Shop Smart for a Shower and Bathtub

Remodeling your bathroom can mean choosing a new tub and shower. Expert designers tell you how to choose these vital features without getting soaked.

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Showers and bathtubs, once strictly utilitarian fixtures, are more personalized than ever before. When updating yours, here are some things to keep in mind.

Construction tips
Focusing on the design aspects of your new bathroom fixtures can be fun, but the most important design specifications aren't seen after the remodel is complete. For example, while normal showers need just 1/2-inch pipes to function, waterlines of that size won't supply enough pressure for high-end fixtures, which need 3/4-inch pipes to operate correctly.

This is also a good time to consider changing out the hot- and cold-water valves. "A lot of times people think they're going to remodel and they're just going to change out the faucets on the tub and ... change out the trim on the shower set," says Suzie Williford, National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) vice president and manager of luxury products for Kiva Kitchen & Bath in Houston. Because valves aren't universal, there's a slim chance that an existing valve will work with new faucets and trim.

On the off chance that it does work with the new fixture, it's still a good idea to install a new valve during construction because it will wear at the same rate as the new fixtures. "Save that extra money (on repairs) down the road by spending a little bit of money now," Suzie says.

A great volume of water flows through customized shower systems and large tubs, so ask your contractor whether you should upgrade to a larger water heater as part of the remodeling package. Another option to consider is a tankless water heater, which is installed behind the wall near the shower or tub, and heats water as it flows through the heater instead of holding it in a reserve tank. Tankless water heaters heat the water as it's needed, helping you save on energy costs.

Customization at all price points
Whether you want to wake up with an invigorating shower, cool down with a long soak in a tub, or hope to enjoy the best of both worlds, there is a product on the market to meet your needs. The key is customization, and it's available at all price points.

Showers: The vertical spa
Though whirlpool tubs were once the bathroom amenity of choice, today the emphasis has switched from tubs to the customized shower. "People have time to use the shower every day, but they don't really have time to take a bath every day," Suzie says.

Whether a bathroom remodel includes a stand-alone shower or tub-and-shower combination, options for a custom-showering experience abound. They range from basic overhead and wall-mounted showerheads to less run-of-the-mill offerings like hand-held showerheads, shower tiles, rain bars, body sprays and steam showers.

If you're going to be in your home for more than five years, consider installing fixtures at the height that will give you the most comfort and convenience.

Bathtubs for relaxation
Today's tub comes in many shapes, sizes, colors and the following materials:

Acrylic: This affordable and lightweight option is molded and reinforced with fiberglass. It is chip- and crack-resistant, and it can be repaired if damaged.

Cast iron: Enamel-coated cast iron provides a timeless look. These higher-end tubs are incredibly durable. However, they're heavier than other tubs and may require extra support in the floor.

Cultured marble: These tubs cost more than acrylics, but less than cast iron. Even though the marble is mixed with a polyester resin, these tubs can scratch.

Gel-coated fiberglass: Much like a boat, these tubs are lightweight, making them perfect for rooms where adding extra support isn't an option. They're inexpensive, too, but the downside is that they can scratch.

Those looking to customize a bathtub have many extras to choose from. Water jets and air jets can enhance a soothing soak. In higher-end remodels, tubs that offer chromatherapy, where lights change the color of the water to suit a mood, and aromatherapy, which dispenses a variety of scents, add to bathing enjoyment, says Sara Ann Busby, president-elect of NKBA and owner of Sara Busby Designs of Elk Rapids, Mich.

Visit a showroom
Whether a design includes a shower, tub or both, it's best to visit a showroom for a test drive before buying. "If you've got a very long-legged or tall person who enjoys a bath, you're not going to want to put a standard tub in," Sara says. "It's nice to take someone to a showroom, for instance, so they can sit in a tub or stand in a shower that's a certain size."

Resources
Sara Ann Busby
NKBA President-Elect, 2007
Sara Busby Design
Elk Rapids, Mich.
www.SaraBusbyDesign.com

Suzie Williford
NKBA Vice President, 2007
Manager of Luxury Products
Kiva Kitchen & Bath
Houston, Texas
www.kivahome.com

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