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BODYWASH: The custom shower system still rules, but please use some restraint

Source: NKBA Innovation-Inspiration

In bathroom designs that promote health and wellness, custom showers have become a must. But if you're thinking human car wash with body sprays aplenty, think again. Perceptions of showering have changed, and satisfaction is no longer based on water volume, says Les Petch, senior product manager for performance showering products at Kohler. With water shortages a growing concern, busy homeowners are finding spa-like bliss in simple setups that provide convenience, flexibility, and personalization.

The simplest, and most popular, pairs a fixed showerhead with a handheld. The latter is the workhorse of the two and, though once considered a European novelty, now appears in 80 percent of all master bathrooms, says Carol Anne Kemper, product manager for Delta Faucet.

"The hand shower presents a tremendous amount of functionality and flexibility," says Jason McNeely, sales training manager for Hansgrohe USA. Not only do they offer more targeted cleaning and relief of sore muscles, homeowners' use them to shave their legs, bathe pets, and hose down the shower.

Designer Tanya Woods, AKBD, CAPS, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based XStyles Bath + More, always recommends a handheld to her clients, many of whom live in multigenerational households. "It's ideal for anyone who needs to sit when showering or for bathing children."

Infact, the demand is driving a proliferation of retrofit kits that allow homeowners to add a hand-shower without undertaking a major renovation. The products, such as Moen's Annex shower rail, attach to an existing connection point and thus eliminate the need to open a wall. "installation can be completed within a few hours," says Jerry Capasso, a product manager at Moen.

Given the focus on health and wellness, manufacturers are equipping their products with a variety of spray modes. Differentiated by water coverage, pressure, and movement, they do pretty much everything: invigorate, relax, massage, rinse out shampoo, and clean the shower. Grohe's exotic Bokoma recreates the experience of a fingertip massage with a circular pulsating spray that expands and contracts, relieving muscle tension.

Homeowners are also discovering the salubrious benefits of steam showers. Kohler has seen significant growth in the category nationwide, and Santa Monica, Calif.-based designer Laurie Haefele, Assoc. AIA, ASID, has installed several of them. A popular feature is aromatherapy, but Chroma therapy and music are also catching on, according to Petch.


Advanced Operation

Digital systems that control several devices, as well as steam, music, and lighting, with one interface represent the ultimate in customized showering. But depending on whom you ask, buy-in has been uneven, Kohler's DTV line is a growth area for the company, says Petch, citing advantages such as flexibility, convenience, and streamlined aesthetics. Moreover, in areas where restrictive water codes limit shower operation to one outlet at a time, preset sequences can easily alternate between multiple devices without users having to lift a finger. With a mechanical system, "there's a bit of workout turning valves on and off," Petch says.

Analog controls are also simplifying in operation and design. Grohe's Smart Control replaces conventional handles with push buttons that users press to turn the water on and rotate to control volume. Hansgrohe's Select showerheads and hand showers offer similar push-button functionality, which "is more in tune with our lives and our growing aging population," says McNeely. "It's going to be a large platform for us."

Moving forward, expect water conservation to continue to influence product development and usage. Although air infusion technology has improved efficiency without compromising performance, challenges lie ahead. In 2018, California will further lower the maximum flow rate for showerheads to 1.8 gallons per minute (gpm), down from Water Sense's 2.0 gpm and the current national standard of 2.5 gpm. "This is a commerce law," McNeely adds, which means non-compliant products will no longer be sold in the state; ditto for online sales.

Companies are already gearing up. "A lot of work is being done on the shape and efficiency of the spay and on understanding what a great user experience truly is," says Jean-Jacques L'Henaff, vice president of design at Lixil Water Technology. The internet of Things will no doubt contribute to the future of showering. Says L'Henaff, "Water conservation is really leading the discourse."