The Steam Shower Guru: Free Advice for First Time Buyers
Steam Showers facts
For those of you out there that do not quite understand what steam showers are or would like to know more about them before you buy one, this article is for you.
I'll give you a brief description and then quickly move on to the juicy facts that you need to know before you invest in a unit.
NOTE: Before I begin, let me state very clearly that this information is for reference only. Many factors can change from the time you read this article, to the time you install a steam shower unit so please, always do your homework first before you spend any money on any big ticket item.
OK, that being said, here we go.
Steam showers are a combination of steam generators, showers and whirlpool bath options that all come in a single unit or model.
They are self contained and come in sections: floor base, glass walls and door with a top and are stand alone units which means you do not have to build them into the structure of your bathroom, much like the idea behind the design of an infrared sauna but with plumbing. A wet heat (steam) instead of a dry heat (Infrared)
You do not need to install an exhaust fan from inside your bathroom, leading outside of your home to get rid of the moisture because the steam is sucked back into the unit by an internal fan which circulates water back into the unit.
They are also self cleaning which means you never have to worry about mold or mildew build up.
A few minutes after you are finished using them, a small motor turns on automatically and drys all the moisture, not only in the unit itself but also throughout all the plumbing. Pretty cool. You may have to wipe down the glass doors and windows occasionally because of soap or shampoo streaks but they are very little maintenance once they are installed properly.
To find the perfect unit for the space in the bathroom you have available and the style you want to fit with your bathroom décor, you have to do a little research first and I'll tell you what to look for.
To begin, you have to know the Length, Width and Height of the area in your bathroom were you want to install a unit.
There are many different models on the market, with many different dimensions so that would be your first step. Measurements. This will also cut down on your search time because you will now know what models will fit in your space and which ones won't because of their sizes
Next, decide if you want a standard Walk in Model or one with a Whirlpool Bath attached.
Space may be a factor in your decision here. Speaking from experience, I would suggest a unit that you can stretch your legs out when you sit in them for a walk in model, if you have the space, because you will find yourself spending a lot more time relaxing in a steam shower than just a normal shower so being able to sit down and stretch out your legs will be greatly appreciated.
Whatever model you decide on, you will need to hire a local, certified electrician and plumber to install the unit if the supplier you bought it from does not provide this service.
All units need to have a dedicated line (Direct Power Feed) from the back of the unit, directly to the electrical panel in your house.
The massage jets, stereo, lights, computerized control panel, steam generator and jacuzzi water pumps (if you buy that type of model) all need an independent, single source of electricity which are all located in one control panel on the back of the unit.
Let me state here and now that for those of you that might be intimidated by some complicated computerized control panel, don't be. They are as easy to work as your telephone. If you can read English and push a button, you'll be OK.
They will also have to be hard plumbed into your existing bathroom water supply and drainage pipe much like a regular shower or bathtub except you also have electricity involved.
If it's a new home construction then this part is a lot easier with all of your walls exposed but if it is a renovation job, it might be a little more challenging. Your trades people can help you there but first you will need to know what unit you are going to install and you will need to get your hands on the installation manual first, before you buy and give that info to your installers so they know where & how to wire and plumb the job, if that unit can be installed at all.
Knowing what it is going to cost to install a unit before you even buy it, is a major factor to consider in knowing exactly what your total investment in your project is going to be, long before it lands at your home. Preparation is the key to a successful installation.
Plumbing costs ?
Electrical costs ?
Product price ?
Shipping expenses ?
Applicable taxes ?
And don't forget to consider what it is going to cost for the finish work around your unit once it is installed. Drywall, tape, mud, trim, paint/stain .etc. Everything costs money so go in with your eyes wide open
Whatever the cost of the unit may be by itself that you may see at a retail or Internet store front, you should be prepared to double that cost by the time it is installed so keep that in mind
Many suppliers will have installation manuals posted right on their websites. If not, ask for one but you will need that information before it is delivered to your location because you want to do all of the prep work first before it is delivered so installation can begin immediately, which will enable your installers to get in and out. Not doing proper preparation can result in costly delays.
There are not too many experienced installers out there when it comes to steam showers so allow yourself a full day for proper installation and remember those trades people are on the clock and the clock is ticking as soon as they head for the job site so get everything prepared before they get there. You'll save a small fortune on installation fees.
Now, start searching on the Internet and do a little homework so here are some facts to look for. Key words are; steam showers, steam saunas & steam baths for example
You will see many different models out there but there are only a few manufacturers that have all the proper electrical and plumbing certifications, which is crucial for home insurance coverage and proper installation, should you have a problem with electrical or flooding being the worst case scenario.
99% of all the steam showers on the market today are manufactured in China. The Chinese are masters at designing many products and suck at many others but steam showers are one of the good ones. Hot Tubs. No./ Far infrared Saunas, Yes
Now here is were you have to be careful. To buy directly from China, you have to order a 20 or 40 ft. container load of units, which I'm assuming is not what you had in mind so you have to know the right manufacturer and find their suppliers in North America.
There are hundreds of steam shower manufacturers in China but only 2 or 3, as I write this article, are the real deal, make great products and have all of their North American certifications.
Just because you see a unit in a picture on some website or find a great deal on EBay, that doesn't mean it is a good unit because if you buy a unit that does not have all of it's proper certifications and is built from sub-standard manufacturing materials, you are in for a very expensive and stressful learning curve and I don't care what anyone tells you or how pretty it looks in the picture.
For one thing, certified installers will not touch a unit without it's proper certifications because it is their reputation and license on the line. Also, if you install a unit that has to be inspected without proper, ETL. UPC, CSA & ISO certifications, the home inspectors will not pass the inspection, which means you will have to rip the unit out and you are stuck with all of the bills and a unit that is useless or can only be installed in a cottage or a dog house.
It's a very stupid move that a lot of people make just because they think they got a great deal on EBay for example. For anyone out there that bought one of those pretty pieces of junk they called hot tubs from Costco a few years back, you will appreciate what I'm talking about. What a nightmare.They looked real nice but as soon as you installed them, pipes started bursting, pumps started seizing up, shells started cracking and on and on. Don't be one of the stupid ones. Take your time and do your homework
There is a time to nickel and dime a project and there is a time when you have to pay the extra bucks for the right products and this is one of those times.
Also, if there is a major leaking problem for example and you have to bring in an insurance appraiser out for an inspection and they see you installed a unit which is not certified and they will, you are screwed.
Now, back to products.
In China, a few companies that make great products are; Eago & Ashton.
A lot of North American suppliers change the name of these manufacturer's products to help hide their identity and try to secure their place in the market by coming up with their own brand names for the products, which is the tricky part because if you see a unit that looks great on a website picture and you find out that the floors are flimsy or the walls leak after you install it, you will have major headaches.
I don't care how good your plumber is at installing products, if the floor (base) in your steam shower flexes up an down when you stand on it, which means the manufacturing material is some cheap plastic instead of a strong acrylic, you are going to have leaking problems and that's just one issue you will run into which really sucks if you installed a unit on an upper floor in your house.
Have you got any idea what it costs to rip down walls or ceilings and have everything replaced brand new because of water damage and you come to find out your insurance won't cover the renovation costs because you installed a unit that wasn't properly certified or even inspected. I guarantee it will cost you a lot more than what you paid for that cheap steam shower you had installed and bought at such a great price because it ended up being junk
If you can find a supplier that advertises those 2 manufacturers names, you are guaranteed extremely well made products but you may have to pay more, maybe just in shipping it to your home, depending on your location as one example, but whatever the final price point, you are going to have a beautiful model with no headaches, unless you hire your idiot cousin to do the install to save a few bucks, so you have to start by asking yourself, what is that extra cost worth to you.
Another company that manufactures beautiful products from China are called. Royal SSWW but unfortunately they recently lost all of their certifications for the North American markets which is really too bad because those steam showers and whirlpool baths were without a doubt, the coolest designs on the market.
There are still a few suppliers out there selling Royal products and if you are doing a home renovation job that will not have to be inspected, they are good units and the prices will be a lot more reasonable because of the certifications issue but for new home construction, do not take that route because you will have to rip them out and if you try to finish the job off and hide them, it won't matter. The inspectors will demand to see proper certifications and once again, you are screwed.
Ok, you are pretty sure you found the right model, negotiated payment terms and it is going to be delivered in a few weeks. Great, you are excited and you should be because you will love a steam shower.
Some of the features include: Internal, computerized control panels with steam temperature control so you can set the steamer at the time and temperature you like, colored lighting to set a nice mood. music supplied by radio or MP 3/4 capabilities (make sure they are waterproof or you will receive a nice shock) wall mounted massage jets (hydrotherapy message), foot massages jets, raindrop showers heads, pulsating shower head options with an extended hose, steam proof mirrors etc. etc.
They even have an alarm button in case you start to pass out from drinking too much liquor before you went in. Just press that alarm button and a Swat Team will come crashing through your bathroom windows in seconds. lol. Just kidding but it is a very loud alarm which is good to know in case you have some kind of emergency. Very nice features that come standard in most units.
With a whirlpool bath attached, you can also turn on the steam, turn on the colored lights, turn on some music and take a jacuzzi with someone special. Now doesn't that paint a pretty picture. I would also suggest refraining from alcohol consumption until after your steam. Sorry but a good idea. I hear they are pretty cool if you smoke a joint before you go in though. Of course I wouldn't know that myself. Just something I heard somewhere. I do not condone the use of illegal substances. lol
Now, getting it shipped right to your door. If you live in Canada and buy from an American supplier, you will have to consider custom fees, duties, dollar exchange rates etc. as well as additional home delivery costs to hire a truck that has a rear hydraulic lift on the back that will lower the unit to the ground called (curbside delivery).All additional costs you have to consider. Unfortunately, they do not suddenly materialize installed in your bathroom so buy your unit from a supplier in your own country if available. If not, look in the yellow pages for a custom broker. They will take care of all the custom work for you if you need them.
Also, the drivers will not carry the unit into your home so make sure you have help bringing it into your house but Not your installers. They are getting paid big bucks by the hour so unpack the pieces and set them up close to were the units being installed. If you find a Canadian supplier, make sure they handle all of those extra shipping costs included in your final price point and get it in writing. Invoice!!.
Remember that the Chinese deal in US dollars too so any Canadian suppliers will be taking that factor into consideration for their final retail price point also but it's worth the extra bucks because if you were planning on import one from the US for Canadian buyers, you don' have to worry about all the custom paperwork and the headaches that can arise from inexperienced importers and there can be many.
The first step to installation is the floor or base. Most units will have adjustable legs in case your floor is not level but that is the first major step to install a unit properly. Make sure the base is level.
Lay your base down a few feet out from the wall so you will be able to walk around it once you commence assemble. Once it is assembled, then slide it into place over your drain. It's like building a house. If your foundation is not sitting level, by the time you get to the roof, major problems.
This step is a great example of a potential nightmare that can occur without proper preparation.
Say you order the unit, you and your idiot cousin somehow manage to assemble it OK only come to find out that because you did not get the installation manuals first, you installed your floor drain in the wrong location and now it will not line up with the drain on the unit which means ripping up your floor again and realigning your drainage. Ouch. That would really suck wouldn't it. PREPARATION IS THE KEY TO A SUCCESSFUL INSTALL!!!
Another thing to remember when doing this kind of assemble is make sure that when you are assembling the unit a few feet away from the wall, that the floor is not only level there but also level when you slide it into place. A drop in floor level of a fraction of an inch over a few feet can create problems.
Next, you will notice that one of the wall sections has all of the electrical and plumbing attachments in the back of the unit. That piece goes on next and is the heaviest and most awkward to deal with but you should have very little issues. Read the manuals
The rest of the walls, door and roof are next. Just follow the installation directions.
Two steps I highly recommend when assembling any unit is to apply caulking to all connections and seams especially under each wall unit before you set it on top of the floor base so they seal nice and tight. Even all the attachments in the back of the unit including the mirror nuts & bolts. Caulk everything. It' an excellent added touch to protect yourself from leakage at very little cost and labor.
Also, another good tip is to have an access panel cut out of the wall behind the electrical attachments and plumbing connections in case you need to have access to anything behind the unit sometime down the road because once you have your drain hooked up, you will not be moving it unless you want to dismantle the entire unit and take it with you if you move so having easy access to the back of the unit is a great idea.
Your installer can do this for you and they will know were to put it. You can then hang a picture or finish it off somehow so it looks good if it is in an area where you can see the hole in the wall. A closet would be perfect.
Something else to consider is that your plumber will need access to get underneath the unit to hook up the drainage pipe because you want to make sure that it is properly sealed. If it is on the second floor of your house, then you will have to cut a 12 -18 inch hole in your ceiling right underneath the drainage pipe.
You will have to put some kind of a nice framed finish around that too but nothing permanent because you never know when you might need access to that access hole again.
Well, I guess that's enough info to overwhelm you for now
Good luck and let me know if you have any questions
The Steam Shower Guru