I’ll be the first person to admit my love affair with hot water. I love a long shower or a good soak more than your average joe, and I’m thrilled by every new big kid bath toy that comes along. I’m especially excited about hydrotherapy shower panels, which are fast becoming both prevalent and affordable. These are more or less what they sound like: slim, tall metal panels with usually two built in shower heads and at least two or three (or as many as six) body sprays at about chest level – in other words, all the stuff you’d build into a full sized custom shower built in to a single unit. But why are these so particularly good?
1. Custom Shower Experience Without The Custom Shower Cost
This is really the big one. While equipment to build your own spa style shower is available, availability and affordability are two very different things. For a traditional custom shower, you typically have to buy each of the parts individually – a regular shower head, a rainfall showerhead, a hand held shower head, and each set of sprayers, plus individual controls for each one. With hydrotherapy shower panels, all of the parts you need are built – and sold – as a single unit. Not only does this make it much easier to keep your shower coordinated, but it also significantly reduces the hardware cost. That alone can turn a big ticket project into something reasonable in scope for the rest of us, and that’s not even considering…
2. No Need For A Big Remodel Budget
Most built-in custom showers require extensive plumbing renovation in order to relocate water feeds to 3 of the 4 interior walls of your shower. That means ripping out not only all of your tile work, but also a significant portion of your walls on top of the cost of extending your plumbing (and often your water heater as well). Hydrotherapy shower panels, on the other hand, can typically be installed into the same plumbing as your existing shower head and diverter setup. That means you won’t need to alter much – if any – of your existing plumbing, and in some cases won’t even need to remove any of your existing tile work, either… all of which can radically reduce the final cost of the project and make it much, much more doable to those without the budget for a whole-scale luxury remodel.
3. Ease Of Installation
The extension of THAT is that a custom shower is going to require a contractor 100% of the time. There really isn’t any way you can get away without having help from a pro if you’re redoing that much plumbing. But installing hydrotherapy shower panels is really the glorified equivalent of replacing a showerhead. Many of them actually only attach to the exact same pipe as your existing shower head, and in exactly the same way – they just divert the flow of water to a greater number of shower heads. That makes this the perfect weekend (or, let’s be honest, afternoon) project for even a novice DIYer – no expensive contractor needed.
4. Flexibility In The Future
All of that spells no room for regrets when it comes to installing hydrotherapy shower panels. While, certainly, a shower panel is a big investment, it’s not nearly the kind of commitment you’d need to make for a traditional custom shower, either in terms of cost or permanence. With a shower panel, if you need to change things up in the future, you have a lot more freedom to do so. While you’d have to rip out your tile and your wall all over again to expand, remove, or alter a custom shower, if you decide you don’t like your shower panel, you want to upgrade to a larger or fancier model, or even if you want to take it with you when you move, uninstalling one is just as easy as it is to install in the first place, and you won’t have to throw away the cost of the rest of your remodel. This is especially important for people who might be moving in the near future, or for people in neighborhoods where a big bathroom remodel wouldn’t give a good return on the value of their homes.
While it’s admittedly easier to customize a traditional custom shower – after all, you’re buying all the parts individually – there are enough hydrotherapy shower panels available on the market today that you can get one with exactly the features you want. Whether you want a high pressure sprayer or a rainfall shower head with a huge diameter face, two body sprayers or six, shower panels come in a huge variety of styles to suit just about any need. Even better still, some of them have the sophisticated volume and thermostatic controls and anti scald valves you’d expect to find in a higher-volume built-in system.
Okay, this one might just be a personal thing, but I really love that hydrotherapy shower panels come with built in shampoo holders and soap dishes. While actually creating inset tile niches in your shower is great if you’re retiling anyway, for a smaller (less extensive, less expensive) project, a new shower panel can at least save you from that awful wire thing you’ve had hanging from your shower head since your dorm years. It’s a little thing, but it can make your shower look a lot more finished.
7. Sleek Modern Styles
Speaking of, one fun thing about hydrotherapy shower panels is that they come with their own built in style. While many come in a simple, plain-jane chrome finish, quite a few have a little more spunk to them. From interesting shapes to unique finishes and fun hardware, shower panels tend to have a heck of a lot more personality than you’re likely to find in a more traditional shower system. Because the units are so prominent in a shower, they’re designed to look good, so it’s easy to find one that will add a little personal flair to your existing shower.
8. Water Efficiency
Now, I’ll admit, if you were going to go for a custom shower anyway, chances are you aren’t too worried about either your water bill or water conservation. But if you are worried about either (or both!) a hydrotherapy shower panel is a nice way to cut down on your water consumption while still enjoying a luxurious shower experience. Typical shower heads use about 2.5 gallons per minute, while built in shower systems use at least (yes, at least!) 16 gallons per minute, and often twice that or more. How much an individual hydrotherapy shower panel will use depends on the make and model, but because they’re only fed by a single 1/2 inch pipe rather than one per shower head, the use is much, much lower, even though the panels are typically designed to be able to maintain maximum pressure even with all the valves turned on at once.
9. What’s Not To Love?
I’ll cop to one “con” for this list of pros, but you might have already guessed it – at a mere fraction of the price of a custom shower, there has to be something wrong with hydrotherapy shower panels, right? Well, yes and no. The biggest “problem” is inherent in the design: because all the shower heads are located in a single vertical line, you don’t get quite the same all-encompassing, 360 degree water-fest with your shower panel that you would with a custom shower. Some shower panels address this problem somewhat with sprayers or additional shower heads that extend to either side of the panel to create an arc of sprayers, but even with that the effect isn’t quite the same. As well, the flip side of a hydrotherapy shower panel’s (relative) environmental friendliness is that the lower volume of water used means you have less water pelting you at once while you’re using it.
That said, if you’re dying for a spa-style shower experience but don’t have the budget or desire to do a full scale remodel, hydrotherapy shower panels are an excellent alternative, with nearly all the same features and capabilities of a built in custom shower without any of the expenses or inconveniences of installing one.