Kitchen & Bath: Retrofitting a Multihead Shower
The rise of the multiheaded custom shower, or "vertical spa,"
proves once again that two heads are better than one —
and, further, that six heads are unbelievably great. Odds are
good that you'll be discussing this kind of shower as an
upgrade with a client sooner or later. When you do, keep in
mind that you can't simply modify an existing shower by adding
more heads; custom showers require fundamental plumbing
changes. When it comes to equipping a multihead shower, there
are just a few too many choices to keep things simple.
Start With Water Pressure
They're called spray heads for a reason: Feeble, drooling
shower nozzles are not the objective here. So adequate water
pressure is a basic requirement — manufacturers recommend
45-psi minimum pressure, with 50 psi preferred for optimal
Before you commit to upgrading or remodeling an existing
shower, have your plumber gauge the dynamic (running) water
pressure. Or you can perform a simple flow evaluation by timing
how long it takes to fill, say, a couple of 5-gallon buckets
from the existing shower (remove any flow restrictors first).
This will give you a fairly accurate flow rate in gpm.
Note that a point-of-entry water softener can inhibit hot water
flow — if hard water treatment is essential, so is a
high-volume unit to ensure sufficient shower pressure. If the
water pressure's too low, corrective measures, such as a
booster pump, may be necessary. Also, a private well or cistern
may simply not have the capacity to keep up with the water flow
demands of a multihead shower system. Make sure your plumber
looks at the entire system before designing and quoting a
coverage is the custom shower objective. Main heads may
go on opposing walls, regulated by separate volume
controls. Body sprays are connected in a closed-loop
supply configuration to ensure equal output and are
equipped with an independent volume control. At the
heart of these systems are the individual spray heads,
which emit a directed high-pressure blast.|
Abundant Hot Water?
It's estimated that a custom shower with four flow-restricted
outlets can use 6.25 gallons per minute in hot water alone.
Consider, too, that a custom shower or preconfigured module can
easily include a main head, or two main heads; four, six, or
more body sprays; and a hand-held spray. Thus, most valve
makers recommend a minimum 100-gallon water heater for a custom
Supply lines. Given adequate
system pressure, 1/2-inch lines can effectively serve a
"high-flow" 3/4-inch valve, although 3/4-inch supply lines are
the preferred standard. The overarching design factor is the
number of outlets per mixing valve. Mixing valves have stated
flow capacities, and shower heads, as we know, are rated at 2.5
gpm. If you've already determined the existing gpm delivery,
just do the math. This will tell you whether a supply line
upgrade is in order.
If the number of outlets exceeds the capacity of a single
thermostatic valve, it's necessary to add another, according to
the total outlet flow requirement. Each valve should be home
run from the main to avoid possible fluctuations in flow and
temperature. This makes it easy to isolate the lines for
occasional valve servicing. Also, when more than one valve is
used, it's a good idea to bump the home-run supply lines up to
1 inch to maintain peak pressure delivery.
Mixing Valves & Volume
Antiscald devices are required in every new tub and shower
installation. Because precise temperature control is a key
aspect of the spa experience, custom shower equipment makers
typically provide thermostatic valves rather than
pressure-balancing units. Thermostatic valves spare users the
need to manually readjust the temperature as the hot water tank
is drawn down and cold replacement water mixes in. A 3/4-inch
high-flow thermostatic valve can typically supply 12 to 16
gallons per minute, enough water to feed six outlets —
for example, one or two fixed heads, several body sprays, and a
personal hand spray — all while keeping the water
In the truly custom multihead shower, the mixing valve controls
only water temperature, while separate volume controls regulate
the flow at individual outlets (or groups of outlets). That's
why you see so many extra knobs in photos of custom showers.
Volume controls should also be 3/4 inch. You can use 1/2-inch
controls, but keep in mind that you're limiting flow to 8 gpm
at 45 psi and design accordingly.
|This five-function diverter valve
allows the user to control volume and temperature while
choosing between three spray-head
|A dedicated thermostatic valve
(left) controls only water tem-perature; a separate
volume control is required to regulate
Less expensive options.
You might use more conventional single-handle valves, which
control both temperature and the volume, or dual-handle valves,
which have one control for temperature and one or more for
volume. There are also three- and five-function transfer
valves, which control water temperature and flow while allowing
the user to switch from one spray component to another. Be
aware that a multifunction valve may limit the selection of
outlet combinations compared with using individual volume
Heads, Sprays & Jets
As already noted, there's no set limit on the number of
outlets, other than the basic flow requirement imposed by all
heads functioning simultaneously. While it may not be the
typical bathing scenario, the shower should be designed for
peak function with all sprays active.
Custom showers typically include one or more fixed-position
heads, often with an adjustable spray pattern. There are many
to choose from. Body sprays are generally fixed in the
below-the-shoulder zone and can range from a fine spray to
pummeling massage jets. Volume controls play a vital role in
varying body spray output and function.
Hand-held personal sprays may be detachably mounted on a
vertical slide bar and usually include a 60-inch hose, which is
also convenient for cleaning the shower enclosure itself.
Especially where "hard" water is prevalent, look for outlets
with flexible rubber spray tips that inhibit mineral buildup
and are easily cleared with a flick of the finger.
Tower and panel showers.
Preconfigured "towers" and "panels" offer a shortcut custom
shower upgrade, but all the cautions of adequate pressure,
flow, and drainage still apply. Designed to connect to an
existing 1/2-inch supply, tower and panel units are
preconfigured with valves, sprays, jets, and controls and
generally require only a single supply hookup and little or no
wall surgery or plumbing complications.
A shower tower or panel unit
provides a predetermined layout and simple hookup.
Minimum 45 psi water pressure is
Full-body carwash spas. A
body spa is the vertical equivalent of a whirlpool tub in
performance and price, with a dual array of jets designed to
deliver a full-body water-therapy experience with variable
heat, volume, and intensity. As the carwash label suggests,
these units typically feature six or more body sprays, are
custom designed for large shower spaces, and involve complex
plumbing and electronic controls.
Recirculating units provide a water-saving option in a body spa
installation, by pumping shower water from the stoppered basin
back through the heads. An integral heating unit ensures
consistent water temperature. Another advantage is that the
water delivery provided by the recirculating pump can far
exceed the supply flow rate. For example, Kohler's Body Spa
System is claimed to exceed the combined output of 25
flow-restricted heads by cycling the water in the shower basin
twice per minute. Normal shower functions can be resumed by
shutting off the pump and reopening the drain.
|A vertical spa, or "carwash"
unit, is the shower version of a jetted tub, designed
to deliver a high-pressure, water-therapeutic
Because of the intensity available in a body spa, it's best
to install the controls in a location where they can be
operated beyond the water stream.
Drain Capacity, Ventilation
It's best to assume that a single 2-inch drain is designed to
handle only a single outlet, so be prepared to upgrade the
existing drain line. Depending on the number of spray outlets
and their combined flow, one 3-inch or two 2-inch drains is
recommended to keep pace with the higher water output.
And by the way, custom showers create lots of extra steam and
humidity, so if the bathroom isn't already equipped with a good
ventilation fan and control, plan to add them to the job.
an affordable alternative to a true counter-depth fridge, this
refrigerator claims the largest storage capacity available in a
unit its size — 25.5 cubic feet in a nominal 3x6-foot
package. Actual depth is just under 30 inches, including door
thickness. Among other convenient features, the DesignerFit
includes in-door ice dispensing, removable door bins for
one-trip table service, full-extension freezer baskets, and a
cooling system that keeps door bin items as cold as the other
contents. A digital display confirms both fridge and freezer
temperature settings, assuring proper food preservation. The
suggested retail price is $2,300.
Liebherr refrigerators made their U.S. debut at the 2004
Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) and are just entering
the market here via initially limited distributorship. Separate
compressors and electronic controls provide independent
temperature regulation of the refrigeration and freezing
compartments. Side-by-side doors in the built-in double unit
shown provide wide access to a roomy, well-equipped interior.
Prices range from $3,200 to $8,500.
Liebherr Hausgeräte, Ochsenhausen,
grandparents liked to insist that "children should be seen and
not heard." They'd have stood a much better chance of success
if they'd picked on kitchen appliances instead. Thermador's
side-by-side and bottom-mount built-in line has undergone
"comprehensive quietness engineering" to reduce the typical
cycling hum to a 37-decibel murmur. The interior features
drawers on roller glides and fully adjustable, frameless
tempered-glass shelves. The units are available in 36-, 42-,
and 48-inch widths and 18 possible configurations.
world-class images from the likes of Gauguin, Degas, Cezanne,
and other renowned artists, this line of midsize and compact
refrigerators is cool on the outside, too. For each Danby Art
Cooler sold, the company has pledged to plant ten trees on
public lands, theoretically more than offsetting the carbon
emissions contributed by the appliance in use. The program is
run in cooperation with the nonprofit American Forests
organization. The complete line (and rationale), with prices
ranging between $500 and $900, can be viewed on the company's
is likely to throw you a few curves. And we're not speaking
figuratively. But frameless bent-glass shower enclosures are
right up this company's alley. Pricing is based on square
footage and the accessories chosen. Speaking of figures, the
custom enclosure shown cost someone $9,000.
line offers a simplified system of parts and options to satisfy
the demands of many enclosure designs, whether standard or
custom. Infinitely adjustable interlocking corner posts adapt
to virtually any angle, and continuous hinges provide
exceptional door stability. Swing-out door kits fit standard
stalls and include a classy through-door handle option. By-pass
models feature contoured extrusions, curved towel bars, and
ball-bearing rollers for smooth operation.Coastal Industries,
makes sense to forgo the involvement of a specialty contractor.
This authentic solid surface shower wall panel system fits base
sizes 36x36, 34x48, and 32x62 inches square. The system is
available in 29 solid and stone-look colors and includes side
and back wall panels, molding strips, soap dishes, adhesive,
caulk, and pressure-sensitive tape. Kits cost between $1,200
and $1,500. Matching shower bases are sold separately.
Swan Corporation, 314/231-8148,
Bath Building Blocks.
is an architectural standard, unlikely to become dated, however
it's used. Three Glass Block Shower Systems — classic,
neoangle, and walk-in — include all the major components
and instructions necessary to build a classic enclosure.
Preconfigured acrylic base units provide a fully supporting
foundation to build upon. The classic and neoangle designs are
sized for fitting a nominal 28x69-inch glass shower door. The
systems are priced and sold through local distributors and at
select home centers by special order.
Pittsburgh Corning, 800/624-2120,