A wetroom or walk-in shower room is to a bathroom what an “open plan concept” is to a home’s main living space. They can make a small bathroom seem larger or any bathroom seem more high-end and sleek while adhering to universal or inclusive design principles for those with mobility challenges.
Wetrooms and walk-in shower room lend themselves to virtually any design aesthetic from traditional to modern, but what the heck is the difference? Both are tightly waterproofed or “tanked” spaces—walls and floors—and, for all intents and purposes, there is little difference between them, as the floor of the shower area is flush with the rest of the space and slopes gently toward a drain. Because of the ease with which water, dirt, and grime can be swept down the drain, these spaces are considered easier to clean. A hand shower or shower hose makes cleaning walls and corners even easier.
Neither wetrooms nor walk-in shower rooms are enclosed other than with one or two glass screens for a less confined feeling and a luxurious open look. Tubs are often included in either, as splashing—or bathing pets—causes no concern since the surrounding area is waterproofed. However, true wetrooms are completely open and waterproofed spaces and are seen less frequently than walk-in shower rooms, though both have gained popularity in recent years whether in remodeling projects or new builds.
Below the beautiful floor and wall surfaces are waterproof membranes, primer, and tape, or waterproof wall panels which means that homeowners should work with licensed professionals on design and installation. Porcelain tile—as opposed to ceramic—is less porous and a better choice for the floors of these spaces, as long as one opts for non-slip surfaces. Ceramic tiles are perfectly suitable surfaces for walls that will only receive a light misting or occasional splash.
While large floor tiles are all the rage, smaller ones better accommodate the necessary slope near the drain. Plus, the greater grout to tile ratio is another reason to consider smaller tiles, as grout is naturally slip-resistant. Wall-to-wall smaller patterned tiles, especially under a free-standing tub in a more traditional space, lend the look of a luxurious carpet while infusing the space with a little life. If you have your heart set on the look of a broad expanse that only large tiles can achieve, use them on the walls or choose from among the many shower wall panels.
Some homeowners choose heated floors for wetrooms and walk-in showers rooms, which is not only a way to enhance the spa-feel, but actually helps the floor dry, as mildew and mold can be an issue, especially if there are no windows nor adequate ventilation; another reason to work with a pro. Speaking of spas, consider the luxurious feel of ceiling-mounted rainfall shower heads and body jets as well as ambient lighting. Lighting must be wet-rated for the space in which it will be installed which varies according to proximity to the water source. Again, call in the professionals for consulting and installation.
Wall mounted toilets–placed at a good distance from the shower to avoid having to sit on a wet seat, especially if there is no shower screen—preserve that wide-open look that is often the reason for choosing a wetroom or walk-in shower room to begin with. And the same goes for wall-mounted vanities, not to mention that moving these necessities up off the floor makes cleaning a breeze. But you could consider a pedestal or console sink if you want a look that is even more open than a floating vanity, though you will then need to clean around the base or legs.
Like kitchens, upgraded baths can add value to your home when it comes time to sell. But, while a wetroom or walk-in shower room sans tub can provide the ultimate in airy luxury for both primary and secondary baths, families with young kids often require a tub. But I tend to lean in the direction of designing for your wants and needs now, not for a hypothetical buyer of your home a decade hence.
Virginia Beach native and JMU graduate, Chris Ettel, is founding partner of VB Homes. Ettel serves on the Coastal Virginia Building Industry Association board of directors and is past chairman of the CVBIA Remodeler’s Council.