By: Jamie Goldberg
From toilets that double as sound systems to water-conserving spa experiences, here’s what’s trendy for bathroom improvements for 2012.
Trend #1: Conservation rules
All around the country, water reserves are stressed. In response, regional governments are implementing conservation measures. As a result, there are likely to be new regulations that’ll affect your construction or remodeling plans. Here’s what to watch for:
Your new toilet will have a lower flush-per-gallon rating than the one that’s in there now. Consider a dual-flush version, or any low-flow toilet coming on the market that meets your style preferences. At the very least, your next commode is likely to feature a 1.28 gallon-per-flush rating — better than even the most-recent 1.6 GPF offerings.You’ll find them at home improvement centers from $100 to luxury showroom models for thousands more.
The WaterSense label, launched in 2006 by the Environmental Protection Agency to promote water conservation by plumbing manufacturers and home owners, will become as well-known as Energy Star. You’ll be shopping for low-flow shower heads and faucets with the WaterSense symbol on the box. Just as with Energy Star appliances, there is no cost premium associated with WaterSense savings — there are faucets in every price range. WaterSense shower heads are newer on the market, with a more limited selection today — mostly at more affordable prices.
You’ll start seeing more shower heads — especially rain shower models — using Venturi principles that deliver strong water pressure by adding air, not water, to the mix. They’re available in every price range, from ultra-affordable standard heads to luxury rain showers.
Trend #2: Technology advances
You may not think of your bathroom as a high-tech space, but that’s about to change. Here are some of the trends that can benefit your home:
You’ll be able to create a custom showering experience more affordably than ever. For $300 for simple controllers to $3,500 or more for a complete luxury installation, programmable showers let you digitally set your preferred water temperature, volume, and even massage settings before you step in. To achieve a personalized showering experience, you’ll need a 120-volt power source, and a thermostatic valve and controller in addition to your standard shower head or heads. Luxury models may include a steam system, a wi-fi source for music, multiple body spray outlets, tankless water heater, and a secondary controller to start the system from another room.
Dock your iPhone or MP3 player directly with your speaker-equipped, high-tech toilet so you can entertain yourself on the commode. While you’re not likely to invest $4,000 to $6,000 for a Kohler Numi toilet using this technology today, start looking for competitive models later in the year with lower prices.
Catch up on news and weather while you brush your teeth. Television screens are being integrated into medicine cabinets and vanity mirrors. Cost? Early entries to the market command a premium $2,200 to $2,400 price tag.
Plug your smart phone or MP3 player into your medicine cabinet so you won’t miss a call or song while getting ready for work or bed. A built-in jack keeps your unit charged (and away from wet countertops) and linked into a built-in speaker system.
Trend #3: Aging demographics emphasize safety
It’s not just high-tech that’s bringing an “experience” to the bathroom. Trends in universal design features add comfort, convenience, and safety. But that doesn’t mean your bathroom has to look institutional. Here are some universal design innovations that can factor helpfully (and stylishly) into your 2012 bath remodeling plans:
Sleek, low-profile linear drains are ideal for creating safe, zero-threshold shower designs. Unlike standard round drain covers that are typically mounted near the front end of a shower, these long, straight drains can be installed in different locations to minimize the slope of the shower floor. One popular location is at the outside edge of the shower, creating a wheelchair-friendly curbless shower. More offerings in more finishes — including nearly invisible tile-in channel models that are largely covered by shower floor tile — are becoming the standard for upscale spaces. You’ll spend $500 to $900 for a quality linear drain.
The rapidly-expanding selection of porcelain, glass, and ceramic tiles makes it easy to find slip-resistant, low-maintenance floors that don’t skimp on style. Expect to see faux wood, linen, and uniquely-textured looks for tiled bathroom floors and walls in 2012. The texture adds both visual impact and better traction for wet feet.
The accessible tub is no longer limited to the high-walled, narrow-door format that dominated the market in the last decade. Newer models, such as Kohler’s Elevance ($5,100), employ rising panels in front that give more of a traditional tub look with easier entry and exit. Others use standard hinged, sealed doors, but are increasing door width by several inches for better accessibility and appearance.
What improvements — big or small — are you planning for your bathroom this year?