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Old 11-10-2008, 11:21 PM   #1
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New and Better Steam Room Thread

Some years ago I posted a note describing my experiences and mistakes I made in creating my first steam shower in my basement. That thread has continued to grow in this forum. It looks like there has been growing interst in home steam rooms. For reference:


1. Installed Steam Shower in my basement 9 years ago. Love it! Family fights over using it, in fact we have four bathrooms but most mornings we have to stick to schedule to get into the basement.

2. Would like to say everything in my installation went fine, but I made some mistakes in the waterproofing and build up. Even had high speed internet way back then but didn't get best plans together. I have some small leaks that have wept into the bath area drywall and ruined them on the bottom. I did temp repair that lasted only weeks. This is all mostly because I didn't do correct waterproofing installation beyond the shower pan - there is no membrane or film etc. beyond about 18" up. That there is no membrane at the horizontal seats joints is the biggest issue. Doing the basic stuff in this forum for showers would make it a no-brainer and complete. I have worked up toward doing that but haven't wanted to start the project and do without the steam for so long. Will need to do it at some point though.

3. Next issue is the door. I used one with a piano hinge, much like ones noted in links in this forum. Not completely happy with in, but that again is more to my faulty, or improper installation back then - it is not square and the dam at the bottom wasn't slope in properly. Again something that is handled in this forum and I need to redo. But with the piano hinge, the hinge creeps loose at the top (sags is maybe better description) eventually and which hinders closing and fit. When I do the thing over, I really want to move up to a higher quality door with "Pivot Hinges" for a classier, solid feel. These, from folks like Kohler, are 2-3 times more expensive though.

4. Sloped ceiling. Used 2 inch tile everywhere. Sloped ceiling wouldn't matter. At times there is drip from ceiling after we've used it all day and it hasn't dried. Not a big issue, you're sitting in the damp already. Slope might help, but I'd agree that smooth surface would be better. In revision I'm looking at 8-12" tile minimum or corian type material (cost is big deal though). The change is more for looks and upgraded feel more than anything else.

5. Lights, I put one ceiling / sealed light in. In remodel, I'd add more lighting and put it on dimmers etc. Hey even some neat programmed fiber lights would be neat with unlimited budget.

6. Fan. Went with fan in bath area, outside on a twist timer. Can't say this was completely successful. There are some rust spots on some cheap fixtures in the main area. This may be more due to family not using the timer consistently, but at this point I have to replace the timer as it won't shut off - expect there is some corrosion inside it. Fan inside seems like it might corrode also, so I'm on both sides of the issue on this one.

7. Transom above door might be nice with fan in bath, but I've good success with just closing the door firmly. At least here in Northern VA, in the winter it dries out fine and seems to do same in summer. If it was completely tight (See door paragraph) then maybe this would be bigger problem. Have had no problem with mold etc. Remember this is in basement so it's cold or cool down there year round.

There, exposed all my mistakes on the steam. But I'd still say go for it, it is really nice to sit in 125 degree moist heat in January here in VA after a run and get a nice sweat and shower done. I even do the Scandinavian thing most times and sit outside in swim suit and towel in the snow for 10 minutes for a cool off, crazy looking and sounding, but relaxing.

Last thought, for deluxe, some piped in music into the shower and the fog free mirror would be neat. Shaving is great in the steam but hard without a mirror when tired or hurried. Tried speaker in the bath area and they work OK but the steam runs most of the time and it's hard to hear the sounds inside when that is going on.


That first job was done in 1995. In 2006, we remodeled the entire basement couple of years ago and redid the entire steam room / bath room. The rest of this message updates things I learned and relearned about doing a steam shower. Hope this helps others doing similar jobs.

I spent a lot of time sitting in the steam room thinking about what I wanted to do over when I got the energy. Well got the energy and reason as we prepared to host my eldest daughters' wedding reception. The old basement (walkout) needed an update and the steam shower, with the poor door and unsightly mess on the lower drywall from the leaks, needed to go with no more excuses.

We stripped the bathroom and steam shower down to studs and started over. I kept the basic layout but slightly expanded the steam room area by half foot or so while redoing the walls.


1. Kerdi. I really messed up the waterproofing first time around. I could get away with the leaks because this was in the basement, a nice fully finished basement but concrete didn't complain about the water. This time around I used Kerdi. This forum and John's book explain it pretty well. I (I means me, my brother, and wife) put down concrete backer board in the steam area and spread the Kerdi out. We did a good job with the Kerdi but not perfect. It's not hard to spread but we did have couple of loose areas that I X-cut open, spread in mortar and resealed. I think those happened because we used too coarse of a trowel notch to spread the mortar. It wasn't hard to fix but it is something to watch for and be sure to repair before you tile so there is a firm backing everywhere. You could try other approaches for waterproofing and there are people on this board that have done them all. For me Kerdi was straight forward and addressed the water proofing that was number one on my list of things to fix - no way was I going to take all this time and effort and have those leaks again. It's been two years and there are no leaks. We Kerdi'd walls, floor and ceiling totally. No other vapor barrier. Just the backer board, Kerdi, then tile. We insulated under the backer board to help hold the heat in the room.

3. Door. I ended up getting a local glass guy to do the door. It is upscale with those pivot hinges and a transom on top. (Transom and fan coming up further down in this list.) Was a bit expensive but came out nice. There are places on the web where you can measure, order and install yourself to save some bucks. After all that, the installation didn't look that hard other than the being careful with glass. This was an area where I didn't want to take the time. Did I mention I had gut surgery in the middle of this so was doing the tile with big scare in my belly?

4. Pictures will be coming shortly, but for now, steam shower is a room off of the bath room. For the wall between the toilet and sink there is the wall with the glass door and a glass block window. We tiled floor to ceiling in both the steam room and in the bath room. Tile in the bathroom area was not required but it does protect that area from the steam and moisture. In the orginal installtaiont, after 4-5 years rust from some of the drywall nails had begun to show, especially in the ceiling. Not seeing the same rust with the tile everywhere. I still have to change out couple of door hinges on the bathroom door, not the steam room door, just the basic entry door. They finally started to rust over. I will replace them with a better quality (Not the basic Lowe's HD stuff but solid brass or such) and that will be fine. I replaced the simple vanity with a pedestal sink because I had some room to put in a towel closet for more and neater storage. Bottom line: steam gets around over time and you should plan on dealing with that outside the steam room itself. If you're not tiling ouside of the steam room, you should use some type of waterproofing membrane to help protect the drywall. Try to upgrade the fixtures to solid metal after that and that will work and be cheaper than so much tile over an entire room.

5. The never ending water drops on the ceiling issue. I didnít slope the ceiling. Didn't see a need for it first time, didn't see a need for it second time around after 9 years sitting in it. These drops form from the steam condensing on the colder ceiling tile if you don't remove the steam after using it. There are various thoughts on this issue. They really aren't much of a problem. They don't really fall very often unless you mess with them. You can mop them down or just spray them down before, during or after your steam. If you spray them down during the steam, you'll get more drops on you. You're wet and sweating. You shouldn't mind. If they bother you, there are four approaches:

a. Exhaust the steam after each use quickly and efficiently. More on this later... For now, I have the transom and exhaust fan just outside the steam door in the bathroom ceiling to do this. You can also leave the door open and use the fan. I don't recommend the fan in the room. I can't see it lasting too long in the steam. Both work. You and everyone using the steam have to do this or the drops will appear.

b. Spray (hand shower) or use a mop or short squeegee to wipe down the ceiling when the drops are there. That works and is easy.

c. Sloped ceiling. I don't know how sloped this has to be. I didnít want to mess with it. I'm guessing the slope needs to be 20-30 degrees to work. Others will have to verify.

d. Heating element. I actually thought about this but didn't do it. The drops form because the tile is cooler than the mist. Thus the water condenses on the ceiling. I noticed that no drops formed near the ceiling lamp if it was left on. The heat from the light stopped the drops. I'm guessing one could install one of those floor heating mats in the ceiling, turn it on timer as you leave and no drops. I doubt the mats are specifically approved for such use and I'm not sure how one would install them on the backer board and under the Kerdi. Drops aren't that big a deal. Did I mention that?

6. Tile. Well this is a tile forum for the most part. In the first iteration, I used 2x2 beige with blue highlights. For version 2, after a lot of thought, I went with larger, 9x12?, porcelain, off white with 3x3 Roman floor tile. Why? Well I wanted it brighter in the room. Sitting in the steam room with the beige made it a bit dim. I believe the smooth finish is easier to maintain. I butted the tiles together with minimum grout joints to minimize places for mold to grow (more on mold and cleaning coming but grout is one place it forms). I wanted the larger tile to minimize places for leaks. That one is more a function of my paranoia from the first leaky room than logic.

7. Benches. I put in granite, big splurge, seats. There is a large "L" bench in the shower (again pictures coming). The granite sits on top of the Kerdi. Benches are slightly sloped to middle to drain. Granite is nice. It is slippery though so be careful. Wife took a fall climbing up on bench to reach something on the shampoo shelf. Not hurt but was lucky. Steam showers are slippery. Be careful in there. With steam running, one can slide around pretty nice on the smooth granite. Climbing on the bench is tempting at times. Granite is blueish so provides a nice highlight from the Roman tiled steam room and bath room.

8. Lights. Put in two ceiling steam room lights. I wanted more light in the room. I put them on dimmer to handle other tastes (my wife likes it dimmer). The typical waterproof light from electrical supply had almost rusted through in the first steam. The socket fell apart while we were tearing it down. Again there is lots of moisture in a steam room - keep it contained. One of the lights I installed has the finish coming off. I believe it is a bad egg. I'll replace it or them eventually. They are fine for now, not many people look, or can see the lights in a steam room. One has to look close to see the difference between white paint finish and aluminum.

9. Shower heads. Don't forget a steam room is also a shower. You want a good shower head. You really want, no must have, a hand held shower - it's perfect for hosing down the drops, and helping keep the room clean. I put one on a separate line with a moderate length hose. Finally, I installed a huge water fall shower head in the ceiling on a third separate line. This is a huge hit with my wife. I put it so you can stand under it or lean into it while sitting on the benches. It's really nice, though does use the water.

10. Shampoo shelf. There wasn't a place for stuff in the first shower and with so many people using the room we always had plenty of things on the bench that got in the way. I put a full shelf (granite) on the shower head wall. I put it up high so it wasn't at eye level. There is tons of stuff up there and I have to fight the clutter but even as I fail, it's not right in my face on the bench like it was before. You really want a nice place to store the soap, shampoo, shaving stuff etc.

11. Sounds in the steam. This one I got much nicer than round one. I ended up using a marine DVD/MPS/Radio unit with a wired waterproof remote. I put two Bose waterproof Boat speakers in the ceiling. The radio unit (looks like a car radio) is in the wall in the towel closet. It is 12v so I got a Radio Shack converter to run it. (The converter is on the GFI circuit. The 12 volt should be safer. The wire remote is installed in the back steam room wall by the steam unit control. You can find these units at boat stores and catalogs. The remote on this unit allows one to turn on/off, adjust volume, change MP3 / CD tracks, or cycle through radio/aux/CD. There is a clock on this remote but you can't see it when it's playing so I stuck in a nice suction mounted small waterproof clock in this area. The clock was only $10 from extreme geeks. Heck if there was a waterproof monitor you could watch the morning news while steaming in the room with this unit. With the AUX input, I hooked up a mini-stereo jack so one can hook up iPods and such and listen in the shower. You can't jump music on the iPod but you can listen and control volume. I picked MP3 DVD so I could put a ton of MP3 music files, 3-400 or more on a DVD, and have plenty of music on random play. Finally, a steam room isn't the place to hear the nuances of some Bach Concerto, at least with the stream and shower running, but it's fine for some pop tunes while you steam.

12. Door and exhaust. Covered this a little already but for clarity: I put in a Panasonic fan in the ceiling just outside the steam room door. I put it on one of those push button timers you can get from Lowes / HD. Longest push is for 30 minutes. I had to mail order the Panasonic. Love it. It has great pull and is very silent. Seems much better made than the selections at Lowes / HD. I intended to open the transom after each steam and push the button and go. Well, training wife and kids about transoms they can't fully reach has been a problem. We've had a couple of steams go through an open transom. I started just leaving the door open after a steam if I don't want to save the heat for someone else. That works fine and keeps the steam room water drops down. It's good to let the room dry out when you can. I can't do it that often as we still have seven people wife, kids, even a grand kid competing for the room at times. The upscale post and pivot door is working fine and the door fit has remained fine for couple of years so far. The plastic barrier piece for the transom at the top is leaking because the sealant has become "unstuck." The leak is about a small drop a steam, nothing big, this can be repaired but would mean down time on the steam, and up time from my sitting around. Not gonna happen unless there is more of a problem. (EDIT: As I was actually typing this, the piece finally came down. Now I have to fix it. Just takes some sealant to stick it back up. Go figure.)

OK. Now some additional thoughts:

1. Cleaning. Steam rooms handle a lot of steam. They get warm. Mold like wet and warm. If we leave the door closed all the time after steams, mold will form. In our case it's small black or pinkish splotches. It's easy to keep under control. First, I let the room air out often. At least every couple of days, I just leave the door open, though the transom would work if I could trust the clan to close it before steaming. The exhaust fan on timer in the bathroom area helps move the steam outside. I also try to leave the bathroom door open when I'm airing so the basement can handle some of steam load (I like to think I'm recapturing some of that heat in the winter.) About once a week or more if needed, I take a small sprayer that is loaded with light mix of bleach and water and spray the room while it's airing. That takes care of the mold until the room is left warm and damp for a few days or more. I use the handheld shower to rinse the room down after it's been bleach sprayed and dried. It's very easy to hose down the floor, bench, ceiling, walls, and under the seat edges (a place where gook collects).

2. Porcelain tiles. I wasn't as careful as I could have been with the tiles. There are a few small chips on edges that I didn't catch while putting them up. Couple chips can be found pretty easily. Pros in this forum would find them immediately. Rest of us would take much longer.

3. I partially free handed the shower floor slope. I used a Kerdi drain and such. But without firm guides, I left a few uneven rises in the floor. I can see them; wife can't really unless I point them out. Better to use some cut to task boards to screed the correct slop around the pan. I guess one could use the Kerdi drain pan as a start and then fill in outside its limits (or cut it to size if it's too big). If I'd seen a tutorial on how to use extend the base beyond a Kerdi pre-form pan, I'd have done that in a heartbeat.

4. Size. The steam takes about 20 minutes to get to 105 F or so with the current unit. This is about the limit you'd want. It gets to 90 within 10 minutes and faster if we run the hot water. For real steam, I turn it on and do something else for half hour or so: finish errand, browse computer, run or something. It runs full 30 minutes of high temp and is heated so it gets right to steam room in 1-2 minutes on the run for real with me in it. The charts for sizing capacity seem pretty close to reality. Also, if you get too small you need to figure on a dispersion shield on the steam outlet. Even with this size, I find myself putting my feet up on the bench to avoid the steam on the floor. For some points of comparison. Most people might do 10 - 15 minutes in a steam between 110-116. With a lot of use and in the winter, I do about 15-20 up to 119. This room with the basic heater does all of those just fine.

5. Aroma / Scents. Some units have automatic scent dispensers or some such. Not sure that's needed. Just spraying some onto the steam outlet will fill the room. There is a notch in them to hold a small amount for this purpose. A bit of eucalyptus (from your local drugstore) does a good like Vick's Vapo-rub to a congested nose / chest.

6. LED lights. Thought about ways to add LED / Colored lights but decided they were too much effort to design and create myself couple of years ago. Now I see that some steam generator manufactures include them as options, with programs run from the remote. I actually could retro-fit these into my steam room now if I wanted. Maybe I'll do it after the water proof Monitor to watch movies and TV in the room. They'd be a novelty but I think I could hook them to a sound controlled modulation and get pulsing lights to the music being piped in. Be like the 70s again.

8. Glass block window. I like the basic glass block window. It provides plenty of privacy but allows light and openess in the steam room area. For this installation I ended up contracting it out. Group from Baltimore assembled the glass blocks off site and brought in two sections to install. They did a great job overcoming my out of square opening. Measured it a million times and still missed the square by an embarrassing amount after I finished tiling it in preparation for the glass blocks.

9. Grout. We used Spectra Loc grout from Lowes, the epoxy stuff. It seemed to me that there wasn't much choice for grout from Lowe's / HD. The epoxy stuff was a bit harder to work with. We used a lot of vinegar for clean up. Wife did most of the work on that one. I'm happy with the results. The grout seems very high endurance and is holding up very nicely. I have been getting calcium like "scale" that comes off the walls after I use the sprayer with the light bleach in it. Confused me at first and there was quite a bit that I had to scrap off the floor and some areas on the walls. What I think happened is we didn't do perfect job with the grout in mixing and cleaning and the bleach releases the 'haze" on tiles that we didn't get off with the vinegar solution during installation. One can't see the film on the tiles but I suspect it's there. After a few months, the scale is pretty much gone. Sometimes I get some after bleach spraying which must be from some area I didn't hit well in other cleanings. It scraps off with no effort and water washes it away. It's a small hassle. I suppose it'd be more a problem if I paid for the installation rather than did it to myself. Still am happy with the grout after time.

10. Kerdi. Kerdi installation isn't hard but I did have small problems keeping it smooth. As I noted before, we had some loose pockets that needed repairing before tiling. Use the correct notch in the trowel and that should not be a problem.

11. Relearned that no matter what you think, measure, see, believe, hope, want, wish, expect, desire there is no tile that fits without cuts. I convinced myself that I could use the bottom line of the wall and build up. I realized quickly that all lines aren't level. In fact we had intentionally slanted the bench line for example which I'd forgotten. I had to do some quick recovery during the job to handle the issue. I still ended up doing cuts on both top and bottom of the wall. The pros in this forum know the correct way to fit tile into the space. Listen to them. You should always plan on doing the cuts top and bottom and left and right. You can then plan for balanced cuts on each edge rather than say 4 inches on the bottom and less than an inch on top to fill in.

So there you go. Two steam rooms over 13 years now. WIth all the work and surgery behind me, I'm embarrased I let the first one go leaking for so long. Second one is very nice and no leaks. I had one short scare shortly after we got the room going and were still tiling in the bathroom area. I found water against a wall in the bathroom. Turned out the basement sump pump had failed and water was leaking into the basement from the French Drain around the foundation after a lot of rain. New pump, no leak.

Still use the room almost every day. And use it twice many days - One for regular shower, one for 20 minute steam in the evening.

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Old 11-10-2008, 11:41 PM   #2
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Welcome back, TLD.

Thanks for the report. Likely a little long for some folks to read alla way through. The very best part for me is the description of the amount of use.

For these many years I been arguing with a fella name of John Bridge (maybe you heard of him?) about steam showers. I say a steam shower is a steam shower is a steam shower and they should all be built to the same standards. He alla time says it shouldn't be so strict for residential steam showers on accounta they don't get used much.

Well, I'll just bookmark this little ditty and toss a copy in his mail box 'fore I goes to bed, will I.

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Old 11-10-2008, 11:43 PM   #3
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Havent read it all yet TLD, but thanks! Your input is apprieciated.

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Old 11-10-2008, 11:46 PM   #4
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I cant read it, my A.D.D. wont allow it.

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Old 11-11-2008, 09:12 AM   #5
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He (John Bridges) alla time says it shouldn't be so strict for residential steam showers on accounta they don't get used much.

Well then I'd say, John knows tile but he doesn't know Steam.
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Old 01-17-2009, 05:34 PM   #6
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I'm bumping this to say "thanks" to the OP for the detailed post. I'd love to see the pictures you intended to post!

I'd like to add one point regarding speakers: Kohler makes a waterproof speaker "tile" which is a square frame surround (finish matches their faucet surrounds). They aren't terribly expensive and look great. The fact that the surround is square rather than round makes a big aesthetic difference for me when installing them with square tiles.
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Old 01-17-2009, 07:07 PM   #7
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Great post and it reveals a lot about long-term issues with steam showers! Thanks for the detail and lookin' forward to some pics. I think this ought to get the award for the "Longest Post" in recent memory! (If not, I'll give you the award of 50 "Lazbucks")......redeemable at your local HD for two tubs of Omnigrip!~

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Old 01-27-2009, 09:48 AM   #8
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Steam Generator & Vapor light suggestions?

Thanks so much for the great detail, it was very helpful. Would you mind sharing your opinions and sugesstions on the following?

1. What BRAND of steam generator and did you get the autoflush? I have narrowed it down to a 6 to7 KW Mr. Steam & Steamist because both are readily available in my area for both sales AND service. However, Steamist says to skip the autoflush and Mr. Steam says its a must have.

2. Which vapor proof light did you go with and are you happy? We only need 1 as the space is 3x5.

3. When are you going to send pics? Can't wait to see them!
Have a good one,
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Old 02-01-2009, 09:49 AM   #9
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Lights and units

I used Renť Steam Shower Luminaire lights. A quick google for Steam Shower Lights can find plenty of selections. I'd look for brushed metal for longer term. These are fine but as mentioned, the paint is flaking on one of them after 2 years.

Looking at them I see there are some new toys like lights with LEDs in them for light therapy. Humm, maybe I should swap for them.

I've been using a SteamMist generator since 1996. It is in the basement by the heater / hot water drain so I didn't install a autoflush. I try to turn it off at the end of a cycle but I doubt that helps. I honestly don't know what the autoflush is intended to help. I suspect it has to do with water hardness. Haven't had a problem with the Northern Virginia water if that's the case.

The charts for sizing seem to be pretty close. The thermo calculations here aren't that difficult: heat in heat out. Go one size up if it worries you. I'm able to handle the warm up time of 15 minutes so far.

About to go down and take some pictures now. Been too busy steaming to get it done.
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Old 02-01-2009, 01:27 PM   #10
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Picture for Reference

Seems like it's much harder to create pictures of an enclosed space like a shower.

Here goes. Couple of picture of the Steam Shower that is the focus of this thread.

I didn't do a fancy clean up or anything so one can see what a normal shower would look like during everyday use. It cleans up very nicely, and very quickly for company.

These show entrance to bathroom (basement), shower door (note the exhaust fan outside by the transom), back wall (with remote control for AM/FM & DVD MP3/CD, and Aux for Ipod plus Stick on clock and steam control).

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Old 05-24-2009, 11:29 AM   #11
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steam questions

Thanks so much for your post. Couple of questions,
is the Panasonic a remote fan unit?
can you give a little more detail on the glass block window, assume it's like in John's book, no wood, vinyl?
Is your door specially made for steam showers, as I am space constrained I was going to put a slider, frameless, mounted on curb, but don't think it will be totally tight, figured with fan I would be OK, also most of time here, all winter could use more moisture in air
concerned that my steam inlet is on wall with shower heads and wondering if I will get burned with that, thinking won't be using shower when steam is running, will shower after?
Which waterfall head did you use, I am hoping my Moen kits, with jets can take a waterfall showerhead....
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Old 06-02-2009, 10:13 PM   #12
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Is the Panasonic a remote fan unit? Not a remote unit but the biggest 110v one I found. It is hooked (direct wired) to a digital timer switch so I can punch a button to get it to run for up to 30 minutes then shut itself off.

can you give a little more detail on the glass block window, assume it's like in John's book, no wood, vinyl? It is completely block and glass block cement. I didn't do the block window, it was made off site and brought in. It can be done self help, I just didn't want to take the time to do it.

Is your door specially made for steam showers..? It was made by a local glass and mirror guy and is for a steam room in that is has seals all the way around. You can find some do it yourself order sites on the web for these type of doors: you do the measurements, they send the glass and hardware, you do the installation. It's not that hard but takes time to figure it out. I don't think I'd recommend the slider, lot's of steam will continually leak out. You need something that seals. There are also a range of steam doors on the net to check out. I still am happiest with thick glass and hinged system with the plastic seal (edging) around the door.

>>concerned that my steam inlet is on wall with shower heads and wondering if I will get burned with that, thinking won't be using shower when steam is running, will shower after?
Steam won't hurt the plumbing harware. I have Moen on the walls etc. They'll do fine. No if the concern is reaching through the steam to the shower handles and jets, then that could bed an issue but not a huge one if they are say 3 feet away or so. You can also get and hang a steam diverter / diffuser on the steam outlet to make this go away.

Which waterfall head did you use, I am hoping my Moen kits, with jets can take a waterfall showerhead....? I don't remember the water fall shower source. It was biggest I could find. Any will work fine in the steam shower. There is no issue the shower hardware and the steam room, that I've experienced. I used MOEN posi-temp mixers in all of the lines (the waterfall, handheld and normal shower lines.
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Old 06-03-2009, 04:54 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Tom
Well then I'd say, John knows tile but he doesn't know Steam.
And he'd be the first to agree with you.
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Old 06-16-2009, 01:09 PM   #14
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Thanks so much, what model is the Panasonic if you remember. - AM
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Old 06-16-2009, 01:31 PM   #15
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Also, model of marine radio unit? - AM
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