Hudson Valley Home 2011: Spas

For less than you might think, you can enjoy spa-worthy relaxation at home with a custom designed shower or hot tub


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Ahh, the soothing sounds of a waterfall; the gentle feel of rain from above; the steamy mist of a hot spring; the sweet smell of lavender and pungent aroma of seaweed.

Scenes from fantasy vacations at exotic locales? No — these are just a few of the possibilities available with home spas and backyard hot tubs that can turn the ho-hum into oh-yeah. From steam rooms to pulsating head-to-foot massage sprayers, homeowners can now recreate some of the best features of professional day spas in their own bathrooms. Outdoor hot tubs can be used virtually year-round to soothe aching muscles or to entertain family and friends.

“The majority of people redoing their bathrooms have realized that they’re spending a lot of time in there,” says Jessi Lowry, a sales representative at the Fishkill showroom of N&S Supply, which specializes in bathroom products. “People are thinking more about how they can enjoy their bathrooms, not just use it to take a shower.”

Adding spa elements to your existing floor plan is definitely the economical route; add-ons are available that can help create custom showers that don’t require a two-man work crew and three months of hassle. For example, Grohe and Jacuzzi each make a “shower tower,” which converts a single showerhead into multiple nozzles for everything below the neck. It connects to the existing hot-cold water supply and mounts on the wall. The cost: from $700 to $1,500.

outdoor home spaAn outdoor home spa by Hot Spring features a handsome stone surround

Photograph courtesy of Hot Spring Spas

For the full day-spa effect, though, you’ll need to retrofit the shower stall with a series of spray heads with individual plumbing, Lowry says: “Multiple spray heads are like a rain shower out of the ceiling, and body sprayers from the sides give you the ‘car wash’ effect.” These systems can be set to provide a relaxing July drizzle or a pelting rainstorm. The body sprayer heads can be narrowed to a sharper stream that massages particular muscles. You can preset a desired temperature, and the unit will automatically find and hold that temperature every time you shower. (Advanced units allow for multiple settings for couples and families.)

Among the newest trends in luxury showers are waterfall heads and ceiling-mounted “rain showers.” Waterfall heads create a cascading wall of water, which can be adjusted for flow volume. The first captures one of nature’s simple pleasures: standing below a cloud burst. Rain showerheads — many of which create rainfall patterns — come in a plethora of designs, from a virtual “hole in the ceiling” to sci-fi funky (think Star Trek transporter room).

Beware of the limitations of retrofitting existing shower stalls, however. “You just want to make sure you have enough room so that you’re not bumping into things,” Lowry says with a laugh. “You don’t want to crowd the wall with too many controls. In a 36-inch-square shower, a showerhead and two or three body sprayers would be enough to give you a little spa experience.” Custom showers outfitting like this start at about $800. More extravagant and complex sets — such as two-person showers and decorative finishes — can run as high as $2,000. (Labor costs for plumbing are extra.)

Lowry offers two caveats for Valley homeowners considering custom showers. “Make sure you have a water heater with enough hot water for more than a two-minute shower,” she says. A heater that’s too small or too old might need upgrading. In addition, water pressure in some communities can be quite low and won’t be enough to energize a half dozen sprayers. Pressurized tanks can be added to compensate for this, but that will increase the cost.

Just as homeowners have started to jazz up their showers, they’ve also begun to cut down the time it takes to maintain them. “People who are shopping are also very practical minded,” Lowry says. “They want to spend more time in the bathroom — but not doing housework.” Handheld shower attachments are growing in popularity; they make washing and rinsing the shower stall quicker and easier. Many buyers are shying away from shiny chrome fittings, favoring instead a brushed nickel finish that doesn’t show water spots as readily, according to Lowry. Advances in shower fixtures — such as silicon nozzles on showerheads that prevent scale and lime buildup — have also cut down on maintenance.

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