Top Ten Shower Questions – A Primer Guide to Designing your Dream Shower
In my role as an interior designer I strive to meet the expectations of my clients - let’s face it everyone has a different list of “must-haves”. Often the elements that become the most important features are the things that people haven’t even thought of or didn’t even know existed! In the end, it’s about asking the right questions, here are my top ten questions when I help clients design the shower of their dreams!
- How would you like the temperature and volume controls to work?
One of the biggest variables in function AND expense is deciding how the shower will function in terms of volume and temperature, not to mention how many water outlets you want to operate at the same time! There are myriad combinations of thermostatic and pressure-balanced controls and a wide range in expense. Fortunately most local building codes require new valves to incorporate an anti-scald feature, but that's only a small part of the valve operation. Generally speaking, a "pressure-balanced" valve will control both the temperature and the volume at the same time. A "thermostatic" valve controls only the temperature, requiring a separate control for the volume which allows for greater customized control of your showering experience. Another important factor to consider, which goes hand in hand with volume and flow, is the size of your pipes. The 1/2" pipes that are pretty standard in most homes are generally not enough to handle the large volume of water needed to supply a shower system with multiple water outlets. If possible 3/4" is advantageous.
- Control placement? This factor of a shower design has as much to do with what's inside the wall as what is on the outside. A well-planned shower can make all the difference in the experience. It requires being mindful of where you are going to be when you turn on the water. Whenever possible, it is a good idea to have the shower head on a side wall rather than directly across the door opening. (Sometimes restrictions inside the wall don't allow for this, but it's certainly worth asking for!) In larger showers I design, I suggest putting the controls by the entry door so that you don't have to go all the way into the shower to turn on the water to warm up. If I design a bench seat with water jets at the back wall I often place the control to turn on the jets right at the face of the seat for ease of use. But all these are very personal decisions and placements that need to be decided on by the homeowner and carefully planned and measured.
- Do you care if the fixtures, handles and controls are plastics or metal?
This question always raises an eyebrow, but I like to warn clients that most manufacturers, even the high-end companies, are going to plastic. A preference for metal in your hand can exclude about 80% of product out there. (With the exception of the actual "handheld" shower, which have all gone to plastic for safety reasons). I strive to let my clients know what to expect when products arrive, so everyone is happy with the end result!
- What are the preferences of the people using the shower in regards to water pressure?
This is where you tell me about your preferred shower experience. Are you wash-and-go people, or are you looking for a spa treatment? Water jets can be an expensive component, and usually the preference for their placement varies greatly between users. Because typically jet adjustability is limited, I suggest looking at each user’s preferences and height. (That includes seated height, as well.) I recommend placing the shower jets above a seating area so they can be used more easily and in a relaxed position. Kohler's "shower tiles" have adjustability and are available in hard or soft spray options. Plus because they are square, they work nicely with rectangular tiles and cut in cleaner at installation. (Square drains are great for this, for the same reason!)
- What are the heights of people using the shower?
Rain shower heads have maintained their position as the luxury shower head of choice, but I always stress to my clients that a rain shower offers a completely different showering experience. If you prefer "tough love" to a gentle rain, I suggest at least going with a handheld on a slide bar to offer both options in your shower, especially if anyone in your household has long thick hair, it will take a lot more time - and water - to rinse that soap out with a rain shower head. I work directly with the plumbers at installation, so that all the heights are specified. Don't just give your installer cart blanche with locations, of plumbing fixtures!
- Is seating a requirement?
Especially when working with Aging-in-Place clients, seating is a necessity not just a luxury! Seating design is not only based on the size of your shower, but should be ergonomically designed to fit the purpose. So if you plan on just using it to shave your legs than 12" deep will do, but if your plan is to relax, enjoy body sprays, or a steam shower, I suggest at least 15" deep, 18" is even better!
Even if your shower size is limited you have seating options like fold down seats (my favorite are teak seats), just be sure of the load capacity, that they are mounted into studs and consider installing them before the tile goes up, it’s definitely easier. Finally be considerate of the height of your seat! Especially for my Aging-in-Place clients I like to install them at 20" above the finish floor. This, along with a properly installed grab bar, can make getting up and down so much easier.
- Do I really need to install grab bars?
By Universal design standard, yes! And since I like to bring practical Aging-in-Place principals into all my designs, you should at least make sure there is enough structural support in your walls to allow installation at a later date if needed. This could be something as simple as extra studs or plywood panels on top of the studs, under the sheetrock. New to the market is a product called “WingIts” that is specifically meant to deal with this issue in walls without special preparation. In the end your contractor can help guide your options. But one of the best products in the market for someone who just can't commit to a grab bar is a handheld shower slide bar that is a grab bar, as well! My favorite is made by Speakman. Grab bar designs have improved so much over the years - they are definitely not your grandmothers grab bars anymore!
- How much product, ie shampoo, conditioners, soap, body wash, etc do you like to keep inside the shower?
There is nothing worse than having a beautiful shower that is cluttered with products with nowhere to store them. With careful planning you can come up with more than enough space for everything. Niches are a great options, and when placed on side walls and inside walls they can hide a lot of product! There are even prefab models if you are worried about waterproofing issues ( a whole other topic). Niches require careful tile planning, so be sure to address this issue before you finalize your tile order! Soap dishes and corner shelves are other options that offer effective storage, although not hidden, but these options can encroach on a small shower and make the space feel even smaller. I like to place them on the same wall as the shower head, which keeps the bar soap from getting soggy.
- Are you interested in more bells and whistles? The latest and greatest options on the market now include linear drains and zero-clearance entries (a shower without a lip or threshold). These add an extra expense in materials AND labor but allow for ease of use with Aging-in-Place clients who are forward-thinking. Linear drains allow for greater options in drain placement, which in turn allows for more options in tile format and sizes. A perfect example is a Master Bath project in which I was able to continue the same large format floor tile right into the shower because we used a linear drain along the end wall of a large roll-in shower.
- Maintaining good looks? Often, when clients are upgrading clear glass shower doors, or more intricate tile designs they are worried about the extra maintenance involved. Fortunately, there have been great improvements in both areas. With a protectant film glass doors really do stay pretty clear on their own, but I have found that the simplest preventive maintenance is most effective: a squeegee! Yes, the simple habit (yes, you can develop a new, good habit AND you can even get your spouse to do it, too) if you do get a little cloudiness on the bottom, a simple combination of white vinegar and a gentle abrasive cleaning pad will gently and easily remove it. But perhaps the greatest change in maintenance has come with the new "power" grouts available in the past year. This new form of grout does not require sealing and are mold resistant!
Is your mind racing yet? Who would have thought that there were that many decisions to make when designing a shower? And that’s just one element of a total bathroom remodel! So take the time, whether you are getting professional help or DIY, to consider your options in order to make this the best shower experience possible!