Cover photo courtesy Barnett Homes, photo credit Jim Tschetter.
Years ago, showers became a much more sought-after amenity than tubs, as some home owners questioned how clean they could get by bathing as well as how much time they wanted to spend soaking.
The go-to solution became walk-in showers as amenity, with a rain—or showerhead—for a good spray and a few jets or sprays to provide the fun of water being spritzed from different directions. In higher priced homes, more features were incorporated, from built-in benches to large, sometimes two-level niches for bathing products, mirrors that wouldn’t fog up for those who liked shaving in the shower and audio systems. And some showers were made large enough to accommodate two users simultaneously.
However, as home owners have started downsizing, the size of the shower is being reduced. Yet having a shower still remains paramount as a design feature. “We’re definitely seeing more showers as opposed to tubs in the apartments we sell and rent in Brooklyn and downtown New York,” says Aleksandra Scepanovic, managing director of Ideal Properties Group in Brooklyn. But home owners realize different incomes and age groups call for different solutions. One given, however, is to be sure an installer builds a mud bed with rubber membrane before tile is added on the surface to ensure waterproofing and to prevent leaking, says investor and flipper Paul Kazanofski whose company is based in Nashville. “Some home owners hire workers who just cement the backerboard behind the shower to save money but don’t waterproof it, and eventually water will get through the grout lines and rot out the wood. You can’t tell this when you look at a shower since we don’t have X-ray vision, but you can always ask how the surface was prepared,” he says. Here are more tips to guide you:
At the luxury level, there doesn’t seem to be universal agreement about the size of the shower and even some of its features since personalization is the mantra these days. Some investors who build on spec like Ken Fixler, president of Barnett Homes in Chicago, have found that their clients don’t want or expect as large or as deluxe a shower for the master bathroom as they once did. Atlanta designer Eric Rothman of Rothman & Rothman agrees and says a shower measuring 5 feet by 5 feet or even a slightly different shape of 4 feet by 6 feet will do nicely rather than the behemoths of the past that sometimes exceeded 8 feet by 8 feet.
When it comes to the amenities, Fixler has found a steam unit is greatly desired while Rothman has found most units for residential applications don’t steam up fast enough, so his clients prefer to enjoy that function at a club or gym. And they, along with Kazanofski, agree about the importance of a niche for bathing products, a bench—built-in or flip down, heavy, custom or semi-custom thick glass, frameless shower door with as little metal as possible, which may run between $1,500 and $4,000 or no door at all for a walk-in “wet room” effect, and at least one or two shower or rain heads and body sprays. Still, to give the shower some personalized shine, tile for walls is critical and should extend up to the ceiling so it doesn’t look like the home owner ran out of funds, Kazanofski says. For a hip contemporary look, Rothman used concrete in his own master bathroom. But whatever materials and design are selected, Rothman says it’s also important to have the floor slope toward a trench drain that, if possible, is concealed, perhaps, underneath a bench. Tiling the floor in a non-slick finish and having adequate grout between pieces of tile or porcelain is important to avoid slips, he says. The overall look sought, at least in hip Brooklyn and New York apartments and brownstones is more minimalist designs in classic neutral palettes and sometimes darker accents and finishes, Scepanovic says.
At a slightly less expensive level and for a guest, older child’s or extra bathroom, the shower can be a smaller 2 feet by 2 feet or a slightly more comfortable 3 feet by 3 feet size, Kazanofski says. The nicest showers are surrounded with wall and floor tiles of porcelain or ceramic and again go up to the ceiling, and also have a niche, big shower head, bench (if there’s room and funds), and a glass door that can be bought off the shelf at a big box store for about $350 (installation extra).
For a child’s bathroom, where a tub is important for safety, a 32 inch by 5 foot tub is ideal and can be equipped either with a rod overhead to hang a shower curtain or be built with an off-the-shelf sliding shower door that’s fixed to the tub. Rothman thinks using a rod and curtain is easier for bathing a young child. This type of tub-shower combination is inexpensive and often can be found for as little as $150 to $350. It looks nicer when surrounded by ceramic tile, maybe with a glass banding. Again, install the tile up to the ceiling to give it some extra pizzazz. Look for tubs that have a wider rim or ledge to set bathing products on if a built-in a niche is too costly. But because these tubs may be a temporary requirement when children are very young, Scepanovic says some owners remove them and replace with a more desired additional shower for resale.
At the lowest priced level, a one-piece acrylic shower unit with glass door can be used to outfit a bathroom quickly and easily. The price can be an affordable $500. In addition, this style doesn’t require any surrounding tile. But the downside is that this shower type can easily get dirty. “I never use this kind,” says Kazanofski, “since the shower for me is the eye candy of the bathroom and a focal point. Scepanovic says she rarely sees this version in her listings since they’re considered very outdated by New York and Brooklyn standards.
For the increasing, aging population, Rothman strongly recommends a shower without a threshold to step into easily, even with a rollator. But because there’s no threshold, Kazanofski says it’s important to use waterproof caulking where the shower door is placed so water won’t spread onto the floor, which can easily cause falls. He also suggests tiling the entire floor and installing some sturdy grab bars on 2 inch by 4 inch framing behind the wall of the shower where the studs are located for extra durability. And installing a hand-held shower spray rather than one affixed to the wall will make reaching it easier for any one with mobility challenges, says Rothman. The good news is that grab bars are made more attractive; the bad news that they can be expensive—up to $1,000 or $1,500 though there are also some nonbrand names for far less, Kazanofski says.
Lighting is another key component for any shower, unless a skylight can be installed, says Rothman. With the choice of bulbs, he tries to mimic daylight rather than have the room too bright. He suggests a recessed can in any shower with the proper lens and damp or wet rating and an LED bulb. The cost for a light kit and installation will vary greatly, according to the electrician’s fees, but could run between $300 and $500, Kazanofski says.