Trends toward Curbless Showers with Linear Drains

There’s no curbing the growing enthusiasm for curbless showers among leading-edge designers and savvy homeowners.

Curbless showers are the next evolution in the trend to sophisticated, seamless, open-concept bathrooms in which the tub/shower odd couple has amiably agreed to separate. Whether the tub disappears entirely or just decamps to its own secluded niche, a stylish shower has now stepped onto center stage as the focal point of the new spa bath.

Inspired by luxurious “wet-room” spa baths in upscale hotels and health clubs, consumers of all ages now seek to enjoy the same look and feel at home. As part of that look, curbless showers are becoming increasingly popular, thanks to the way they marry style and functionality.

Style, beauty and contemporary design are top bath priorities for homeowners today, according to a 2018 Houzz Bathroom Trends Survey[1]. Nearly one in three respondents desire a spa-like environment.

Spa baths are typically known for their sleek European design, often with oversize tiles and glass shower doors that visually extend the space. Curbless showers, uninterrupted by any barrier, are especially well-suited to this clean look, particularly when designed with an unobtrusive linear drain.

Upping the style ante, curbless showers showcase—in striking fashion—the larger format tiles now in vogue and reduce grout lines for easier cleaning. And using large tiles throughout the room, from the floor into the shower, can make a small bath appear larger. Moreover, linear drains expand options for designers, making it easier to construct shower floors using larger ceramic, porcelain and stone tiles, as well as solid surface materials like marble, granite and engineered stone products.

But style isn’t the only reason for the rise in curbless showers, also known as zero-entry or barrier-free showers. The desire for better accessibility among all age groups, but especially Baby Boomers, is fueling demand too.

Nearly 77 percent of people age 50+ hope to stay in their current homes, according to a 2018 AARP survey[2]. To do that, 36 percent plan to modify their homes, with bathrooms one of the most likely changes.

“We find more and more of our clients are requesting curbless showers that fit their needs for accessibility and easy maintenance, without sacrificing beautiful design,” says Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID, CAPS, a nationally known Wilmington, DE-based designer.

Aging in Place experts recommend that at least one shower in a home be accessible, while CAPS (Certified Aging in Place Specialist) professionals call for a stand-up shower in a main bath to be barrier-free and a minimum of 36 inches wide.

Linear Drains: Ideal Design Solution for All Types of Showers

Whether curbless or curbed, showers can be designed either with a center drain or with a linear drain. Linear drains, long popular in Europe, as well as in high-end spas and resorts, offer significant advantages for bathers.

  • With a center or point drain, the shower floor slopes from all four sides down to the drain. The result is a “divot,” or bowl, in the middle of the shower floor. Some users, especially those with unsteady balance, may find this uneven surface awkward.
  • In contrast, a linear drain requires only a single slope. So the shower floor feels more stable.
  • A linear drain offers a more stylish look because larger, more diverse materials can be used throughout, since the need to tile around a clumsy center drain is eliminated. Moreover, there no design interruption to accommodate a center drain.
  • Linear drains in curbless showers are the ideal design solution for creating ADA-compliant showers and wet spaces that are universally accessible. With only one slope and no barrier to cross, the floor more easily accommodates a freestanding bench, a wheelchair or other mobility aid.
  • Ideally, linear drains should extend the full length of the shower floor, thus promoting efficient water evacuation in a curbless enclosure. Consequently, there is less chance of water pooling and running out under the shower door into the bathroom — and no need to worry about mopping up slippery puddles after a shower.

Bringing European Style to America

As bathroom design trends favor a greater use of open-room concepts, curbless entries, larger tiles and varied finish materials, the superior adaptability of the linear drain has grown central to achieving these fashion-forward styles — whether the aesthetic is traditional, modern, or somewhere in between.

Linear drains originated in Europe due to their ability to be paired with any size tile or finish. This, in turn, permitted greater design freedom. The United States, however, was far slower in embracing these new drains, as QuickDrain USA founder and master tile setter Josef Erlebach soon learned after emigrating from the Czech Republic and not finding a Euro-style linear drain for his home in Colorado.

The problem? At that point, 11 years ago, the American market simply lacked the highly engineered, and code-compliant product components necessary to change how American showers look and drain. Erlebach himself possessed something else the market was sorely lacking: professional know-how, earned through years of job-site experience.

“There was no comprehensive installation process or system in place to guide installers and tile setters toward a comprehensive shower solution,” he recalls.

Still, the opportunities soon became as obvious as they were plentiful, as curbless showers — and Erlebach’s fledgling enterprise —gained momentum. Realizing he would need additional resources to capitalize fully, the founder sold his thriving, entrepreneurial firm in 2017 to plumbing-product powerhouse Oatey Co. The Cleveland, Ohio-based family business, currently in its fourth generation, operates a comprehensive manufacturing and distribution network, supplying more than 6,000 residential and commercial plumbing product solutions worldwide.

The appeal of QuickDrain USA for Oatey Co. was not just the quality, styling and technical innovation of its offering, but also its pioneering efforts to sell American bath designers and showrooms on the compelling benefits of a total shower solution.

“The acquisition of QuickDrain USA enables our company to provide even more fashion-forward, front-of-the-wall plumbing products,” notes QuickDrain USA general manager Chris Oatey. “By leveraging QuickDrain USA’s knowledge and expertise, we will extend our ability to deliver value through our broad line of high-quality bathroom products.”

Essentially, QuickDrain USA reimagined how a linear drain should perform and be installed in American showers, asserts Oatey. “Today, the brand has earned the respect of industry professionals for its range of total shower solutions that encompass functional, environmental and style innovations.”

According to Oatey, QuickDrain offers builders and designers a systematic solution. “Our plumbing engineer teams employ a systems approach that integrates pre-sloped shower panels, waterproofing and linear drain to create a complete shower solution,” he continues. “We’ve seamlessly blended engineering performance with an elegant, high-style design that improves on its European predecessor.”

Some of the company’s shower solutions include the ProLine, offering a stainless-steel drain body engineered to meet rigorous healthcare and hospitality specifications; and the ShowerLine, equipped with a drain body made of PVC that’s a perfect choice for tub-to-shower conversions and affordable retrofit projects.

A third, stand-out linear drain product is the exclusive WallDrain, a truly unique innovation to the modern bathroom shower. This radically different concept allows for the most seamless and unique curbed or curbless shower design possible — by installing the drain in the wall itself — rendering WallDrain virtually invisible.

Engineered for Functionality, Design and the Environment

Functionally superior, the company’s shower solutions are crafted with plumbing and design professionals in mind, so that both the drain height and linear dimensions can be easily adjusted on the job. With a variety of waste-outlet location options and a customizable drain body, the company’s wall-to-wall linear drain system allows for the rapid construction of curbless or curbed showers, with minimal impact on the subfloor.

ProLine and ShowerLine feature revolutionary, internally sloped drain troughs to foster efficient and effective drainage after each shower. Unlike some linear drains that suffer from standing-water “dead spots,” the QuickDrain USA System minimizes slip hazards while reducing mold, mildew and bacteria growth.

The functionality further extends to some drain covers that are removable for easy cleaning — a feature appreciated by homeowners and commercial facility managers alike. The company offers an assortment of stylish cover designs, including two created by the noted designer and architect Michael Graves. Each of the brand’s drain covers measure a slim 1.5 inches wide and are available in a brushed or polished stainless finish — or both — depending on the particular style.

The company’s rigid-foam shower panels are pre-sloped and made from 100-percent-recycled, plastic bottles. For each environmentally friendly, QuickSlope PET (polyethylene terephthalate) panel, 350 plastic bottles are recycled from landfills. An advantage for architects and specifiers is that these recycled components may make an installation eligible for LEED certification points. The extruded PET panels are nonreactive, nondegradable and shatterproof, offering high performance even under the most demanding conditions.

Solutions for the 21st Century

While the Romans introduced the linear drain concept millennia ago, Oatey says his company has brought the category into the 21st century by engineering a high-performance, installation-friendly system that offers unmatched aesthetics.

Instead of a four-way compound slope, a single uniform path is the more efficient way to drain a wet area without compromising aesthetics, accessibility and design versatility. Most importantly, well-engineered linear drain systems create efficient wall-to-wall drainage.

This winning combination of style innovations, functional advances, and environmental leadership has earned the brand many prestigious awards across all industry segments — from the Healthcare Design Show, to the Hospitality Design Expo, to the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show.

Finally, the transitional styling of QuickDrain’s shower solutions is ideal for both traditional and contemporary bath décors. Applications encompass both residential and commercial spaces; e.g., hospitality (hotels, resorts, casinos), athletic and health clubs, custom home master baths, and luxury apartment and condominium baths.

“We are confident that the American consumer is ready to embrace a different approach to bathroom construction,” concludes Oatey. “The total shower solutions that QuickDrain offers are a perfect fit with this emerging trend.”