plumbing to transform a shower into a spa, says Christensen.

“A plumber does only slight re-roughing in,” Christensen says. “It was designed to be used in regular house pressure, between 40-50 psi, so they're relatively quick to install.”

The Pharo Lift Showerpanel has a 7-inch showerhead and six big body sprays, all on a hydraulic system that provides an extra 8 inches of vertical movement. Its height versatility is another item on consumer wish lists. They want all the bells and whistles, but then sometimes they don't. Combining all the personalities into one system can get a bit schizophrenic - Am I a whirlpool? Am I a steamshower? - and bulky to say the least. New paneled systems answer those concerns as well. Streamlining all sprays, diverters and showerheads into one package controls confusion when a user steps in. And depending on the choice in finish, the system can either be showcased or recede.

“The design of a shower system is only limited by an imagination - or your pocketbook,” Christensen says.

Emerging Trends

So what's next in the shower?

“Plumbing will continue to move to this side of the wall and remain easy to install,” says Uhl. “Consumers' needs for flexibility and change is more readily achieved without having to take a shower back to the studs.”

Electronics in the shower is nothing new - such as in Ondine's electronically programmed ESS shower introduced a few years ago - but it will possibly serve a different function. Light-emitting diodes incorporated into shower systems can serve as color referencing points for water temperature or pressure; changing from cool blues to warm reds to offer a visual reference for users.

The United States continues to follow European trends, which could lead to daily use of steam generators and misting units integrated within shower enclosures.

“We may get away from the whirlpool function and add more air to a shower system,” says Christensen. “Still using less water but efficiently using pressure for drops of water instead of jets.

Consider This:

  • Add an additional smaller water heater to a master bath, or increase the size of an existing water heater to provide adequate hot water for longer durations.

  • Install a booster pump to plumbing systems below 45 psi for better water pressure.

  • Replace standard 1/2-inch piping with 3/4-inch or 1-inch piping to deliver optimum output.

  • Use more than one thermostatic valve to supply enough water to various outlets in a system.

  • Test water quality - nothing destroys a body spray's performance like hard water deposits.