Steam Showers: What You Need To Know

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Want to transform your bathroom into a luxurious spa? Consider this steamy upgrade.

Bringing home the spa experience isn’t a new idea, but it still has legs. And steam showers are one of the most luxurious spa experiences you can recreate in your home.

You’ll need some space (a steam shower takes up more room than an average shower) and some money (see below for costs). But the rewards can quickly make up for the sacrifices. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is a Steam Shower?

A steam shower is an enclosed space that serves as both a steam room, like you find at spas and gyms, and a shower. The enclosure can be custom-built on site with the components purchased separately, or you can buy a ready-made glass unit with all necessary components. Both feature typical shower plumbing and fixtures, and ports for steam to enter the stall. Some also have jets. And they usually have a bench for seating.

“We’ve built quite a few custom steam showers over the years,” says Chuck Khiel, vice president of Fred Home Improvement in Bethesda, Maryland. The sizes vary considerably, depending on the space available. But the enclosure construction is consistent: They’re built like a typical shower, with waterproofing methods key.

Typically, they’re tiled on three sides and the ceiling, with a glass door that seals well and a transom at the top for ventilation. Another important feature: Khiel says “the enclosure has a slightly sloped ceiling to direct water droplets toward the sides so they don’t drop in the center where you’re standing.”

How Does a Steam Shower Work?

Controls for the steam can be located inside or outside the shower. A generator usually tucked inside an adjacent closet or other space creates the steam.

“The generator is about the size of a microwave,” says Khiel. “It’s rated for the cubic feet it can accommodate, so there are different sizes depending on the size of the stall.”

Water and electrical connections are required to run it. The generator heats the water and then pumps it out as steam through the ports in the shower. “The ports are typically placed in the lower part of the enclosure because steam rises,” Khiel says.

What Are the Benefits of a Steam Shower?

Besides a relaxing and luxurious spa experience in the privacy of your home (who doesn’t want that?), the high heat and humidity of a steam shower provide several health benefits.

  • Heart health: Heating up the body may have heart benefits. While the health benefits of steam rooms haven’t been studied as much as saunas, indications are they’re similar, according to Columbia University research: “The brain, the nervous systems and endocrine systems work together to respond to this external stimulus by increasing blood flow, heart rate, cardiac output and sweat production in order to cool the body down to maintain balance … This has been linked to direct benefits for cardiovascular diseases in general, and in assisting with reducing inflammation.”
  • Skin health: Heat and moisture from a steam shower open pores and remove toxins, according to Medical News Today.
  • Pre- and post-workouts relief: Medical News Today also notes heat and steam immediately after a workout helps reduce muscle soreness and retain muscle strength. When used before a workout, it loosens muscles and joints and increases flexibility.
  • Reduced congestion: Warm steam can provide relief of allergy and cold symptoms.

Your bank account might see a health benefit, too, when you sell your home. “Bath remodels have a high return on investment, 70 percent or so nationwide,” says Khiel. If the right buyer wants a steam shower, you could recoup a chunk of your investment.

How Much Does a Steam Shower Cost?

In the Washington D.C. area, an average-size custom steam shower can cost $25,000 to $35,000 for labor and materials, Khiel says. The steam shower generator and fixtures cost $4,000 to $5,000. A ready-made steam shower unit varies widely in cost — $2,100 to $6,600 — depending on its size and features.

Can you DIY it? “Maybe,” Khiel says, “if you have knowledge of plumbing and electrical.” And you need the skills to build a steam shower enclosure that’s properly waterproofed.

Where To Buy a Steam Shower

You can purchase a steam shower generator and related components or a ready-made steam shower unit from specialty retailers and big-box stores, including:

Kathleen Childers
Kathleen Childers, a Minnesota-based writer, covers topics about home and life for a variety of clients.