Lather Up in Luxury

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Men laying new hardwood flooring

Photo courtesy of Drexler Shower Doors

Once discreetly referred to as the WC, the bathroom has become a part of the house to be proud of and even show off to friends and family.

Its a far cry from the very utilitarian rooms we used to have. [Bathrooms have] become part of the aesthetics of the home, says Lee Woodall, president of the Georgia/West Tennessee Chapter of the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA).

Photo courtesy of Amerec Sauna & Steam

Bigger is better
And according to current trend, bigger is better. The bigger homeowners can get their bathrooms, the more they like them, says Trudy McGinnis, a certified bathroom designer in Atlanta. In its market forecast report for 2004, the NKBA stated that more than 8 million baths were remodeled last year, the largest amount to date. One of the trends were seeing is that homeowners want to enlarge the size of their bathrooms to make them more functional, says Jeff Kennedy, owner of Affordable Home Remodeling.

Photo courtesy of Jacuzzi

Showered with options
Bathrooms often have to be expanded to make room for a tub and shower, and with the added space, homeowners are opting for either a traditional stand-up shower, with added sprays and showerheads, or a steam shower.

Accessories can make a stand-up shower more luxurious. It could have body sprays, both in the front and in the back, and one or more showerheads, McGinnis says. The sprays are mounted in a column on the wall, usually under the showerhead. They can spin, rotate and move up and down. There is also more variety in what the sprays will do, Woodall says. Vertical spas are a nice update of the original body sprays that weve had for the past 20 years, but they really simplify the installation for the plumber.

A common request in updated showers is the rain showerhead, McGinnis says. Mounted to the ceiling, a rain shower allows water to come straight down, like a waterfall. Some showers include a seat under the body sprays and showerheads. If installing a permanent seat isnt within your budget, an alternative is a portable seat. This might be a practical decision for those entering their later years. I know a couple who wants to prepare for the future, when they may have to sit in order to take a shower, she says.

There also has been a very dominant shift toward multiple showerheads. Multiple showerheads are available in all price ranges, including everything from rain showerheads to a handheld that is attached to the wall. The handheld showerhead is very versatile, and its great for cleaning, Woodall says. Its nice because now people dont have to take a big cup and throw water on the wall.

The sky is the limit when it comes to the orientation of showerheads and body sprays. Most people put a showerhead on each side of them, with the body sprays coming from a variety of angles, McGinnis says.

Steam also is in demand in the shower. More people are beginning to put steam in their primary bathroom because its so relaxing. They can add oil into the dispensers, and once the steam starts, they can have their own at-home aromatherapy session, Woodall says.

And some are choosing to forego a tub altogether. Were seeing people take their bathrooms and go with two showers and a bathtub or just two showers, says John Gunderson, director of sales and marketing at Apex Supply Company. Relaxation is a common reason for a steam shower. With heat that can reach 120 degrees and the added humidity, a steam shower could be just the ticket for athletes, those with chronic pain, or those who enjoy the intense heat.

Photo courtesy of Moen

Keep it contained
Whether a water or steam shower suits your fancy, there are other things to consider. For shower doors, most people choose frameless glass doors. Homeowners want something nicer than what they have today, which is a framed, aluminum shower door, Kennedy says. Were almost universally installing frameless shower enclosures. Typically, 3/8-inch tempered glass is used for shower doors. Most people want clear, but were getting some requests for textured glass that is so gorgeous, McGinnis says.

Determining the type of flooring is also important. Ive found that bathrooms are now very exciting because there are so many types of tiles, Woodall says. Homeowners can choose between natural stone, glass or porcelain. Gunderson agrees that there are plenty of options:Now theres more of a trend toward granite and marble; theyre really hot right now. Man-made materials, which are durable but more expensive, give bathrooms a contemporary look. Bathroom floors also need to be very slip-resistant. This can be accomplished by using 1-by-1-inch tiles.

Depending on the amount of space available, the shower may not need a door. In order to do that, there needs to be enough space to ensure that water doesnt get everywhere. In doorless showers, tile goes from the ceiling to the floor.

And if a steam shower sounds more appealing to you, McGinnis suggests careful consideration of how the shower is built. You want the tile on the ceiling to be at an angle, so when the water drips down, it wont hit at the center of the floor, but all around. This shower will definitely need to be completely enclosed, with tile going all the way up to the ceiling. This ensures that no steam can get out.

Since some showerheads crank out a good amount of water at one time, its important to consider the water pressure in your bathroom. Normally, water pressure in a shower or tub is between 60 and 80 pounds per square inch (psi), says Scott Bynum of Bynum Plumbing. Some may want more water pressure from their showerheads and faucets, but Bynum cautions, You dont want to manipulate the showerhead past manufacturers specifications because then you fault the warranty.

Photo courtesy of Grohe America Inc.

Space to soak
And while some are getting rid of the bathtubs in their master suites, others are spending their money on improving their tub. Traditional tubs have used air bubbles or intense jets. The jets employ strong water pressure to hit certain muscles in order to provide a massage-type bath. Air bubbles provide a fizzy feeling, with the air bubbles popping to the surface from the bottom of the tub.

Tubs are great because they can treat different types of bodies with different types of relaxation, says Kathy Cabrera of Jacuzzi. From aromatherapy to chromotherapy, which uses underwater, multi-colored lights in order to treat different disorders, theres something for everyone. In chromotherapy, blue lights are calming and purple lights are invigorating.


Photo courtesy of Grohe America Inc.

Another trend Cabrera has noticed is the preference for full-immersion tubs. In some baths, when you sit up, youre still at mid-torso. In the Japanese culture, traditional whirlpool baths are 32 inches deep, instead of 22 inches, she says. Due to high demand, many bathtubs are being made with an extra-deep tub. People are incorporating an Oriental philosophy when it comes to their tubs, she says. The idea of soaking and being immersed in water is becoming more appealing to homeowners.

Woodall has also seen an increase in requests for soaker tubs and bubble tubs. It can be an extremely relaxing experience, she says. Jim Meloy, owner of Kitchen and Bath Concepts, says the soothing action of the air bubbles is a different kind of therapy. It has become really popular.

The cost to equip your bathroom with a tub starts at $1,900, but depending on how much you plan on customizing it, the price could reach $10,000.

Be prepared
When youre considering a bathroom remodel, McGinnis cautions to be realistic about the cost. Most people dont realize why a bathroom costs as much as it does, she says. The labor costs involved with bathrooms are very intensive. She says it is not unheard of for a bathroom to cost $70,000 or more. The biggest misconception homeowners have is that remodeling a small room, such as a bathroom or powder room, wont be very expensive. Everything that can be involved with a bathroom, from ripping out the tile and moving the toilet to replacing a shower or tub and moving pipes can significantly increase the price tag.

And although a bathroom overhaul can be costly, it shouldnt scare you away. Its your choice. Most people dont think to ask, How can I cut the costs down? McGinnis says. Be upfront with the designer, and youll be happier with the end result.

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