You're there enjoying your shower, then someone in the house flushes a toilet, and all of a sudden it turns from heaven into Hades.
That scenario has been an annoying facet of America's daily bathroom life for decades — the rapid increase in a shower's water temperature when a toilet is discharged. But, thanks to digital temperature controls and single-valve technology, homeowners looking to remodel their aging bathrooms can make shower scalding a thing of the past.
That's one of many technological and design improvements and trends available in the bathroom remodeling world, helping homeowners improve their quality of life and add value to their homes. Other trends in bathroom designs include the installation of showers with multiple heads and body spray nozzles, steam baths and even music; heated floors and toilet seats; raised sinks; brushed nickel and chrome fixtures; and the use of remote, digital controls to turn on showers, tubs and lights.
"The bathroom, especially the master, is one of those places of refuge either at the end of the day or a long week, where people are going to seek solace," said Michael Menn of Design Construction Concepts in Northbrook, Ill. "They don't want the postage card-sized bathrooms of the past."
Homeowners spend an estimated $280 billion a year on remodeling, accounting for nearly 40 percent of all residential construction and improvement spending, according to Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies.
Last year, bathroom remodeling expenditures in the U.S. totaled about $16 billion, said Gopal Ahluwalia, vice president of research for the National Association of Home Builders' economics department.
One of the hottest trends in bathroom remodeling is the emergence of what some call the "car-wash" shower that provides a spa-like experience. These are tub-less showers with doors rather than shower curtains. They can have a wide shower head that makes it look and feel like a rain shower, plus another hand-held shower head with an extension. Meanwhile, jets and nozzles protrude from the wall itself, spraying water in multiple directions. Depending on its components, a steam-bath shower can run from about $1,300 to more than $8,000.
These showers also can include a steam bath and can be controlled by a digital keypad that allows bathers to customize where the water shoots out from and how hot it will be.
Technological advancements allows showers to operate on a single valve, which means the water volume and temperature control are manipulated in one knob rather than two or three. That single-valve technology essentially separates the toilet's water flow from the shower's, preventing shower burns, said Ibrahim Guzman, showroom manager at Coral Gables Plumbing in Miami.
Many people like to keep the shower and the tub separate. The newer, more expensive tub designs include whirlpool-like jets, extending nozzles, light and sound therapy, and tiny holes that shoot air after a bath is completed to prevent the accumulation of mold and mildew. Like the shower, the tub can be controlled digitally and remotely. A Thermomasseur whirlpool tub from BainUltra, a top brand, can set you back $3,230, Guzman said.
"If you want the best tub and the best shower, you try to do it separately," said Doug Walter, a Denver, Colo., architect. "But sometimes you have to be realistic and think, 'How often do I take a tub bath?'"
Toilets also have been improved, especially in this era of conservation. Not only are there toilets that use just 1 gallon of water per flush — down from the average flush capacity of 1.6 gallons — but also, some "dual-flush" toilets have sensors which determine how much water is needed to get rid of the waste. Toto offers this type of toilet for a list price of $435, Guzman said.
Water heaters and toilets now come tankless, so that less water is used.
Eric Moore, an interior designer with Kohler Co., estimates that homeowners who install water-saving toilets and shower fixtures can result in significant savings.
"That's an area in the market that were pushing," Moore said. "Everything that were doing goes toward water conservation."
When it comes to design trends, more bathrooms now have raised sinks, with the bowl-shaped vessel standing fully above the vanity rather than mounted down into the vanity itself.
Cheaper floor tiles, ceramic and marble, have made linoleum practically extinct. Floors and toilets can be heated. The most popular fixtures and towel bars tend to be brushed nickel or chrome rather than brass, and modern, straight-line designs are the rage.
Homeowners are adding skylights or large windows to bring more sunlight into the room, Walter said. LED lighting is gaining popularity because of the energy savings it provides, but it can be expensive to install them.
Sticking with the theme of bathroom-as-sanctuary, one can install music for the shower and a flat-screen television.
Homeowners should remember to keep the home's value in mind, especially if they plan to sell the property within a few years. Industry professionals recommend improvements that please the widest range of people, perhaps mixing traditional and modern styles and choosing neutral colors when deciding on fixtures, flooring and other details.
Small improvements such as updating lighting or fixtures can quickly change the look of the bathroom and cost in the low thousands. But larger jobs can take from six months to a year, including planning, purchasing and installation, and cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, Walter said.
"The best way to do a bathroom remodel, particularly on older homes, is to strip it down," Walter said. "A lot of time we find hidden damage, and we wouldn't find it if we didn't remove the tiles and the such."