By Stephanie Herzfeld. Despite the consistent popularity of whirlpool baths, recent bathroom trends toward elaborate shower systems may make you wonder if you should swap a whirlpool for a shower tower in your next bathroom project.

"Stress reduction and relaxation are important now," says Carolyn B. Thomas, a certified bath designer with Chevy Chase, Md.-based Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen and Bath. "It used to be that soaking was enough."

Shower systems, which may incorporate a variety of body sprays, hand-held showers, and showerheads, cost thousands of dollars -- just like whirlpool baths. But even with the rise in popularity of shower systems, there will always be a place in the bathroom for jetted tubs.

"Just for simply feeling good and relaxing, whirlpools will hold their own," says Alan Simonini, president of Charlotte, N.C.-based Simonini Builders. "I wouldn't build a house without one." He builds homes in the $400,000 to $1 million range.

"I think [whirlpools and luxury showers] will feed off each other because they have different functions and appeal to different genders," adds Charles Scott, Jacuzzi's director of marketing.

One of the main reasons builders love whirlpools is because they're simple, profitable upgrades, notes Bill Pavilonis, senior product manager for Sterling. Many are made out of acrylic, come in basic tub sizes, and can be easily installed in new and remodeling projects.

"Builders want to utilize space in tract housing and [a whirlpool] allows them to upgrade yet stay in the same dimensions as standard bathtubs," according to Pavilonis. Whirlpools, of course, are available in many other sizes, a variety of shapes, and custom configurations.

Ranging in price from $800 to more than $30,000, the latest whirlpools allow contractors to offer homeowners everything from a standard six-jet tub to models with home theater systems sporting plasma screens and surround sound.

"Homeowners want to be able to customize their baths. They want flexibility. They want to have different types of bathing experiences in their whirlpools," says Paula Forseth Dick, bathing products product manager for Kohler.

Adjustable body jets, foot jets, neck jets, pillows, chromatherapy, variable speeds, heaters, handles, and even hand-held sprays are just some of the options your clients can choose from to personalize their whirlpools. Best of all, past problems associated with whirlpools, such as excessive noise and jet action, have been alleviated over the years.

In years to come, industry experts predict that whirlpools will share the spotlight with up-and-coming shower systems in the master bath. "Master bathrooms are rivaling the size of master bedrooms, so there's room to include a bath and a shower," says Dick.

Super Soakers

Although they aren't geared for the mass market, Jacuzzi's Private collection of whirlpool baths raises the bar for luxury bathing.

The Vizion and LaScala baths feature state-of-the-art home theater components such as flat-screen and high-definition televisions (including one that is 48 inches), CD/DVD players, and surround sound. They even have remote controls that float.

"Jacuzzi prides itself on having the most cutting-edge products," says Charles Scott, director of marketing for the firm that invented the whirlpool category.

Private collection tubs, which cost $20,000 to $31,000, appeal to consumers who not only have the funds to buy them but also the desire for the latest technology. Many buyers are professional athletes and hotel magnates, says Scott.

Courtesy Jacuzzi

Jacuzzi. The second addition to the Private collection, the LaScala whirlpool features a home theater system with a built-in 42-inch plasma screen, a DVD/CD stereo, surround sound, and a floating remote control. It has 10 adjustable jets, measures 82-3/8 inches long and 72-1/2 inches wide, and comes in white, black, and platinum. 800-288-4002.

Courtesy Kohler

Kohler. ProFlex Vikrell whirlpools feature custom pump locations, integral tile flanges, and adjustable jets. The whirlpools, made from a polyresin and fiberglass composite, are available in more than 25 models in a variety of colors and shapes. In-line heaters, timer kits, neck pillows, and footrests are optional. 800-456-4537.

Courtesy Sterling

Sterling. The Ensemble line of bathing fixtures, shown here with a six-jet whirlpool option, is made from Vikrell. The polyresin and fiberglass composite has color molded throughout; tubs come in white, bone/natural, almond, ice gray, and biscuit. Ensemble baths can be installed with or without coordinating wall surrounds. 800-783-7546. Jason. Consisting of six adjustable recessed hydrotherapy jets that focus their massaging action on either side of the spine, the Back Stack whirlpool has a stepped and angled design. Measuring 72 inches by 42 inches by 23 inches, it features a lower back jet, two arm and body jets, and two feet jets. 501-771-4477.

Zuma. C series whirlpools come in eight sizes ranging from 60 by 30 by 21 inches to 72 by 36 by 21 inches. The rectangular tubs come standard with six directional side jets. Airbath systems, grab bars, and mood lighting are optional. 800-453-1463.

Aquatic Industries. Infinity IV, V, VI, and VII whirlpools feature the Air Bath system that offers three massage settings: constant bubble action, wave, and pulse. The acrylic whirlpools come standard with 16 or 17 hydrotherapy jets, 12 Shiatsu back jets, pulsating neck jet pillows, and underwater mood lighting with colored lens kits. 800-555-5324.

Courtesy Whirlpool

Whirlpool. Made from Lucite acrylic, the Cielo jetted tub features removable dishwasher-safe jets, slip-resistant textured bottoms, and rigid PVC piping. The tubs come in numerous shapes in 20 colors. Acrylic handles, underwater lighting, movable contour pillows, maintenance heaters, and electronic switches with timers are optional. 877-442-4356. Eljer. Designed specifically for corner installations, the Palmetto whirlpool bath features four adjustable body jets, one corner back jet, and two rotating neck jets. The acrylic unit, with a slip-resistant bottom, measures 60 inches by 60 inches and is ideal for bathrooms where space is limited, says the firm. 800-423-5537.

Courtesy MTI

MTI. Part of the Designer series, the New Yorker acrylic whirlpool tub comes standard with five adjustable point-massage jets and is available in more than 50 colors. Options include additional jets, in-line heaters, color-changing underwater lighting, grab bars, and acrylic or wood skirts. 800-783-8827. Clarke. Designed for a corner and made to flow out into the middle of a room, the Peninsula whirlpool bath allows for more design options, says the firm. The two-person tub features six adjustable jets and a matching skirt system. Massage jets, metal trim, and underwater lighting are optional. 800-426-8964.

Courtesy Diamond Spas

Diamond Spas. This freestanding stainless steel whirlpool bath measures 42 inches by 72 inches by 22 inches. The number of jets and jet placement varies according to client preference. Contemporary oval, corner, contoured- and flat-bottom soaking baths, and ellipse-style baths also are available. The firm also manufactures lavatories and kitchen sinks. 800-951-7727. American Standard. Featuring eight multi-directional adjustable jets, including two jets specifically for feet and two recessed back jets, Savona collection whirlpools provide an indulgent escape, says the firm. The acrylic whirlpools feature molded arm rests and come in all of the firm's colors. Coordinating toilets and lavatories also are available. 800-524-9797.

Ultra Baths. The TMU therapeutic air bath features a cedar shelf and an optional cedar step with an intense cedar aroma that creates a sense of peace and tranquility, says the firm. The TMU 6060 air bath measures 60 by 60 by 21 inches. The whirlpool baths have jets placed every 3 inches to completely surround the bather. 800-463-2187.

Published in BUILDING PRODUCTS Magazine, January/February 2003

Spec out Whirlpool Tubs on ebuild, the Professional's Guide to Building Products(TM).