Despite ongoing economic challenges, the bath remains of key importance to consumers seeking refuge from the stresses of day-to-day life. And the water experience – often defined by the luxury shower – continues to be an important part of creating that spa-like haven.
At the same time, the growing interest in water conservation is impacting the shower and tub market. But while the two trends may seem at odds, new technology has made it possible to have a drenching water experience with less water, satisfying both performance needs and water conservation mandates. So say manufacturers interviewed by KBDN, who cite custom showers, technologically advanced showerheads and accessible tubs as hot trends.
BIGGER IS BETTER?
While overdone trophy baths may be out of vogue, neither do consumers want to skimp on their personal bath space. The bathroom is an extension of the living space, and for many, the tub or shower is where they go to relax. For that reason, showers and tubs that reflect the spa trend remain in high demand.
“People have a love affair with their showers and want to be as generous and luxurious as space permits,” says Diana Schrage, CAPS, CAASH, senior interior designer for the Kohler Design Center, based in Kohler, WI.
Rob Larson, director of business development for Woodbridge, IL-based Danze, agrees: “A good shower is considered by many to be a necessity, not a luxury. We expect showers to remain personal sanctuaries for years to come.”
Even as homes are being downsized, many manufacturers claim bathrooms are often growing larger. Paul Flowers, senior v.p. of design for Grohe America in Bloomingdale, IL, says, “Well being and relaxation remain important grounding factors for individuals, and a premium bathroom environment and water experience can allow for this release.”
Flowers notes that freestanding tubs typically can accommodate two individuals, and even showers that are not ‘car wash’ style are often incorporating at least a showerhead and handshower with a built-in bench.
But not everyone is on the “bigger is better” bandwagon. Lars Christensten, director of product development at Hansgrohe’s U.S. headquarters in Alpharetta, GA, sees many consumers moving away from all the shower bells and whistles to more pared-down systems. “Over the last few years, ‘modern’ and ‘simple’ have been the buzzwords in bathroom design,” he says. “[As a result], many consumers are opting for either a large showerhead or a showerhead/handshower combo.”
Christensten also believes the size of shower areas has decreased over the last few years, and he has seen soaking tubs replaced by 3'x4' shower spaces that have glass doors and walls that make the rooms more open and bright.
Luxurious, water-drenching showers provide a refuge that many consumers desire, and Larson notes, “Many designers and homeowners want to create that retreat-type feeling in their bathroom [by] mixing/matching an overhead showerhead, handheld shower and body sprays.”
These can also provide flexibility, according to Larry Jacobs, president, Ashley Harris Marketing, marketing agency for Strom Plumbing by Sign of the Crab in Rancho Cordova, CA. He explains: “These [multiple sprays/showerheads] are still very much in demand, primarily because the bathing area is a multi-functional room: showers, baths, infant baths, even dog bathing.”
At the same time, Larson says, “The second trend is the emergence of water-saving showerheads.” However, he notes, “We’re firm believers that having a water-saving showerhead in your bathroom does not have to mean a lack of performance.”
Judd Lord, director of industrial design for Delta Faucet Company in Indianapolis, IN, asserts, “Consumers want to be green without feeling like they are sacrificing their experience with water. Increased industry participation in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WaterSense program, paired with increased awareness among consumers about the importance of water conservation, has led to greater demand for water-efficient fixtures that meet WaterSense standards.”
Larson adds that regulatory changes are driving the conversion to lower flow showerheads. “The Cal Green initiative in California requires that all showerheads used in new construction and permitted remodeling projects use showerheads that flow at a maximum of 2.0 gpm. And many municipalities throughout the U.S. have revised or will be revising their plumbing codes to limit showerhead flow rates to even lower levels,” he says.
With the DOE initiative to restrict all showerheads in a shower to a combined 2.5 gpm, output has changed significantly, according to Mike Reffner, group product manager for the wholesale business unit of Moen in North Olmstead, OH. Reffner cites legislation that takes effect in March, 2013 that limits the packaging of multiple products. “You can’t package systems together that put out 16 gallons of water. We can sell components and people can put them together, but we can’t sell them [as one].”
Advances in showers have exploded in recent years.
“Showerhead spray technology has evolved very quickly following the development of the WaterSense standard,” says Larson. “Pressure-equalizing showerheads, air-injection as well as novel spray patterns are now in use to provide optimal spray coverage, distribution and intensity at flow rates that are 20-40% lower than the federally mandated maximum of 2.5 gpm.”
Says Flowers, “Technology can increase the consumer water experience in terms of personalization and consistent flow, while simultaneously reducing overall consumption by digitally managing energy and water for optimum performance.”
Reffner adds, “With digital controls, you can turn on the water, make temperature adjustments and set presets so that when you hit one number, your preferred temperature and flow come up.”
Larson says, “Digital mixing valves and controls are considered by many to be the future of plumbing. We think the digitization of the bathroom and plumbing systems is inevitable.”
He adds that digital mixing valves and controls in the shower offer greater control to the users, and can do so with a minimalist look. Features he finds popular are one-touch operation with preset temperature and spray functions, and warm-up modes that bring the shower up to temperature and pause operation until the user is ready.
Jacobs says the largest trend for Strom Plumbing is the use of thermostatic valves in the tub and shower area. “This area will continue to increase, incorporating the new digital products. We see this primarily in the new construction arena, as that is where they must be specified first. The replacement market is slower to incorporate these advancements,” he adds.
A broad range of factors impact the desire for customization, from the need to make a space more accessible to the desire to add a personal touch.
Lord says, “People want the ability to customize their shower experience, from selecting various sprays and nozzles, to presetting their ideal water temperature digitally with the tap of a button.”
Manufacturers agree that customization for the purpose of long-term accessibility is also key.
“People want a home that will allow them to live comfortably at different stages of their life, but they don’t want to give up attractive design,” says Lord. “Applying Universal Design principles transforms the bathroom into a multi-generational living space and offers the user support and independence, regardless of age.”
Schrage, too, has seen a rise in demand for products that complement designs for aging in place. The firm’s Elevance tub is a unique solution to the walk-in tub; rather than having a door swing, this tub has a rising wall, and fits into the same space as a typical 5' tub. The user sits in at chair height, and the door pulls up and latches with less than five pounds of pressure, allowing for a deep soaking experience.
Bathtubs are also being customized from a style standpoint, and Jonathan Carter, marketing manager of London based Victoria + Albert, which has North America offices in Mount Pleasant, SC, notes a growing interest in personalizing the look of the tub with paint on the outside in a range of colors and metallics.
Of course, tubs aren’t just being customized on the outside. They are also being outfitted with freestanding tub fillers and hand showers for a custom interior look.
Carter notes that freestanding baths are on the rise in general, often replacing the demand for jetted tubs.
With style trends, a variety of textures, colors and finishes all play into the equation.
Lord finds that the tendency to mix and match materials, textures or colors from different design categories is becoming popular among homeowners looking to turn their space into an extension of themselves. “By selecting the same finish, modern shower fixtures can be juxtaposed with traditional bathroom faucets to create a space that feels personal but is still cohesive,” he says.
There are also many color and finish options on the market.
“We are again noticing an interest in adding a bit of color, or even patterns, to bathrooms,” says Carter.
Flowers agrees. “In the bathroom, we’re seeing designers moving away from the timeless mix of white sink ceramics with chrome fixtures. Black and white are leading the way, and while white remains a bathroom classic, an increasing number of manufacturers are now adding black to their color palettes.”
Carter also sees a move toward organic shapes, wood and plants in the bathroom space. There is also a desire for composite materials, he adds, noting the popularity of the company’s volcanic limestone content, which he believes adds to the simplicity and natural feel of the bath.
Jacobs says, “Consumers have a real choice in the myriad of styles [and finish options] available to them. Oil-rubbed bronze continues with its popularity, with chrome making a big comeback.”
For Hansgohe, chrome has always been what people want to see on display when looking for fixtures, says Christensten. “The second most popular to chrome are the steel optik and light brushed finishes. The third most popular finish is the rubbed bronze and oil-rubbed bronze. Overall, in the industry, finishes like polished nickel and polished brass are very rarely used today,” he adds.
Schrage concludes: “The bathroom is a respite, and the serenity we get from organic materials and colors [with] clear, neutral, calming effects soothes us.” KBDN