Whirlpools are fast becoming the standard in baths, both for their aesthetic value and their therapeutic benefits, with consumers demanding deeper tubs, luxury and safety features and customization options.
by Kevin Winkler
Indeed, whirlpools offer not only a sense of luxury for the body, but soul-satisfying sustenance, as well. Perhaps that's why each year, public demand increases for these multi-functional tubs. In fact, manufacturers interviewed by K&BDN contend that whirl-pools are fast becoming the standard in baths, for both their aesthetic value and therapeutic benefits.
According to Steve Brey-maier, v.p./sales and marketing for the Adamsville, TN-based Aqua Glass Corp., "A whirlpool is now an expected feature for any new home, particularly in the master bath. It has almost become a price entry in new home construction." Breymaier cites visual appeal, therapeutic benefits and ever-increasing affordability as reasons for consumers' escalating attraction to whirlpools.
"Today's homeowner desires more amenities, so this has a positive effect on the whirlpool industry," notes Phil Weeks, president of the Walnut Creek, CA-based Jacuzzi Whirlpool Bath, who sees a trend toward whirlpool baths in the second bath and guest quarters. "The aging baby boomer generation has a primary influence on this trend. They are in their prime buying years. They're looking for relaxation and comfort in the privacy of their own homes. Whirlpools are an ideal fit."
Marie-France Poulin, executive v.p. for the Quebec, Canada-based MAAX Inc. notes that, "The traditional role of the bathroom is changing, no longer being focused on simply functionality. More and more, the bathroom is going to be transformed into a sort of 'center for health and well-being' where one can get away from it all. Today's consumers want to be able to pamper themselves in a professional manner in the comfort and convenience of their own homes. They are looking for something that will allow them to escape from the worries of the day quickly and effectively."
"Consumers are getting smarter, have instant access to more information about products [via the Internet] and want more options and customization with their bathrooms," asserts Marisue Eisner, associate product manager Bathing Products for Kohler Co.,in Kohler, WI. Breymaier agrees that consumers are becoming more whirlpool savvy, noting that it used to be important that a whirl-pool have as many jets as you could fit into the unit. "Consumers now know that it's not the number of jets but the quality and positioning. Increased numbers of jets only decrease the amount of water flow through each jet, and consumers want the pressure to be there for maximum benefit."
McCay believes the bathroom is becoming the "living room" of the next century. "Consumers are focused on relaxation and comfort in the bath [and] the privacy of our own home offers an ideal retreat."
"While bathrooms are not necessarily becoming larger, they are definitely packed with more amenities," believes Weeks, noting that Jacuzzi will be introducing some new features this year that will add comfort as well as convenience, including a corner whirlpool bath complete with a 9" television monitor and stereo/CD system. Weeks believes features like this are "quite reflective of lifestyle changes in general. People are designing their bathrooms to encompass total luxury and daily conveniences. While our products offer a place to relax, they can also deliver the day's news during today's fast-paced mornings." Poulin agrees: "Because our modern lifestyles have become so fast-paced and time has become such a precious commodity, today's consumers have expressed a desire to be able to create their own private oases where they can relax and get away from the stresses of daily life. Models offering all the benefits of a spa are the trend for the new millennium."
"Consumers are looking for a whirlpool that will allow them to personalize their massage bathing experience to meet their own specific needs," explains Poulin, who notes that in response to consumer demand, MAAX has introduced a therapeutic system which uses micro-jets to massage the neck, shoulders and back. Weeks adds that, "Consumers continue to demand more custom control features, but they need to be easy to use. People are looking for simplicity and convenience; it shouldn't be a challenge for them to relax."
Health and sanitary issues will play a growing role in the whirlpool market of the future, according to Klement, who notes that, "SANIJET has introduced a patented pipeless whirlpool bath the first in the history of the industry which eliminates the unsanitary, hidden maze of piping and channels on the conventional piped systems." He explains that "the typical circulation system contains over 25 feet of hidden air and water piping, and when the pump is activated, dirt, sloughed-off skin, body fluids, soap scum" and other residue circulate through the system. "When the tub is drained the residue mix remains inside the maze of piping," with the piping being "inaccessible for scrubbing and disinfecting, since the piping on most systems does not fully drain through the tub itself," says Klement.
He notes that the pipeless whirlpool is unique in that, "With a pipeless system, all wetted parts can be easily reached [for cleaning purposes]." Klement believes that pipeless technology will be the trend of the future, since "consumers are increasingly becoming concerned about health and safety issues."
According to Breymaier, popular AquaGlass whirlpool features include "massage pillows with pulsating water, air induction systems that inject air into the bathing environment from the bottom of the bathing well and lumbar jets positioned to knead the lower lumbar area." Kohler recently introduced the Riverbath, which features a waterfall and the sounds of a river. "[It] is designed to provide a total water experience," Eisner explains, "one that massages the body but also revives the spirit."
Materials & colors
When is comes to material, there's no mistaking the popularity of acrylic among consumers and manufacturers. "Acrylic remains without a doubt the material par excellence," says Poulin.
"Jacuzzi Whirlpool Bath continues to use acrylic reinforced with fiberglass," notes Weeks. "Acrylic can be molded into a variety of shapes and styles, allowing complete freedom in design and engineering. And acrylic lends itself to an array of colors choices, while featuring a high-gloss, easy-to-clean finish."
According to Jones, "MTI benefits from using Lucite [cast acrylic] because it comes in colors that match toilet and lavatory colors. That way, we're able to match the whirlpool to the other bathroom fixtures with no problem. The high-gloss finish can be easily maintained using a non-abrasive cleaner. It's also non-porous, which means it resists staining. Cast acrylic is also the only renewable surface, meaning that the surface scratches can be buffed out and the finish shined to its original luster."
Eisner agrees that acrylic is the material that most whirlpools are made of in today's market, but notes that Kohler also manufactures cast iron whirlpools. "Cast iron whirlpools are made of the most durable material available on the market today," she believes. "The solid iron base won't flex, and the very high gloss level of the fired on enamel and glass material stays bright and looks rich over time." As far as color is concerned, manufacturers agree that white is still the color of choice among consumers. "Other colors ebb and flow, [but] white and bone are still the vast majority of units sold," maintains Breymaier, adding that "approximately 85% of all units are sold in white or bone because of the 'clean' look and universal appeal."
"Bathroom fixtures tend to stay in the home for quite some time, so homeowners don't want to be too trendy," explains McCay. "How-ever," he adds, "pastel colors seem to be making a come back." While white remains the most popular color, Poulin notes that "a few non-standard colors such as black, teal and shell are on the rise." Style-wise, traditional seems to be the current trend, according to most manufacturers. "People are turning toward traditional styles. Bathroom fixtures are a big investment, so they're choosing designs that won't go out of style," Weeks explains. "There's also a strong trend toward design matched suites. This means the design and detailing are uniform or similar between the toilet, bath and lavatories. This concept makes for a very nice statement in design." As with whirlpool baths, traditional styling is the principal demand for whirlpool faucets as well, however not everyone agrees on which finishes are on the rise with consumers. "Chrome and gold will remain the classics," maintains Poulin, "however there is currently an increase in the demand for the brushed nickel finish."
Weeks agrees that "brushed chrome continues to be popular," while Breymaier asserts that "the new pearl gray is catching on quickly," and McCay believes, "polished brass is growing inpopularity as the main choice of finish by homeowners."
Shapes and sizes
Just as manufacturers agree that acrylic is the material of choice for whirlpool construction, they also leave no doubt that the current trend in tub size is deeper, deeper, deeper. AquaGlass alone has "nine new whirlpool designs with increased depth in the bathing well," according to Breymaier."
By far the most popular size is a 60" by 42". The 60"-width fits in most bathroom configurations and the 42" provides good depth to enhance the bathing experience." Jones notes that MTI offers hourglass shapes, oval units designed to be dropped into a deck surround and 72" x 42" sizes.
"Our best-sellers continue to be the traditional 72" x 42" whirlpool baths," says McCay. "Oval and corner units are also quite popular, offering builders and designers optimal usage of space."
"People are looking for deeper tubs. They want to be completely covered for total relaxation," according to Weeks, who also cites that "corner tubs are among Jacuzzi's top sellers." "Our best selling suites have classic, traditional lines that work well in most room designs. There is also a movement toward simple, elegant shapes and more traditional styling," Eisner maintains. But, "relaxation is the key to the current market. A whirlpool must provide a sanctuary to escape to when the rushing, crazy world of instant decisions and communication gets to you. The whirlpool experience, and the features that make up this experience, must be the driving force in selling products in this marketplace." KBDN
Whirlpool Trends at a Glance
- Whirlpools are fast becoming an expected feature in new homes, especially for the master bath.
- Luxury features such as foot massage jets, multi-directional jets and neck massage pillows are commanding consumer attention.
- Though white and bone are the most popular color choices, demand for pastel colors is on the rise.
- Acrylic remains the material of choice for its high gloss finish and ease of cleaning, as well its capacity to be molded into numerous appealing shapes and configurations.
- Features such as handles are being add to make entering and exiting the units safer for the maturing audience.
- Consumers continue to demand more custom control features, but they need to be easy to use.
- Deeper tubs are high in demand.
Dealers See Growing Demand For Luxury Features, Steam
In addition to the continued popularity of whirlpool baths, consumers are expressing more interest in saunas and steam, according to the dealers surveyed by K&BDN. "We're definitely seeing more steam units," says Linda Clough, owner of Greenland, NH-based Lifestyles Collections. "Most builders we work with are now making allowances for the space."
"Whirlpools remain in high demand, especially for remodeling," says Stephanie Reese, designer for One Stop Kitchen & Bath in St. Petersburg, FL, but she adds that "interest is now high for steam."
Whether it's a whirlpool or a sauna, consumers want a feeling of luxury, according to dealers, who note that luxury features are in demand at all price points. "In-line heaters are a must," insists Jeannie Burnett, owner of the Williston, VT-based Life-Style Kitchens & Baths, who adds that, "Two-person tubs are very popular, even though most people bath alone."
Reese agrees: "Most of the time we see two-person tubs."
Dealers also agree that since most consumers consider whirl-pools an investment, meant to stay with the home for a long time, they want designs and colors that won't go out of style. "Upscale faucets are a must," notes Reese, "even for consumers on a budget. They don't want it to look like they're on a budget. Also," maintains Reese, "Lots of neutral and spice tones are doing well. People are staying away from dark colors."
Steam & Saunas Gain Momentum
To the delight of manufacturers, more and more consumers are discovering saunas and steam when searching for ways to transform their bathrooms into luxurious at-home spas.
One reason for the upsurge is that fact that consumers are no longer forced to install sauna or steam units in separate rooms. "The bathroom has long been the preferred location for steam-baths. New sauna designs are ideal for the master bath," explains Keith Raisanen, president of Saunatec Inc., manufacturer of Amerec, Helo and Finnleo sauna and steam products.
Raisanen notes that today's modular saunas are a far cry from the square boxes of yesteryear. "Their upscale features, manufactured in a quality controlled environment, now make prefab/modular saunas more popular then ever."
"Sales are up, especially for steam," agrees Dan Reinert, v.p. of the Long Island City, NY-based Sussman Lifestyle Group, which manufactures Mr. Steam and Mr. Sauna. "Consumers are becoming more aware, and more health conscious, and they're utilizing the benefits of steam at home."
One of the newest trends in steam is the use of aromatherapy oils to enhance the overall experience, manufacturers agree. "We've developed a steam nozzle with an indentation for adding aromatherapy oils," says Reinert, who says that the nozzle is also quieter, which helps contribute to the more peaceful, spa-like sanctuary that today's consumers are looking for.