Shower Solutions

These days, the value of the bath as a haven increases exponentially. Of course water becomes critical to creating a spa-like space that promotes relaxation, and that means showers and tubs take center stage.

With shower systems and soaking tubs, there’s no question that people like plenty of water to wash away their cares and stresses. But at the same time, the green trend that promotes water and energy conservation is also impacting design and product trends.

With two seemingly disparate trends at play, there’s some debate about what consumers want.

“It’s about wellness and rejuvenation,” says Mike Reffner, group product manager for Moen, in North Olmsted, OH. “Consumers [want] an experience that’s spa-like – a bath experience that is a mini-escape.”

Lars Christensen, senior product manager for Hansgrohe, in Alpharetta, GA, says that “green” is the hot topic of the day. “The trend toward custom spa-type showers that we saw in the middle of this decade has faded because of the economy,” he states. “Today’s trend is toward water conservation and water efficiency.”

Shower Showcase

Showering has become increasingly important for reasons beyond just hygiene, says Chuck Mistovich, director of marketing, Alsons Corp., in Hillsdale, MI. “People are looking to relax weary muscles, energize with the morning shower or wind down with a shower or bath at the end of the day,” he says.

This has led to an increased interest in shower systems with body sprays and multiple showerheads. “Consumers want options that will give them a fuller showering experience, with water hitting them from multiple angles and heights,” says Paul Patton, senior product development manager for Delta Faucet Co., in Indianapolis, IN.

Creating a custom shower continues to soar in popularity, according to Robert Larson, director of business development for Danze, in Woodridge, IL. “Homeowners like the ability to mix and match elements such as a stylish showerhead, a hand-held shower/sprayer and body sprays,” he says.

Indeed, many consumers are looking to increase impact and functionality. “A perfect way to change the look and performance of a master or guest bath, without all of the expense associated with a full renovation, is by replacing the faucets and showerheads,” says Lou Rohl, COO/managing partner of Rohl, in Irvine, CA.

Convenience and versatility are among the main concerns of consumers, manufacturers agree. To meet those needs, Alsons has created the In2ition Two Showers in One. “Consumers can use the showerhead by itself, the handshower by itself or both at one time,” says Mistovich. The In2ition, which is an integral handshower mounting within the showerhead, is also a combination shower whereby the consumer uses a three-way diverter to control the flow. “This unit has a handshower mount and allows different spray options from the showerhead, handshower or both at one time,” he adds.

Vacation themes are popular, says Reffner. “Creating a bathroom, as experienced in a luxury hotel room – with a showerhead/hand shower combination and/or a vertical spa – has become very popular,” he says.

Rainshower showerheads are a popular choice for those who want a home spa experience in the shower, and technological advances have only added to its popularity, according to Larry Brodey, CEO of Jaclo, in Cranford, NJ.

“Our Rain Canopies have seen many advances in terms of size, shape and chromatherapy features,” he says. “In addition to our Rain Canopies, our Renovator Swivel Showerarm with Handshower Diverter allows for the ‘Rain Canopy effect’ by converting the standard showerarm into a luxury showerhead and handshower experience.”

Tech Speak

Technology is also playing a critical role, Reffner notes. “We’re all getting very accustomed to the idea of customizing technology to fit our needs with a ‘set and forget’ mentality. Those ‘set and forget’ features have now entered the bathroom.”

Larson says digital shower systems are emerging as the next big thing in luxury shower systems. “These systems offer all of the performance found in mechanical thermostatic valves, but have many other features including one-touch control, showering presets, remote and multimedia control,” he says.

Moen’s ioDigital offers digital command of temperature and flow, with four custom presets and one-touch activation. An optional remote control allows the user to turn on the shower from across the room.

Big Footprints

In the bath, manufacturers and designers say that larger showers continue to be popular.

“The larger footprint allows for more elaborate shower systems, with ceiling-mounted showerheads, body sprays and handshowers with slide bar systems,” says Larson. “Many homeowners are doing oversized shower stalls and eliminating a tub altogether.”

Larson sees larger showers growing in popularity, as these more elaborate systems become “must haves” in upscale master bathrooms. “With this growth in interest, the category will continue to see improvement in technology and design,” he believes.

Patton also has noticed the trend toward larger showers. “We’re seeing consumers enlarging their shower area and starting to include other options like handshowers, multiple showerheads and body sprays. We certainly expect this trend to continue, but some of the decisions of adding body sprays will also be influenced by water conservation and usage restrictions.”

The Green Scene

American Standard, for example, is one manufacturer starting to see greater consumer awareness about water use in shower systems. “We’ve always encouraged shower consumers to use diverters and enjoy different spray experiences, rather than have everything going at once,” explains Gary Uhl, design director for American Standard, in Piscataway, NJ.

Delta is also focusing on providing a great shower experience that conserves water. “This is accomplished with our H20 kinetic technology, which delivers on that experience, yet uses less water,” Patton says.

“Consumers want functional products that save water without curtailing comfort – that is, a low-flow product that feels like a 10" open-flow shower,” says Christensen. “I think this trend will be with us indefinitely because of legislation and regulation.”

Indeed, different areas of the country are mandating the installation of low-flow showers. The California state legislature is considering a bill that would permit only 1.5 gpm showers and only one per shower stall. A number of standards and ordinances are under development that would make low-flow showers a permanent part of the plumbing codes, effectively eliminating multiple showerhead systems.

The LEED standard for a bathroom is one 2.5 GPM showerhead per 2,500 square inches, says Christensen. “If you want to install two showerheads or a showerhead and a bodyspray or two, you must enlarge the showering space to 5,000 square inches,” he says.

Jaclo is another manufacturer that takes eco issues seriously and has dedicated itself to developing shower products that do not compromise a user’s experience.

Moen also supports water conservation, but is equally concerned about protecting the water experience. In May, Moen introduced the Envi Eco-Performance Rainshower, an 8" rainshower that has a flow rate of 2.0 gpm, 20 percent less than the industry standard, Reffner says.

At Rohl, “Products, especially showers, are designed with a respect for the need to comply with EPA standards, and eight of our showerheads perform at 2.0 gpm, saving homeowners thousands of gallons of water per year,” says Rohl. “Many Rohl products also offer anti-calcium components to prevent calcium build-up, making them easier to maintain,” he adds.

Basking in Baths

The “green effect” has also carried over to the tub market. “Green products and materials are at the forefront,” says George Gruber, president and owner of Six Eleven Architectural Bathtub Design, in North Hollywood, CA. “Cast polymer products by nature are readily conducive to a green goal.”

Gruber says potential replacement of the solid component of cast polymer is being researched, with materials such as recycled glass, walnut, pecan and almond shells being considered.

Recycled glass is not only environmentally friendly, it adds strength, durability, thermal insulation and, in certain cases, aesthetic value to the finished product, adds Gruber. “The use of recycled and other by-products as a replacement of ground stone will lessen energy costs and reduce weight, making it an environmentally friendly choice,” he comments.

Michael Zimber, president of Stone Forest, in Santa Fe, NM, agrees that as designers and clients become more interested in the “spa” bath, they want natural materials. “We’ve started working with bamboo, and have introduced designs in various stones including onyx, travertine and carrara marble,” he says. “These materials bring a natural look without negatively impacting the environment.”

Frank Liebetrau, area sales manager, North America, Laufen USA in Miami, FL, adds that the focus with tubs is now on new materials rather than technical features. “It’s about the natural look with soft, organic forms,” he says.

“Water, in its pure form, has become a muse for bath design. We see it for cleansing and as an elemental force.”

Steel enamel in bathtubs is also gaining traction, says Martin Koch, chief communications officer for Kaldewei USA, in Indianapolis, IN. “It’s lighter weight than cast iron; plus, it’s 100% recyclable at the end of the product life cycle, so there are no sustainability issues.”

Koch says designers and consumers are mainly looking for dramatic design profiles, color options and comfort. “Freestanding tubs are becoming more popular because their design is not confined by space limitations,” he explains.

“And, geometric designs that break out from standard bathtub architecture, dual tubs where two people can relax together and colors beyond white are being introduced more often. There is a lot of interest in black in the bath right now.”

Demand is also high for richly featured tubs, says Anthony Pasquarelli, communications manager for Jacuzzi Luxury Bath, in Chino Hills, CA. “Our freestanding tubs make a strong visual statement with a fresh perspective,” he says, adding that “products with furniture-grade decorative wood trim, for instance, are capturing the attention of homeowners and design professionals alike.”

In the end, Uhl sees experience and comfort as bigger than just a striking design alone. “In tubs, it’s about soaking and relaxation,” he concludes.

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