Opening the Possibilities for Shower Enclosures

More people in the home, aging-in-place and affordability are leading to more remodels of secondary baths, with spa features and mobility front and center.

authors Emily Blackburn | December 2, 2020

An ongoing trend for 2020 is the number of remodeling projects that have arisen out of quarantine, as homeowners and customers have had more time in their homes to notice projects they have been putting off or never considered before.

With kitchens and master bathrooms the first place many homeowners choose to remodel, it follows then that secondary bathrooms are now having their moment, especially with regard to shower enclosures.

More people staying home this year—from college students staying with their parents to older homeowners who are unable to go out—has highlighted a need for bath space to be both functional and aesthetic.

“I’m seeing a lot of people doing the master bath and then coming back to work on the secondary bathrooms,” says Dana Lunak, customer service manager for DreamLine. “Especially a lot of conversions from bathtubs to showers, as people are planning for their older years.”

According to the American Institute of Architects’ 2020 Q1 Home Design Trends survey, larger walk-in showers and shower stalls without tubs continue to dominate the market, with 60 percent and 57 percent of respondents, respectively, deeming them leading features.

Similarly, the 2020 Houzz Bathroom Trends Study found that, for the first time, half of renovated master bathrooms do not have a tub, and 78 percent of homeowners who choose to remove the tub do so to enlarge their shower enclosure space.

High Class, Low Cost

Cost is a huge draw for those looking to do a remodel of their secondary—or even master—bathroom with a shower enclosure in mind. “It’s about a 35 percent savings,” says Jared Chevraux, vice president of operations at JTEK Solutions Group. “A lot of that is in the labor because we are in there in a day and a half, instead of six or seven.”

This factors into the cost of materials as well as the cost of labor. With shower trays, installation is a simple matter of setting the tray within the grout or, in some systems, directly on the subfloor.

According to Chevraux, “The barrier-free and curbless tile showers are the trend, and the pans are following right with them. Front trench options add quite a bit of style while still having the functionality of barrier-free entry.” Pictured: BestBath Shower Kid with Beveled Threshold and Front Trench Drain.

“We could be seven or eight days building a shower, studs out for tile, but we can be done in a day or two with our shower enclosures,” says Kohler/Sterling master plumber and contractor Ed del Grande. “That’s attractive to the customers as well because we’re not in their hair for an extended amount of time. This has become especially true during COVID.”

Lunak echoes these sentiments but stresses the aesthetic aspect of the monetary value for shower enclosures. “Customers can get the look of something very high-end without having to go to a custom glass shop. We give you the look of a beautiful custom door right off the product line. What people think they need custom, they can almost certainly accommodate off [a] product line.”

Tile Without the Grout

A huge benefit of shower enclosures for homeowners is the maintenance aspect. “Everybody just wants the least maintenance as possible,” Chevraux says. “We tell our customers that if they wish, they can use RainX or CarWax on their walls; and then they don’t even have to squeegee them or wash them as often.”

Acrylic and fiberglass materials comprise the majority of shower enclosure panels and trays, with an ever-expanding array of options when it comes to customization and getting that higher-cost look without the maintenance. Additionally, new technology allows for customers to choose textured acrylic that looks like tile—without the grout.

Low-profile shower bases provide ease of access and modern aesthetics with the durability and maintenance of fiberglass-reinforced acrylic. Pictured: DreamLine SlimLine Double Threshold Shower Base.

“You can have a whole shower surround with textured tiles and shelves built in, but it’s all one piece, so when you wipe it down there’s no place for the water to leak,” del Grande says.

And, because of the lack of grout, long-term maintenance is much easier, Lunak says, as homeowners don’t have to worry about mold getting under the surface or having to rip out and repair or replace sections in the future.

Popular trends in aesthetics still lean towards minimalism and neutrals. Subway tiles dominate interest, Lunak notes, along with clean, geometric, midcentury lines and shapes as well as pops of color.

“We’re finding most people still prefer a neutral, white bathroom, with coordinating accents and bases,” Lunak adds. “Or everything is frameless glass, and they want as little hardware as possible. A grid pattern that looks like a French door is really popular right now, with minimalist satin black or chrome accents.”

Chevraux agrees subway tile is the go-to and notes, “We’re also seeing warmer, earthy and botanical patterns, and a lot of wild patterns that we weren’t putting in a few years ago. It’s a lot more fun right now.”

However, if homeowners still do want a true tile look, they’re not out of luck when working with a shower enclosure. “A better alternative than a full-tile shower stall is to go with a shower base, and then tile around it,” del Grande says. “So now you’re not building that expensive shower pan, and it’s a much more reliable product in terms of leaks because it’s all one piece.”

Cast iron bases are very popular for tray options as they are exceptionally durable, seamless and endlessly customizable, in addition to the ease of installation. Lunak explains why it’s a favorite for her installers and customers: “There are no screws, you just set it on the bed of mortar or, in some cases, directly into the subfloor. There’s no tiling or risk of grout leaks.”

Functionality in Plain Sight

As the key markets of Baby Boomers and Generation Xers age, the question of accessibility comes to mind. The aging-in-place and living-in-place movements have led to a lot of customers choosing to outfit their homes to meet their mobility needs, instead of choosing to move to a retirement home.

In addition to a low- and no-barrier entry, shower kits also make adding mobility aids such as a grab bar not only easy but stylish as well. New fixtures also mean homeowners can use their grab bars as towel racks or shelves, preserving the dignity and aesthetics of their space without sacrificing the aid. Pictured: Kohler Choreograph Wall Kit.

“One of the things that we’re seeing is aging-in-place bathrooms,” del Grande explains. “Especially aging-in-place bathrooms earlier—and younger—than expected.”

Shower enclosures fit the need, with low-lipped or no-lipped trays that make stepping in and out of the shower much easier than even walk-in tubs designed to suit mobility needs.

A growing, older and less-abled market has led to innovations in features such as grab bars. Acting as support for getting in and out of a shower or tub space, grab bars of the past tended to be obtrusive and clinical, turning potential customers off until they absolutely needed one in their home.

“My favorite thing to do with grab bars is to hide them, [meaning, I want to] make sure that the grab bar serves another function,” Chevraux says. “Whether it’s a towel bar, a shampoo shelf or a corner soap shelf. I don’t want anyone to look at a shower we put in and say, ‘Look at all those grab bars,’ unless they’re really needed. For living-in-place and balance for everyday users, I try to stick to those two-function grab bars.”

Kohler/Sterling’s del Grande agrees: “These don’t look institutional; these are grab bars that have designs to them and nice finishes.”

Remodelers have always had to strike a balance between functionality and aesthetics when it comes to mobility aids, and the market is finally reflecting the desires of their customers, providing the dignity of a modern and good-looking shower without sacrificing the assistance and independence of movement.

Shower benches, too, are on the rise in shower enclosures. This addition’s function is two-fold: as a mobility aid and to provide a relaxing, spa-like atmosphere.

Like the innovations in grab bars, shower benches have undergone a makeover, with wooden benches especially gaining popularity. Moving away from the acrylic, one-piece shelves common in some older shower enclosures, homeowners are choosing to upgrade with a sleek, spa-like addition.

Spa Day

In addition to the rising popularity of wooden seats for shower enclosures, rainfall showers have created a new means for customers to luxuriate in their homes.

“They’re going for that spa-like atmosphere, with multiple shower heads or little niches in the walls,” Lunak explains. “Their home is their space now; people are working at home, playing at home and relaxing at home. Pre-COVID, it was more like chore, or a habit, and now it’s something you can enjoy.”

With COVID forcing people to work from home, Lunak explains, more people have time to enjoy the process of getting ready in the morning. “People take a lot of pain to pick out a nice tile, put in nice features. They want to take the time to slow down and appreciate the beauty of their shower space.”

Natural-stone-printed siding gives the impression of a high-end spa without the expense or maintenance. Built-in shelving provides ease-of-access and, according to del Grande, “hides the seams of the multi-piece construction unit.” Pictured here is the Kohler LuxStone Shower Enclosure.

Rainfall shower heads and surround shower installations give customers gentle, even water dispersion to soothe aches and, combined with other features like a teak seat or popular alternative lighting solutions, work to promote that ease.

“You can easily turn a shower into a spa-like setup because you have so much to work with,” del Grande says. “There are a lot of accessories that you might include in your shower surrounds that are going back to natural materials, such as a teak seat or a natural looking shelf. These combine to make a rich, natural statement and to promote that relaxation.”

Five-Piece Suites

Unveiled earlier this year at the 2020 International Builders’ Show, Kohler has designed an easier method for the installation of shower surrounds. Previously, shower surrounds had to be installed in one piece—which could be difficult and unwieldy to install, and they were sometimes stolen from sites—or in four pieces, which still left large pieces for remodelers to handle.

Now caulkless, five-piece units are the way forward, del Grande says. “We have all the benefits of taking the enclosure on to the job after the building is up and secure because the small pieces can be in quickly, and we don’t have to deal with all these bulky units.” Additionally, adding other features such as shelving, stamped tile or decorative mobility aids is very simple.

Even though at present this installation kit is only available through Kohler, del Grande is confident it’s something that’s going to catch on in coming years. “Customers get exactly what they want because it looks like it’s one piece in the wall, and the contractors and the designers get the benefits of a multi-piece unit—it’s much easier to install. You no longer have to worry about timing installation perfectly. I think it’s going to be the future.” QR

Leave a Reply

X—