While jetted tub manufacturers say they have seen some decline in sales, steam and sauna manufacturers say they have been holding steady or seeing growth.
Steam therapy works in many ways: To relieve tired muscles after a hard workout, to open pores and leave skin softer and more supple, and as a natural detoxification to remove impurities from the body. “These health-based trends continue to drive increased interest in the residential steam bath category today,” says Reinert
Jim Hass, national sales and marketing manager for Amerec Sauna and Steam in Woodinville, WA agrees. “Steam has enjoyed some significant growth in the last five to six years as interest in showers has increased,” he says.
In addition, Hass says that steam is very eco friendly, fitting nicely into the green movement. He says that steam consumes very small amounts of water compared to tubs, and even to shower sprays, on average using no more than three gallons of water for a half-hour steam bath.
Controls that complement the design of the bathroom are becoming more and more important to designers as well, manufacturers say. The mechanical wind-up timer outside the steam room is being replaced by digital controls with a lot of pizzazz. “People are more concerned in general about what their bathroom looks like,” says Hass. “In the ’70s people were concerned with utility. Now, they decorate, and they do so every few years.”
He adds that with all the options on the market, people are paying more attention to the aesthetics, not just accepting what comes with the unit, but exploring options to find what they like.
Mitch Altman, CEO for Thermasol in Simi Valley, CA says that Thermasol has two looks in controls, which were designed to speak to the design elements in the rest of the bath. “Designers can now choose the contemporary look to match the rest of the plumbing fixtures or the traditional look,” he says.
Reinert adds, “As the only part of the product that is seen in the steam room, the design of the controls and steam head definitely play a role in the importance of the design of the shower.
Mr.Steam’s steamtherapy steam head incorporates design features that include reduced surface temperature and more even distribution of steam flow into the room, resulting in a safer and quieter steam bathing experience.”
Though the idea may be to slow down and relax in a steam shower, people don’t want to wait to do so. Another technology for steam products that is beginning to show up more and more often is the quick-start feature, says Altman. ThermaSol has offered its FastStart option for over two years, and sees other manufacturers introducing the same technology.
Reinert says, “The ability to have steam quickly has also become a key selling feature,” adding that Mr.Steam’s express steam feature, which allows the steam room to be used within approximately 30 seconds, will be standard on all units shipped in early 2008.
In the traditional sauna, “design continues to be king,” says Keith Raisanen, president of Saunatec, Inc., in Cokato, MN. He is seeing a lot more glass – including all-glass fronts, where even the doors are frameless. “The all-glass-front sauna is probably the best design ever for a sauna in a master bath because it can be so stunning,” he says. Glass produces a warm glow effect and complements many types of bathroom designs, he adds.
Lighting systems have also seen significant changes over the years. “The day of a wall light on the front wall is virtually over,” Raisanen says, adding that although that may be the most common according to sales numbers, it is viewed as relatively old fashioned, and people are opting for softer lighting. “The sauna should be a place where you can relax, you can reflect, you can unwind, and lighting is a huge part of that,” he says.
Essential to the interior design of a traditional sauna is the wood selected. While manufacturers say that Western Red Cedar remains very popular, Hass states that the supply is deteriorating and it is becoming a challenge to keep a good supply of Western Red Cedar available. Manufacturers agree that lighter woods are top choices.