A new television commercial shows a couple racing each other home from work. They tear off their clothes, dash upstairs, and rush into the bathroom to fight over the multiple-head shower. Obviously these homeowners are happy with their choice of a more luxurious experience in the shower.

There are two ways designers can make all their customers this happy -- with full custom designs for high-end customers or panels for those with more moderate budgets.

Made to order

When Alan Rayner, owner of AR Plumbing in Cumming, Ga., installed a shower with 47 different fittings, he laid 160 feet of pipe in the walls. "It looked like a maze," he says. Though extreme, it is an example of the infinite number of choices and requirements for custom showers.

In his Chicago showroom, Howard Miller shows his clients the working body spray displays and helps them choose fittings. "We fit it like an Armani suit. We look at the height of each user. We decide between adjustable sprays or pulsating sprays," says the president of Howard Miller Kitchens. He usually installs fittings at knee height, hip height, and chest height.

Plumber Craig VanderTuin says at K&S Plumbing in Caledonia, Mich., they only install custom showers. "Our homeowners can decide where they want everything -- we can tailor it to their height and needs," he says.

Ron Clark of Clark Construction designed this freestanding tower enclosed in glass to support Kohler's WaterHaven pre-plumbed panel. It can be installed with one plumbing connection.
Ron Clark of Clark Construction designed this freestanding tower enclosed in glass to support Kohler's WaterHaven pre-plumbed panel. It can be installed with one plumbing connection.

Depending on the system, some 1/2-inch diameter pipes in a bathroom need to be increased to 3/4 inch to handle the water flow. Miller says it's important that each showerhead is plumbed in a loop. "This way, you get equalized pressure from the top to the bottom and all body sprays will shoot out water at the same force," he says.

Plumbers can connect the loop to a thermostatic control valve. Rayner says up to four volume controls can be attached to a single thermostatic valve. He places the thermostatic valves 46 to 48 inches off the floor and volume controls at shoulder height.

Panel decision

Panels have long been popular in Europe and are a great option for customers who want the luxury of these showers but don't have the budget for custom. The panels save installation time and money. It takes Rayner two hours to install self-contained units, vs. eight to 10 hours for custom showers. He hooks the hoses to the hot and cold adapters, then turns the water on to check for leaks, before mounting it on the wall with brackets. "The 12-inch-wide unit sits on the brackets and covers the hole left by the old 8-inch single lever plate," he says.

Miller says the upper-end panels he installs range in price from $3,000 to $4,500, which is too expensive for many customers.

Raleigh remodeler David Mackowski installs panels in the $1,700 range, though he says upgrades could drive the price to $3,000. "But when you look at cost compared to a custom design, the shower tower is very affordable," says the president of Quality Home Improvements.

Clark's crew fastened steel plates to the floor and welded a C-channel to the plates. He cut through the floor joists to run pipes to the tower. He speced metal tiles to cover the outside of the column and ceramic for the interior.
Buchwald Photo Clark's crew fastened steel plates to the floor and welded a C-channel to the plates. He cut through the floor joists to run pipes to the tower. He speced metal tiles to cover the outside of the column and ceramic for the interior.

Installation tips

Both custom showers and panel units require a good source of hot water. "If you go through all that work and the shower can only run for five minutes before it runs out of hot water, the customer won't be happy," VanderTuin warns.

Each spray and the overhead shower shoot 2.25 gallons per minute, Miller says. Installing three showerheads could add up to 9 gallons per minute. He recommends installing two water heaters in tandem. One of his clients who is an engineer chose an instant hot water system, which is another option.

Rayner says most of the houses he works on in the $900,000 to $4 million range already have two 40-gallon heaters.

Mackowski prefers to add a second unit closer to the bathroom to avoid the wait for the hot water as it travels from a far-away unit. "If it is a two-story house, we'll put it in the attic. For a main floor bath, we'll put it in the basement or crawlspace," he says. If the original hot water heater is old and needs to be replaced anyway, sometimes a single 75-gallon replacement heater can handle the shower.

Drainage is critical. Mackowski says in most cases, the standard 2-inch drain will handle the volume from running all the showerheads. VanderTuin inspects how the existing drain works and then decides if he needs to replace it with a 3-inch drain or spec a second one.

It's also important for designers to find a qualified plumber. "I would not choose a plumbing company off the street. If they make a mistake, it could be costly," Mackowski says. He also suggests finding a supply house familiar with the products to provide detailed specifications.

Courtesy Delta

Priced right: For designers who want to give homeowners on a tight budget a multiple-fitting shower, Delta introduced the Monitor 1800 series, which has an overhead shower and two body sprays. In the past year, Alan Rayner of AR Plumbing, Cumming, Ga., has installed a few of these in modest $200,000 to $400,000 houses. "It's not as forceful as a custom, but it works," Rayner says.

The new XO model has the same showerhead and two jets, but the company added another outlet that can be used for another showerhead, a hand shower, or an extra jet.

The jet module in the shower-only version is pre-plumbed to Delta's Monitor valve. The XO and its components list at a price range of $460 to $630. www.deltafaucet.com/(800) 345-DELTA.

Courtesy Ondine

Electronic ease: Ondine offers an electronic system to control temperature and volume for its line of showerheads, hand showers, and sprays. The unit has three programmable settings for temperature and sequence of spray outlets.

Designer Howard Miller likes the ESS because the single unit can replace multiple valves and cleans up the wall space. "You don't need separate thermostatic control valves or separate volume controls for the individual fittings," he says. Miller prefers to mount the unit outside of the shower so users can set the shower before they step inside. www.ondineshowers.com (800) 423-9485.