by Linda Merrill for Networx
Steam showers are the modern day equivalent of the steam baths of ancient Rome and the traditional Finnish saunas. Historically, wet steam baths have been used for cleansing, relaxation, detoxification and as a social activity. In Scandinavia and the Baltics, saunas and steam baths were often family activities. In fact, most cultures have a tradition of some kind of steam room, including Native American huts and Japanese mishiburo, dating to the 12th century. Warm, moist air opens the pores, increases blood pressure and stimulates the sweat glands. Hot steam relaxes muscles after a workout and opens bronchial passages in asthma sufferers. It cleans the skin of impurities through the pores and can be more beneficial and less aging than soap and water. Hot steam is even said to improve the immune system because it tricks the body into thinking it has a fever and therefore stimulates the body’s natural defenses.
Nearly anyone can partake of a steam shower, although there are some groups of people who should refrain or seek the opinion of their medical provider. Those include people with high blood pressure, diabetes, or circulatory problems. It is advised that young children and pregnant women also refrain from taking a steam. When in doubt, consult a medical professional.
Is a steam shower feasible for you?
In today’s modern bathroom, steam showers are relatively easy to install or retrofit into the space. A steam shower is, in basic terms, a small, enclosed shower space, with a steam generator where water is brought to a boil and the vapor is released into the stall. The generators are connected to the building’s plumbing and can be installed up to 25 feet away from the shower itself. The power of the generator is based on the size of the space it is servicing and should provide a temperature control to avoid burning. Modular units are available that can be retrofitted in an existing bathroom with minimal construction, replacing a standard bathtub. These units are generally fabricated from acrylic and include the steam mechanism, vapor-lock door and shower heads. Some even come with a jet tub feature as well. Acquinox and Amerec both make these types of units.
A custom steam shower is designed when the bathroom is built and is finished with stone or tile walls, floors and ceilings which should be mortar based, not drywall mounted. Doors are fully sealed to retain the steam. There are many amenities available such as rain shower showerheads and massaging jets. At the super deluxe end are “steam suites,” which can accommodate from two to ten people and include aromatherapy, jets for all body parts, media hookups for entertainment, and mood lighting.
Experts Advise on Installation and Maintenance
Patti Johnson, CID, IDS of Patti Johnson Interiors in Columbus, Ohio, installed a steam shower as part of a gut remodel of her own master bathroom. The new steam shower included two separate showerheads to accommodate her height and her taller husband and opposing jet sprays for a 360 degree experience. Patti installed a wraparound bench seat for two, underneath the steam sprayer. The thermostat was installed inside the shower and the steam controls installed outside the shower, adjacent to the door, allowing for access from inside the shower. Two vent fans were installed to help disburse the pent up steam as quickly as possible. Patti said, “It takes approximately 4 minutes to heat and steam up the shower enclosure. The length of time and temperature can be preset and shuts off like any timer. After five years, my husband still uses the steam feature regularly, especially after working out or after travel to unwind.”
Johnson installed ceramic tile on a mildew free cement board. “I chose not to use a natural stone due to its porous and ‘slippery when wet’ nature, and am glad I selected a porcelain tile with a bit of texture to reduce slippage and places for mold to grow. Even with a squeegee immediately following each use, the door should be left open to allow for faster drying of the tile and let the fan run for a bit. The only thing I would do differently in a future installation would be to use smaller grout lines, as that is where the mildew collects. Cleaning the ceiling grout is not fun, so we take very good care of it.”
John Blacker, of Universal Plumbing & Heating in Lynnfield, MA, also recommends the use of ceramic or glazed tiles over natural stones or marble in steam showers. Blacker said, “Natural stones are porous and absorb more of the steam which detracts from the overall experience. I would not recommend anyone other than a licensed professional to install a steam shower. There are a lot of factors involved in creating a safe and efficient system. In addition to the types of materials used, the sizing process is affected by the amount of surrounding glass, the ceiling pitch, the relationship to exterior walls.”
How much does a steam shower cost?
Unlike a standard shower which can use up to 50 gallons of water in 20 minutes, a steam shower will use as little as two gallons in the same time period. They do use more electricity, however. Steam shower installations start at about $2,500 for modular units to upwards of $20,000 for the deluxe multi-person steam experience installations. But then, if you have one of those, you’ll never have to leave to go on vacation again.