Small bathrooms often get the short end of the stick when it comes to availability of luxury upgrades. After all, it’s hard to have a big, sweeping shower stall when your bathroom itself is neither big nor sweeping, and ditto for a roomy soaking tub or whirlpool. In bathrooms where there isn’t much space to spare, you often end up having to choose between having either a shower or a bathtub, or combining them into a single unit, which all too often means a boring acrylic bathtub shower combination that doesn’t feel very luxurious at all. Thankfully, there is an alternative. Steam shower units take up about as much space as a conventional shower/tub, but come with all the luxury features you’d usually need a much larger space to accommodate.
Steam showers typically only make the to-do list for really big, high-end bathroom renovations. Since they need to be both waterproof and steam-proof, they usually have to be designed and built from the ground up, and more often than not take up a decent amount of space. But steam shower units come pre-assembled; while a traditional bathtub shower combo is just a tub with three shower walls, steam showers add on glass doors and a ceiling, so the whole thing is completely enclosed. With the press of a button, the shower will fill with thick, velvety, relaxing steam, but in no more space than a standard setup and without any costly installation.
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Better still, the “steam” part isn’t the only luxury shower feature. Because steam shower units come as a single pre-assembled shower with steam vents built into the walls and ceiling, virtually all of them also come with a whole suite of shower heads, too – from fairly standard shower heads to body sprayers, hand showers, and rainfall shower heads, for a near-360 degree spray. Shower heads that would mean ripping out walls and overhauling your bathroom’s plumbing require only a single hookup, affording you a decadent experience at a fraction of the cost, and in little or no more space than a typical bathtub shower combo.
Conventional shower/tub combos almost invariably come equipped with bathtubs that are, at best, pretty disappointing – both short and shallow and absolutely no good for soaking in. But steam shower units break this trend in a big way, not only offering tubs that are much deeper (and occasionally a little bit longer) than your average bargain bin combo, but also tubs with built in whirlpool jets. Because the shower sprayers and steam heads are already built into the body of the shower, it’s not a huge leap to include water jets as well, making it possible to get one of the biggest bath upgrades without taking up much (if any) more space than a standard tub.
In addition to the three main components, steam shower units also come loaded with all the bells and whistles. The complete list varies a little from one model to the next, but all the minor upgrades you can add onto a custom steam shower, shower stall, or whirlpool tend to come standard on the pre-assembled units. Color-changing chromatherapy lights in both the roof of the shower and the tub itself, aromatherapy functionality, thermostatic temperature control, foot massagers, and even built in radios or auxiliary hookups for playing music are all commonly included, and much more affordable than they would be tacked onto a custom project.
On a somewhat less exciting note, steam shower units are also just designed to be comfortable to use. That means virtually all models have some kind of built-in seating (like ledges around the edge of the tub or flip-down seats higher up on the walls), as well as built-in storage shelves and cubbies. The latter is a relatively small thing, but it means you’ll be able to stow all your toiletries without having to hang any ugly wire or plastic racks or suction-cup any shelves to your shower wall.
Style vs Features
The only real drawback of these steam shower units is that they don’t, ultimately, look a whole lot different than a really generic bathtub shower combination. When you’re building a luxury bathroom from scratch, that usually means picking tile and glass and shower heads and so on, but steam showers come as a single complete package, usually made of acrylic, metal, and glass, without a whole lot of room for visual upgrades. Some have a sleeker, more modern feel to them, and the interior mood lighting certainly doesn’t hurt, but they pack a lot of hardware into a relatively small space, which can mean sacrificing a little in the aesthetics department in order to double down on the luxury features. They’re also definitely pricier than a simple acrylic shower wall plus bathtub, but are much, much more affordable than custom installing all the combined features, which makes this a great middle of the line option for a bathroom that’s small, but that you want to feel luxurious.