Shower Panels: A Budget Friendly Way To Build A Luxury Shower

If you’re looking for a way to build a luxury shower on a budget (or in a smaller space!) your best option might be one you’ve never heard of. Shower panels are a relatively little-known option, but they’re a great, budget-friendly midpoint between a generic showerhead and an expensive custom shower. They offer many of the same luxuries as high end shower systems, but are completely self-contained, easy-to-install, and hook up to your existing plumbing rather than requiring extensive renovation. They also sport pretty wide range of features, come in lots of different materials and styles, and are available at an impressive spread of price points to fit just about any budget. Here’s what to look for:

Pick A Price, Any Price

Sasha Alexander 64" Jetted Bodyspray Massage Shower Panel With Hand SHower SA-72742 from Mega
Sasha Alexander 64″ Jetted Bodyspray Massage Shower Panel With Hand SHower SA-72742 from Mega

When it comes to regular shower heads, price is usually a good indicator of both quality and features: within reason, the more you pay, the nicer and more complex the shower head you’re going to get. But shower panel pricing can be a little less straightforward. Prices run the gamut from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, but the materials used and features included vary pretty widely from one to another, regardless of how much you’re paying. So rather than starting with a list of features you want, it’s much easier to start with a price point, since you’re likely to find one in your range that has everything you need.

Know Your Options

Molokai ShowerSpa Black Glass Shower Panel 1006-B-CH from Pulse
Molokai ShowerSpa Black Glass Shower Panel 1006-B-CH from Pulse

That said, you do want to know what options are out there before you start looking. The main appeal of shower panels is that they share many of the components you’d find in a custom shower: luxury shower heads, rainfall shower heads, waterfall shower heads, hand showers, and body sprayers. But not every shower panel will necessarily have all of them, and while nearly all of them include body sprayers, the number, style, location, and adjustability of them will vary from one model to the next. If there’s one type of shower head in particular you really want, have that be a guide as you’re shopping; virtually all models will have at least two shower heads in addition to the sprayers, but depending on the design, that can mean a rainfall shower head and a separate hand shower, a standard shower head and a hand shower that doubles as a body sprayer, or any other number of combinations.

Match Your Bathroom’s Overall Aesthetic

Crane 52" Full Body Shower Panel System With Heavy Rain Shower and Spray Wand in Natural Bamboo SP-AZ061 from Anzzi
Crane 52″ Full Body Shower Panel System With Heavy Rain Shower and Spray Wand in Natural Bamboo SP-AZ061 from Anzzi

Shower panels are quite a bit larger than conventional showerheads and take up more visual space even than extensive custom shower systems, so it’s worth taking time to find a design that matches the style of your space. Most models are made of steel, chrome, or acrylic, but you can find ones made of other materials – like copper, glass, or even wood – for a more unique look. More often than not, shower panels have a fairly streamlined modern appearance, but although only a rare few have a more ornate or traditional look, there’s quite a bit of variety in the more contemporary styles. The shape of the panel itself, the style of the handles and shower heads, and whether the topmost showerhead has an arm or is integrated into the top of the panel itself all combine to create a pretty impressive variety of different looks.

Extras and Add-Ons

A115 Hydrotherapy Shower Panel From Ariel
A115 Hydrotherapy Shower Panel From Ariel

On top of mixing and matching your showerheads, shower panels can also come with a variety of useful add-ons. Maybe the most common are thermostatic controls that prevent your water from being scalding hot, and (in some cases) display the water temperature, either with a digital readout or color changing LED lights built into the showerhead itself. Many shower panels also come with built in shelves or basket-style storage, integrating something like a more stylish shower caddy into their design so you have somewhere to stow your soap and the empty space on the panel isn’t wasted. You can even find a few models that have built in shower seats. While these will need to be mounted more securely to your wall, they’re a really elegant and compact accessibility feature, as they allow you to install both a shower seat and a hand shower at once.

Pay Attention To Height

Palermo Thermostatic Shower Massage Panel FSP8012BS from Fresca
Palermo Thermostatic Shower Massage Panel FSP8012BS from Fresca

One very important consideration when choosing a shower panel is height. As with standard shower heads, they can be mounted at whatever height is most comfortable for use. But unlike custom showers, where each part can be individually installed for optimal spray placement, on a shower panel most or all of the pieces are fixed in place. That means that while your rainfall and standard shower heads might be perfectly placed for everyone, sprayers on the shower panel that are great for a taller person might hit a  shorter person square in the face. If you’ve got a big height difference in your family, look for shower panels that have body sprayers that can be turned off or adjusted individually and hand showers attached to an adjustable bar rather than a fixed hook, just to make sure everyone can use it comfortably.

Bonus: Check The Controls

Praire 64" Full Body Shower Panel System With Heavy Rain Shower and Spray Wand SP-AZ040 from Anzzi
Praire 64″ Full Body Shower Panel System With Heavy Rain Shower and Spray Wand SP-AZ040 from Anzzi

While most features are pretty obvious at a glance, it’s worth digging a little deeper to figure out how the controls on your shower panel work before you buy. This might require hunting down and flipping through some manuals, because it isn’t always obvious how many of your shower’s features can be running at once, or how independently they can be controlled from one another. Typically, each feature can be turned on and off individually, with a separate master control for the temperature. But because shower panels install to a single standard hookup (unlike custom showers, which require extensive plumbing and drainage upgrades and often a larger water heater), you want to know your shower panel’s flow rate and how that water is distributed to ensure you get exactly the shower experience you want.

While custom showers are obviously more flexible and easier to personalize, shower panels are the next best option for creating a really luxurious shower experience, and are not only vastly less expensive, but also much easier to install, making this a real no-lose option.