Maximizing Shower Space

The kitchen and bath industry has provided architects, builders and remodelers the components to assemble a spa-like experience in the shower. Included in these components are numerous thermostatic valves, volume controls, body sprays, rain heads and hand-held shower sprays.

With so many components it is easy to make a mistake while specifying, ordering and installing them. A hiccup during the installation of these items can cause expensive remedies that prolong the length of the project and steal profit.

Careful planning along with multiple jobsite visits can prevent problems. Planning begins with a survey of the clients’ wants and needs. The client is the central component of the system, so be mindful of their budget and the space they have to work with.

Prepare a script for questioning your clients about their needs, and approach this survey with a sense of humor. Questions about the number of people sharing the space at one time often raise eyebrows and cause blushing. Asking where grab bars can be placed can be challenging as well; many “Boomers” can get defensive when we suggest they place stability aids along shower walls.

After determining the number of people sharing the space, we make each user stand straight and tall as we take measurements of specific points on their body so we can properly position components within the shower space. We measure from the floor to the back of the knee; the small of the back; the top of the shoulders; the centerline of the eyes; and the top of the head. We also measure from the finished floor to the wrist while standing with their hands to their side. These measurements must be made for everyone who will use the shower. We have found that many families share the master bath, and it’s important that everyone’s body size be taken into consideration.

Measurements are averaged to locate the heights of thermostatic valves, volume controls, hand-held sprays, rain head sprays and grab bars. Normally, adjustments are required. Sometimes we’ve had clients stand in the shower while we position components during the rough-in stage. Heights vary but some simple averages that apply are as follows: 52 in. to 56 in. off the finished floor to shoulders; 38 in. to 44 in. to mid-back; and 26 in. to 32 in. to lower back and upper thighs.

Size matters

Remember that big is not always better. Naked bathers require warmth for comfort so do not design the shower too large. In addition, the optimum distance from most body sprays is 30 in., so design with this number in mind. We find that a 48-in. long space is adequate for a single user. If two people are going to use the space at the same time, a minimum of 60 in. has worked well. In any instance a minimum width of 36 in. is required.

Ceiling height is also important when determining the overall size of the shower. Eight feet should be the limit. If introducing steam to an enclosure, slope the ceiling about 8 degrees to prevent water droplets from falling on bathers.

When positioning rainhead sprays, remember that the glass should be a minimum of 3 in. above the spray head. We set our shower arms at 84 in. off the finished floor.

The floor plan should include a seat or bench in the shower area. Industry standards are about 18 in. off the finished floor and at least 15 in. deep. The bench should not interfere with the minimum floor area. We almost always install a corner seat or bench the width of the shower that is open below. There are many premanufactured products in the market to help accomplish this.

Asking about water pressure is important for remodeling more than new construction and should not be ignored. Most systems require a minimum of 45 psi to operate effectively. Without this pressure, bathers will not be able to operate multiple showerheads and body sprays.

Just as important as pressure is water volume. Existing supplies may not have enough volume to supply the thermostatic valves with water to power all spray heads at once. Most of the multiple-spray systems use 3/4-in. supply lines. Some products can accommodate 1/2-in. supply lines, but these systems do not provide as many options for spray heads.

Drainage is another important consideration when we plan for this type of shower. It has been our experience that a 2-in. drain is more than sufficient to accommodate up to 20 gph, which most of these spas are capable of creating. However, it is imperative that you work with a manufacturer’s representative or a licensed and insured plumber to determine the drain size. Some larger multivalve configurations could require multiple 2-in. drains or a single 3-in. drain line.

Different styles of floor drains are available from round to trough-style drains with removable grids. Remember, every drain requires a vent. Make sure there is a place to terminate the vent. This is important if you are installing the system in the first floor. The vent needs to run up through any additional floors and terminate at the roof. If an additional vent is required, wall and ceiling repairs will need to be added to the scope of work in a remodeling situation.
It’s important to evaluate the client’s hot water supply as well. In new construction this is easy because an additional water heater can do the trick. On average roughly 75 percent of water running during a shower is hot. With multiple showerheads running at a minimum of 2 to 3 gpm, a 55-gal. water heater will be depleted in about 10 minutes.

Technical issues

Once the challenge of accommodating bathers has been met, the installation becomes technical and it requires input from the plumber, project manager and in my case, me. If everyone shares in this responsibility early on, it is much easier to hold everyone accountable if a problem occurs during, or more importantly, after installation.

Many builders or architects may be surprised that I supervise installations so closely. They may think once a set of measured shop drawings has been created it is up to the installers to get it right. This is wrong. There are too many variables in the field that require adjustment. The reality is, wall thickness, stud and structural wood placement, finished floor height from wet beds, HVAC ducting and electrical channels create obstacles that need to be worked around. The best planning at the drafting board does not prevent problems in the field.

You might also wonder if it’s worth it from the trade’s perspective. The increased risk, time and exposure may not be what many architects, builders or remodelers want to contend with. I have found that even though these installations require a tremendous amount of time they are highly profitable. As designers and installers we can create revenue through the sale and markup of these shower products. This revenue along with careful consideration of the billable hours involved with installing these products can lead to increased profits along with satisfied clients who are willing to refer us to their friends.

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