There are a lot of ways to go about building a custom shower, some of them more complicated and costly than others. But if you’ve done your homework and found your home to be custom-shower ready, and you’re fully aware of the scope of the project, the next step to taking your project out of the conceptual stage and into planning and execution is to figure out exactly what components you want to go into your new shower. The idea behind a custom shower is to be completely engulfed in water, a torrential spray from all angles to give you a genuine spa experience in your own home. These are the fixtures you need to make that happen:
1. Body Spray Shower Heads
These are the most ubiquitous parts of a custom shower – they’re almost always found in one, and hardly ever found anywhere else. Basically, it’s a small showerhead that you mount directly into the wall, each with its own supply line, that sprays horizontally out into the shower. These usually come in pairs or triplets, like these from the Novello Collection, and ideally are mounted on opposing sides of the shower, spraying toward each other instead of toward (or out!) the shower door, either parallel or perpendicular to the main shower head. Some flush mounted ones can even be installed directly into the ceiling. Any time you have two or more sprays, though, wherever you put them, they should be installed in a pressure balance loop of piping that ensures they’ll all produce an even amount of water.
Depending on your particular bath spray head, it will either be fixed within the wall like these Water Tiles, or protruding and swivel-able, more like a regular shower head. The choice is entirely yours, but if the shower is going to be used by people of very different heights, you might want to opt for the adjustable variety to ensure maximum comfort. Ideally, the jets will spray at shoulder/upper back level, waist level, and thigh/knee level, but one person’s shoulder height could be another’s water punch in the face. So make sure none of the jets will hit any of the users above the shoulders or in any other uncomfortable places, and if you have a very significant height difference between users definitely opt for one that can be directionally adjusted, like the one above from Danze’s Sirius Collection. As well, different types of spray heads produce different kinds of jets – from very sharp deep tissue massage to a fine mist, so be aware of the number of nozzles and the type of spray they produce when you buy.
2. Rainfall Showerhead
I’ve talked a bit about rainfall showerheads before: the big, flat, funny-looking shower heads specially designed to recreate the feeling of standing in a natural deluge. These are great for custom showers, especially when installed with their own volume control. This way, they can be used independently for a gentler experience, or in tandem with other shower heads for a stronger spa-like water massage. If you do install one of these, it should definitely be mounted either directly in the ceiling or from it, like this Jado Rain Showerhead, to allow maximum coverage and so you’ll still have room on the wall to install a regular shower head.
3. That Regular Shower Head
For a custom shower, you can get just about any kind of shower head you want – from a high pressure head to a fancy massage shower with lots of pressure settings, or even just something fairly standard. The really important thing is that you install it so the nozzle is about six inches higher than the tallest person that will be using the shower, so they won’t have to duck to get their heads wet. As well, it shouldn’t be out of the reach of the smallest person using it, especially if it’s a shower head with a lot of settings like this Danze model, so everyone who uses the shower will be able to adjust it to meet their needs.
4. Handheld Shower
Finally a handheld shower is especially important to have in a custom shower that will be shared with several different people of different heights – especially children. A good handheld shower will be attached to a metal bar, like this one from the Palladian Series, so that it can be raised or lowered as needed to accommodate everyone who will be using it. I think handheld showers are especially great because their ability to detach from the wall makes them incredibly versatile. You can use one to wash hard-to-reach places, give a deep tissue massage, or even to help easily rinse away soap when you’re cleaning the inside of your shower. They’re great for washing dogs, too – if you want to let Fido into your shower! Here, too, though, you want to make sure that the handheld showerhead works on a volume handle separate from the body sprayers and other shower heads, so that it can be used independently from the other parts of the shower.
5. Shower Panel
This is one that you may or may not want to opt for. A shower panel is a nice substitute for a true custom shower if you don’t want to rebuild from the ground up, but ones with the body sprayers built in will only give one angle of water, not the same enveloping 360 degree spray of a true spa shower. Ones like this Wave Bath Panel, though, that have a single built in, height-adjustable shower head and a built in hand shower can be combined with body sprays and/or rainfall showerheads, and may look a little more sleek and streamlined than installing multiple pieces of hardware.
6. Shower Set?
You can purchase a pre-matched set of parts as part of a shower set, like this Thermostatic System from Rohl. These can include any or all of the components listed above done in the same design and made to be installed together. This can be a convenient way to get the hardware you want for a little bit less, and a good way to keep all your hardware matched, but don’t let a pre-made kit put a limit on your creativity. As I mentioned before, the sprayers tend to come in sets (with a shower system, usually 3, 4, or 6), but if you want more or less, don’t be afraid to buy the parts separately, or to add a few more parts than the base set includes. Most designers, like LaToscana, will let you buy individual pieces from their collections as well as in full shower sets – so save some money on package deals where you can, but don’t skimp on getting what you want!
7. A Thermostatic System
This one is especially important for controlling the temperature in a shower putting out as much water as fast as a custom shower does. A thermostatic system is a type of anti-scald device that, essentially, keeps your shower within 2-3 degrees of the temperature you want. While adjusting the heat on a normal shower might feel like a feat in safe cracking that can be thrown off whack by the first stray toilet flush, thermostatic systems display the actual temperature on the knobs, like this one from California Faucets, and will maintain the temp you set them to regardless of external fluctuations. That means it ensures that you won’t get burnt, won’t get frozen out, and all your shower heads will put out exactly the same temperature water for as long as you’re showering (or until you make your hot water heater beg for mercy!). And because this handle is independent from the volume controls, once you find a temperature you like, you don’t have to adjust it to turn off the shower.
Whatever components you ultimately decide to install, make sure your plumbing is adequate to supply them. Each shower head (or group of body sprays) should be on their own volume control and shutoff, but running all of them through the same thermostatic valve is okay – just make sure the temperature control is at about waist level so everyone can reach it, though most likely you’ll set it and forget it!
Do you have a custom shower? What are your favorite components? Any you left out, or wish you had?