Five Ways To Build A Luxurious, Spa Style Shower (Without Tearing Out A Wall)

Big, luxurious, walk-in showers have become one of the most desirable features in bathroom design. They’re convenient enough to use even if you have a busy schedule and scale remarkably well to the size of your bathroom and your budget. While the ideal you’ll see on TV and in design magazines is a shower built to fit about five people, you can get the same steamy, decadent indulgence even in a small bathroom. Unfortunately, true custom showers involve ripping out your whole shower, rerouting plumbing, and even upgrading your water heater – none of which are very budget friendly. For a middle ground, look for one of these five types of high end, luxurious shower heads. They can all be replaced with about 15 minutes of work, no other upgrades, demolition, or skilled labor needed.

Shower Panel

A112 Shower Panel From Ariel
A112 Shower Panel From Ariel

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For anyone that balks at the prospect of a huge, invasive shower expansion project, my favorite recommendation is the shower panel. These are a simple and elegant solution, offering the multiple shower heads and body sprayers iconic of a custom spa shower, but all contained within a single metal or plastic unit. Traditional custom showers require pipes to be run through the walls to shower heads and body sprayers, each of which pumps out a full load of water, rapidly draining the water heater and requiring bigger pipes to move water in and out. Shower panels divide the water that would normally feed a single shower head between multiple heads, using various techniques to increase the water pressure so you get that all-over body spray without actually powering through five or ten times as much water. The best part? They attach to your existing plumbing, no modifications needed.

Shower System

Hansgrohe HG SHOWER 27146001 180 Tub Shower Showerpipe
Hansgrohe HG SHOWER 27146001 180 Tub Shower Showerpipe

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The term “shower system” can be used to mean a few different things, but in this case I’m referring specifically to high-end units that couple an over-head rainfall shower head with a hand shower. These are sometimes paired with tub fillers, and are usually designed with an adjustable bar that allows the hand shower to be raised or lowered so it can be used either as a standard shower head or as a body spray. These are similar to shower panels in that they install directly onto your existing shower arm and don’t require you to alter the plumbing, but may require a slightly more complicated installation, if the grab bar needs to be mounted to the wall. That said, these tend to have a more polished, finished look than shower panels, and are made entirely of metal, without any plastic parts.

Rainfall Shower Heads

Hydrotherapy Shower Head Ramon Soler US-RO200
Hydrotherapy Shower Head Ramon Soler US-RO200

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Rainfall shower heads are a common component of big, custom designed spa showers. These are bigger in diameter than your average shower head, and are mounted higher than average – sometimes even on the ceiling. The broad, flat face, wide nozzles, and positioning combine to allow water to fall rather than flow out of the shower head, dripping in large, fat droplets that feel like rain. Shower panels and shower systems typically come with rainfall shower heads built in, but you can also install them individually. To get the full effect, you’ll need to replace your existing shower arm with one that curves upwards to raise the height of the shower head. Rainfall showers provide a fantastically refreshing experience, but be aware that they don’t provide the same high pressure as standard heads, which can be a problem when trying to wash long hair. Also, expect to pay a little more for these, as they’re bigger and more sophisticated in design than conventional shower heads.

Hand Showers

Siliding Rails Hand Held Shower Ramon Soler US-7740Z
Sliding Rails Hand Held Shower Ramon Soler US-7740Z

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For a really simple, effective, no-gimmicks way to get a more luxurious bathing experience without tearing out your shower, you really can’t beat upgrading to a hand held shower. For those of you who have never seen one, these are basically shower heads affixed to a long, flexible hose, which allows you to move the shower head and direct the flow of water wherever you want it. This is great not only for hydrotherapy purposes (and washing that really long hair), but also makes it easier to clean your shower or anything in your shower, like a family pet. The best part is, these install just as easily as a shower head: you simply unscrew the old shower head, remove the old shower arm, screw one end of the hose directly into the pipe coming out of the wall, and the hand shower to the other. Most models come with a plate that butts up against the wall and and acts as a hook to hold the shower head in place at a standard height, but with some models you’ll need to install a bracket or slide bar directly into your tile.

A Really Nice Shower Head

Hansgrohe AXOR CITTERIO 39740001 Axor Citterio 3-Jet Showerhead
Hansgrohe AXOR CITTERIO 39740001 Axor Citterio 3-Jet Showerhead

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Okay, so it might not be the same thing as having ten shower heads spraying on you at once in a shower you big enough to drive your car through, but you might be surprised how much difference a new shower head can make. Cheap, junky shower heads have few nozzles and fewer settings, and often either lack water pressure or shoot you with pins and needles. If you live in an area with hard water, chances are good that at least a few of the nozzles are clogged, which can put a damper on the experience. Upgrading from an inexpensive, single-function shower head to one with dozens of nozzles and five or more functions is a huge transformation, with better water pressure, more customizable settings, and a better over-all sensation, often while using less water. Look to spend between $100-200 on a good, well made multi-function model to get the most out of your investment, then just remove your old shower head, screw on the new one, and voila – the most budget friendly spa shower out there.

So even if you don’t have a huge budget to spend, a luxurious, decadent shower experience isn’t necessarily out of your reach – you just have to buy smart, and avoid the pitfalls of the most expensive custom shower features.