This article is excerpted from Bath Planning, one of nine books in the NKBA’s Professional Resource Library.

A calming view and natural light add to the enjoyment of this whirlpool tub. (Courtesy of Lasco)

In partnership with the National Kitchen & Bath Association,Supply House Timescontinues its year-long kitchen and bath educational series with a look at spa baths. This article is excerpted fromBath Planning, one of nine books in the NKBA’sProfessional Resource Library. It provides an overview of some of the key considerations involved in helping homeowners select the right products to deliver the spa experience they desire. 

The luxury of the spa experience is being captured in the homes of many clients seeking relaxation and pampering. The popularity of day spas and resort spas has many consumers seeking their own space for caring for mind, body and soul. The home spa will be very individualized, depending on the client’s desires. Different types of activities and equipment can be included, and the space can grow out of an existing bath or become a featured space in the home.

There are many considerations that must be addressed when designing a spa. Some key questions may include:

  • What type of spa activities would the client like to engage in? Clients may request activities that they have experienced in a resort or day spa, such as steam baths, massages and saunas. Do they want to accommodate just one activity or multiple experiences?

  • Who will be using the home spa? Will the spa be used by the adults or shared by family and guests? How many people will be using the spa at any one time? A soaking bath may be a private activity for one, while a spa tub might be used by a group. An assistant may come in to give a massage or pedicure.

  • A steam shower should have good shower design features, such as a seat, storage and a grab bar.


    Often home spas are part of the master bathroom. It may already have a separate tub and shower, and upgrading or expanding the fixtures could create a spa space in the regularly used bathroom. Separating the spa area from the regularly used bath can create a space focused on the relaxing experience, not the day-to-day hassles of the morning rush to work.

    Whirlpool baths are increasingly being requested for guest and secondary baths, and smaller fixtures can be fitted into trade-out installations. This allows all family and guests to have a pampering bath.

    Hydrotherapy is the most basic treatment that can be offered in a home spa. Hydrotherapy uses water as the primary facilitator to treat muscles and reduce stress. Different forms of hydrotherapy include jetted or whirlpool baths, jetted showers and more. 

    Steam baths offer a way to cleanse and relax at the same time. In a steam bath, the humidity reaches 100% and cleans out the body’s pores. A lukewarm shower follows the steam bath to add to the relaxing experience. Or a cold shower can be invigorating.

    Chromatherapy is a term used to describe colored lights, usually in a tub, that are thought to influence the user’s mood. The bather turns off all room lighting and focuses on the colored light from the tub, while practicing deep breathing and visualization techniques. Different colors have different effects. For instance, red is a stimulating color that is supposed to activate blood flow, while blue might be relaxing and help reduce all types of cramps.

    The specific fixtures and equipment that the client might request in a spa bath include whirlpools, soaking tubs, steam and more.

    Whirlpool jets can be placed in different locations to create different patterns of water movement.


    Whirlpools or jetted bathtubs are one of the most requested items in new and remodeled baths and provide the client with a form of hydrotherapy. Most new homebuyers expect a whirlpool tub in the master suite, and whirlpools are frequently placed in remodeled bathrooms that contain a tub and shower. Small 60-inch x 32-inch models are available, as are deep two-person models.

    Consider who will be using the whirlpool and how much space they require. The shape of the seating, padding and angled support determine the user’s comfort while in the tub. Ideally the client will be able to sit in a working tub before selecting it, to see if it is comfortable and if the water action meets their expectations.

    Whirlpools are filled with heated water each time they are used. They have different jetted actions that move the water in the tub. This is an important variable in design and selection of the units. Some may have jets that force the water out at certain locations. Other jet actions may move the water in a rotating pattern.

    The number of jets and their location in relation to the bather determine how effective they are as hydrotherapy. Air bubblers may line the bottom of the tub creating a soft massaging movement. The number of jets, and the integration of jets and air bubblers, will affect the quality of the whirlpool experience. The system should be integrated so that it works efficiently.

    Whirlpool users will sit in the warm water (103/104°F for adults) for about 15-20 minutes. It is important to think about the user’s view, which is why the tubs are often placed at a window. Some tubs come with DVD/CD/AM/FM stereo surround sound systems and plasma screen televisions, so the user can listen to relaxing music (or watch an action movie if desired). Tubs also may have different colored lights within the water to enhance chromatherapy.

    Other features to consider in selecting a whirlpool are electronic touch pads and remote controls. Extra water heaters may be needed to handle the demand of the larger tubs. The designer must plan for the location of the access panels, so that maintenance and repairs can be completed. Often a handheld shower is mounted on the whirlpool tub deck.

    Soaking tubs

    These tubs are also enjoying some popularity in the spa bathroom. They are deeper than standard tubs - 25 inches instead of 15 inches - and they are often longer - as much as 78 inches. They relax the user by having them sink to their necks in warm water. Users should shower before entering, since soaps are not to be used in soaking.

    Some of these tubs are free-standing and come in a variety of materials, such as copper, wood, acrylics and marble. The form of the tub can be designed to support the back or legs. A Japanese soaking tub is smaller and deeper, with a seat that the bather uses to submerge into the water.

    Often soaking tubs are designed for a wall- or floor-mounted faucet. A larger hot water tank will be needed and extra reinforcement in the floor is necessary to support the weight of the filled tub.

    Hydrotherapy tubs can use jets, air or a combination. (Courtesy of Americh)

    Steam bathtubs or showers

    These bathtubs or showers can be free-standing, or a system can be added to a standard shower or tub/shower design. The same considerations for designing a shower should be followed. However, the shower or bathtub must be sealed from the edge of the fixture to the ceiling to create the steam room. Seating is needed and the controls must be placed within the steam room.

    Several pieces of hydrotherapy equipment will require extra water heaters, either larger tanks or on-demand heaters. Extra support in the floor may be needed to handle the weight of the equipment, especially when filled with water. Electrical service will need to be planned to accommodate the heaters and pumps. Extra plumbing and electrical requirements may call for extra wall and floor space. Access panels for maintenance and servicing of equipment should be planned.

    Any hydrotherapy or steam treatment will put a great deal of moisture into the air, which must be removed with proper ventilation afterwards.

    This article is excerpted from Bath Planning, one of the first nine books in the NKBA’s Professional Resource Library. Written by recognized industry experts and thoroughly reviewed by top technical editors and peers, the volumes cover design, products, residential construction, mechanical systems, business practices, drawing, project management and more. They are available only through the Association at or call (800) THE-NKBA.