While I’ve heard the ancient Romans, Chinese, and Indians supposedly had forms of indoor plumbing, that technology was largely lost during the dark ages, and just began making a comeback at the end of the 19th century. It’s hard to believe that in a single century we have come from a hand pump and an outhouse to what we call a bathroom. As indoor plumbing evolved and became common, we thought of our bathrooms, primarily, as a utilitarian space. We all know why we need them, and some of us still take them for granted. However, over the past few decades, the American bathroom continues to evolve, and has become far more than a place to do our bathroom business. The home improvement industry is constantly developing and expanding the usual bathroom necessities to the point where the bathroom is fast becoming the focal point for a family’s luxury and comfort. Plumbing fixtures and devices come in every conceivable size, shape, configuration, feel, look, finish, and function.
With the advent of thermostatic control systems, people can program the temperature and volume of the water flow to their personal specifications from a device that used to just be a faucet. Bathtubs can now be purchased with built-in entertainment and communication systems, and can include massaging features for comfort or therapy that would render most of us reluctant to ever leave the bathroom. Yes, refrigerators within the tub unit are available as well. What used to be just a toilet can be an adventure with the addition of a state-of-the-art bidet seat—but I won’t go into nature of those adventures.
Perhaps the greatest bathroom strides have been made in showers. Your imagination (and your bank account) is the only limit to what your shower can be. Endless lighting options, rain heads, steam generators, thermostatic controls, frameless glass enclosures, and the multitude of available body sprays can transform what we used to call a shower stall into a full-blown personal spa with boundless possibilities.
While as functional as ever, the bathroom sink area can easily be a work of art. Back-lighted vessel bowls with waterfall touch faucets and tops made of natural stone are appearing in more and more homes. In-floor heat, electric and hydronic, is also becoming commonplace. As low-voltage, LED lighting has broadened in both application scope and availability, new bathroom lighting options are exciting and also nearly limitless. Bath accessories are not excluded from the advances made in bathroom technology. Towel warming towel bars, air blade hand dryers, automatic soap dispensers with motion sensors are all available to residential homes now, and are all manufactured with artistry and style. Ultra-modern, or designed to mimic past style periods, such as Art Deco, Victorian, American Empire, etc., form and function has never been so integrated and diverse.
Once reserved for the very wealthy, bathrooms with opulence and true luxury are now available to the masses. Of course, even a basic bathroom remodel isn’t cheap, and the fixtures described above cost at least twice as much as your basic fixtures—and, unfortunately, there is no upper limit where cost is concerned. Americans pay a lot of attention to their bathrooms. The largest portion of home improvement dollars are spent on bathroom remodeling in the U.S. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, nearly 7% of all home remodeling work was either in remodeling an existing bathroom, or adding a bathroom—by far, the highest percentage of all home improvements. A bathroom remodel is also well known to have a very high cost to resale value ratio.
Below are photos from a recent bath remodel: