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Curbless, walk-in showers are becoming all the rage in bathroom design. While freestanding soaking tubs remain a popular choice in residential applications, a stylish yet functional shower has now taken center stage as the focal point of the new spa bath.
Revised standards in bathroom design have come into play as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Wellness is now a primary concern as people are increasingly focused on how the bathroom can impact their health and well-being. People are seeking thoughtful bathroom design focused on functionality rather than exclusively concentrating on style.
Inspired by European design, curbless showers are becoming increasingly popular in residential and commercial applications, thanks to their combined functionality and style.
Trending Curbless Applications
Most curbless showers currently can be found in health-care applications, such as hospitals and senior living facilities, because they offer ADA compliance. But the curbless shower is finally making an appearance in the American home, thanks to its spa-like luxury and added functionality.
While roll-in showers are a given in ADA-compliant hotel rooms, we’re slowly seeing a trend toward curbless in other hotel rooms for the functionality it adds. Most hotels will still use a curb, but owners are starting to bridge the gap with semi-curbless showers; i.e., a shower door and partial curb, with a curbless entry.
The next step is eliminating the curb entirely, creating a zero-threshold wet room with the drain located at the entrance, along the wall or inside the shower footprint.
Higher-end properties with the available space for larger shower footprints are more likely to incorporate curbless showers. That’s because higher-end developments tend to place more emphasis on design and functionality.
A curbless shower means cleaner lines in the bathroom, less visual clutter and added accessibility, all of which enhance well-being.
• Versatility in design. A curbless shower is achievable with various drainage points, offering versatility in design. It provides flexibility regarding its location in the room since the designer and specifier are not tied to placing the drain in a specific spot.
• Added safety and accessibility. Curbless showers provide an open feel and make the shower experience a lot safer any time you eliminate a curb. Curbless showers offer a universal design. Homeowners or guests benefit anytime safety measures can be taken into consideration within an upgraded bathroom design.
Linear drains in curbless showers are the ideal design solution for creating ADA-compliant showers and wet spaces that are universally accessible. The floor more easily accommodates a freestanding bench, a wheelchair or other mobility aid with no barrier to cross.
• Style. Curbless showers need not look institutional like so many ADA bathrooms do. This is especially so with options that disappear into the wall, such as QuickDrain USA’s WallDrain; or feature high-end designer drain covers, such as QuickDrain’s decorative drain covers. The latter are available in a wide range of finishes: brushed and polished gold; polished rose gold; oil-rubbed bronze; and matte and polished black.
What to Consider When Specifying Curbless Showers
While architects are more likely to specify a curbless shower, it’s usually up to the plumbing engineer or plumber to select a manufacturer and do the research to identify what will work best for the application and conditions.
When opting for a curbless shower, it’s important to consider the design and location of drainage and how that affects the rest of the room. The most important aspects to consider are the following:
• Product selection. An efficient way to install a curbless shower is to use a complete shower solution and a system designed to be customized for any given plumbing configuration or enclosure size and condition.
For example, QuickDrain’s integrated PVC drain, combined with a pre-sloped shower panel and waterproofing accessories, represents a total shower solution for promoting effective and efficient drainage.
A product that offers field flexibility is ideal for a curbless installation. ShowerLine linear drains allow for the construction of roll-in showers that do not have to be recessed into the floor. Instead, shower pans can be set flush to the subfloor, resulting in a high-performing shower.
Onsite adjustability is another factor to consider when choosing a product for curbless installation. For example, models such as ShowerLine include stackable spacers that allow installers to adjust the height of the drain cover to ensure it is flush with the shower floor.
Likewise, trough extensions and covers can be trimmed on site after the PVC body is installed. This makes it easy to provide wall-to-wall coverage, which helps minimize standing water or water traveling beyond the curbless shower entry (more on that below).
• Drain type: linear or center point. Curbless showers could feature striking linear drains to add a contemporary European feel. Or they could use center-point-style drains, such as QuickDrain’s SquareDrain.
While there are various drain options to consider for curbless applications, linear drains are the ideal design solution because they use a single slope toward the drain rather than four different slopes required of a center-point drain. A wall-to-wall linear drain maximizes drainage and offers a clean look that enhances the shower experience.
The linear drain should be located along a wall or at the entrance of the shower. This improves drainage, giving water a uniform path to the drain while minimizing installation errors and unsafe standing water; i.e., “dead spots.”
A one-directional slope has less chance of water pooling or running out of the curbless shower. Shower floors without enough pitch usually puddle and hold water. Soap scum and water deposits form in these wet areas, making the tile and grout look dirty.
Linear drains offer the convenience of lower maintenance because they can be integrated with larger-format tiles. This results in fewer grout joints to impede movement or drainage, minimizing the number of opportunities for mold, mildew and grime to take hold.
• Drain location. Whether it be at the entrance, along the wall or centered, the drain location will impact a curbless shower’s flow rate capacity. For example, if the drain is installed at the entry to a curbless shower, the shower’s flow rate capacity will drop to 5 gallons/minute. QuickDrain recommends calculating 10 gpm/outlet for all curbless back-wall shower drain installations.
• Labor savings. The use of linear drains in curbless showers also saves labor, as installers need to create only a one-directional slope toward the drain located at the entry or the back wall. Compare that with a four-way, compound slope used with center-point drains.
Including a curbless shower in a bathroom remodel or tub-to-shower conversion creates an accessible and restorative space. Plus, the lower maintenance of large-format tile and wet spaces minimizes time spent on cleaning and maintenance.
Add these advantages to the high functionality and spa-like style of incorporating a curbless shower, and you’re well on your way to meeting the fast-changing priorities in modern bathroom design — particularly in a world where health and well-being are top of mind.
A 15-year veteran of the plumbing industry, Evan Novak has served as senior manager of commercial sales at Oatey Co. since September 2018. A graduate of Ohio University, Novak holds a master's degree in business administration from Clemson University. He can be reached at: ENovak@oatey.com.