Spa-style showers have become a must-have for high-end master bathroom remodels. After all, a nice, multi-head shower is a luxury you can easily enjoy every day, no matter how busy your schedule. That said, there’s more than one way to get a custom shower experience, and which one will work best for you depends on your budget, the scale of your renovation, and the shower experience you really want. The choice between shower panels vs shower systems is far from a simple one, but this list of pros and cons should help you figure out which one is right for you.
What Is A Shower Panel?
Shower panels are essentially really, really big shower heads. They take the place of your existing shower head, but are a literal panel that’s usually several feet tall and at least a foot wide, with multiple shower heads and body sprayers built into the surface or extending from the top or sides. Shower panels contain an entire shower system worth of fixtures in a single piece that mounts directly to your shower wall.
- Easy Installation – Shower panels are quick and easy to set up. They connect to your existing plumbing, and at most need to be bracketed to your shower wall for stability.
- Scales to the Size of your Project – Because they’re self contained, shower panels can be incorporated into any size remodel, from a simple weekend DIY project to a full-bathroom renovation.
- More Water Efficient – Because they use the plumbing for a single shower head, shower panels use much less water than shower systems, which can help keep your water bill low and save you from having to upgrade your water heater.
- Long Term Affordability – Shower panels are less expensive to buy, install, and maintain than shower systems. Though they have functionally the same parts and pieces, they’re cheaper when purchased as a single unit, don’t require an invasive (and expensive) installation or plumbing upgrades, and cost less to operate long-term.
- More Water Efficient – Yes, this is both a pro and a con. While being eco-friendly is definitely a plus, the fact that shower panels have the same maximum flow capacity as a single shower head means you simply won’t be able to get the same amount of water going at once as you would with a shower system.
- Mix And Match Shower Heads (But Not All At Once) – Depending on the shower panel, their limited water flow may mean that you can’t have all the shower heads on the panel running at once.
- Limited Coverage – Even the best shower panels with the highest flow and the best design are still attached to one wall, which means your water flow is all coming from one direction. Many designs have over-head or angled side sprays to try to compensate, but they’ll never quite match the coverage you get from a true shower system.
- They Stand Out (And Not Necessarily In A Good Way) – Many of the benefits of shower panels spring from their self-contained design, but one big drawback is that they can feel a little clunky. Some are more attractive than others, but a nice design or more appealing materials will usually cost you, and it will never be quite as streamlined as individually-installed shower heads.
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What Is A Shower System?
Custom showers or shower systems are the kind of showers you find in high-end spas, with many multiple shower heads and body sprayers mounted on all walls of the shower and even on the ceiling. They produce a high volume of water with a variety of spray types, and are usually part of a large, tiled shower stall.
- Total Customizability – Shower systems are often called custom showers for a reason – because you have total control over the types of shower heads used and where they’re placed, meaning you can get the exact shower experience you want (which is doubly nice for people who are tall, short, or couples with a significant height difference).
- Total Coverage – Shower systems are specifically designed to give a near 360 degree spray, with different types of shower heads and body sprayers in different zones so water is coming at you from all directions.
- Maximum Water Flow – Shower systems include many multiple shower heads, each of which are plumbed individually or in small groups, meaning each shower head or cluster produces the maximum volume of water you’d get in a standard shower, but they can all be used at once, giving you genuine spa-like levels of water flow.
- Designer Look And Feel – Shower systems require extensive plumbing work, but that means that as part of a larger project, you have the opportunity to build a really gorgeous shower stall around them – fully tiled from floor to ceiling, with all the shower hardware integrated seamlessly into the design.
- Requires Major Renovation – The biggest drawback to shower systems is that they’re necessarily invasive to install. At the minimum, you’ll need to extend your plumbing to accommodate the new shower heads, which means knocking out and rebuilding walls. You really can’t install a shower system without also building an entirely new shower.
- Higher Total Price Tag – It’s possible to buy all the actual hardware you need to build a shower system for about what you’d pay for a shower panel, but the parts themselves aren’t worth much on their own – you’ll also need to factor in all the other costs of construction to have a new shower stall designed and built to put them in.
- Hidden Costs – Shower systems also come with a lot of costs beyond the construction of the shower stall itself. A new shower system typically requires additional plumbing upgrades – like an upgraded water heater and expanded drainage. They can also significantly raise your water and sewage bills, since you’ll be using a whole lot more water per shower – and probably taking longer showers!
- They Really Will Spoil You – This might seem like a silly thing to list as a “con,” but it’s true – once you get used to an amazing shower with high water pressure, 360 degree sprays, and a dozen different spray types, even high end normal showers will feel a little mediocre by comparison. So while this is an upgrade that can definitely enhance your property value, it’s also one you’ll really miss if you move!
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Ultimately, the deciding factor between shower panels vs shower systems is how much of an investment you’re willing to make relative to the level of luxury you want to get. Shower panels are less expensive and easier to install, but will never give you quite the same experience as a shower system. Alternatively, shower systems are necessarily expensive and invasive to install, but can’t be beat for their spa-quality showers. Which one will work best for you, though, is really up to you!