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How To Design a Steam Shower Bathroom: Corey S. Klassen Explains

Corey S Klassen Steam shower Design

Designing a perfect steam shower bathroom requires the kind of professional thoughtfulness that Corey S. Klassen, Principal of Corey Klassen Interior Design in Vancouver, BC brings to all of his kitchen and bath design projects.

Meet Corey S. Klassen CKD, CBD, Steam Shower Bathroom Expert

Corey Klassen has impressive credentials. In addition to being a Certified Kitchen Designer (CKD) and - of even more interest when it comes to steam shower bathrooms -a Certified Bathroom Designer (CBD), Corey holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) degree from the University of Manitoba and a Diploma in Kitchen & Bath Design (Dipl. KBD).

What you'll find in the spaces he designs is a full commitment to form and function: beautiful bathrooms and kitchens (the most complicated spaces in a home, BTW) which truly function because of his deep technical design expertise. No wonder his bathroom designs have garnered awards from the NKBA's annual design competitions!

You'll also find that Corey regularly gives back to the design industry. He is an Instructor in the NKBA-Accredited Kitchen & Bath Design Diploma program at Vancouver Community College, his alma mater. He serves on the NKBA’s British Columbia Chapter as a Chapter Officer Executive Board member; he is a member of the respected Brizo Blogger 19 and BLANCO Kitchen Design Council, and the inaugural Design Panel for DXV by American Standard.

In this article, Corey S. Klassen explains how to design a steam shower bathroom. He offers design basics for demystifying steam showers.

Demystifying Steam Showers: Designer Basics

The single most important factor when selecting a steam shower for a bather (aka the client) is to understand that it is a luxury spa item. A spa is defined as a steam-, hydro-, aroma-, or chromotherapy incorporation into a bathroom. 

For the vast majority of homeowners, adding a steam shower into their next bathroom project is an easy sell. The increased popularity and mechanical system advancements make steam shower application and placement in the home a non-issue.

Steam showers can be put anywhere, in any sized bathroom, and focusing on the design solution and health benefits will help the designer become a true solution provider. Understanding the functional, mechanical, and finish applications associated with designing a steam shower bathroom have become increasingly more important for the designer to better direct the client.

Corey S Klassen NKBA 2014 Design Competition Steam Shower (500x335)

Winner, Large Bathroom, 2014 NKBA Design Competition. 
Designed by Corey S. Klassen, CKD, CBD.  Photography by Jason Karman.

Understand the Benefits of Steam for the Bather

Steam showers offer a variety health and wellness benefits that can improve the lifestyle of many bathers. Although steam showers are a luxury, they may not be best suited for every type of bather. With an ever increasing aging population, it is recommended that the bather confirm their plan with a medical professional before going through the design and installation process.

For example, a bather with Muscular Dystrophy can benefit greatly, but if they have had any heart surgery, adding a steam shower is not a good idea. Meanwhile, for an active couple who loves to cycle, climb, and ski, and is reaching retirement age without any added health concerns, a steam shower is an excellent option.

To Design the Best Steam Shower Bathroom Solution, Conduct a User Analysis

There are a few key questions to ask once a steam shower has been decided on with the bather. It will be necessary to complete a user analysis with client space measurements to better understand the anthropomorphic needs of the bather and how he or she will access control panels and other shower components.

Other important questions include:

  • Will more than one bather be using the shower at the same time? 
  • Are there any cultural or religions rituals of the bather to consider? 
  • Does the bather have any mobility concerns? Is the bather left-handed (for fitting placement and point-of-entry)? 
  • Who will be cleaning the shower? 
  • Does the bather need a shower recess for toiletries? 
  • Does the bather wish to integrate aromatherapy or chromotherapy with controllable lighting?

Once the designer has a grasp of the bather’s needs, he or she can develop design solutions that easily integrate with the spatial and mechanical requirements. Careful planning with detailed dimensional elevations will aid all parties in understanding the functional requirements. 

To Design a Steam Shower Bathroom, Conduct a Structural & Mechanical Analysis

The proposed location of the steam shower is important for mechanical and structural considerations. One of the key design considerations is that steam shower transitions need to either be flush or have a minimal threshold.

  • How will the floor be recessed or built-up? 
  • If a a step-over-curb is needed, are grab bars required? 
  • Where will the drain be located? 
  • Is a linear drain optimal?
  • Where will the shower bench be located? 
  • The steam shower nozzle should not be near the body, is there adequate space in the shower for the nozzle? 
  • Where are the exterior walls? 
  • What is the floor space and volume needed for the generator? 
  • Where will the steam generator be located?

Steam generators must be accessible for future maintenance. Consider installing the steam generator in a room or closet next door, in a cabinet beside the shower, or in an insulated, and accessible, attic space.

Consider planning a shut-off valve for the water supply and adding a receptacle to unplug instead of hard-wiring the steam generator for easy maintenance.

There will be maximum distances and heights from the nozzle to the steam generator, so carefully read the manufacturer's installation instructions before finalizing the design plans. The goal is to prevent costly errors and change orders before they become a hidden cost.

The designer should familiarize himself with local building codes and bylaws. For example, in some parts of Canada, a 1:50 (2-inch per foot) ceiling slope may be required for residential applications. This impacts the material choice, the structural needs, and overall volume and design details. Verify your federal, state/provincial, and local building codes and bylaws prior to your first steam shower build. Often it just takes a quick 15 minute conversation with an inspector.

Corey S Klassen NKBA 2014 Design Competition Inside Steam Shower (500x469)

Winner, Large Bathroom, 2014 NKBA Design Competition. 
Designed by Corey S. Klassen, CKD, CBD.  Photography by Jason Karman.

The Design Aesthetic in a Steam Shower Bathroom

Space planning and direct access to the steam shower are important.

  • Planning functional accessories for the bather, such as towel bars and robe hooks, within easy reach from the steam shower need to be considered.
  • The control pad of the steam unit will always need to be accessible, either inside the steam shower within reach of the bather when seated, or adjacent to the shower door.
  • Consider that the bather may want to shower before or after a steam bath so placing a hand-shower within reach of the shower seat is an optimal design choice. 
  • If multiple users are in the shower at once, the seated area and location of the steam nozzle outlet will need to be planned with special considerations. 

The NKBA Bathroom Planning Guidelines with Access Standards provide the designer and specifier with all the planning literature for safety and security of the bather.

It used to be thought that natural materials were the only way to go in a steam shower, and that is fine with the proper material testing (2 days to 2 weeks soaked under water to check for rusting), but with engineered surfaces and high-quality porcelain, the finishing options are endless. Verify the installation recommendations with the fabricator or supplier first. It goes without saying that all materials in a steam shower must be appropriate for the installation and the water-proofing behind finish materials is to follow code.

Do not forget to plan the expansion joint at the bottom of the steam shower because, as the steam shower heats up, so will the materials contract. This is a little known detail that is often forgotten. 

Corey S Klassen CBD DXV American Standard Steam Shower (500x333)

Designed by Corey S. Klassen, CKD, CBD for DXV by American Standard (www.dxv.com)

Now, Sell Steam and a Beautifully Designed Steam Shower Bathroom!

In the Internet age, our clients are challenging us to add value in the home spaces we design wherever we can. Arming the designer with valuable information on bathroom and steam shower planning techniques can only enhance the overall experience as will working with the plumbing specialist ensure a quality application and installation. Yet, understanding the technical needs when planning a steam shower must be brought to the forefront of the designer's mind. 

It is clear to this designer that steam showers are a staple in the new way of bathroom design. What do you think?

If you enjoyed this article, you'll want to read The Master Home Spa: Steam, nature and technology. Be sure to connect socially with Corey S. Klassen: 

Free Steam Shower Buying Guide

Topics: Benefits of Steam, Bathroom Remodel