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.