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Why Steam is the New Hot Tub: What Builders Need to Know

Do you remember the hot tub craze? It began in the ‘70s with wooden tubs reminiscent of California wine vats – which is where the idea actually originated - and was additionally inspired by Japanese bathing tubs. Hot tubs soared in popularity in the ‘80s with the invention of fiberglass spas, which, despite recurrent issues of poor design and construction, became a favorite of party-goers during the next decade or so. It was considered pleasant to socialize together in the tub with friends and family, drink some wine, and feel the bubbling hot water surround you.

Most of those early hot tubs sat outside the home. In fact, the earliest of models were positioned next to swimming pools, small bodies of water with a single jet. Die-hard hot tub aficionados were willing to trek through snow and ice to sit in their communal, outdoor hot tubs.

Nowadays, however, the industry is attempting to bring hot tubs inside - as part of the new movement toward home spas - with increased desire for personal, private rejuvenation and health-driven bathroom amenities. These interior hot tubs have several advantages – advantages shared by steam showers, of course – in that they provide greater privacy, reduce maintenance by moving the tub to a protected environment, and provide the ability to enjoy them no matter what the weather brings.

But even industry experts point out the many disadvantages of attempting to install hot tubs inside. And it is here that steam showers have a distinct advantage, both in terms of installation and in use. It’s no wonder that top-line designers are noticing the trend of removing even simple bathtubs from bathrooms in favor of larger and more luxurious showers.

As a builder, designer, and contractor, it is important that you understand the differences of installing a steam shower vs. a hot tub in a client’s home spa – so that you can help them make the right choice. For unless they have an inordinate amount of space at their disposal, it’s rare that any residential bathroom can easily accommodate both.

The waning hot tub industry

Industry experts note that the ownership of hot tubs in the US lacks significant growth momentum, and, in fact, has declined to roughly 50% from 2008 levels, the market peak. As a builder, this downward trend translates into lower market penetration and potentially fewer models to choose from. As H2Insider points out, the low numbers are not surprising, attributing them to “ticket size, space and energy requirements, maintenance requirements, and general perception of hot tubs.”

The move toward privacy

Part of this decline can be traced directly to the increased desire among homeowners for a private place to unwind after a stressful day. MrSteam has discussed in multiple blog posts how steam showers are the ideal environment to address this need. Hot tubs are less conducive to installation indoors. In “Thinking Of Putting A Hot Tub Inside Your House? Pros & Cons of Indoor Hot Tub Installation,” the following disadvantages of in-home installation are listed:

  • Chemical smell and fumes can permeate the home

  • Mold and wood rot can occur due to moisture and humidity issues

  • The client will incur expensive HVAC and plumbing bills for installation and maintenance

  • They will also incur expensive contractor fees to hire an experienced contractor who knows the special needs of hot tub installation

Contrast this with the relative ease of installation and maintenance of a steam shower. As an amenity growing rapidly in popularity, there is an increasing number of contractors, builders, and plumbers who know the ins and outs of steam shower installation. The systems are easy to find and purchase locally through MrSteam dealers, who are well equipped to recommend them.  There is absolutely no need to use chemicals in a steam shower, and the only odors emitted are those desirable ones utilized in aromatherapy. Because steam showers are installed in a water- and vapor-proof stall, with a water-tight door, the potential for mold and wood rot does not arise. Nor is there a need for a reinforced concrete floor.

Installing a hot tub? What a builder needs to know

The experts are loud and clear: don’t bring that hot tub inside a client’s home unless you plan adequately for water access, drainage, and flooring, as well as moisture and air circulation.

Because of the average weight of a hot tub in use – a staggering 4,200 pounds – the need for a contractor-installed reinforced concrete floor is obvious. How did we arrive at that massive number? An average hot tub weighs around 700 pounds. It can take up to 300 gallons of water, or 2,502 pounds. If you invite six adults to bathe at one time, that will average 1,000 pounds.  The last thing you want to happen to your client is for their floor to crack or even give way. And make sure you steer your customers away from floors of carpet or wood, which can deteriorate, or plastic turf-type flooring, which can rot the base due to seepage.

You will also need to work with a specialist in HVAC to avoid humidity and condensation problems, as the hot tub – unlike a steam shower – sits out in the open. An exhaust fan is essential.

Your clients will also either need to add a drainage system – which may require digging up the already existing flooring – or install a sump pump. And, of course, there needs to be easy access to water.

Contrast this with a steam shower installation

We’re not saying that installing a steam shower doesn’t have its challenges. But when compared with an indoor hot tub, these appear much less daunting. Plans need to include where to install the touch control pads, possibly revisit the room’s plumbing, and make sure the appropriate electrical connections are in place. For more complete instructions, visit What do Builders Need to Know About Steam Shower Installations? and Steam Shower RemodelingFAQs, Questions from Professionals.

But installing a steam shower with all of the possible extras – aromatherapy, music therapy, and chromatherapy – will still be easier, less costly, and a quicker build than putting that hot tub inside. It will also give your clients that spa-like space they’re craving.

Making the healthier, greener choice

Both hot tubs and steam showers include many health benefits. They are relaxing, stress-reducing, and the steam emitted can help with congestion, lead to muscle repair, as well as many other benefits. But, according to Dr. Weill, who is a huge proponent of both steam and sauna, hot tubs can cause medical problems: “Hot tubs can be very relaxing, and because they promote sweating they can be healthful as well. My main concern with hot tubs has to do with sanitation and the chemicals used for cleaning them. Unless properly disinfected, hot tubs can harbor bacteria that can cause skin and other infections. High levels of chlorine or bromine used in hot tubs can irritate the skin, nose and respiratory system.”

In addition, when comparing the amount of water used in a hot tub to that in the steam shower, it’s evident which is the more environmentally friendly choice. A 20-minute steam bath session takes less than two gallons of water – which means it would take 150 steam showers to use the same amount of water used in that hot tub!

So there are some genuine advantages to advising your customers to carefully consider the pros and cons of installing an indoor hot tub – and even better reasons why the current trend is to focus on integrating more luxurious, spacious, and spa-like showers over all sorts of bathtubs!

Steam Shower Checklist


Topics: Bathroom Remodel, Green Living, Social Steaming, New Construction