The ancient Romans were famous for their baths.
In those days, taking a bath was a very different experience from ours. Most bathing was communal, not as private as it is today. Bathers enjoyed hot and cold rooms, and medium- temperature lounging rooms with extra services such as food, wine and exercise.
Today, we call such places health clubs, gyms or spas.
History also tells us that bathhouses, specifically sweat baths (hot-air or steam sweating, followed by washing or cold plunges), were a favorite way of getting clean. Interestingly enough, the basic procedure of pouring water over heated rocks to create steam is still used; you can buy sauna and steam units on the Internet.
Modern aficionados of such baths also believe that steam not only helps you get clean outside, but enhances health and is therapeutic as well.
However, it is wise to ask your doctor first if such therapy is appropriate for you.
If you decide to try setting up a steam bath at home, here are some basics to keep in mind.
A modern, compact steam shower unit installed in a closet, within a vanity cabinet or a heated attic space, can provide warm, moist steam heat in a shower. But there are considerations and precautions that must be taken.
Steam can easily be introduced into a shower enclosure with a modern steam generator, but the shower must be completely enclosed to prevent the steam's escape. A conventional shower door can be used, but a fixed panel must be added so that the normal opening above the door is converted to a completely sealed configuration.
Most shower-door companies can make such a panel for a small cost.
Also, the walls and ceiling within the shower should be tiled or surfaced with a waterproof material such as stone or a manmade sheet product (almost any one will do). If you decide on tile, pay heed to what the experts say: Fixing tile to wallboard is a big mistake. If you intend to create your own "steam world" you will want to use an old-fashioned mortar-backed shower or one with cement-tile backer board - no wallboard.
Personally, we would not build a steam shower without first creating a waterproof barrier on all walls and the ceiling, before adding backer board or mortar. There are several sheet products used by tile companies to seal shower pans, which would double beautifully for a steam shower.
Once the backer board is in place, use a "latex-modified thinset mortar" as an adhesive to set either tile or stone.
For stone, be sure to butter the back of each piece (in addition to the wall) to create a top-notch seal. Stone can be very porous and the extra layer of thinset will solve that problem.
Also, it is wise to use latex-modified grout in a steam shower. And remember, you can't use epoxy (another alternative) if you choose limestone. But we would never use limestone in a shower - steam or otherwise - it's too porous.
Finally, nothing is more important in a steam shower than a good grout, and tile or stone sealer or impregnator, depending on what the finish is. Go to a shop that sells tile (not a big-box store) for good advice on the best product for your particular project.
Keep these features in mind when looking for a steam shower:
n Quiet operation is important. Many units are very noisy.
n "Instant-on" also is an important feature. Many units can take up to 20 minutes to warm up.
n An adjustable steam-shower mist control is helpful, too. Not every shower is the same size and being able to dispense steam in a way that prevents body contact is important. Some units plug right in to the existing electric system. This might be your cup of tea, but such a unit might not be powerful enough to generate enough steam for a large shower stall.
n An aromatherapy attachment is a great addition.
n UL approval also is a must for any electric contraption.
For more home improvement tips, go to www.onthehouse.com or call 800-737-2474, ext. 59.
Check out the following companies and Web sites to learn more about steam showers:
Mr. Steam: www.mrsteam.com