Responsible Refuge

While shower systems and tubs have always played a key role in the bath, the economic challenges of recent years have made these increasingly important in creating the refuge that stressed out consumers desire. For that reason, today’s shower systems and tubs must not only be highly functional, but also create a soothing sanctuary where homeowners can go to relax and/or rejuvenate.

However, it’s not just about beauty, functionality or even escapism, according to manufacturers recently surveyed by KBDN. Rather, these fixtures need to address all of the above, plus environmental concerns, accessibility and customization capabilities.

“Demand for home spa-like shower installations has grown dramatically as consumers seek the privacy, flexibility and convenience of stress reduction in the home,” says Les Petch, marketing manager for performance showering at Kohler Global Faucets in Kohler, WI.

Robert Larson, director, new business development, for Woodbridge, IL based Danze agrees: “Most people want a relaxing and spa-like experience in their home shower. This drives the demand for more features and better quality shower products including valves, controls and showerheads.”

As daily life becomes more hectic, manufacturers have seen a surge in demand for upgraded shower systems. “Lifestyles have changed over the past few years,” says Ziggy Kulig, president of Graff Faucets, in Milwaukee, WI. “We see our customers’ main desires being based on an increased demand for comfort and sophisticated functions, to easily enjoy within the short available time of the day.”

This growth in showers, however, has not displaced the bathtub entirely. Kulig says, “The bathtub is a luxury [for when] people want to dedicate more time to their comfort. The bath stands for an oasis of well-being, therefore the size and the freestanding versions become the main features for those who wish to immerse themselves in a relaxing atmosphere.”

Michael Terrill, marketing manager for Kohler bathing products, finds that in the master bath, the combination bath/shower enclosure is being replaced with larger, dedicated shower and dedicated bathing spaces. Kohler is also seeing a resurgence in freestanding baths, he says. 

Dave McFarland, director of marketing & new product development for Aquatic in Anaheim, CA concurs that freestanding tubs are becoming more popular. He calls these pedestal tubs “art pieces for the bathroom.” An acrylic freestanding tub can allow a designer or homeowner to mix and match colors – perhaps a black outer shell with a white inner shell, for instance, which McFarland is seeing happen frequently.

CONSERVATION CONCERNS

Designing a bath that balances consumers’ desires for a spa experience with eco-responsibility can be a difficult task, particularly when multiple sprays are desired. Equally challenging is the fact that many homeowners simply aren’t willing to give up the drenching shower experience or deep soak they’ve come to rely on as their escape from all of the stresses of day-to-day life.

“The green aspect is huge and has been growing in significance, but there’s always been a bit of conflict in this product category between [delivering the desired] benefit to the user and [being] environmentally responsible,” says McFarland.

Al DeGenova, director of marketing communications and training for Grohe America based in Bloomingdale, IL concurs: “People want to conserve, but they don’t want to sacrifice a good shower.”

While new technology has helped to create showerheads that offer a richer-feeling shower while still conserving water, those who desire multiple body sprays may need to seek out other options for staying green, for instance, taking shorter showers or using less water in other areas of the home.

TJ Mullally, national sales manager for Jaclo in Cranford, NJ, agrees that most consumers do not want to compromise on their shower experience. “They want the shower that they want,” he says. There are, he adds, a small group of people who are concerned about low flow showers, but the majority want their desired design and functionality more than anything else.

Terrill says that some of the smaller baths actually use less water than a shower. However, he adds: “It is the consumer’s decision to choose a large bath [if that’s what they desire], and we suggest using other water saving products [to balance that].”

With the growing interest in and demand for conservation comes a need for innovative choices, says Petch. “Increasingly, a judgment decision is being made between saving and performance or efficiency. Consumers are demanding a choice of solutions so that they can make that informed decision.”

Kulig states: “The consumer now takes advantage of the available bathing technologies, but is also still conscious of the green initiative,” he says. “To be successful today, the industry has to meet both needs: It must offer functions or sophisticated techniques and at the same time it must be capable of developing systems with high attention to low consumption without sacrificing user/creature comforts.”

Mullally also notes than any manufacturer that is going to evolve and grow with the current climate needs to be one or two steps ahead of what is going to become code or law. Most manufacturers, he says, are part of the EPA’s WaterSense program, and becoming involved in organizations that address green issues. Education around the codes and requirements is becoming more important across the board, he says, especially as counties and cities make their own requirements.

MULTIPLE SPRAY SELECTIONS

As the home spa market grows, luxury showers often incorporate more than a single spray. More and more, manufacturers say, showers are being designed with multiple sprays, rain bars and/or hand showers.

Larson says that many people want a fixed wall-mounted showerhead, along with a hand-held version with a slide bar, and sometimes a ceiling mount. In master showers, he says, there are often additional features, such as wall-mounted body sprays.

Petch agrees that body sprays have seen a surge in popularity in recent years, a trend he attributes in part to the aging population and growing interest in wellness and healthy living. “Body sprays give you the ability to target specific areas of pain or discomfort such as joints, lower back or neck, not only delivering stress reduction but also addressing the pains of aging such as arthritis or old sports injuries,” he says.

DeGenova says that rain spray showers continue to be popular as they tie into the desire for a spa-like experience. However, he adds, a rain spray is a soft spray, and there are still many consumers looking for a hard spray as well.

Mullally also sees continued demand for multiple sprays, and has seen growth in demand for rain bars, particularly over the last eight months. The flexibility of rain bars makes them appealing, he says, and people are switching out several body sprays for one rain bar. Additionally, hand showers and slide bars are growing in popularity, in part due to the flexibility of these products.

Ed Detgen, v.p./marketing at Danze has also seen this trend. “Hand showers and shower support products are very popular as the demand for products that augment the bathing experience continues to grow,” he says.

The trend toward multiple sprays could be threatened by pending DOE legislation due to go into effect in October that would limit the total output from all sources to 2.5 gallons a minute, rather than the current individual spray limit of 2.5 gpm. If this legislation moves forward, options for multiple showerheads could be drastically altered, say manufacturers.

GETTING TECHNICAL

Technology plays a role in most aspects of life these days, and the bathing market is no different. “We see a trend towards technological solutions,” says Kulig. “The shower must combine all required features to enable the consumer to have a true sensorial experience: colors, different water functions, lighting effects. These are all elements that can be integrated into a harmonized sensorial concept. Digital control and electronics address the customer’s demand for excellence and smart functionality.”

McFarland sees the market for digital controls growing, but believes this will remain a niche rather than mainstream. “There will always be a subset of consumers who want ‘the latest’ and so it’s understandable that digital technology has made its way into the bathroom,” he says. “As people become more used to technology elsewhere in their lives, they will have more of an expectation of seeing that technology in a shower or bath, especially at the upper end,” he adds.

Petch sees more demand for what digital technology can provide, particularly in the custom shower market. “Demand for unique products like [Kohler’s] DTV II custom shower system, which integrates the delivery of water, audio, chromatherapy, ambient lighting and steam, has exploded over the past few years.”

DeGenova has also seen some interest in digital controls, as well as other technologies like speed clean and Grohe’s DreamSpray technology, which distributes water evenly for full body coverage rather than producing a ring of water. He also sees thermostatic controls growing in the U.S. as people learn about the technology.

DISTINCTIVE DESIGN

Just as individual trends grow, so, too, does the desire for unique and personal applications of these trends.

“In every aspect of one’s life, from buying a car to selecting a TV service provider, we are looking to add our own level of personalization to the product,” says Petch. “The flexibility of shower system design and the ability to totally customize the showering experience at almost every price point has been and remains a key factor in its growth in popularity.”

People are becoming more creative, adds Mullally. “They want more unique items, they want items that everyone doesn’t necessarily have.” Rather than “keeping up with the Joneses,” he says, they want something different than what the Joneses have.

Mike Teresso, executive director of Laufen North America, says “consumers are figuratively ‘banging on their bathroom doors,’ demanding a customized bathroom suite based on functionality, budget and personal aesthetics. Taking the entire house into consideration as one giant design project, the bathroom must also transform into a culture of its own.”

From glass tubs and ceramic enclosures to a host of quirky customization requests, he’s seen it all. “Overall, it seems that original designs, the ability to scale units to an appropriate size, cost and the advancement of technology are all integral factors to how much (or how little) consumers will yield to these trends,” he says.

Teresso sees the size and shape of bathing products changing dramatically. “Consumers seem to be favoring differently proportioned showers and tubs, like preferring a freestanding shower rather than a drop-in mold. Homeowners who are downsizing seem to favor taller showers and narrower tubs,” he says.

In enclosures, consumers are looking for more interesting designs than the smooth walls that dominated the industry 10 year ago, says Charlie Kopplin, associate product manager for the Sterling brand, based in Kohler, WI.

ACCESSIBILITY WITH STYLE

Even when consumers require features such as a walk-in tub or grab bars, they still want a stylish design. “The trick is to deliver both aesthetics and functionality, but it is very difficult,” says McFarland.
McFarland notes that Aquatic designed the Ava tub with this in mind. The best feature of the Ava tub, he says, is the patented drainage system, which evacuates 70 gallons of water in under 30 seconds, eliminating the need for users to get cold waiting for the tub to drain before getting out.

Mike Schulze, president of Home Living Solutions in Temecula, CA, agrees that with more Americans aging in place, there’s a growing need for accessible tubs. Most of these are in the remodeling sector, he notes, which creates some challenges – and some design limitations. “When dealing with remodeling, you can’t get too crazy with your [tub] designs,” he says, noting that tubs need to be able to be transported into a house, often up stairs and through hallways, which can limit options.

He does see a demand for customization in walk-in tubs, but says this comes mostly on the therapeutic side.

Kopplin says that consumers are looking to incorporate grab bars and seats into enclosures to customize their showering space to fit their needs. He cites Sterling’s Accord Seated Shower as an example, with a removable seat that can also be switched from the right to the left side. The product is available with factory installed grab bars, he says, adding, “We designed grab bars specifically for this shower because we believe that they shouldn’t take away from the enclosure’s design.”

For more Shower Systems, Enclosures and Tubs, please visit Products Gallery.

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