Ahh, the soothing sounds of a waterfall; the gentle feel of rain from above; the steamy mist of a hot spring; the sweet smell of lavender and pungent aroma of seaweed.
Scenes from fantasy vacations at exotic locales? No — these are just a few of the possibilities available with home spas and backyard hot tubs that can turn the ho-hum into oh-yeah. From steam rooms to pulsating head-to-foot massage sprayers, homeowners can now recreate some of the best features of professional day spas in their own bathrooms. Outdoor hot tubs can be used virtually year-round to soothe aching muscles or to entertain family and friends.
“The majority of people redoing their bathrooms have realized that they’re spending a lot of time in there,” says Jessi Lowry, a sales representative at the Fishkill showroom of N&S Supply, which specializes in bathroom products. “People are thinking more about how they can enjoy their bathrooms, not just use it to take a shower.”
Adding spa elements to your existing floor plan is definitely the economical route; add-ons are available that can help create custom showers that don’t require a two-man work crew and three months of hassle. For example, Grohe and Jacuzzi each make a “shower tower,” which converts a single showerhead into multiple nozzles for everything below the neck. It connects to the existing hot-cold water supply and mounts on the wall. The cost: from $700 to $1,500.
An outdoor home spa by Hot Spring features a handsome stone surround
Photograph courtesy of Hot Spring Spas
For the full day-spa effect, though, you’ll need to retrofit the shower stall with a series of spray heads with individual plumbing, Lowry says: “Multiple spray heads are like a rain shower out of the ceiling, and body sprayers from the sides give you the ‘car wash’ effect.” These systems can be set to provide a relaxing July drizzle or a pelting rainstorm. The body sprayer heads can be narrowed to a sharper stream that massages particular muscles. You can preset a desired temperature, and the unit will automatically find and hold that temperature every time you shower. (Advanced units allow for multiple settings for couples and families.)
Among the newest trends in luxury showers are waterfall heads and ceiling-mounted “rain showers.” Waterfall heads create a cascading wall of water, which can be adjusted for flow volume. The first captures one of nature’s simple pleasures: standing below a cloud burst. Rain showerheads — many of which create rainfall patterns — come in a plethora of designs, from a virtual “hole in the ceiling” to sci-fi funky (think Star Trek transporter room).
Beware of the limitations of retrofitting existing shower stalls, however. “You just want to make sure you have enough room so that you’re not bumping into things,” Lowry says with a laugh. “You don’t want to crowd the wall with too many controls. In a 36-inch-square shower, a showerhead and two or three body sprayers would be enough to give you a little spa experience.” Custom showers outfitting like this start at about $800. More extravagant and complex sets — such as two-person showers and decorative finishes — can run as high as $2,000. (Labor costs for plumbing are extra.)
Lowry offers two caveats for Valley homeowners considering custom showers. “Make sure you have a water heater with enough hot water for more than a two-minute shower,” she says. A heater that’s too small or too old might need upgrading. In addition, water pressure in some communities can be quite low and won’t be enough to energize a half dozen sprayers. Pressurized tanks can be added to compensate for this, but that will increase the cost.
Just as homeowners have started to jazz up their showers, they’ve also begun to cut down the time it takes to maintain them. “People who are shopping are also very practical minded,” Lowry says. “They want to spend more time in the bathroom — but not doing housework.” Handheld shower attachments are growing in popularity; they make washing and rinsing the shower stall quicker and easier. Many buyers are shying away from shiny chrome fittings, favoring instead a brushed nickel finish that doesn’t show water spots as readily, according to Lowry. Advances in shower fixtures — such as silicon nozzles on showerheads that prevent scale and lime buildup — have also cut down on maintenance.
Under the sea: A local home features a fanciful mural along with a spa tub and sauna
Photograph by Michael Polito
No home spa would be complete, though, without a steam bath. Turn your existing shower stall into a sauna by adding a steam generator. Installed in a remote location (such as a closet, cabinet, or basement), the steam produced by the generator is piped into the shower stall. There’s growing evidence about the health benefits of steam baths. According to a 2001 article in the American Journal of Medicine, saunas can lower blood pressure and help some patients with chronic congestive heart failure. Steam also provides relief for people suffering from asthma, chronic bronchitis, and arthritis. It’s also good for general health; one study found that a hearty steam sauna raises the cardio load to the level of a brisk walk.
The modern shower sauna doesn’t have to end at steam therapy. The Mr. Steam brand generator, for example, includes an optional aromatherapy system that infuses scented oils into the vapor; varieties include eucalyptus, lavender, evergreen, mint and a “tropical combination” intended to clear the sinuses. Need more from your sauna? Mr. Steam can also be upgraded with ChromaSteam, which is a system of mood lighting. Add waterproof speakers to enhance the aural mood. A basic steam shower unit costs about $1,500 for roughly a 150-cubic-foot enclosure, Lowry says. Figure on spending another $500 to $1,000 per add-on, such as aromatherapy, depending upon the size of the shower stall.
Towel warmers let the feeling of luxury continue after the shower or steam bath is finished. “Basically, it’s like having a towel straight out of the dryer every time you shower,” Lowry says. Freestanding warmers, which plug into wall outlets, are under $200. Wall-mounted warmers run about $600 and include a timer that switches them on for clockwork shower users.
For an entirely different water milieu at home, hop into a backyard hot tub. Locally, homeowners have been doing just that for two primary reasons: health benefits and family together-time. “Some buyers have issues with arthritis, joint pain, circulation. This gives them relief from aches and pains,” says Gregg Galati at Galati Pools & Spas in Newburgh. “We’re seeing a lot of baby boomers that are still very active in their lifestyle but are starting to feel some aches and pains coming along.”
And, apparently, a family that soaks together, stays together. “It sounds kind of cheesy,” says Kevin Olheiser, a salesman with Rainbow Pools & Spa in Fishkill, “but it’s like one of the manufacturers says: it’s the new dinner table. People are finding that they’re able to keep their kids around a little more by jumping into the spa together.”
This steam shower includes fittings from ThermaSol
Photograph courtesy of Jaclo
Hot tub manufacturers point out that the Arthritis Foundation recommends hot tub use for relief of the symptoms of that affliction. The benefits of heated water include muscle relaxation, decreased pain and stiffness, and greater ease in performing exercises because of the buoyancy.
Athletes have long found relief for aching muscles in a long hot-water soak, but modern hot tubs get more aggressive. “Hydrotherapy uses different jets to target different muscles,” Olheiser says. Many wannabe tub owners come in looking for a “ton of jets,” he says. “I think they’ve been conditioned to think that way. I usually ask, ‘What’s more important to you: the number of jets, or the way they make you feel?’ ” The Hot Springs brand boasts the Moto-Massage feature: two powerful swiveling water jets. It’s installed behind one of the reclining “lounge” seats and sweeps streams of water from the low back to the neck. A knob lets you control the force of the stream and the speed of the arc. “That’s by far the most popular jet,” Olheiser says. “It’s kind of the deal closer.”
New hot tubs range in price from about $3,500 to $14,000, but Galati says average buyers usually end up spending about $5,500 (not including installation and electrical work). Costs vary because of size (Hot Springs’ Grandee model, for example, has room for seven people) and the number of jets. Custom exteriors can be plain or extravagant; a faux stone design, for instance, blends the hot tub into a patio. Entertainment options such as a TV and stereo speakers also raise the price.
These days, however, customers are not demanding the high-end bells and whistles. “We’re seeing a back-to-basics trend — hydrotherapy, relaxation,” Galati says. “We try to provide a carefree ownership experience.” Breakthroughs in hot-tub maintenance have made that possible — and relatively affordable. “Depending on the size and circumstances,” says Galati, “spas can cost about $200 per year to maintain.” Salt-water sanitizing systems in new tubs have reduced the amount of chlorine needed and allow water to be changed less often. There’s still maintenance in checking chemical levels, but that only needs to be done about once a month, rather than once a week as in the past, according to Olheiser, who adds that the salt system makes for a better experience all around. “It’s a less harsh odor,” he says. “It also gives the water a silkier, softer feel.”