Tips for Open and No-Threshold Shower Design

Over the last decade, the expectation of the showering experience and shower design has dramatically changed. To accommodate this evolution of the shower space, we are designing more open showers, sometimes with fewer walls, the elimination of doors, expanded options in water delivery and flush thresholds.

As we move toward no-threshold and sometimes open space shower design, we may all do well to review the related concepts, products and concerns.

Design & Lifestyle Trends

The benefits to creating a shower that is more open, with a flush threshold, are many and obvious. First, the elimination of the tripping hazard created by a traditional raised threshold benefits each of us, and especially those of us who do not lift our feet as high when we walk. It also removes the barrier and opens up general clear floor space for a person using a mobility aid.

From an aesthetic viewpoint, the look is more streamlined and integral to the space, an approach that has been used in European design for a long time. In our efforts to create a bath retreat, this openness and the clean lines created by the flush threshold contribute to the sense of serenity we are striving for.

Fueled not just by lifestyle, but also by the economy and ethnic patterns of living, we have totally embraced home design based on an open plan, making this more than a trend. Rather, it is pretty much a way of life.

With much of the space in a home given to social or public space, the trend is to the master suite or the bed and bathroom as more of a retreat, that “away space” or sanctuary. With this has come an increased emphasis on the spa experience of the shower, where comfort and personal health and wellness guide design decisions.

Containing Water

Although the trend toward expanded showers has slowed with the economy, we still have a keen interest in generous, open showers with no thresholds and sometimes no doors. The successful containment of water in a no-threshold shower is complex and requires coordination of a number of factors.

Because each situation will dictate the requirements, there is no single formula for success, but the following considerations should be on your checklist. First, the size of the shower and the distance and direction of the water wall to the door of the shower must be considered. Even a shower of generous depth can have water containment issues if the water wall is near the door opening or if it is pointed right at that opening.

In the case of a ceiling-mounted rain-style fitting, the ceiling height will also impact the distance water might splash. Attention must be given to the location of the seat in the shower and the direction of water flow likely from the hand-held spray placed within reach of the person sitting to shower.

Next, the location, type and number of drains and the slope of the floor must be considered. The maximum slope suggested for the floor is 1/4 inch per foot and the larger the space, the gentler the slope. In addition to the traditionally located drain, a trench drain at the entrance or at the back wall can sometimes solve this challenge, and in some cases a second drain will be added outside the shower, all of which require a water barrier beyond the normal shower area.

A shower door or curtain can also help to contain water and steam in the shower, but this is not always in keeping with the desired open plan.

While this list may seem intimidating, a good source for review of these details is Curbless Showers (http://www.ncsu.edu/project/design-projects/udi/).

Product Offerings

Not only do new product offerings make the open/no threshold shower easier to plan, these new products also make it possible to design to the specifics of an individual’s preferences regarding the shower experience. The impact of technology on shower fittings and system controls is amazing and we can enhance the multi-sensory experience with sound, light, scent and temperature/flow. We can actually program shower scenarios for each client, as with the Ambience Tuning Technique or ATT by Dornbracht.

Multiple offerings in trench style drains solve installation problems and visually enhance the space in that the floor need slope in only one direction, so larger format tiles can be continued from the floor into the shower. Prefabricated no-threshold sloped shower floors eliminate guesswork, making tile installation more consistent. There are even no-threshold shower kits for the appropriate application.

Books have been written about good shower design, so consider this just a teaser of a look at how our mandates for this space have expanded, as have its parameters and product options. As we head into an era where water usage is restricted by both code and conscience, and where technology is changing our experience, we have a lot to learn!

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