More homeowners giving bathrooms getting a 21st-century update

February 28

Slava Lazebnikov can set the water temperature of the shower from the living room, program a shower playlist while having dinner and lift the toilet lid while lying in bed.

After 15 years in the Rockville home, Lazebnikov said the bathrooms were outdated and needed something, well, a little splashy.

Now showering in the upstairs bathroom is a digital spa experience. “It’s really like in a car wash,” he said.

Technology has become commonplace in many American homes — particularly in the rooms where families consume their media, with devices that allow them to program their music and TV from their smartphones, and in the kitchen, with refrigerators that tell them when they’re low on milk.

But now it’s starting to catch on in the bathroom.

A fall 2013 survey of 7,600 homeowners by Houzz — an online community focused on remodeling and design — found that 60 percent of people are renovating bathrooms and many are upgrading to include the latest technology. Houzz said multiple shower heads, including those that simulate rain, are particularly popular.

The sophisticated bathroom technology is not just for the rich or frivolously eccentric. Lazebnikov and his wife, Margarita, live in a modest townhouse, and he says he “likes all sorts of gadgets that can be adjusted for the heck of it.”

Lazebnikov, a software systems manager, purchased and installed the latest high-tech products himself. “It’s my hobby. I do it over the weekends,” he said.

A digital valve with five control panels is connected to both their smartphones and enables them to personalize every aspect of the shower. The devices can be pricey: The Kohler DTV system with rainhead, four body sprays, fixed head and hand shower typically retails for $4,500; add another $12,000 for the media package.

“Water comes at you from all sides and above,” said Lazebnikov, pointing to various ceiling and wall water tiles from which the water flow and pressure can be regulated. You can create a drizzle, thunderstorm, waterfall, fountain or body spray.

Lazebnikov can set a rhythmic pattern of alternating water temperature. “Think of it as temperature therapy,” he said. And he said he can add steam “to surround me in warmth.”

The steam function can be controlled with user settings for different family members — a gadget that costs $2,500 to $5,000 and an extra $1,000 to $3,000 with the speakers, lights and aromatherapy. It can be as basic or intense, hot or warm, short or long, as each person desires.

“If you’re in the kitchen cooking, you can hit your iPad app to turn on the steam so that it starts generating, which takes about five minutes,” said Brittany Pomeroy, a showroom consultant at Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery in Rockville. “Then you can walk straight into the shower. If you’re on a run and have five minutes left, you can do the same thing. It’s instant gratification.”

Ceiling lights can be programmed to alter mood. Blue and violet are considered calming, yellow and red energizing.

“A lot of people really enjoy taking advantage of chromotherapy,” said Michael Weaver, co-owner with his brother Bryce of W.T. Weaver & Sons in Georgetown.

Music pours from a speaker that fits into the shower head. Kohler sells Moxie, a $199 system with a shower head and wireless speaker that snaps in to play and pops out for recharging. It is wirelessly connected to Bluetooth-enabled devices.

“Today, showers are so advanced they become the price of an expensive German car,” said David Goldberg, owner of Union Hardware in Bethesda.

Lazebnikov could have added a dryer but “thought it’s really too much,” he said.

He installed six copper pipes in the attic above the bathroom to support all the technology. “There are no mechanical knobs; it’s all digital.”

The Japanese-manufactured Numi toilet, which retails for about $6,600, is digitally controlled by a hand-held panel the size and shape of a BlackBerry and attaches magnetically to the wall. It offers multiple options:

●A blue floor light “man sensor” to raise and lower the seat by foot.

●Varying water flush strength and patterns.

●Lighted bowl that acts as a night light.

●Automatic flush and lid rise.

●A bidet with multiple controls for water temperature, direction and pressure.

●Music: “It comes preprogrammed with ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Yankee Doodle’ because that’s what the Japanese think Americans want to listen to,” said Goldberg, laughing, “and of course, it can be reprogrammed with Bach or Jay Z.”

●A heated seat.

●A built-in deodorizing system.

“Before I bought this, I wondered how I’d use it, but now I find it’s really convenient,” Lazebnikov said. “Especially at night when you’re half asleep, you don’t have to switch on the light.”

In the first-floor powder room, he installed a toilet bowl onto an orange, rust and gold wall of Jerusalem stone and onyx. “It’s a very small space, and every inch counts,” he said.

Wall-mounted toilets with dual flush buttons in the wall, which cost $700 to $1,200, are increasingly popular, said Ernesto Santalla, architect and designer with Studio Santalla in Georgetown. “They don’t take up much space, they operate well and all of a sudden the toilet becomes an attractive fixture,” he said.

“We’re starting to see more of them, but they haven’t hit a strong trend yet,” Goldberg said. “Technology in wall mounts hasn’t reached the maximum performance that other toilets have, so that’s held back the trend.”

Nothing says Washington more than round-the-clock broadcasting. “We’re very news-driven here,” said Weaver, “so it makes sense that you don’t want to miss anything.”

Robern makes medicine cabinets with television screens embedded flush in the mirror. The devices cost $3,900, plus $260 for speakers.

“They’re great for getting ready in the morning,” Pomeroy said. “You can watch the traffic while shaving or putting on makeup, and your kids can watch cartoons.”

“We sell them frequently,” Weaver said. “They make great company. We even did a project for a gentleman who wanted to watch while laying in the tub.” TVs are common additions inside showers along with a defogger.

“We can put in any size TV and can place it anywhere on the mirror as long as it’s three to four inches off the edge,” he said.

Bathtubs are no longer standard. Houzz says nearly half the people remodeling bathrooms are leaving tubs out, and those who include them often add spalike features that can be digitally regulated and programmed.

Kohler Vibracoustic tubs offer a completely different spa experience with music from hidden speakers, vibrations and chromotherapy lights from colored LED bulbs inserted in the tub wall. The units cost $3,500 to $5,000.

“For some people, that’s fabulous. You choose the color in which you want to bathe and use the music to pump you up for a night on the town or quiet you down for sleep,” Pomeroy said.

Touchless faucets, which cost $300 to $700, are moving from commercial outlets and highway rest stops to home bathrooms. “Embedded with sensor technology, they use less energy and conserve water, which is important because it’s one of the resources we’re depleting,” Santalla said.

As the capabilities of sensors become more adaptable, smart devices are moving throughout the home — and people are grabbing them. “In the bathroom, high-tech products make you feel better, and who wouldn’t want that?” Lazebnikov said.

“Metro D.C. is a luxury market but not a flashy market,” Pomeroy said. “There’s a lot of interest in high-tech products because they can add so much to the bathroom. We expect to see more and more interest over the next year.”

Audrey Hoffer is a freelance writer.

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