An aging population, an ever-growing desire for luxury and an increasingly well-traveled consumer are all driving forces behind the trend toward more spa-like baths. And, in keeping with the spa theme, a key element of these baths is heat therapy – whether it comes in the form of air- and water-jetted tubs, steam baths or saunas. That’s according to manufacturers recently interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
“Trips to the day spa or relaxing vacations to luxury resorts have given a new demand to therapeutic baths,” says Tawnya Quiet, marketing director, Aquatic Industries, in Leander, TX. “People no longer have to wait for a vacation away or an appointment at the spa to get a truly effective massage or pampering treatment. Luxury baths answer this growing demand for creating home spas that provide relaxation and restoration in just a few minutes.”
Indeed, there’s little doubt that the creation of the bath as a home oasis is on the rise. Particularly in challenging times, homeowners seek a restful escape, and what better place to find it than the bath? Even better, the therapeutic benefits make jetted tubs, saunas and steam baths a justifiable luxury, since these products not only provide enjoyment, but also contribute heavily to increased health and well being.
“The market has evolved significantly and an increasing number of people are looking for bathtubs with air jets, whirlpool, or combined therapies to create a home spa experience,” says Yvan Lachance, marketing and communication director for MAAX, in Lachine, Montreal.
To create the home spa feel that so many crave, designers must know what features can be added to heat therapy products to complement the experience. “Any alternative therapy will enhance the bathing experience, stimulate the senses and contribute to a healthier lifestyle. As a result, aromatherapy, chromatherapy and heat therapy are very popular,” says Lachance.
Michael Kornowa, director of marketing for MTI Whirlpools, in Sugar Hill, GA, says consumers are looking for a tub with complete therapy to promote well being through appealing to all of the senses. “Some people are just blowing out the tub with audiotherapy, aromatherapy, chromatherapy, the two types of hydrotherapy – whirlpool and air bath – and don’t forget thermal therapy. The very fact that you are in hot water relaxes the body,” he says.
Jim Hass, national sales and marketing manager for Amerec, in Woodinville, WA, says that chromatherapy is becoming very popular, as aromatherapy has always been, for steam bathing, as well. He says Amerec, among other manufacturers, is introducing injection systems that allow bathers to have fragrance oils injected directly into the steam line instead of having to drop them on the steamhead.
Russ Wittkop, CEO, SanSpa Five Star, in Le Mars, IA, says that while chromatherapy and aromatherapy add to the experience, in today’s economic times, people are keeping it simple. His company really preaches value. “[You] get a lot for what you pay for and you use it,” he says.
Features aren’t just chosen for the aesthetic appeal or pure relaxation. “Wellness plays an important role in choosing features,” says Lachance. “That is why more therapies are being enjoyed in new households. People are more informed and aware of the benefits they can obtain from purchasing a bathtub with the custom features that best suit their needs.”
Dave Anderson, general manager, Walk-In Tubs & More, in Waterloo, IA, agrees. “People are looking for muscle and joint therapy and skin therapy as well as just to feel good,” he says.
“New technologies are important to trends because they help to develop new therapy features,” adds Lachance. “In the bathtub sector, new therapies are being developed and sophisticated technology is increasingly present,” he points out.
Tracine Andrus Marroquin, director of marketing for Jacuzzi Luxury Bath, in Chino Hills, CA, says there are opposing technology trends, depending on the generation. Those from Generation X or Y look toward high-tech control systems, while Baby Boomers typically prefer easy-to-use, low-tech control panels, she says.
Size and Placement
When it comes to choosing a jetted tub, space is often an important consideration. Quiet says, “Although our best-selling baths continue to be 72", we have seen a significant increase in requests for 66" and 60" baths in more contemporary designs for metropolitan areas where baths tend to be smaller in size.”
While jetted tubs are most commonly specified for the master bath, high-end consumers often choose to include a second jetted tub elsewhere, she adds. “Many customers specify a larger, more elaborate bath for the master bath and a smaller, more traditional sized whirlpool for [the] guest [bath]. We also see a trend for whirlpool baths being included in one bathroom while an air bath is chosen for secondary baths,” she describes.
Marroquin agrees. “What I see is that whirlpool baths continue to be most popular in master bathrooms. Guest baths and particularly in-law suite bathrooms are also growing in popularity from a remodeling perspective [and a smaller jetted tub may be placed there],” she further adds.
It is notable that size is a factor in the sauna and steam market as well. For instance, Hass points out that the market for steam baths is much larger than that for saunas, and one reason is the space issue. “Most everybody has a shower. It’s relatively easy to convert that to a steam bath by adding a totally enclosed space with a door and piping the steam in. If you’re going to have a sauna, though, [you have to] dedicate a certain amount of square footage and that’s all it will be used for,” he says.
Mitch Altman, CEO of ThermaSol, in Simi Valley, CA, points out, “Sauna sizes haven’t really changed much over the years, but there has been a growth [in the popularity of these pieces in] smaller rooms, particularly in the infrared sauna.”
Hass also currently finds the infrared sauna in higher demand than the traditional sauna, due in part to its portability and the fact that the user can turn it on and go in immediately – which empirically means instant gratification. The infrared also requires only the 120-volt outlet that is already found in the home, as opposed to a 240-volt power outlet that a traditional sauna requires.
Hass points out: “It’s more of a plug-and-play type product. So [you] don’t have to plan for it at all.”
Air or Water?
While jetted tubs have long been popular, there’s some debate over which type of jet – air or water – is better. The general consensus among manufacturers is that the injected air systems or a combination of air and water jets are most popular.
Kornowa says that there are a few reasons behind the popularity of air baths. First, people have become familiar with the water jet technology. “Air baths have gained in popularity because they are a newer technology and it’s something different,” says Kornowa.
The other big reason, according to Kornowa, is that people think air baths are cleaner than whirlpools. However, he doesn’t feel that the reasoning is valid. “The fact of the matter is, they can be, but either a whirlpool or an air bath can be clean or dirty. It depends on how it’s designed, how it’s engineered, and then how the customer uses that engineering,” Kornowa says.
Marroquin notes, “Combination baths continue to grow as a category. They offer choice to the bather, depending on the massage desired on that day. Additionally, combination baths meet the needs of more than one user.”
Quiet adds, “We’re still experiencing growth with air baths, which seem to be more popular with women and teens. It appears, however, that most customers looking for a whirlpool bath are leaning toward combination baths because they are virtually getting two baths in one, each offering different benefits.”
Anderson says that customers first request a dual system until they are informed about the benefits and purpose of each. “I believe most dealers or distributors don’t know the difference between the two systems, so they encourage people to buy both,” he says. The wet system, he says, is designed to be a deep tissue massage, good for helping to rehab a sport injury, for instance. The air system, on the other hand, is a more even and efficient body and/or skin massage, he says, safe for all ages to use.
With an aging population, a lot of attention is given to access and safety issues. People want to be able to get in and out of their tub easily, without the fear of falling. One of the ways manufacturers are responding to this need is with walk-in tubs that also offer hydrotherapy.
“The market is getting behind the walk-in tub because that’s a growth industry, especially in today’s economic times,” says Wittkop. The doors on the tubs manufactured by his company swing outward, which is less common but a big competitive advantage, according to Wittkop. Doors that swing in, he says, are easier to make, but harder to get in and out of. He also says that in the current economy, the whirlpool market is down, while the walk-in bathtub market is growing. “People can’t use the whirlpool unless they can get in and out of it safely,” he notes.
Anderson says, “Our market is primarily people 55+ and they are looking for an easier and safer way to take care of themselves, with the option of body and/or skin therapy as needed.”
Walk-in tubs aren’t the only way to provide better access, however. Kornowa says, “When a lot of people think of the aging population, the mind immediately goes to a walk-in tub.” There are, however, alternatives.
“It doesn’t have to look antiseptic in order to be functional,” says Kornowa. Options from MTI include a tub with an 11"-wide front deck. “You can sit on that and turn into the tub as opposed to having to walk over it,” says Kornowa.
Freestanding tubs that become the focal point for a design have long been hot, and these are increasingly available with hydrotherapy options, manufacturers say.
“Five years ago there were virtually no freestanding baths on the market that offered therapy benefits,” says Quiet. “Today, the selection is vast, with traditional [and] contemporary styles available in many different materials. The designs of freestanding baths lend themselves well to air bath technology, so customers no longer have to skimp on style when wanting a therapeutic bath.”
Lachance has also seen the rise in demand for freestanding jetted tubs. “Consumers are opting for larger bathrooms in which they want to showcase their tub as the masterpiece, almost like a museum sculpture,” he says.
Marroquin says, “The actual bath is becoming the centerpiece of the bathroom, with fine furniture type details.” She adds that Jacuzzi recently launched several new freestanding jetted baths in both contemporary and traditional designs.
While white and biscuit are still the most popular colors for jetted tubs, manufacturers are also seeing these trends branching out. “For the first time in a decade, we are seeing baths ordered in more colors than ever,” says Quiet. She adds, “It appears that color is most popular with freestanding designs. The freestanding design of these baths, combined with color, actually brings the impression of art or expensive furniture into the bathroom.”
Lachance sees gray or charcoal emerging as a niche market. He adds, “Earth tones are still very popular, but people are drawn to both vintage hues and new bright colors.”
For saunas, Hass says that while Western Red Cedar is the most popular wood, it is becoming expensive and less plentiful. He has seen a lot of interest in Scandinavian and Nordic woods, such as spruce, which are more plentifully available. However, he adds, “I think most people would prefer to have cedar if given a choice and comparable price.”
Altman agrees: “The sauna wood used typically in North America is cedar, but there are choices such as redwood, spruce or certain varieties of pine. In Nordic countries, you’ll find most using light colored woods such as spruce or pine, but it appears the North American tastes run much more toward the look and scent provided by cedar.”
Hot & Steamy
Steam showers and saunas also offer consumers the benefits of heat therapy with a multitude of features. “Today’s steam and sauna market has evolved from a basic product to a more feature- laden offering,” says Altman. “The room sizes haven’t changed, but the wellness attributes of chromatherapy [and] aromatherapy – combined with music systems – have forever altered the setting,” he states.
Technology for steam and sauna functions has changed in recent years. Hass notes a new product, an all-wireless remote control, for the steam bath. This product offers users total flexibility to operate the functions of their steam bath, says Hass, allowing them to make temperature setting and time duration adjustments anywhere within a 50' radius. The remote will also simplify things from an installer standpoint, says Hass.
Energy savings also plays a role in today’s technology trends. “A new technology known as SmartSteam has forever altered the landscape in steam bathing,” says Altman. This technology modulates the power output of the generator, he continues, using only the amount of energy needed to maintain the set temperature. This eliminates the fluctuating temperatures of the past, as well as having an added benefit of less energy consumption.
Hass notes that water consumption is also a key consideration. Compared to the amount of water a jetted tub or vertical body sprays use, the 2.5 gallons of water or less used by a steam bath is minimal. “We think we have a better opportunity for folks to enjoy a spa-like experience in their home with steam and be more earth friendly,” says Hass.
Altman says, “What one finds today when looking for the healthy escape of steam or sauna are options that allow users to customize for their individual wants and tastes, and technologies that heighten the experience. Customization and options will continue to grow much the same way as found in the auto industry.”
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