Setting Up a Home Spa

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Tubs & Showers

At a commercial spa, it's the employees who pamper you. In your home spa, specialty fixtures do the work.

Tub Talk

Do you want the calm that comes from floating in a tranquil pond or the invigoration that comes from being pummeled by a waterfall? Whichever you prefer, there's a bathtub for you. The most typical upgrade is to a bathtub with whirlpool jets. The jets force out air to create a massaging effect, and individual jets can be adjusted to hit target areas, such as your neck or back. Many tubs offer a pressure control feature so you can adjust jet flow. If your favorite spa service is a massage, this is the tub for you. For many people, one disadvantage of a whirlpool tub is the inability to use bath oils or salts, which cause bacteria growth in the jet tubes.

While whirlpool jets have been the rage for the last two decades, they now need to make way for air systems -- the latest and greatest bathtub feature. These tubs have about 30 to 70 small holes drilled around the radius of the tub, with each hole emitting a soft bubble. This tub experience would be akin to sitting in a vat of sodium bicarbonate. Best of all, you can use bath additives with this feature. Some tubs come with both jets and the air system, but you can use bath additives only in conjunction with the air system.

For those who prefer a soak without the motion, a soaking tub is the answer. Popularized by the Japanese, soaking tubs are usually narrow and deep, so you can sit on a ledge and be submerged in water up to your neck. This is a space-saving solution for smaller bathrooms.

Some homeowners forego a tub in the bathroom in favor of a hot tub -- often located outdoors, just outside the master bathroom. Design consultant Rhonda Knoche, of Neil Kelly Designers-Remodelers, says her firm is doing this in many homes in the Portland, Oregon, area. Lots are usually wooded, so bathers can step outside in privacy. Knoche recommends smaller two-person tubs, because they are long and narrow and can snuggle up close to the house.

If you're upgrading to a special tub, don't forget to consider the accessories. A wide waterfall faucet allows water to cascade into the tub. A hand wand is essential for rinsing yourself off as well as cleaning the tub.

Shower Power

Tubs are the mainstay of traditional bathrooms, but today's home spa connoisseurs are basking in their custom showers. That may be because an oversize tub takes time to fill. Today's showerheads and sprays offer the massaging action of whirlpool jets without the wait.

In home spas, shower stalls are almost always separate from the tub, though it's common to see the tub deck extend into the shower stall to serve as a bench. Even in smaller, less-expensive bathrooms, a second showerhead is standard for couples who may want to shower together. The heads should be mounted on separate walls and tailored to the heights of the individuals. Knoche says even a 3- x 4-foot stall is big enough to justify a second head. You can find inexpensive standard showerheads with multiple settings -- including massaging action -- to replace the one that came with your bathroom.

Typical showerheads are positioned to hit the body first (in case you don't want to get your hair wet). For a drenching, whole-body shower, look to a rain dome. A rain dome is a wide-diameter head mounted on the ceiling; it emits a large volume of water but a gentle flow. For head-to-toe directed spray, install body jets. Between four and ten jets are positioned in a vertical column to reach all parts of your body.

If you're going to the effort to add specialty showerheads, be sure to include pressure-balance valves or the more accurate thermostatic valves. These valves control temperature, so when you turn the shower on, the water comes out at exactly the temperature you prefer.

Commercial spa aficionados frequently return home to request spa shower features, such as a steam shower. In a residential setting, a steam generator is built into the shower stall; two may be needed for an oversize stall. The moist steam rids your body of impurities and leaves you feeling refreshed. For maximum relaxation, include an oversize bench, long enough to lie down on. When not reclining during a steam, use the bench for sitting while you soak your tootsies in a whirlpool foot bath. The foot bath is recessed (or built up) in the shower stall floor. Jets focus on the feet. Use the feature as part of your overall shower or as a separate foot soak at the end of a hard day.

Continued on page 3:  Pampering Extras


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