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Keys to Designing Shower Systems

By Lisa Loushin, CKD

Think about where to place the shower, the number of users and their varying heights

Not everyone wants to dump their tub for a shower, but we are finding that more and more homeowners want the instant gratification and multi-feature ability of a luxury shower. Consumers don’t want to wait to fill a large tub with water, but want the ability to step into a shower and experience instant hot water. The multi-feature ability of today’s showers allows us to relax under a rain shower or waterfall, feel pulsating jets on tired muscles, have a spa treatment for our sore feet, or even a steam shower to relax in while getting clean.

Research still indicates that we should have a tub in the house for resale purposes. Although this might be true, we’re seeing an increase in the number of shower systems placed where a whirlpool tub once stood.

What are my options?
There are so many shower options out there and each manufacturer seems to have its own variation of each product making it quite confusing for us professionals, not to mention our clients. When I look at all the options there are just for the showers, not to mention all the plumbing fixture options, it brings me back to the time when I was a design student walking into a lighting showroom for the first time and staring up at all those light fixtures.

There is a multitude of options in showerheads alone, and then there are the body sprays, water tiles, hand-held showers on a glide bar, rain showerheads and steam units. Each of these choices includes multiple styles, finishes, sizes and performance options. There seem to be so many choices it becomes overwhelming. To streamline this process, I like to start out simple, then build off each client's needs.

Where should the shower go?
In most remodel situations it makes the most sense to keep the shower in the same location where the tub/shower was. If this is not desirable, locate the shower where you can get in and out of it comfortably and safely.

Keep it simple
The ability to give your client the best shower experience could be as simple as changing out the old showerhead with a new multi-function model. This may seem elementary; however, my teenage boys love their new showerhead, especially after a tough hockey game.

Another simple spa option is to add a second showerhead. This may not seem like much, but if you have ever found yourself rotating in the shower just to keep warm this could be the simple shower solution most clients would appreciate and could afford. You also could take this application another step and design separate valves for “his” and “her” shut-offs and volume controls.

Many manufacturers understand the desire for the spa experience in an average home and have come up with a shower/body spray system that is easy to retrofit in most remodels. There’s no need to drastically upgrade a plumbing system.

Then there are the all-in-one shower panels, some of which include multiple body sprays. These all-in-one panels are preferred by some because of their ease in retrofitting into existing applications, as well as in new construction projects.

Luxury is the word
For clients looking for the ultimate spa experience, the only limitation is their imagination. Personally, I like to first position the showerhead, preferably a hand-held style, on a glide bar. Then add a couple of body sprays for your upper back; then a couple more for your lower back, add a waterfall showerhead or water tiles in the ceiling, a steam unit and finally, a place to sit, which would make for the ultimate spa experience. If the shower is large enough for dual users add a second set of fixtures.

Shower planning
Before you can properly design a shower, you first must ask your clients what their needs are. Will this be more than a single-person shower? Do they have any physical limitations or other specific needs? Their needs may be very simple and practical or they may want that ultimate spa experience, which will affect design.

For example, in my most recent master bath project, when asked what his needs and wants were, the client said he would like a rain showerhead so he can relax after a long day working at the hospital. Because of his bad back, he wanted a couple of body sprays to be directly aimed at that area of his body. His wife wanted the ability to quickly get in and out of the shower in the mornings, but also wanted body sprays for her own back problems.

It was a simple shower solution, really, but given that he was 6-ft.-4-in. and she was 5-ft.6-in., we wanted to make sure we met their individual needs.

With the information we gathered, we mounted a large rain showerhead close to the ceiling, and then added a showerhead on a glide rail where it could be adjusted to their respective heights. She liked to get in and out in a timely manner, and with her longer hair, it was important to have a shower fixture that provided enough pressure to quickly rinse out the shampoo/conditioner.

When deciding where to locate the body sprays, we discovered their height difference worked to our advantage. His back problem was in his lower back and hers was in her upper back, so with a slight adjustment to the spray heads, we were able to add just two body sprays to complete the job.

Based on your client’s physical limitations, you might want to add a place to sit, a handrail and perhaps even minimize or eliminate the shower curb if possible.

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