Plumbing Do’s and Don’ts When Installing a Steam Shower
In another of our interviews with steam professionals, we spoke with plumber Phil Hotarek of Lutz Plumbing. Here’s what he had to say:
How long have you been in business? Tell us a little bit about your company.
Lutz Plumbing Inc. was established in 1929 by Herman Lutz, at which point it serviced residential and commercial properties in San Francisco. Since 1982, Jerry Hotarek took over ownership. The company has experienced tremendous growth, and now services the entire local area.
Susie Hotarek opened our Decorative Plumbing Showroom in 1991, which was an immediate success, providing faucets, fixtures and accessories from all major brands. The showroom has helped to differentiate Lutz Plumbing from other Bay area plumbing companies. Customers enjoy the convenience of having both a complete plumbing mechanical service company as well as a supplier of fine decorative plumbing supplies located in a single building. The company is family owned, and we pride ourselves on the comprehensive and personalized service we offer.
When did you do your first job with MrSteam? What was that like?
My very first MrSteam job was three years ago. We had sold their products in our showroom for many years, and MrSteam needed a local plumbing company familiar with the product to provide authorized service on their units. This first customer had a unit that wasn’t producing steam. I replaced the heating element, cleaned the inside of the tank, and easily solved the issue.
How many installations (approximately) have you done that include steam?
I’ve done around 15 steam shower plumbing installations during the past three years. Now that we’re recognized as steam specialists, we receive more frequent requests for steam.
Who hired you for a first full plumbing installation?
I installed my first MrSteam unit for a customer who needed what I like to call a “retro fit” installation. That customer already had a unit in place that was more than 20 years old. Being that old, there were no parts available to fix it. Having determined that replacing the system would be the best and simplest option, the customer went ahead and purchased a new MrSteam system from our showroom and we installed it.
Describe the type of team that you work with when steam is part of the project. Is it important to find professionals who have done it before?
I work with contractors, builders, and electricians on steam projects. It is definitely important to find professionals who are familiar with steam and boiler systems. This is because people who are not familiar with steam can make a lot of little errors or easily overlook critical items, which can cause the system to malfunction.
Do you have steam yourself at home? If so, when did you add it? Tell us about how it affects your life.
Yes, we have a steam system in my home. My dad installed a steam shower a little more than 20 years ago. Like that first installation I described above, when its performance started to decline, I decided to install a new system just last year.
Since I’m extremely health conscious and fitness oriented, steam is essential to my personal health and wellness. I’ve found so many benefits of adding steam to my everyday life that it has truly become a necessity for me.
How helpful are MrSteam’s manuals and instructions?
As long as you actually take the time to read them, MrSteam’s manuals and instructions are very clear and easy to understand. Mr. Steam also has a Virtual Steam Technical Support Center feature on their website that helps significantly when troubleshooting problems together with a customer.
What do you tell your customers about steam showers?
I explain to them that adding a steam shower in the comfort of their own home is a small investment for the vast improvement in the quality of life that they’ll experience in return. Conversations about steam typically lead to amazing health and wellness benefits. Once the customer visualizes how steam will improve their everyday life, including it in their home spas becomes a no brainer.
What should plumbers do to prepare for steam installation projects both before and during?
There are several things they can do to make this process flawless:
- Read the manual and anticipate every tiny detail of the installation.
- Think about how you are going to pipe the water inlet, the drain, the pressure relief line, and electrical connections, as well as the ideal location for the generator.
- Always have 1/2” and 3/4” unions ready, as well as strapping and insulation.
- Make sure the unit is accessible once it is installed.
- If you are installing a control with a wire, make a pipe for it that goes from the generator to the control. That way, if the wire ever needs to be replaced, it is easy to feed the new wire.
- Most importantly, do not install the control right above the steam head. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen plumbers make that mistake!
But in all honesty, as long as you read the manual in detail while preparing for an installation, the project becomes a lot easier to execute and helps you minimize potential errors.
Is steam simple to work with? Describe some of the obstacles you’ve experienced in a new build and/or a remodel.
Remodels are definitely more difficult than a new build. In a new build, you are the one choosing the ideal place to locate the generator, navigating the piping properly from the start, and ensuring that everything can be easily serviced in the future. Remodels can be more challenging, especially when there is an exsisting steam shower system that was installed improperly. I have seen everything from cross-connected steam outlet/drain lines, to inaccessible generators, to controls that are installed right above the steam head, to wires chewed up by mice without the previous installer having planned for the ability to feed a new wire.
I’d like to note that MrSteam has an edge over other manufacturers when it comes to remodels where we need to replace older steam shower systems because of their wireless AirTempo control. Because this control connects wirelessly, it eliminates the time, hassle and expense of running a cable to the generator. I overcome a lot of obstacles in remodels by installing a generator with the AirButler Steam package, which features this control.
What should customers do to prepare for this project both before and during?
Customers should be mindful of all the requirements that go into installing a steam shower. These include:
- Ensuring that they use steam-rated material for their shower
- Fully enclosing the shower in a glass enclosure. I recommend a transom for ventilation.
- Making sure a fan is NOT installed inside the shower. I have actually seen this mistake a lot.
- Installing a seat or a bench for comfort, but making sure it’s not close to the steam head to avoid burning legs and feet!
In addition, I advise them to consider adding all the Steamtherapy bells and whistles, including chromatherapy lights, speakers and an in-shower sound system, and an aromatherapy pump. Customers who have followed this advice never regret having done so!
What would you like to tell plumbers who are new to installing steam showers?
Save yourself potential headaches. Read the manual before installing!