Designing a Custom Shower

With proper planning and plumbing, you can design the shower of your dreams.
By: Susan Winner
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From Home Portfolio’s "Learn More About" series

You can customize every feature of your shower right down to the valve functions. Here’s how:

Do the math

To decide how many sprays you can run at once, you have to do some basic math.
Plumbing codes mandate that standard heads and body sprays be fitted with flow restrictions allowing 2.2 gallons of water per minute (about half of this is hot water).

Depending on your PSI, or water pressure, a three-quarter-inch thermostatic valve can handle about 13 to 16 gallons of water per minute.

You can operate up to five fixtures on one three-quarter-inch thermostatic mixer at once. Most valves this size will set the temperature only and will require separate volume controls in the form of wall valves. A thermostatic mixing valve allows you to control the volume and temperature separately. Similar to thermostatic valves, volume controls can also be found in half- and three-quarter-inch valve sizes. How you organize the volume controls is up to you. You might run three body sprays on one volume control, or you might choose to run one shower head on one volume control.

Ensure adequate hot-water supply and analyze plumbing

If you’re planning on running many heads or sprays at once or you like to take long showers, you’ll need to consider your water-heater capacity and how quickly it recovers. It might be advisable to upgrade to a larger water heater.

You’ll also want to note the size of your piping to the shower. If you have standard half-inch supply lines, your water volume will be greatly restricted. The ideal is to have three-quarter-inch supply lines. Note that it’s not advisable to run plumbing on outside walls, especially in cold areas where pipes might freeze.

And will your drain size be adequate to handle as much water as you’ll be running?

Most plumbers can answer all these questions for you.

Design it for comfort

Consider the room placement and space of your shower. Allow at least a 3-by-3-foot standing area per person. Most people stand from 24 to 30 inches from the wall when showering.

Other considerations:

  • Think about adding a short ledge at foot height for shaving legs, steam capabilities, and a built-in seat.
  • Think about the placement of the door and fixtures. You should be able to reach the shower valve or volume control from the shower threshold, and running water shouldn’t aim at the door.
  • Place grab bars, body sprays, and hand showers where they’re readily accessible so the water will hit the desired areas.
  • You can choose from a deluge of products today, including adjustable body sprays, sliding rain bars with pivoting heads, and an array of massaging hand showers and specialty heads.
  • When designing a shower to accommodate two people at once, it’s best to choose a design with a single valve and a single compromising temperature unless the space is very large, as the cooler water will feel like ice water if splashed on the bather under warmer water.

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