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The Electrified Bathroom: Smart systems give homeowners a home spa experience

By Jeff Gavin | Apr 15, 2024
The Electrified Bathroom
Where the bathroom used to be a place of simple functionality, it has now expanded to a place for escape and relaxation. 

Where the bathroom used to be a place of simple functionality, it has now expanded to a place for escape and relaxation. Today’s home spa experience could include a smart shower, steam, smart tubs, touchless faucets, smart mirrors and more. For the electrical contractor, an increasingly electrified and digitized bathroom takes some careful planning with the plumber.

In its 2023 Design Trends study, the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) found designers were seeing an increase in requests for technology that enhanced the “ease, comfort and customization of the bath,” all for the purpose of creating a sanctuary-like retreat. Chief enhancements included heated floors (69%) and smart control thermostats (67%). Other wants included motion sensors for lighting, speakers and smart showers.

A bath retreat reaches across consumer price points, according to Shaun Skelton, global senior products manager for Kohler Co., headquartered in Kohler, Wis. “It’s not just high-end anymore,” he said. “People want cleaner aesthetics in their bathroom. They want a modern look; they want simple, easy-to-use products, but also a level of customization and personalization that is beyond just standard hygiene in the bathroom.”

The electric bathroom has evolved over the past few decades. Details such as touchless faucets and electronic bidets/toilets that wash and warm are becoming increasingly common. What’s new is achieving an elevated, spa-like experience in the home. In kitchen and bath circles, 2024 has been coined “the year of shower.” Consumers have been introduced to smart bath-shower systems that can operate through voice, phone or a shower-mounted controller.

 

The Numi 2.0 smart toilet offers personalized settings, including ambient colored lighting and a built-in audio speaker system, hands-free opening and closing heated seat and an emergency flush for power outages.

Interest is growing, whether it’s in a high-end bath/shower system and heated floors or other smart products. 

“People go to spas, they go to hotels, and they love those experiences,” Skelton said. “That’s what led us down a path of how to bring those experiences to the home.”

One popular upgrade from the standard shower experience has been the introduction of steam through products such as Kohler’s Anthem+.

“People really enjoy being able to go into the shower and clear their minds with a steam experience,” Skelton said. “Maybe they want to recover from exercise or relieve tensions from a stressful day. You can shower, maybe use multiple sprays, simply use the steam or both in one integrated system.”

NKBA’s 2024 Kitchen & Bath Market Outlook reported that kitchen and bath revenues are projected to total $173 billion this year. The organization sees a rebound in spending later this year led by higher income households more likely to fund renovations by tapping savings (76%) versus pursuing a loan.

Smart technology strikes again

Users can customize their shower or bath experience exactly how they want using low-voltage smart technology. Moen, North Olmsted, Ohio, is a leading manufacturer of faucets, showerheads and other bathroom and kitchen products. According to the company’s website, the advances in showers will be digital and Wi-Fi/cloud-based.

Smart showers, faucets, valves and even mirrors employ Bluetooth, enabling users to program, adjust and coordinate bathroom fixtures through the touch of a button or a voice command. One of the more important advances in today’s bathrooms has been the digital valve. Supporting phone apps also allow digital control.

 

Customizing one’s bath experience is part of the at-home spa feel. Digital controls enable users to set preferences such as temperature, water flow rate and various shower head activations. The Anthem+ control communicates with the Kohler Konnect phone app.

“The smart shower goes beyond what [the] mechanical valve can do today,” Skelton said. “It features a digital valve with a single digital control that can precisely measure things like water temperature (precise hot and cold balancing) and water flow rates. This also fosters safety. If it’s a child in the shower, you can preset the shower so the child can’t change the temperature beyond what you set. That could apply to seniors, as well. A digital valve is very safe.”

Programmable preferences even extend to smart lighting and sound (e.g., music, mediation, nature sounds, etc.). 

“With a smart shower, you can create a fully immersive experience,” Skelton said.

Some fixtures, such as the Kohler Arise showerhead, incorporate LED lighting. 

“We focus on smart lighting within the bath space, giving users control to adjust the brightness, maybe change the color,” Skelton said.

“The consumers are also using music in the shower space. We have a product with a speaker in the showerhead that is very popular. We partnered with Harman Kardon for sound quality. An Alexa version of the product allows you to use voice activation,” he said.

Skelton sees smart assistants becoming ever more popular in the bath.

And although Skelton is primarily associated with Kohler shower products, he shared how baths and whirlpools also offer users options for temperature control, fill rates and draining managed through apps or voice control. Other power options include tubs with heated bath surfaces.

Mirror, mirror on the wall

In this world of smart bathrooms, the mirror has adapted. Such mirrors feature embedded or bulb-lined controllable LED lighting. Other standard features can include a defogging capability, which gently heats the glass, and integrated displays. Such displays can show the time and weather or be more expansive, connecting to a smartphone or the internet to display appointments, emails and even stock market ticker activity. A portion of the mirror could stream video. Some mirrors have speakers that connect with Bluetooth, feature cameras for selfies and offer USB charging ports.

Going further, some smart mirrors focus on health and wellness using integrated sensors for face analysis and skin condition. Other high-end mirrors allow users to make audio and video calls. 

With all these features, a mirror may be wired for high and low voltage. Some companies in this field are Misavanity, Hansong, Butylux and Bonnlo. Though more often found in hotels, such smart mirrors are finding a residential audience.

Conversation with the plumber

A smart shower can be a simpler installation than a traditional shower, Skelton said. 

“Things like low-voltage data cables may be involved. We have a lot more flexibility with where the digital valve can be placed, and where the actual controls can be placed on the wall. The electrical design of the bath … where the electrical work [is] focused as a smart shower install is more plug-and-play for the plumber,” he said.

Skelton went on to explain the question of where to place the digital valve in a smart shower or tub/whirlpool. 

“The electrician needs to look at where it is best to place power. If it is a brand-new home build, the plumber advises the electrician on where power is needed for the digital valve. In a remodel, the electrician may be the one who advises the plumber based on existing power placements. That might mean placing the digital valve in a hidden but accessible place just outside the bathroom. If that works for the plumber, it works for the electrician. We only use low-voltage cables within our showering space,” Skelton said. “Nonetheless, safety is the number one priority when installing these products. Because high voltage may exist in the bath, we ensure all shower and bath components are completely waterproof.”

Today’s state-of-the-art baths seek to be future-proof, as the bathroom faces changes less frequently than other parts of the home. The ability to upgrade and make fixes through digital revisions can apply to the bath just as it does to phones.

“We launched our original smart bath product in 2006, before the first iPhone was launched. You can still upgrade that product to the latest version of our DTV+ system almost 20 years later using the Kohler Cloud,” Skelton said. 

Moen also uses the cloud for its smart products.

Available training

Kohler and Moen offer manufacturer product training opportunities, and they are often offered by local distributors, dealers and showrooms. While trainings at manufacturers such as these two may be most popular for plumbers, they can guide electricians too. 

Moen, in association with the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, Wheeling, Ill., offers “Residential Smart Plumbing Products in Demand: Leak Detection Systems, Smart and Touchless Faucets, and Smart Showers,” an on-demand CEU program that covers, in part, best practices and smart plumbing products installation. 

A modern, connected and tech-heavy bathroom will need an electrical design that accommodates smart shower products, heated floors, smart tubs, mirrors and bidet/toilets. It is a room that integrates more low-voltage power and different high-voltage needs. 

Electrical contractors and plumbers will become friends as the smart bathroom offers more opportunities.

Header image: A bathroom sanctuary features smart plumbing fixtures in a powered and digitized space. Anthem+, Kohler Co.’s high-end shower system, delivers steam, sound and controllable lighting.

Kohler Co.

About The Author

GAVIN, Gavo Communications, is a LEED Green Associate providing marketing services for the energy, construction and urban planning industries. He can be reached at [email protected].

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