Relaxation Time

While downsizing may be en vogue in some areas of the home, consumers still place high value on the bath as a personal retreat. In high-stress times, products that promote relaxation are increasingly important, and as such, jetted tubs, spas, saunas and steam baths remain must-haves on many consumers’ lists. Additionally, an aging demographic has given a boost to products that offer therapeutic benefits, as these are seen as having real value, a hot buzzword with today’s consumer.

“People are more focused on overall health, and that includes reducing stress and encouraging more relaxation,” says Jamie Polk, v.p. of sales for Diamond Spas in Frederick, CO. “They are turning their standard bathrooms into mini spas that can be used at any time in the privacy of their own homes.” Jetted tubs, saunas and steam baths can all contribute to that spa-like feel, he notes.

Whether incorporating a steam shower, whirlpool or sauna in a partial or full renovation, the key is to make the room more comfortable and relaxing for the homeowner, manufacturers agree.

Give it a Whirl

“Time and relaxation are at a premium, and consumers are looking for value and ease of use more than ever,” says Pamela Isetts, sales executive, Trajet Bath Products in Glenwood, IA.

“With the limited time we have to relax and travel for pleasure, the ‘at home’ experience continues to grow,” reports Isetts. She notes that combination whirlpool/air jet tubs are an important part of that relaxation trend.

“The option to have a whirlpool hydrotherapy experience, a soothing air jet bath or a combination of the two hydrotherapies is extremely popular,” she confirms.

Still, William Tennant, CEO, Acryline Spa Baths in Lyster, Quebec, Canada, notes that therapy baths such as air massage and whirlpool jetted systems are selling “only to those who have the space or time to take care of themselves and truly value a bathing experience.”

For those enamored with the jetted tub, amenities that contribute to the spa-like feeling are in demand, such as foam insulation, which reduces noise and vibration and helps maintain water temperature.

Sanitation – always an important issue with regard to hydrotherapy and air therapy baths – is benefiting from the latest in technology and development, as well.

“Customers want good hygiene products with minimal maintenance,” says Isetts, whose company provides Clean & Clear Technology, a sanitary hydrotherapy system.

With the EverClean system by American Standard, “a safe and effective antimicrobial is blended into the material used to make the water circulation pipes and fittings,” explains Barry Jacobs, product manager for bath and shower fixtures at the Piscataway, NJ-based company. “This protects the pipes from mold and mildew that could cause them to deteriorate or stain.”

Manufacturers note that air baths seem to be increasingly in demand, both for their appearance (the air jets are tiny holes, which some believe are more aesthetically appealing than whirlpools with their larger nozzles), and perceived sanitary benefits. However, the more intense massaging action of water jets appeal to many who want the therapeutic benefits of a deep tissue massage.

Letting off Steam

While once a niche area, steam baths are gaining in popularity as homeowners learn they can enjoy the wellness benefits of steam bathing without requiring additional space beyond their shower. Steam can be incorporated into the design of a shower, regardless of the size of the shower, according to Jim Hass, national sales & marketing manager for Saunatec, d.b.a. Amerec Steam, in Woodinville, WA.

Steam also has green benefits, since it offers the healthy, spa-like benefits consumers desire while conserving water. “A 20-minute steam bath uses just one gallon of water,” says Jari Ristola, president of ThermaSol in Simi Valley, CA. “By comparison, whirlpool tubs and power showers use upwards of 40 gallons for the same period of time.”

Ristola notes that aging baby boomers, looking to enhance their lives and improve their health by using holistic methods of relaxation, are turning to steam baths and saunas to help relieve sore muscles and expel toxins from the skin.

“Steam baths, in particular, are used by many with respiratory ailments,” he says. “Music and light therapy both enhance this experience and provide a true spa experience that is affordable and can be done in their home at a time of their choosing. It’s the perfect healthy escape.”

Chromatherapy lights have become popular in steam baths as people look for ways to relax and rejuvenate their body and mind, agrees Haas. “There’s also been more interest in fragrance injection systems that deliver oils into a steam bath environment for bathers who recognize the health and wellness benefits of aromatherapy,” he adds.

The addition of chromatherapy, aromatherapy and music in everything from steam baths and whirlpools to showers and saunas has been a notable trend in the past year, manufacturers agree, as a challenging economy has created a climate where stress-relieving amenities are in high demand.

Additionally, “customers are upgrading their showers into ‘SPAshowers’ by adding benches, rain heads, body sprays, steam, chroma lighting, aromatherapy and music therapy,” says Martha Orellana, v.p. of Mr.Steam in Long Island City, NY.

Saunas Heat up

Saunas have become more popular in recent years as a result of a virtual buzz in the market regarding their health benefits. “Today’s consumers are spending money very carefully, but they are buying saunas, justifying it as an investment in their wellness,” says Keith Raisanen, president of Saunatec in Cokato, MN. “Within the category, we see a trend toward more feature-laden (i.e. more upgrades) sauna rooms,” he continues.

The trend to more upgrades is evident in both infrared saunas and traditional saunas – with the most popular upgrades being: more glass (including front walls made of 100% glass with frameless doors), digital programmable controls, sound systems and lighting systems. “There are very few saunas sold nowadays that are a simple box with a light on the wall,” says Raisanen.

Sauna owners tend to be more “green” oriented and ask more about green features and design, including the source of the wood used in construction, manufacturers note. “They want to be sure it is from sustainable forests,” Raisanen states.

Of course saunas are naturally a green product since they consume energy only while they are in use, he maintains. “Traditional sauna heater design has changed to include more rocks, which subsequently provide soft heat and steam, but with less operating time (i.e. once the rock mass is heated, the heater cycles on less than 50% of the time the sauna is in use),” explains Raisanen. “Infrared saunas typically use even less energy than a traditional sauna, as they tend to be smaller rooms and with less heat-up time required.”

Isetts says the Far Infrared System was given a huge boost when Dr. Oz spoke about it on Oprah.

“It provides relief from pain and stiffness, increases metabolism, burns calories, aids in controlling weight, increases blood circulation, helps to reduce stress, increases energy, strengthens the immune system and promotes overall healthy skin tone while it detoxifies the body,” she says.

Because it is said to provide relief from arthritis, improve range of motion and help improve cardiovascular activity, heat bathing (sauna or steam bathing) is becoming more popular with aging baby boomers, and those well beyond baby boomer age. This has led to another design trend.

“Historically, the sauna has gone into the basement of a home,” says Raisanen. “However, nowadays, it is more likely to be on the main floor – as part of the master bedroom suite, or as part of an in-home workout area.”

He adds that hardly noticeable features are creeping into sauna design relating to aging in place and healthy design. “We are seeing three tiers of benches instead of the traditional two tiers – to reduce the step-up distance – and backrests that double as a hand rail to step up and down the sauna benches.”

Universal Changes

By 2030, nearly 26% of the U.S. population will be age 65 or older, compared with just 17% today, according to Michael Kornowa, director of marketing for MTI Whirlpools in Sugar Hill, GA. This is creating a change in the profile of the typical American family, as it is becoming more common for members of different generations to live together under one roof.

“Universal Design, or as we describe it, ‘multi-generational design,’ is one of the hottest, most significant trends because of the large number of aging baby boomers,” offers Kornowa.

A recent study conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) indicates that 89% of 50-year-old-plus Americans intend to remain in their own homes for as long as they possibly can ­– thus the phrase “Aging in Place.” Kornowa says the combination of these factors calls for home products that are user friendly to inhabitants of all ages. “And nowhere in the home is this more important than in the bathroom, for reasons of both hygiene and safety,” he says.

Multi-generational design combines style, safety, beauty and comfort with practicality and versatility. “It’s what good, smart design should be,” says Kornowa. “This means having stylish bathtubs available that incorporate a sensible transfer surface for safe entrance and exit; shower bases that have minimal-to-no threshold; seated shower bases; attractive separate seats for convenient, safe showering that can withstand the wet environment of the shower or bath (like teak), and grab bars that are decorative and functional.”

Dovetailing the changing demographics, the walk-in tub trend continues to grow. “Walk-in bathtubs are huge!” says Michael Schulze, president of Home Living Solutions in Temecula, CA. “The same consumers who used to have both a shower and a tub in their master bath are now replacing their old bathtub with one they can walk into. Remember, this is a consumer market that was raised taking baths,” he stresses.

Walk-in baths feature a hinged door to allow easy ingress and egress from the bathtub. In recent years, there has been a significant expansion in the range of styles, sizes and features in the walk-in bath category. “Many homeowners find that these units offer style, comfort and convenience, and are buying them to enjoy now while they also prepare for their future needs,” says Jacobs. “The top-of-the-line models feature acrylic construction for durable and lustrous shine, a door seal with lifetime guarantee and spa systems such as whirlpool, air bath and chromatherapy.”

Jacobs says the new “must have” feature for walk-in tubs is the Quick Drain. “With a typical walk-in bath, the door cannot be opened until the bath is completely drained, leaving the bather to sit and chill for several minutes at the end of the bath before they can get out,” he explains. “With the Quick Drain, a pump-assist system drains the entire tub in under a minute for a quick exit.”

Buy Once, Buy Right

While most agree that economic recovery is coming slowly, manufacturers of whirlpools, saunas and steam baths say that consumers are still buying. However, rather than just purchasing trophy items, they are now buying more smartly, investing in products and features they want based on what they need. “Consumers are subscribing to the ‘buy once; buy right’ theory,” says Kornowa. “If they need a multi-hydrotherapy tub, they will buy it. If they only need a high-quality soaking tub, that’s what they will buy.”

“The consumer is not spending extra income to have more than is necessary or more than he or she will use on a daily basis, and then maybe adding something to that item,” concurs Tennant.

Consumers are also becoming more environmentally conscious and green is changing the industry. “People are looking for tubs that use less water, take up less space and are environmentally friendly,” says Polk. “All of our products are made from recycled stainless steel or copper and, if the clients decide they want to redo their bathroom, the tub can be recycled.”

The market for high-end luxury products has been affected by the financial squeeze in the housing industry as a whole, but when the economy rebounds and financing constraints are loosened, Ristola believes these types of products “will continue to be favored, since they bring a special private escape within one’s home. While these products add value, the purchase is based on the homeowner’s enjoyable experience rather than a future home sale,” he concludes.

For more Whirlpools, Spas, Saunas and Steambaths, please visit Products Gallery.