It’s where we start—and often end—the day. The shower has come a long way since it was hemmed in by tub walls and draped in a clammy curtain. Here’s how to turn the site of your daily drenching into a destination where style and function happily meet.
Invented as a way to wash off fast, showers have evolved into a prized source of relaxation, often with spa-like amenities. Steam shower with colored lights and piped-in playlists, anyone?
No wonder showers account for 17 percent of a typical household’s water bill. That’s led to a new generation of showerheads designed to put less water to better use. Thermostatic valves have done away with the shock of temperature swings, exposed shower risers have turned into design statements, and panels of frameless glass show off artfully tiled walls and invite in natural light.
Add built-in niches for essentials, a handheld shower, and a built-in bench, if there’s room. If you’re craving something more special, consider body sprays set in the walls, a steam shower setup, and radiant floor heat to take the chill off all that tile.
How Much Does a Shower Remodel Cost?
Do plan on making an investment: Baths in general cost more per square foot to renovate than other parts of the house, partly because running plumbing is pricey and making wet areas watertight, well lit, and ventilated requires a host of skills. “As with any renovation, an experienced GC can help you decide where to spend and where to save,” says architect Jerry Allan of Afton, MN, who adds that clients often come to him with photos found online and little idea of what is needed to achieve the look they are after.
Even if all you are doing is rebuilding your old leaky shower in the same place but with better waterproofing and updated finishes, it pays to read up on best practices and product choices. Start here.
This double shower’s classic black-and-white tile and custom glass enclosure channel a Victorian-era aesthetic.
Designer: Michelle Dirkse
Shower fittings: Signature Hardware
How Big Should Your Shower Be?
Figure out the footprint. One budget-wise and space-efficient solution for creating a nice-size shower is to take over a tub alcove, typically 3 by 5 feet. Even a 3-foot-square space can work well, and “You don’t need to go wider than 42 inches,” says South Carolina designer Sandra Gaylord.
Considering a shower big enough for two? If you’ve got at least 60 inches in length, you may be able to put a showerhead at each end. When possible, Gaylord likes to place mixer controls toward the room side of the shower in lieu of centering them, or on the wall opposite the showerhead if it works with the design. This allows for turning on the water without getting soaked, and, she adds, “it just looks nicer.” Regardless, make sure the controls are easy to reach when you’re standing outside the shower.
Determine Your Drain Location
If you’re rebuilding in kind without making changes to the shower’s size and shape, you’ll save money by keeping the drain where it is. And if the footprint is a standard size and shape, a prefab shower pan that’s presloped toward the drain will also save time and money—one made of solid polyurethane that’s tile-ready can deliver good performance and a high-end look. To move the drain, expect to pay $300 to $600. A new drain with a horizontal outlet and a thick foam board to elevate it (Kerdi-Drain-H and Kerdi-Shower-CB, $164; Schluter) allows you to locate the replacement up to 3 feet away from your existing pipe.
Plan for extras. Review the plumbing plan with your contractor, making sure the shower valve and showerhead are at a comfortable height, as well as any body sprays—and that they meet local water-usage code. Block out spots for niches, along with a grab bar or two—handy if only when scrubbing your feet—and a bench if space allows. If a steam unit is on your list, you’ll need spots for steam heads and wired controls, plus a steam generator outside the shower. More wiring may be needed for in-floor heat and the latest smart controls.
Two Ways to Waterproof Your Shower
Mortar bed + membrane
Mark Ferrante and his son and partner, Erik, have tiled showers for Silva Brothers for 30 years and “never had one leak,” Mark says. Their old-school secret: a custom soldered copper pan packed with a thick bed of mortar, which provides a stable substrate for tile. But first, they cover the mortar bed with two coats of a two-part, liquid waterproofing membrane, and skim-coat the walls with thinset—twice. With wait time, the job takes three days.
It’s easier to tile up to the straight edges of a square drain cover than to nibble tiles to fit around circular ones. Trough-style linear drains only require the shower floor to slope in one direction, and are most often placed along the shower’s back wall. Some linear drain covers accept tile. Others, known as wall drains, are located behind a narrow gap at the base of the back wall.