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Steam Showers 101: How To Turn A Shower Into A Wellness Retreat

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Whether you’re interested in making a small bathroom upgrade or taking on a full gut job, the steam shower is one of the bathroom trends that are raising the bar this year, and you may be asking if you can turn your shower into a steam shower.

Yes, you can turn a shower into a steam shower.

It is as basic as installing an enclosure in the place of your ordinary shower stall and a steam generator that generates hot, soothing steam that turns it into a warm, vaporous steam room haven.

Can You Turn A Shower Into A Steam Shower?

What Is A Steam Shower?

A steam shower is a shower enclosure that’s usually fully tiled and delivers steam at a safe temperature using a steam system.

Basically, cold water is channeled into a generator that heats it till it vaporizes and then releases steam into the enclosure through a steam head.

If you have a large bathroom, you can have both a shower enclosure and a steam room. However, in a small bathroom, add a steam generator to your standard shower so that it functions as both.

That way, you can choose your spa experience day by day and there is no need to install a separate unit or stall for a steam shower.

How Does A Steam Shower Work?

Steam Showers 101: How To Turn A Shower Into A Wellness Retreat
Courtesy: Steam Therapy

While regular showers may release some steam, it’s not as effective as a fully immersive steam shower system. Hence, the essence of a steam shower.

Steam showers work by channeling cold water into a steam generator where it is heated into steam.

Typically, they come with digital controls that allow you to turn the steam on, which triggers an electric valve to fill the steam generator with cold water for heating until it boils.

The steam is then generated and sent to a steam head that fills the enclosure or stall with soothing steam that mingles with your body to provide a spa-like experience right in your own bathroom.

NOTE: Steam showers differ from sauna baths in that steam showers use moist or wet heat, unlike saunas which use dry heat to offer the spa experience.

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What Are The Benefits of a Steam Shower?

Steam Showers 101: How To Turn A Shower Into A Wellness Retreat

The steam shower is a recurring feature in many people’s most lavish bathroom fantasies. From physical and mental wellness benefits to opulent splendor, steam showers add tranquility to any space. 

  • Steam showers are extremely relaxing, especially at the end of a long day. You can even install a waterproof sound system to listen to your favorite calming music or add your own soothing essential oils to boost your steam shower’s relaxation benefits.
  • Many people are considering adding steam to their showers for therapeutic and health reasons as well as the spa experience.

This is because steam has much potential to elevate well-being, especially if dealing with allergies, asthma, or other issues, or if you want to add to your wellness lifestyle. Known benefits of steam range from better respiratory health, to glowing skin and stress relief. 

  • Want to boost your home’s value? Install a steam shower!

That’s because more buyers are beginning to treat their homes as an investment in their health and wellness, and now, they want health and wellness features at home to actively foster that lifestyle.

Therefore, steam showers carry a high ROI and can add more money to the selling price of your home.  

Components of a Steam Shower

Steam Showers 101: How To Turn A Shower Into A Wellness Retreat
Courtesy: JandrTile

1. A Steam Generator

After you’ve decided to install a steam room in your bathroom, the next step is to purchase a steam generator.

The right one in the right size will ensure you have the best possible steam experience. When selecting a steam generator, it is important to consider:

  • Its size– this will be determined by the size of your bathroom so start by finding the volume of the space, precisely, how high the ceiling is, as well as the width and length of your shower enclosure.

For a larger enclosure, you’ll need a larger generator to fill the space with steam and vice versa. Getting a larger generator for a small enclosure will give more steam and a smaller one for a larger space will barely give off enough steam.

  • The materials used to build your shower enclosure. Steam reacts to the walls and the ceiling, thus, will react with the material used to build your enclosure.

If your steam enclosure is made from a porous material like natural stone, concrete, marble e.t.c, you will require a larger generator to generate more steam, else, it will be absorbed faster and not fill the space adequately.

On the other hand, if made from non-porous materials such as fiberglass, acrylic, or other formed plastics, a smaller steam generator is just fine.

  • A compact size for your steam generator is great for small bathrooms. Also, make sure that your generator features stainless steel inside and out for longevity.

When installing your steam generator, make sure the location is dry and has no heat source, air conditioning, or ventilation system. Therefore, work with a licensed electrician to wire your system since the installation also has electrical requirements.

Your generator’s location should allow for ventilation, therefore, must have 12 inches of space around the generator’s three sides and the top.

Use a plumber, also, to run the pipes and install the steam head. This should preferably be six to twelve inches above the floor on the opposite wall from the bench or seat, and a decent distance away from your shower door, according to the experts at MrSteam.

The generator can be located in a service room, equipment room, or boiler room in a high-rise building, under a vanity, in the wall, or almost anywhere else.

However, make sure that you do not install the generator or plumbing lines in a location that could potentially freeze or in an unheated attic.

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2. The Steam Controls

After getting the right generator and deciding on a good location, install the steam shower controls where you can reach it from the seating area and away from the steam head, ideally, about four to five feet above the floor line.

Controls are necessary to manage your steam session therefore installed inside the shower and away from the direct steam flow.

You can choose controls for everything from temperature and duration to music, lighting, and aromatherapy.

3. The Steamhead

This is where the steam is released into the enclosure or stall and is usually installed on the shower wall, about 6-12 inches above the floor to ensure that the steam will be emitted at just the right level to fill the steam shower from the top to bottom.

It should also be placed opposite the seating area and not near the seating as this could make the steam shower experience less than pleasant.

No one will be calm coming into direct contact with the hot steam head and the steam emissions.

4. Plumbing & Power

Your steam system will definitely run on your household’s electric power (208v or 240v). Therefore, you will need a water line to the generator, a steam line from the generator to the shower, and a drain line.

Work with a licensed plumber and electrician to ensure the installation is a success.

5. A Seating Area

In-built seating adds to the indulgent feel and complete relaxation of your steam shower. More so, seating is great for comfort and makes your shower accessible, that is, accommodative for people who have mobility issues or the elderly.

During your bathroom renovation, consider a built-in bench that can adjust to any design. If on a budget, floating benches, often in teak or stone, come in handy as a place to relax during steam sessions.

Fold-down benches are also great, saving space and providing options in small spaces.

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Steps to Turn Your Shower Into a Steam Shower

Now that you know the components of a steam shower, it will be easier to turn your shower into a wellness retreat.

Good thing, your bathroom doesn’t necessarily need to be a large one.

Even if small, you can install a steam shower system with a steam head and foldable teak seat and enjoy the many health and wellness benefits of a steam shower, such as stress reduction and improved sleep.

Follow these steps during planning and installation for a successful makeover:

1. Measure your space (the length, width, and height of the steam enclosure to get the volume of the room) to help you select the right generator, purchase the correct amount of materials and choose the right accessories for your space.

2. Decide on your steam shower finishes. The right finishes for your shower walls, floor, and ceiling will suit your tastes and reflect the look and feel you want in your in-home spa.

Thinking about finishes early in the process is also important because it will impact steam retention and, therefore, the generator size you will need.

The best finishes range from ceramic tile, marble, granite, acrylic, fiberglass, and porcelain to glass tile. NOTE: Avoid materials like wood, sheetrock, or gypsum wallboard/drywall to finish your steam shower with.

Ideally, a more porous material like marble, shale, granite, glass block, or concrete will quickly dissipate heat, rather than retain it.

In such a case where a more porous material is used to construct the steam shower, majorly because of its natural beauty, be sure to select a more powerful generator to compensate for the faster heat loss. 

Conversely, choosing non-porous materials like ceramic, porcelain, or acrylic, will retain heat in the shower, and a smaller generator will be enough.

NOTE: Since the steam shower enclosure requires a door and glass to the ceiling, install or replace an existing shower curtain with a glass shower wall and door, amplifying the overall sleek, modern look of the bathroom renovation.

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3. Install a completely enclosed shower space including a 7’- 8’ ceiling and a gasketed door.

4. Select the right size of the steam generator.

In addition to the materials selected for the enclosure, design features such as exterior windows or skylights in the steam shower must be considered along with the room’s volume when selecting the proper size of a steam generator.

5. Choose your steam shower control.

6. Select your steam room add-ons including the steam head, lighting, and seating. Preferably, a wall-mounted folding seat.

7. Install your generator at an ideal location, as well as the steam shower add-ons.

Safety concerns are another aspect of logistics when planning your steam shower design. Thus, in the shower, make sure you have a grab bar. It happens that you can fall in the shower, regardless of your age.

8. Add textured tiles or anti-skid strips to the floor to prevent slipping.

How to Light A Steam Shower

Lighting a steam shower is a great way to brighten up your space so you can cheer up and relax during your steam treatment.

Because steam room enclosures are located within Zone 0 under the lighting regulations, any lighting fixtures used in the steam shower must be wet-rated.

Lighting fixtures approved for steam showers must also be vapor-sealed to provide protection against moisture entry. Such lights are typically protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), which will shut off the power if it detects moisture in the fixture.

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FAQS About Steam Showers

1. Does a steam shower use a lot of electricity?

The electrical cost will vary based on the size of the steam generator your space requires as well as the price of energy within your locality.

Since generating steam doesn’t use a lot of water, it will also not use a lot of electricity to heat it up and generate the steam. Therefore, how much more it will cost you to operate your steam shower depends on how often it’s used.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. energy costs are about 14 cents per kilowatt-hour. If you’re using a 9kW steam generator and operating it for 30 minutes (10 minutes to warm up and 20 minutes for a steam shower) then your cost would be about 63 cents per shower.

2. How much water do steam showers use?

According to the EPA, the maximum water flow for a standard showerhead is only 2.5 gallons per minute. So, for a 15-minute shower, it uses 37.5 gallons of water. That’s around 141 litres, and that’s a crazy amount of water for a shower!

On the other hand, a standard tub will measure 60 inches long by 30 inches wide and can hold anywhere from 30 to 60 gallons. Therefore, a warm soak will utilize more water as well!

That’s why steam showers are incredibly efficient when it comes to water usage in comparison to a traditional shower or bath over the same duration. Generating steam does not require much water, and on average, a 30-minute steam shower uses about 2 gallons of water.

3. Do I need to tile the entire bathroom ceiling or just the shower ceiling?

Only the area of the ceiling that will be immediately exposed to the steam needs to be tiled, that is, inside the steam shower.

Remember, the principal function of the tile is to keep heat in and prevent moisture from escaping the shower enclosure.

4. Does a steam shower need to be sealed?

A steam shower must be completely enclosed by an insulated, watertight door and enclosure to keep steam from escaping.

Its windows must be sealed, and for maximum protection, they should be made of double-paned glass to prevent any heat or cold from coming in or going out.

Its doors must also be sealed. We recommend using a glazing gasket on each side of the glass to seal doors and window glass panels, holding them in place whilst keeping moisture in the shower area.

That way, your steam room will provide you with a steam room experience in an enclosure where steam doesn’t escape and drafts can’t get you.

5. Should a steam shower ceiling be sloped?

Steam is water and can condense to turn to water, making things can quite drippy in the shower enclosure.

While this may not be a problem in a typical shower, it is quite a distraction when you’re enjoying a serene steaming treatment only to feel water dripping on your head.

That’s why the shower ceiling must be sloped: to direct dripping water away from where you sit or stand. Instead, the build-up after condensation can roll down the walls as opposed to dripping.

Your steam shower ceiling slope should be at a “minimum of 2″ per foot” according to the Tile Council of North America

While you’ll need to meet this design consideration for a custom-built steam shower, many steam shower stalls are usually prefabricated with ceilings already manufactured at an optimum slope, so the guesswork is taken out of the equation. 

6. How do I prevent steam generator noise in the steam shower?

Instead of a calming experience, it can be very distracting to hear noise from the steam generator.

It is important to note, however, that the generator produces ‘normal’ noises that include:

  • A gurgling noise as the steam begins to flow through the pipe when you first turn on your steam shower. As soon as the steam begins to flow from the steam head, the noise should stop.
  • A gentle ‘whooshing’ noise as the steam flows out of the steam head. This is a much quieter noise.
  • A muffled boiling sound created by the generator itself while the unit is creating steam. However, if the steam generator is located behind a closed door, like in a closet or vanity, you will not be able to hear these noises.

You may have a problem if your steam shower begins to make a lot of noise when on other than the ‘normal’ ones described above.

  • A loud buzzing from the solenoid valve that brings water into the steam generator indicates that either the water to the generator has been turned off, or that the strainer built into the valve has been clogged. To fix the valve, you need to disassemble and clean it.
  • A loud whistle heard when the steam generator is on means that the steam is traveling through a pipe that is decreasing in size, which would indicate the plumber installed an incorrect steam line, or that the system had become clogged.

Therefore, for the steam shower installation, work with your plumber to make sure your installation includes: 

  • Steam lines of ½” copper or brass pipe.

Ensure the steam lines are insulated to reduce heat loss, ideally, using fiberglass insulation that’s rated for high temperatures i.e 220 degrees. 

Also, these steam lines should be plumbed with the least amount of elbows possible, and any elbows used should be as far from the steam head as possible.  

  • An inline water pressure regulator set between 15 and 25 PSI.

7. How do I drain my steam shower?

To keep the steam room looking sleek, it is best to flush dirt and sediment into a drain.

For most steam showers, linear floor drains are preferred. They are designed to give your shower a minimal, seamless look. Since they are meant to be flush with the ceramic tile, they make one even surface throughout your shower.

8. How do I ventilate my steam shower?

Condensation tends to happen in the steam shower stall and you may be worried about growing mold over time. Therefore, ventilation is still important in a bathroom with a steam shower.

However, no heating, venting, or air conditioning devices should be installed inside the steam room!

Instead, turn your shower on to condense the remaining steam in the enclosure before stepping out, particularly, if your shower functions as a steam shower also.

You also want to use an exhaust fan, ensuring it is located outside of your steam shower to remove the moist air from your bathroom. Louvers, when opened, will also let the air out of your steam shower so the exhaust fan can take care of it.


Steam Showers 101: How To Turn A Shower Into A Wellness Retreat

Are you looking to install a steam shower in your home? This rewarding yet intimidating project requires extreme attention to detail. And with the choices so overwhelming, installing a steam room usually requires electrical and plumbing experience.

Just to be clear, the idea behind a steam shower is that you use the regular shower first to get clean and then use the steam generator for a steam treatment.

As part of your bathroom renovating goals this year, turn your shower into a wellness retreat by installing a steam shower.

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