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Steam Showers: Buy Or Build (And Which Is Better For Your Bathroom)

Whirlpool tubs were at the forefront of luxury bathroom design for years,  but these days the focus is all on showers. Multi-sprayer custom showers and sprawling steam showers are more conductive to a busy lifestyle, and steam showers especially come with a whole host of health benefits you can enjoy in quick 15 minute chunks. But plumbing, tiling, and constructing a custom shower – or especially a steam shower – from scratch can be expensive and time consuming. So before you go forward with a new shower installation, you should ask yourself: is it better to build from scratch or buy pre-made?

Appearance

Wooden Floor Steam Shower From Ariel
Wooden Floor Steam Shower From Ariel

When you see a big, sprawling custom shower in a magazine or on TV, it’s probably almost always a big, beautifully tiled space, maybe built to fit ten or so. This is sort of the presented ideal of a custom steam shower – a lovely, enclosed space that echoes the Roman baths, the most iconic originator of the steam bath. But while some pre-made steam showers have the clunky, slightly cheap acrylic look of a shower/tub combo, this isn’t always the case. In fact, many pre-made steam showers, like this gorgeous built-in Wooden Floor Shower from Ariel are made of highly modern glass and brushed steel. It isn’t quite the classic look of tile, but it has it’s own modern elegance, which might actually work better depending on your bathroom design.

Water Tightness

Corner Steam Shower From Ariel
Corner Steam Shower From Ariel

One of the biggest challenges in building a steam shower from the ground up is ensuring that the enclosure is entirely water tight.  You definitely don’t want the steam in your shower to get out, as it can wreak havoc on the rest of your bathroom. But that means that instead of having an elegant frameless shower door that just goes so high, or even one that simply clicks into place might not be enough. You’ll need to enclose the shower door completely (which can mean building your shower all the way up to the ceiling), and ensure all the edges are water tight. Pre-made steam showers have the distinct advantage of being water-tight from the get-go, meaning that something like this Corner Shower can be installed freestanding rather than in the recessed niche required by a more traditional steam bath.

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Cost

Corner Steam Shower For Two From Ariel
Corner Steam Shower For Two From Ariel

The price of a custom steam shower can vary widely depending on your existing bathroom layout, the size of the shower, the tile, shower door, and fixtures you choose, as well as your individual contractor. It’s really one of those projects you can make as big as you want, but it’s also a project that won’t ever be small. Conversely, a built-in steam shower like this Shower For Two has one flat, up-front cost for all the parts, and aside from installation (which is usually fairly simple also, as the unit is entirely self-contained), there aren’t any additional or hidden costs. If you want the steam shower to be the focal point of your bathroom, it makes sense to bend your budget for tile, but if your spending is already limited, it might be worth the predictability of a built-in.

Plumbing

Freestanding Steam Shower From Ariel
Freestanding Steam Shower From Ariel

There are two main issues with steam showers when it comes to plumbing: water pressure and cost, and the two are intricately linked. First, a custom steam shower, with it’s many shower heads and high water output, can require everything from rerouted plumbing, a new shower floor, and a wider drain to a whole new (larger) water heater. Pre-made steam showers like this Freestanding Shower work with your existing plumbing almost without exception, saving you from these extensive and often unexpected expenses. But, unfortunately that’s true because pre-made steam showers typically either have fewer shower heads, can’t run all their shower heads at once, or can’t run them all with the same level of water pressure you’d have with a custom shower and a larger water heater.

Size And Space

Platinum Steam Shower From Ariel
Platinum Steam Shower From Ariel

Of course, one of the primary considerations in any bathroom remodel is going to be space, and the size of your steam shower – whether it’s custom built or pre-made, is one of the first considerations you’ll have to undertake. Now, it’s entirely possible to build a small custom steam shower. Steam generators are usually no larger than a bread box, and can be installed somewhere in the range of 20 feet away from the shower itself, meaning you can place the generator in another room or even on a different floor, with just a few thin pipes in between. In fact, it might even be easier to build a smaller custom shower, because you can more easily keep everything tightly enclosed. But if you don’t want to put in the big investment of tiling, plumbing, and so on for a small shower, you might consider opting for a pre-made one like this Platinum Steam Shower, which fits easily in a corner and has the steam generator already built in.

Who Will Be Using It (And How)?

Built In Platinum Steam Shower From Ariel
Built In Platinum Steam Shower From Ariel

Finally, you also want to consider who will be using your steam shower and for what. Will it primarily be used for morning showers for one? Post-workout steam baths for two? Long, luxurious showers with your partner? The answer to this (two-part) question will probably affect the answers to other important questions – how large should it be, where to put it, what you want it to look like, and how much water pressure you need. When you custom design your shower, it’s easy to get exactly the size, shape, and layout you need, but pre-made steam showers come in a variety of designs, too, like this unique recessed Built In Shower with seating for two.

What kind of steam shower do you think will work best for your bathroom? Do you prefer the style of a custom design, or the convenience of a pre-made model?

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