SHOWERS 101 – ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW

Shower design, products & know-how for your bathroom remodel planning.

Walk-in showers have been gaining ground in American homes for more than a decade—and for good reasons!

  • A freestanding stall can fit where a tub can’t, making them ideal for small homes.
  • Where space allows, a shower can be paired with a separate tub and create a practical layout for a shared master bath.
  • Showers are easier to use than tubs, which is an important consideration for those designing for special needs and aging in place.

 

And it doesn’t hurt that the latest shower features can turn your morning dash through the spray into the ultimate at-home spa experience. Here’s what to consider when planning a shower.

What’s in a shower?

Parts of a showerThe Anatomy of the Shower

Whether you choose prefab, custom or a mix of shower parts, these are the basic elements:

  • The base (also called the pan) forms the shower floor.
  • The surround (tile, stone or plastic) forms one or more walls.
  • The enclosure (curtain, glass or tiled wall) protects the bathroom from overspray.

Fittings are the shower hardware:

  • Tap handles and diverters control water delivery via shower heads and other sprays.
  • A drain in the floor transmits run-off to waste pipes.

BATHS BY THE NUMBERS

 19% U.S. homes with two or more full baths in 1973

51% U. S. homes with two or more full baths in 2009

Source: 2009 American Housing Study, hud.gov.

 

Take the plunge! Look at what you’ve got and what you want.

Location scout In theory, you can build a shower anywhere that you can plumb and have the space to erect a stall with a 30″ X 30″ finished interior, which is the minimum size required by code. In practice, most homeowners opt for at least a 34″ to 36″ X 36″ shower against a wall (to hide the pipes) and near existing water lines (to save on plumbing costs).

Bathtub alcoves are popular and easy targets for transformation into showers, but they aren’t the only options. Think about how often you shower, moving the plumbing lines may be worth any added expense.

 

Take a shower To plan a new shower, duck into your old one and assess it for size and features. How much more shower space, if any, do you need? Consider:

  • Traffic If two people will use the shower at the same time, allow at least 36 square inches per person inside the shower.
  • Aesthetics What materials will be on the shower floor and walls? How will the surfaces look, sound and feel?
  • Views Choose an enclosure that meets your needs for light and privacy. Keep in mind that a clear glass enclosure will make the bath appear larger and offer sightlines into and out of the shower.
  • Storage Note the number and size of built-in niches and shelves you’ll need to corral soaps, shampoos and other toiletries.
  • Seating A separate seat or integral bench can provide a place to pause and eases shaving legs.

shower with bench

  • Shower heads Plan the types of taps you want (overhead, ceiling-mount, hand-held and body sprays) and where you’ll place them.

  • Comfort If you’ll be installing a radiant heating system under the bathroom floor, consider running it into the shower.
  • Customization High-end programmable systems can be preset for multiple users and remember favorite water temperature and settings, music and lighting effects.

 

Shower without sacrifice

EPA_watersense_logo

Thanks to the latest in low-flow technology, you needn’t give up a great shower experience to save a considerable amount of water. Shower heads bearing the WaterSense label have been independently certified to use no more than 2.0 gallons of water per minute (gpm) and provide a comparable shower to conventional fixtures that use 2.5 gpm or more.

How do manufacturers achieve this water savings? It’s more than just aeration nowdays.  There’s a lot of science behind creating the perfect size and shape droplet and delivering it at the right speed and spin for a meaningful drench.

 

galvinized pipe in the bathroomgalvanized pipe in the bathroom

TIP: Was your home built before 1975? To ensure adequate water pressure, replace galvanized pipes with copper or the latest plastic piping. Why? The galvanized pipes are nearing or at the end of their lifespan and prone to leaks, interior corrosion and mineral deposits that can cut flow by more than half.

 

Get into hot water

hot waterDepending on the scope of the renovation, you may need to upgrade your water heater to a new high-efficiency model. A contractor with plumbing and heating (HVAC) expertise can suggest appropriate systems based on your remodeling plans. The U.S. Department of Energy also offers several handy resources to help you choose the right type and size heater and perhaps receive an energy rebate:

The nuances of hot water and pressure To maintain water at a safe and comfortable temperature, you’ll want to install either a pressure balance valve (PBV) or a thermostatic mixing valve (TMV). The PBV prevents scalding (or freezing) when there is a drop in water pressure, such as when someone turns on the tap or flushes a toilet while you’re in the shower.

A TMV blends hot and cold water to a pre-selected temperature. Although a TMV will be more expensive than a PBV, it offers an important advantage: You can set your water-heater temperature high enough to kill bacteria (140˚F), and have it delivered to the tap at safe and comfortable lower temperature (less than 120˚F).

 

Make it easy

Beyond aging in place, a bathroom created with accessible design in mind will be easier for everyone to use. Simple elements like a wide, barrier-free shower entrance and a handshower on an adjustable-height bar have practical applications for users of various sizes and for cleaning the shower interior. Grab bars contribute safety for all ages and abilities. An experienced designer can help you pull together an attractive scheme that includes these and other user-friendly elements.

 

Behind the scenes

Hidden air leaks and insufficient insulation are common problems in existing baths.  In addition to wasting energy, these gaps can lead to condensation, mildew and rot behind the walls. Fortunately, replacing the shower offers the opportunity to replace any damaged substructure and blow in cellulose insulation, which can be compressed to fill in gaps and create a vapor barrier.

 

Shower Bases

Step up style Shower bases can be made from a variety of prefabricated materials or created from tile, stone or solid-surfacing. They are sloped to direct runoff toward the drain and textured to retard slipping. A seat or bench may be an integral part of a prefabricated unit or built into a custom base. Depending on the location of the shower and the type of enclosure, there will be one or two thresholds or, in the case of a barrier-free design, no threshold.

Common shower base materials include:

  • Acrylic, reinforced with fiberglass for stability and insulation value, is lightweight (thus, easy to transport and install), non-porous and warm to the touch. It’s easily molded and comes in a variety of shapes. Follow manufacturer’s directions carefully for cleaning with mild, non-abrasive products.
  • Cast iron has a porcelain-enamel coating that protects the heavy metal and provides a durable, glossy finish. Chips, though rare, can lead to rusting if not retouched.
  • Natural stone requires sealing and periodic resealing. Choose a honed or otherwise textured finish to retard slipping. Use mild cleaners labeled for use on your specific type of stone.
  • Solid-surfacing, quartz composite and cultured marble are manmade alternatives to stone that are easier to care for than the real thing. Follow manufacturer’s directions carefully for water temperature (less than 120˚F for cultured marble) and for cleaning these non-porous materials with mild, non-abrasive products. Minor scratches can be buffed out of solid-surfacing and cultured marble. Deeper cuts require professional polishing. Small chips and scratches in quartz composite can be filled with epoxy and sanded smooth.
  • Fiberglass is very affordable, but it’s also porous and prone to flexing, scratching, cracking and fading.

Prepping the shower sub-floor to receive the drain and base can be a time-consuming multi-step process. Newer shower systems, such as those made by WEDI and Schlüter offer lightweight, prefabricated elements and integral waterproofing that in experienced hands can speed construction and, ideally, save on installation costs.

 

Shower drains

Go with the flow The shower drain, covered by a strainer, is typically centered in the shower floor or offset to the left or right depending on the location of the shower heads.

Linear drains are gaining popularity in custom installations. Originally used in commercial settings, these long, narrow channels are installed against the shower wall and perhaps at the shower entrance. Strainers are typically made of perforated metal, though teak and custom-cut tile and stone covers can be specified. One advantage: an uninterrupted floor in the middle of the shower. [insert photo of linear drain???]

 

Shower Surrounds

Wrap up your options Like shower bases, surrounds come in prefabricated and custom options. Prefabricated surrounds come in many shapes and can include integral storage niches, shelves and seating. They may be part of a kit that includes a coordinating shower base. Common materials include:

  • Acrylic, reinforced with fiberglass for stability and insulation value, is lightweight (thus, easy to transport and install), non-porous and warm to the touch. It’s easily molded and comes in a variety of shapes. Follow manufacturer’s directions carefully for cleaning with mild, non-abrasive products.
  • Solid-surfacing, quartz composite and cultured marble are manmade alternatives to stone that are easier to care for than the real thing. Follow manufacturer’s directions carefully for water temperature (less than 120˚F for cultured marble) and cleaning these non-porous materials with mild, non-abrasive products. Minor scratches can be buffed out of solid-surfacing and cultured marble. Deeper cuts require professional polishing. Small chips and scratches in quartz composite can be filled with epoxy and sanded smooth.
  • Fiberglass is very affordable, but it’s also porous and prone to flexing, scratching, cracking and fading.

To form a custom surround, installers typically attach cement backerboard to the wall studs and waterproof it with a membrane, joint tape and liquid sealant. Newer shower systems, such as WEDI and Schlüter-KERDI, have an integral waterproof membrane and come in a variety of lightweight, prefab and easy-to-cut elements that can speed installation.

Finally, the custom tile, stone or solid-surfacing you’ve chosen will be installed.  Resist the temptation to get too creative with the surround.  Not only can idiosyncratic tile choices look dated in a few years and put off future buyers, they aren’t the only decorative items that will customize your bath. Keep in mind that towels, wall color, artwork and decorative accessories will fill the bath with personality.  And these are easily updated as opposed to ripping down tile and replacing it with new.

Personal Countertop Touches Personalized Bathroom Shelves

 

 

Shower Enclosures

Keep shower spray in its place Depending on the configuration of your shower and the placement and intensity of the shower heads, you’ll likely need an enclosure to prevent overspray. A simple curtain on a rod may do the trick, though a clear glass enclosure provides stylish coverage that will make the bathroom appear larger. The following enclosures can be supplemented with fixed glass panels to suit the installation requirements.

  • Shower doors are made of tempered glass and can swing on hinges or slide along a metal track. Choices include framed, semi-frameless and frameless styles.
  • Sliding doors have a metal frame and track system that attaches to side walls and the shower base. This setup allows a single door to slide behind a fixed panel, for two bypass-style doors to slide one behind the other or for two armoire-style doors to slide apart. When the doors are closed, the shower entry is covered, providing optimal protection from overspray. The drawback: The track obstructs the threshold.
  • A shower shield covers up to two-thirds of the shower opening with a fixed, tempered-glass panel or with adjoining panels, one fixed, and the other operable. The fixed panel sits in a watertight channel on the faucet wall and the shower base. To ease access, the hinged operable panel swings outward 180 degrees and inward about 20 degrees. An overhead metal bar may brace the shield against the opposite shower wall. Style choices include framed, semi-frameless and frameless shield styles and square or rounded panel edges. The drawback: Partial coverage of the shower opening (Watch your aim with that handshower!).

 

 

mold destoryer TIP: For glass shower enclosures, consider an optional antimicrobial coating, such as ClearShield, that resists stains, retards microbial growth and is easier to clean than standard glass.

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